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.)
Mallory Ortberg: Hi, everyone. Let’s fix one another.
Q. Letting my partner impregnate his friend: My partner and I, who are in a gay relationship, are close friends with a lesbian couple. “Mary” and “Jean” desperately want a baby, and after some discussion my partner decided to donate his sperm. We have no interest in being parents but are happy to be uncles. Unfortunately Mary experienced a significant illness and Jane got laid off from work, and now they are worried they can’t afford in vitro fertilization. Mary is infertile, and Jane is already 38, so waiting until their financial situation improves might not be an option. Mary and Jane have now asked whether Jane can conceive a baby with my partner the old-fashioned way. My partner and Jane used to date in their 20s so it won’t be anything new. I totally trust my partner, but this is just too much for me. Am I being too old-fashioned? Should I let this happen so my two wonderful friends can become parents without spending tens of thousands of dollars?
A: I don’t think you’re being too old-fashioned! This is not an especially old-fashioned problem. Their problem is a sad one, certainly, but you shouldn’t let guilt over your friends’ situation affect the decision you and your partner make. There’s no guarantee that your partner will be able to impregnate Jane on the first try; how many times would you be willing to let the two of them sleep together? Five tries? Ten? As many as it takes? It’s wonderful that you trust your partner and want to help your friends have children—and in this case, I think, perfectly appropriate—but that doesn’t mean you have to feel great about the two of them sleeping together. You two should have a serious conversation as a couple about the pros and cons and figure out whether this is something you are comfortable doing before discussing your decision with Mary and Jean.
Also: If any queer couples with nontraditional reproductive stories want to weigh in about their own experiences, please do! Has anyone gone the turkey-baster route?
Q. Bad pet owner: My sister got a pug puppy for an early Christmas present and then refused to microchip, register, or puppy-proof the backyard (despite multiple successful escapes)! Lo and behold, the dog went missing a few weeks back, and my sister was done with the moping and gone to mistakenly accusing of our neighbors being dognappers. (Theirs was a girl.) My problem is that a family at my church has found a stray pug that matches my sister’s on the other side of town. The age, sex, and timing matches, but I am very hesitant to say anything. These people are good dog owners while my sister was anything but. I am the one who remembered to buy dog food and walked it when my sister was too tired. We are both college students, but I don’t want the responsibility for a pet that isn’t even mine again! For all her crocodile tears, my sister never care for the puppy when it was uncomfortable or inconvenient for her. Can I just let this sleeping dog lie?
A: I was not expecting, when I took this job, to find this many secret dognapping do-gooders in the world! Guys! If you get a dog, take care of your dog! You can just not have a dog if you don’t feel like taking care of one, it’s very easy to not have a dog. Just start out with no dogs and then carry on as usual. (Don’t say anything. It may not even be the same dog, and the only thing worse than returning this poor neglected pup to your sister would be forcing some similar-looking dog into her indifferent embrace.)
Q. Re: Bad pet owner: “Let’s fix one another,” and then you get a question about a pet dog. I want to be cooperative and helpful, but there are some things at which I draw the line.
A: I love and hate you in equal measure for making that pun before I got the chance.
Q. Time to go?: If I’m hosting a party and there are lingering guests, is it acceptable at some point to say something like, “Well, this was lovely,” and start cleaning up to get people out the door? My partner says that’s rude.
A: The alternative is letting your party guests decide when you get to go to bed, which is surely worse. “This was lovely, thanks for coming, get home safe, see you soon, time for me to go to bed,” are all perfectly polite variations on the same reasonable theme. Letting events end is not rude. Everything ends. Your partner cannot fault you for refusing to host a perpetual-motion party or for the fact that you must sleep and will eventually die.
Q. My family doesn’t believe I’m dying: When I was little my abusive parents told my family I was spoiled, lazy, and a constant liar. It was an attempt to cover their backs in the event I ever tried to reach out ... and it worked. As an adult, this is how my family has always perceived me. They doubt or disbelieve even small things. Recently I was diagnosed with Westphal-Variant Huntington’s disease. It causes muscle rigidity and weakness and is not as immediately “visible” as Huntington’s Chorea, though still progressive and ultimately fatal. I take medication to manage my currently-moderate symptoms. Whenever it comes up around my family they brush it off, roll their eyes, or make dismissive comments about doctors being wrong all the time. I have tried getting them to speak to one of my many doctors and talking to them about my disease, but they seem to believe this is some elaborate ploy to get out of work. This leaves me with virtually no support outside my partner and few friends. I have been seeing my family less and less because it’s become fairly uncomfortable. Should I give up and let them figure it out at my funeral, probably less than a decade from now? I feel very alone.
A: How awful. I’m so sorry, both for your illness and the additional cruelty of being called a liar for trying to discuss your condition. “Fairly uncomfortable” is a massive understatement, given that your family is trying to convince you that your progressive, fatal illness is something you invented as an excuse to play hooky from work. Anyone who wants to pretend that your Huntington’s disease is an invention is someone who does not have your best interests at heart.
I have a feeling that every doctor in the world could stand in front of your parents with a notarized copy of your diagnosis, and they’d still find a way not to believe you. You’ve done your level best to try to convince them of the truth of your illness, and they still won’t offer you their support. I don’t think they ever will. Trying to convince an abusive family that you’re not pretending to have Huntington’s will only cause you further pain and distress. I hope very much you’re able to lean on your partner and friends right now, because you’re going to need all the support you can get. Ruthlessly prioritize your own well-being; focus on what you need to live as happily and serenely as possible.
