Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Vacation Dilemma: My wife and I have recently married and blended a family of teenagers. Her son has been spoiled quite a bit and gets everything he wants and goes on every trip. My kids have lived a more frugal lifestyle and vacations have been available but not extravagant. She just purchased an extravagant vacation for us for spring break of next year. The kids go to different school districts and their respective spring breaks are different. She wants to take her son on this vacation but not my children. When she told me about the vacation she was hurt that I wasn’t more excited. She doesn’t seem to understand that I was excited but had to think about my kids as well. How is it fair that her son gets to go and my kids get to stay at home? There is no way I can afford to bring my two kids along. I asked why she didn’t make the vacation just for the two of us and it comes back once again to how she will not deny her son anything and wants him to have and experience the best of everything.
A: My advice would have been that before you two got married you had to do a whole lot more working out of how you plan to blend this family. You have barely finished saying, “I do,” and now you are seething with resentment over what she lets her son do that your kids can’t. Even though you two are married, it’s fine that each parent will do things with his or her own offspring apart from the new family. It’s also fine for the new couple to take vacations together. What’s not so fine is planning a spring break trip for the new couple that includes the child of one and deliberately excludes the children of the other. Your wife is not only acting as if she’s not a stepmother, she’s acting as if she’s not a wife. One partner simply doesn’t plan an elaborate vacation for the couple (even if she’s picking up the tab) without discussing it first and getting agreement. It sounds as if your wife made these plans and presented them to you as if you were one of her children. So everyone here needs to take a step back. You need to talk with your wife about the reasons for you lack of enthusiasm. You two seem so far from being of a like mind about your marriage that I suggest counseling. Wanting the best for your children is a natural impulse, but if the best means endless indulgence, then ironically this often results in a child who is stunted in important ways because he lacks an understanding of limits and delayed gratification. But even if you’re right and your stepson is spoiled, your contempt for him and your wife’s parenting skills is going to spoil your new union.
Q. Is It Just Dinner?: My new husband (one-month married) is going to dinner with the woman he had an affair with during his first marriage. I think that this is risky behavior. He says that there is nothing going on, and he wants to her see again because they were once very close. He says that nothing is going to happen, and I am being ridiculous. He thinks I am being controlling and he even threatened to leave me over this. Bottom line: They are going to dinner. I am hurt, but we’ve already fought the fight. I don’t want to stay upset, but I just simply am. What do I do?
A: It was fair for you to object to this dinner and explain that given his history with this woman, his socializing with her privately makes you uncomfortable. He needed to hear you out. It was also fair for him to say your concerns were groundless, that the affair is long over, she is not a threat to your marriage, and his telling you was a sign of this and that your agreement would be a sign of your trust. However, when you objected, he threatened to end your marriage before you two had even finished all the thank you notes for the wedding gifts. I’m getting an idea of why marriage No. 1 went down the tubes. Let him go to the dinner and you go do something fun that night to take your mind off it. Then after you’ve calmed down for a few days say that you want to talk not about the dinner specifically, but about your interaction over it. Explain that you’re concerned about the inability of you two to calmly hear each other out, and the radical escalation of threat over a disagreement. These two letters are good warnings about not ignoring warning signs about an impending marriage, and also about the importance of addressing crucial issues before you tie the knot.
Q. Wedding as Coming Out Party?: I’m a young, closeted gay man with the intention of beginning the coming out process. My birthday is coming up, and I want to announce it there. One of my closest friends will also be getting married soon and I am in his wedding. Is it appropriate to quietly inform my friends in the wedding party of my sexual orientation as long as we are all together? I do not want to steal any attention from the bride and groom, and I am not planning on making the announcement into a big production. It seems like a good time because we will all be together which happens rarely and because we are celebrating another friend, which would hopefully make my small announcement seem less important, which is what I want. I just don’t want to inadvertently hijack the wedding. Any thoughts?
A: Since you are going to announce this news at your own event, and presumably your news will make the rounds, I think it’s fine to continue to have the discussion at the wedding with people who are normally spread far and wide. But what’s important is that this is a conversation that naturally flows from the catching up process, not—as you promise it won’t be—a dinging of a spoon on a glass and an announcement to a hushed room. Of course, first make sure your friend the groom knows, and tell him that he’s free to spread the word. If you do it in the spirit you describe here, there will be no sense of your trying to hijack the wedding—it will just be one more reason for good wishes among good friends.
Q. Re: No, It’s Not Just Dinner: No husband in his right mind would do that without inviting his wife along, if it were truly innocent. It’s just grossly disrespectful. His immediate escalation to threaten to leave confirms that he’s already out of control. Sometimes people just need to hear it’s time to cut their losses, and one month into a failed marriage is a good time.
A: I can’t imagine that the new wife would want to come along to catch up with the former girlfriend who ended the first marriage. I find the fact of the dinner less disturbing than the fact that the husband didn’t first raise the dinner as a possibility with his new wife and get her reaction. Instead he announced the dinner was happening and having gotten her reaction, he threatened to walk out on the marriage. Agreed this is an alarming sign, and there needs to be some serious thinking about the viability of this marriage.
