Mallory Ortberg, 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.)
Q. Not Looking to Cliff Dive: My husband and I are driving six hours through the snowy mountains in a rental car with two other couples who are close friends to a wedding in a practically unreachable place (that’s a story for another advice column). One of the men in another couple went ahead and reserved the car rental for us as he travels frequently for work. The problem is we are all terrified of him as a driver—he drives too fast, doesn’t pay attention, and honestly doesn’t drive often enough to be any good at it. We would prefer that someone else drive, but he says time and time again that he’s happy to do it. How do we convince him to let someone else get behind the wheel without hurting his feelings? He’s very sensitive and we think he might be crushed with our lack of trust in him.
A: If you’re terrified of his driving, it’s better to offend him a little before the trip, rather than die in a four-car pileup out of politeness. “At least he never knew how bad a driver we all thought he was, right until he crashed the car” is going to be cold comfort to you. Tell him you’re not comfortable with his driving—someone who speeds and doesn’t watch the road is a pretty lethal combination—and rent a separate car if you have to. He can have all the feelings he wants to about it. That’s not your problem. You can tell him kindly, of course, and stress that you’re concerned about his safety, but this is a matter that calls for honesty more than tact.
Q. Liked, Not Loved: I have been dating a wonderful man for nearly a year. We share many interests, rarely have disagreements, have great sex, and feel very comfortable together. We’ve decided to take things to the next level and plan to move in together in a few months. I love him, but he doesn’t love me. He likes me a lot and says I’m the best thing that has ever happened to him. He says he believes we’ll stay together and eventually marry. He was wounded deeply by an ex he loved, and though it’s been a couple years, he hasn’t fully recovered. He thinks therapy will help him work past it and he’ll love me. I can’t help but think that if he doesn’t love me by now, he never will. I don’t know what’s more foolish: leave a good thing or always feel only “likable”?
A: “I have every intention of loving you in the future, I’m just going to need therapy first” is not the beginning of a mutually respectful, loving, supportive relationship. There’s no “love-by” date that says you have to break up with someone if they haven’t fallen in love with you yet, but I think there’s something disturbing about his wanting to move in with you while at the same time telling you he can’t love you. Why would he want to further entangle your lives in such a serious way if he’s not sure about how he feels for you? It would be one thing if you both felt the same way, but you’ve made it clear how you feel about him, and he’s made it clear that he doesn’t love you back.
It sounds like part of you already knows this probably isn’t going to work out. I can’t imagine how painful it would be to share a home with someone who knew I loved them but couldn’t or wouldn’t love me back. Living alone with a peaceful, if sad, heart is infinitely preferable to living with a man who dangles his love just out of your reach.
Q. My Husband Is Ill—and I’m Angry: My husband of 25 years was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s shortly after we married. He has been lucky until recently and the disease has been mild. However, he’s now rapidly declining. I am a research fanatic (and a bit bossy, I admit) and have spent years reading everything I can get my hands on, but no matter what I discover (the benefits of PT! tai chi!) he pooh-poohs it and won’t even discuss it with his doctor. Now, at the point where he is barely mobile, unable to work, and susceptible to falls, I find myself deeply upset that he has never been willing to try the (proven, not wacky) things that might help him. I work full-time (to support the family); we have three kids. I would never leave him, but I feel like a big boulder is hurtling down the hill at me. And I am so, so angry. Not at the unfairness of it all, but at him, for not even trying. What’s coming is not good, so I need to figure out how to let go of all this bitterness.
A: This is unimaginably painful. I’m so sorry that you’re facing the loss of your husband and having to deal with resentment and anger you can’t currently share with him.
You’re not wrong to be angry. Being a caregiver is an unbelievably stressful job, and it’s not something you can stop doing at 5 p.m. and go home and forget about. Add to that mix the fact that you’ve been caring for your own partner, the very person most of us go to when we need to vent or complain about our frustrations, and anger is perhaps the most normal thing you could be feeling right now. I say this not because I think you need permission to be angry, but because sometimes we think of anger as something to be fixed, as if it’s abnormal, when it can be the most normal thing in the world. AARP has a lot of resources and recommendations for exhausted and frustrated caregivers—if nothing else, it may be helpful for you to see that you are not alone in feeling this way.
I think you’re already on the right track. Whether or not he should have acted differently in the past is something of a moot point now. He needs constant care, he’s barely mobile, and it doesn’t sound like you think it will do either of you any good to have a conversation about this now. What you need is a way to process your anger in a way that doesn’t hurt his quality of life. If you have any family nearby or friends who are able to help, now is the time to lean on them. If you’re working full time and caring for your husband and raising your children, I can’t imagine you have a lot of free time to go to therapy. But you need it, for your own peace of mind. You need to be a little selfish and protective of your emotional well-being right now.
Q. Sick Thanksgiving Host: My entire family is invited to my house for Thanksgiving, and I have come down with the flu. Even if I don’t prepare the food, I can’t be in the same house as everyone and risk exposure for any of my family members. Do I stay in a hotel room while my husband manages the meal? Do I cancel and let the family fend for themselves?
A: You have the flu! I’m so sorry. If you can afford a hotel room and have a husband willing to take over the meal preparation, then by all means, go quarantine yourself and get some rest. I can’t imagine how miserable trying to host Thanksgiving while running to the bathroom every five minutes would be, and I’m sure your family doesn’t want to catch anything. Take care of yourself, and feel better soon.
