A close cousin has recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and it has turned him into a complete bully. Family members, cashiers, wait staff—no one is immune. He expects better, faster, and more from everyone and has even announced loudly in public that he could be dead from this disease soon and we will all feel awful that we didn't treat him better. To make matters worse, he is completely insensitive to the troubles of others, either reminding them that he is dying or one-upping their issues with one of his own. We're a close family and I'm retired so I've agreed to drive this cousin around, take him to appointments, get his meals, etc. But I'm so embarrassed by his complete lack of grace that I dread each day with him. At the same time, I'm feeling guilty because his days really are numbered. Am I awful? Is there anything I can say to him?
—Dying of Embarrassment
Those dealing with life’s most difficult circumstances deserve sympathy, understanding, and sometimes a pass. But what it doesn’t allow is for someone to take a dire prognosis and use it as carte blanche to pummel everyone around him. For one, your cousin knows nothing about the service people he’s excoriating. If only he could think, “Maybe that cashier has a disabled daughter and every day is a struggle to care for her child on a minimal salary.” But since he’s not thinking this, you need to say exactly that. Preface your remarks about his current behavior by saying his illness is devastating to all of you who love him. Then you need to tell him you’re concerned that he just doesn’t seem like himself. Say you’ve never known him to be rude to strangers or family members, and you think he could really benefit from the services of someone on the hospital staff—a social worker or therapist—trained to help patients work through what is happening to them. (You could also suggest he discuss with his doctor if his illness or medication is causing a personality change.) If he refuses to hear your message, then sadly you need to deliver a different one. That is, you will be happy to help him, but that’s going to mean restricting the time you take him out on errands or to restaurants because you are too uncomfortable having to apologize to people who are being mistreated.
My boyfriend of six years and I are in our 50s and since I’ve met him he’s always worn a baseball hat. I mean always—at restaurants, social events, our dinner table. This bothers me so much that have considered breaking up with him but he has so many other wonderful qualities it seemed like a small concession to make. We now live together and—you guessed it—the hat thing drives me crazy. He is handsome and in great shape, but he hates his thinning hair, even though I have assured him that bald men are sexy. I want to free him (and myself) from this ridiculous attachment. What should I do?
—Hoping for Hatless
This reminds me of one of my favorite jokes whose punch line is, “He had a hat.” I understand why this small thing would make you want to flip your lid, but he came with the hat, you now live together, and your leverage is limited. You also know that if you broke up, most of the available hatless men you would be dating would make you cry yourself to sleep holding your ex’s favorite Yankees cap. But there is breaking news on the balding front you could use to your advantage. David Gergen (yes, David Gergen!) has ditched his comb over and looks light years better. Watch CNN with your guy, and after Gergen comes on, tell your love you want to see his handsome face shine, too. Suggest you go together to a high-end hairdresser and get a consult about a cut that would let everyone know you’re with the best-looking guy in the room.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“The Only One—Or Else: My girlfriend has a fit whenever I mention my late wife. What should I do?”
“Bed Bug: My husband invited a homeless woman to live with us. Should I divorce him?”
“My Mother the Identity Thief: My mom has been running up credit-card debt in my name. What do I do?”
“Confessions of a Favorite Daughter: My parents’ blatant favoritism made me a narcissist and my sister depressed. Is it too late for me to stop it?”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“My Life as a Sugar Baby: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman on whether to stay mum about having dated rich men for money.”
“Tongue Oppressor: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend obnoxiously licks her face.”
“My Creepy Keeper: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose brother-in-law “watches over her” by peeping through her bedroom window.”
“Don’t Look, Ma!: In a live chat, Prudie advises a man whose wife refuses to hide a nude print the next time his mother comes over.”
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