Q. Re: Wedding as a Coming Out Party: Do not do this. This is worse than announcing a pregnancy or engagement at a wedding, because coming out is still controversial to some people. You don’t want to cause a scene when Aunt Gertrude catches word of your “announcement” and flips out. You will all be together for at least a couple days, find a time that isn’t the wedding.
A: This guest is not making an announcement at the wedding. He says he plans to tell friends in the course of catching up with them. That’s fine. People are allowed to discuss their lives at a wedding party. And if Aunt Gertrude overhears this and flips out, then Aunt Gertrude will have been the one to make a scene.
Q. Baby Timing: I was raised by a wonderful single mother (I’m an only child) with whom I am extraordinarily close. I just got married and am in my second year of medical school, while my husband is working an entry-level job. We’d planned to have kids (which we both want) when I finish school and we can start paying off our student loan and housing debts. Recently, though, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. According to her doctors, her years as “herself” are very numbered, two or three at most. We were all devastated, but my mom has been grieving mostly over the fact that she’ll never meet my children, as she’s always looked forward most of all to being a grandmother. I’m starting to think we should have children now instead of after my mother’s death. However, having a child would mean my medical education would be postponed or called off, resulting in several more years of debt to pay off, and financially at this point we can barely afford the rent, much less a baby. In my rational mind I understand that having a baby is a terrible life choice right now, and if I became accidentally pregnant, I’d likely have an abortion. But emotionally, I’d feel like a monster depriving my mother of the one piece of happiness she’s always wanted, when she’s given me so much and dedicated so much of her life to my happiness. I know this is ultimately a personal decision, but can you help provide some clarity here?
A: The monster is this horrible illness and one can only hope that medical science can stop it someday. You’ve all just gotten devastating and life-changing news. It sounds as if your mother is relatively young herself, so this is a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s which is even more desolating. But I don’t think you should throw your life plans in disarray in order to present your ailing mother with a grandchild. You are an only child of a single mother, so the burden of her care is going to fall on you. That doesn’t mean that you become her caregiver, but you are the person who is going to have to oversee her supervision. I can tell you from having many friends go through that this is going to be draining and consuming. I don’t see how putting off your plans for medical school to have a child you aren’t ready for in order to give your mother a glimmer of happiness before this cruel disease takes it from her, will be the right thing to do. You need to tell your mother that she was there for you every step of the way, and you will be there for her. But since she is relatively OK right now, let her celebrate the launching of your brilliant career, while you reassure her that when the time comes you plan to be a mother and to model yourself on her.
Q. Re: Vacation Dilemma: Original letter writer here. Thanks for the advice. We already spoke about the ability of taking time with our kids alone. The issue with the spoiling of her son is a sore point, but not anything she wants to address. I am not seething, but I am resentful. We have had a discussion of how I feel. I said that if she decides to go on the trip then she is welcome to take her son but I will be passing because I can’t take my children. I will probably never get this chance again, but I don’t want to alienate my children.
A: Thanks for the update. And I agree that this special spring break trip that excludes your kids is a bad precedent for a new marriage, and you’re right to make it a mother/son jaunt. Again, I recommend some counseling. You can go in it with the idea of it being short term to help you figure out these blending problems. But if you resent the way she’s raising her son and you’re constantly feeling it’s an affront to how you can raise your kids, then you two have a serious problem.
Q. Re: Alzheimer’s: Maybe sit with your mom and ask her to write some letters or journals or do some videos for you to show the kids and/or watch when you’re pregnant.
A: That’s a lovely idea. Frame this as your wanting to get her insights and wisdom down for her future grandchildren, with the hope that her disease will progress slowly and that she will be able to enjoy them when they eventually come.
Q. Assisted Suicide: My mother died last month after a long and difficult battle with late-stage lung cancer. Toward the end, she was in a great deal of pain and privately confided to me that she planned on ending her own life within the week using assisted-suicide drugs she’d procured from someone in Oregon, which she did, in the middle of the night, having said good-bye to her loved ones that day. She and I are both pro–assisted suicide, my father is adamantly against it (which I presume is why she never told him). Lately, my dad, in his grief, has been constantly thinking about whether my mother died in pain. He’ll call me up in the middle of the night and ask questions like “Do you think her throat hurt when it happened?” etc. I know that my mom likely died painlessly and when she felt ready, and I know that if my father knew that he might feel a little better and less worried. However, I don’t want to betray my mom’s confidence or make my dad angry at her for not telling him her plans. What should I do?
A: I think you should tell your father that your mother fought a valiant fight and wanted more time to be with her loved ones, but that you can all take comfort that she no longer is in pain. Your mother’s death is very recent and your father is working through his grief. It’s not unusual that he’s dwelling on her end and his worries that she was suffering. Please encourage him to seek grief counseling so that he can air his concerns with someone who can help reassure him and ease him through this difficult time. I think you should keep your mother’s confidence. It may seem as if telling him would relieve your father’s concerns, but it would actually open up a whole new well of sadness, guilt, and even feelings of betrayal.