Q. Want to Get in Touch but Can Take a Hint: About a year and a half ago I met a really cool friend. While we lived in the same town, we hung out frequently. After a few months she moved to a different country and for a few months we were in touch pretty frequently and at length. About a year ago she just stopped responding on all fronts. It’s been a year—I’ve tried reaching out a few times; I tried Googling to see if I was missing some obvious way to get in touch. I feel the answer here is some combination of “it’s not necessarily about you” and “you don’t get to decide who stays in touch with you and who doesn’t” and like I said, after a year, it seems pretty clear to just move on! But, uh, it’s still not a good feeling? What do I do?
A: I think you’re right: Moving on is your only choice. This person is not only ignoring your messages, she’s left the country. Short of flying over to wherever she is and “accidentally” running into her in the street (don’t do this), you don’t have a reliable way of getting in touch with her. According to your timeline, the two of you knew each other for a few months before she left the country. She’s been not talking to you longer than the two of you were friends. It’s fairly normal to lose touch with someone you only knew for a few months before moving away, and probably has less to do with you and more to do with the fact that she’s building a new life somewhere else.
It’s never fun to lose touch with someone you like, of course, and feeling bad is a natural side effect of being ghosted, but you’re going to have to work through those bad feelings by yourself—either with your friends who do return your calls, or with a therapist. This person isn’t going to give you the closure that you want.
Q. Afterlife Etiquette: My family decided not to have any contact with me three years ago. I still love my family and I respect their silence. My uncle, however, didn’t take this vow of silence toward me, and even sold me his car last year. My uncle passed away earlier this month. I know my family is having financial troubles. I would like to send a card or offer financial assistance but wonder if I should even bother with them considering the long pause in our relationship. I was not invited to the funeral—I was told about it after it had all happened.
A: I’m so sorry about your family’s cruel and bewildering choice to cut off contact with you. I’m glad that at least you were able to maintain a relationship with your uncle until he died. Since they didn’t see fit to invite you to his funeral, it’s likely that any attempt you make to get in touch with them will be met with further silence. If it makes you feel better, go ahead and send them your condolences, but I have a feeling trying to help them out financially would be like throwing money into a black hole.
Q. Re: My Husband Is Ill—and I’m Angry: I have been there, or in the vicinity, twice. First husband wasn’t feeling well, was exasperated by his family-care doctors who didn’t take him seriously, but waved away my many suggestions to find another doctor. Finally he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, died a year later. Second husband was diagnosed with motor-neuron disease, developed ALS, refused to make any significant changes in his life despite being unable to care for himself in a normal fashion, continually imposed on strangers who were too kind to decline. He declined more rapidly than I expected and within weeks I found him dead. It’s been three years and I still get pissed at him too, but I force myself to counter my “I should have ...” with “I DID do my part, but they wouldn’t accept it.” To the wife who is facing constant caregiving I would say, “This is what you are doing now. After a while you will be doing something different.” And avail yourself of hospice/palliative care help.
A: Thank you so much for sharing this, and for suggesting hospice assistance if it’s available. It sounds like you did the very best you could in multiple painful, heartbreaking situations, and I think your mental exercise of reminding yourself that you did your part but can’t always control the outcome is a great one.
Q. Re: Sick Thanksgiving Host: The true flu virus wouldn’t cause you to run to the bathroom every five minutes. It affects the respiratory system. It would be miserable to host. You may want to ask your family if they want to enter the war zone even if you stayed at a hotel.
A: Do you know, I always mix those two things up. (What parts of the body the true flu affects, that is—not the difference between the digestive and respiratory systems. That I’m pretty clear on.) Either way, it’s a good point—they may want to find a restaurant or even another house, if she’s very contagious.
Q. Aggravation at 30,000 Feet: My husband, a bright, sensitive, and creative sort, and I often travel together. One of his pastimes is to take a pen to the ads in the in-flight magazine. In the past, this left “America’s best plastic surgeons” and couples walking on the beach transformed into elaborate aquatic and reptilian beasties, which I thought was harmless and cute in a dorky sort of way. However, recently he’s turned to edgy comments, such as warning the high roller at the casino table that later at night he’ll find that the beautiful blonde cooing over him is really a “deceitful transvestite.” I told him anybody could find that; he replied that was the point, and “anyway the magazine itself is the real outrage.” Should I just let him continue his little one-man war against consumer culture? Thanksgiving is coming up, and we have a layover both ways, so that means there’ll be four magazines waiting for his poison pen, and I’d really rather not fight about this during the holidays.
A: My sister and I used to draw on in-flight magazines when we were kids. I haven’t done it in about 20 years, though. They have Wi-Fi on planes now! Also, you’re allowed to bring books and have conversations and watch movies! There’s a lot more to do on a plane than resent magazines, but I suppose we all make choices in life.
I can’t imagine what kind of world your husband is living in, where SkyMall is the biggest problem he has to worry about, or why he feels the need to make cruel jokes about models’ gender identities instead of just drawing Groucho Marx glasses on them like the rest of us. It’s juvenile and it’s stupid, and I think you’re well within your rights to bring it up with him before you board a plane for Thanksgiving. It sounds like he does this regardless of the time of year, so I don’t think it’s some secret holiday-related resentment that’s coming out in strange ways. Maybe he’s a nervous flyer and insulting Hemispheres models helps relieve stress. Maybe he’s just a jerk whenever he travels above 30,000 feet. If he insists on doing it even after you two talk about it, take comfort in the fact that most people don’t read in-flight magazines, and the issues he defaces will be thrown away soon enough.
Mallory Ortberg: Thanks for chatting, everyone, and see you next week!