Help! My Boyfriend’s Family Is Full of Racists and Misogynists.

Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 3 2012 2:48 PM

Slur City

In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman offended by her boyfriend’s racist and misogynistic family.

(Continued from Page 1)

Q. My Sister Won't Get a Divorce From Her Cheating Husband: My sister's husband "Ben" cheated on her with one of her best friends, "Kelly." Apparently the affair has been going on for years and Kelly's 6-year-old son is the result of this relationship (what was a shock to everyone, especially to Kelly's husband). Since the affair became public my BIL and Kelly have left their spouses and started living together. My sister is devastated, but keeps saying she still loves Ben and wants to win him back. Ben used to work for my family's company, but has left his job and has been struggling financially since. In a desperate attempt to save her marriage, my sister has been giving Ben expensive gifts and even significant amounts of money from time to time. How can I make her come to her senses? She refuses to get a divorce! Ben is a scumbag and she deserves much better! I understand that she still has feelings for him and that maybe she is afraid of being single after so many years, but Ben is not worth her effort and humiliation. Please help.

A: Ah, love, that all-purpose excuse for being treated like crap. You have to accept that some people can't be helped. What you can do is reflect reality back to her. When she starts going on about how much she misses him, you can say, "Sure, it's hard to end a marriage. But he's now living with the mother of his child, so things don't look too promising." Eventually tell her you just can't be a sounding board about Ben. Say he's treated her so terribly that it's too painful for you to hear her strategies for getting him back.

Q. Re: Calling Social Services for abused friend: Cigarette burns are serious abuse, and this kind of physical violence usually only escalates. Please call Social Services TODAY. You can remain anonymous, Social Services will investigate and they will take this complaint very seriously.

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A: Good point. I hope this letter writer can get her parents involved in this—this is too much for a teenager to handle alone. The parents could then call Social Services. I also think all of them should go to the principal immediately. It's important for people who know the abused girl to be alerted so that she is not simply descended on by strangers.

Q. May I Have Your Daughter's Hand in Marriage?: My girlfriend's parents have always been wary of me. I'm not a Christian (she and they are), I'm 40 (she's 25), I'm divorced and a father, and she and I have struggled over my close relationship with my ex-wife. Their friends have sometimes been more open about their disapproval of me and their belief that my girlfriend could do better. What speaks in my favor is how happy I make my girlfriend and how well I treat her. I believe her parents respect me for that. I want to marry my girlfriend, and I'm wondering whether or not I should ask her dad for her hand in marriage. I think it's an archaic practice, but I know it matters to him. Among my girlfriend's family and their close friends, the story of how a man asked a father for his fiancée's hand in marriage is almost as important as the engagement story. I'm trying to get over what I feel—that it's sort of ridiculous to ask a man's permission to marry his grown financially independent daughter—and trying show my (hopeful)-future-in-laws that I'll be a good husband to their daughter.

A: I'm wondering if during your courtship with your girlfriend you've noticed you've been excluded from holiday gatherings. If so, and you're the boyfriend of the previous letter writer, I've got news for you: Her parents can't stand you. From what you've laid out here, it doesn't sound to me as if marrying this young woman sounds like such a good idea. You don't share religious views, which are important to her. Her family doesn't like you and you're intimidated by them. You're considerably older, you have kids, and most important, she doesn't like that you remain close to your ex, the mother of her children. That is a serious problem that will only escalate once you marry and especially if you have children together. It could be that you really enjoy having a much younger girlfriend. But maybe she's not actually ready to step up and take on the responsibility of helping you raise your children. I know you weren't asking me for approval for her hand, but I'm not giving it, either.

Q. Mother Spoiled Engagement Surprise: My boyfriend recently asked my parents for approval to marry me. My mother was so excited, she decided to fill me in on the happy news. While it came as no surprise to me, I still informed my mother that it's not protocol for parents to tell their daughter about this sort of thing. After that I let it go. Meanwhile, other family and friends who have heard about the story are mortified and have chastised my mother for not keeping this a secret. My mother is now upset and keeps trying to defend her actions. What is the proper etiquette?

A: So a future mother-in-law actually likes the guy her daughter is going to marry and now everyone is piling on her for spoiling the secret. Tell everyone to back off and tell your mother you're sorry she's getting so much blow-back. Look, I dislike the whole business of it being totally up to the man to decide when two people are getting married. I'm assuming the proposal didn't come as a total shock and that you two had had conversations along the way that you wanted to spend your lives together.

Q. Parents' Cookbooks: My parents passed away this year and I have been sorting through their things with my two siblings. My parents have three children, three children-in-laws, 10 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. After years of cooking and hosting, my mother had many cookbooks she relied upon for recipes. I love hosting and it would mean a lot to be to have and use these cookbooks. My siblings think the cookbooks should be divided among the remaining children and adult grandchildren. I understand that everybody has fond memories of Grandma's cooking and holidays, but I am the only person who would actually use them and follow her notes. I asked my siblings if they were willing to trade, like they could have her Christmas ornaments or other things and I could have the cookbooks. They did not seem pleased with this suggestion. I am really upset at the prospect of my mother's cookbooks being passed to people who will not appreciate them (and potentially get rid of them). Any other suggestion for dealing with this?

A: "Did not seem pleased" is different from utterly opposed. Either everyone actually is interested in the cookbooks, or your family is taking the notion of dividing everything equally too far. Dividing things up according to interest can be fair even if it means some people get all of one thing and none of another. You may have a sibling who loves the art on the walls while you have never been able to stand it, so you'd be delighted not to have to deal with getting rid of the paintings. Reopen the discussion after you've done an inventory of the house and you have a better idea of what people want. It could be that people could make tentative lists of the things that are most meaningful to them. Then you could make the case that you have the shelf space and interest to keep your mother's cookbook collection all in one place. You can add that doing so would give you the opportunity to follow her own version of the pumpkin pie recipe you all love. If you come at this more gently, you might just get your way.

Emily will be answering reader questions on Reddit on Wednesday, Dec. 5 at 1 p.m. ET.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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