Q. Re: Time to go?: When I have a party and there’s music going, I shift the playlist to more mellow, downbeat music to signal guests it’s time to wind things down.
A: Semisonic’s “Closing Time” on repeat also good.
Q. Your recent letter about leaving work after 15 years: I recently read your letter from a woman who worked at the same company for 15 years and had to leave when she had cancer but did not hear from any of her co-workers whom she thought of as family. I had a semisimilar experience. I worked for a small company for a number of years, and we did everything together: lunches, holidays, etc. I left last year and was subsequently in a severe car accident. I only heard from one person, and we were not friendly! I wondered about everyone else, so I got in touch with another person for some made-up reason (to open the lines of communication). Through her I found out that my one and only “concerned” co-worker had told everyone else that she contacted me and I said I didn’t want to hear from anyone! She said I “needed private time to heal.” None of this was true! I say all of this because I can’t help but wonder if anyone said anything at her former firm that might have put off everyone else. It seems strange to me that 25 people would all have the same reaction: silence.
A: I’m so glad to hear that you’re doing well now, but I’d hate to think there are at least two people in the world who would lie to their co-workers in order to make sure they ignore a friend who’s been diagnosed with cancer. It is a possibility that someone (out of some misguided sense of protectiveness, perhaps) discouraged the original letter-writer’s co-workers from reaching out to her. Since it apparently has to be said: If someone you know is diagnosed with cancer, give them a call or send them a letter to tell them how sorry you are and to let them know how much you care.
Q. Wedding gift: My husband and I got married two years ago. To my knowledge a longtime colleague and dear family friend of my father-in-law did not give us a wedding present. I don’t care if they didn’t, but he and his wife are some of the kindest people we know (and well-off), and it would be highly out of character. I am someone who thinks it’s extremely important to send thank-you cards, so the thought that maybe they sent something that didn’t make it to us and us not having thanked them is horrifying to me. We rarely see them so I tried to forget about it. Fast forward and my husband now works for this man, who continues to be an unreal level of nice. Is there any way to acknowledge this? Can I send a card saying, I’m really sorry if you did send a gift and we didn’t thank you?
A: Weigh the two possible worst-case scenarios. The first is that they did give you a gift, which was either stolen or misplaced or misattributed to someone else, and you never wrote them a thank-you note. The other is that they did not get you a gift, you check in with them two years later to confirm that they did not give you a gift, and they have to say, “No, you were right the first time, we did not buy you a present two years ago.” I think the second scenario is several orders of magnitude worse than the first. Assume that these otherwise wonderful people simply didn’t give you a wedding present and continue enjoying their unreal levels of niceness with a clear conscience.
Q. Re: Impregnating friends: Check your state laws (and any other state laws that might apply) to find out what financial responsibilities the biological father of a child might have—regardless of any contracts that the mother (but not the baby) might have signed. Many states don’t let mothers sign away their babies’ rights.
A: Yes! If you decide to help this couple have a child, no matter how you go about making it, you should absolutely be aware of the various rights and obligations each bio-parent and adoptive parent will have in your state. It’s possible your boyfriend could still be on the hook for child support payments, regardless of whatever agreement the four of you may have made. Consult a lawyer! Sign something!
Q. Too many babies in the world as it is: I’m a married, straight female in my early 30s. I do not like children and don’t plan on having any. I got my tubes tied five years ago, and it was the best thing I ever did for my health. My problem is, because of my demographic, most people who don’t know me well automatically assume that I (like ALL women, apparently) will change my mind or that I secretly love children and am just being contrarian. I get pestered by co-workers, new acquaintances, even the receptionist at my (former) dentist’s office about when I am going to start my family. (Thankfully, my own family and friends are all accepting of my stance.) My polite answers don’t shut them down; even when I break down and say that I’ve been sterilized (which is private information that I shouldn’t have to share) some people still don’t back down.
If I pushed my anti-natalist agenda on others the way this pro-baby agenda is pushed on me I would be considered a terrible person. But I’m tempted to respond that way with these folks just to finally (hopefully) get them off my back. Would that really be so wrong, to be rude to these people as a way of demonstrating how rude they are being to me?
A: It is so tempting to return rudeness with rudeness! I’m glad that, at least, your friends and family are not pressuring you to get inseminated and that the people who insist upon your feigning an interest in having children are usually strangers. If “I don’t have any children, don’t plan to, and had my tubes tied five years ago” isn’t enough to convince an irritating acquaintance that you know your own mind, you should take a more direct approach. “I’ve already told you I don’t want children. You’re being rude,” is blunt and to the point and should embarrass most people into dropping the subject. If they kept pressing, feel free to hurl baby socks at them until they leave you alone.
For the rest of us: Don’t badger people without children into admitting the secret desire for children you’re sure they have to you! Don’t badger anyone! Leave the badgering to the badgers, I say.
Q. Re: Impregnating friends: You don’t need to use the “old-fashioned way.” Google “at-home insemination.”
A: I am so reluctant to say “Google something” as a replacement for medical advice, but yeah, go ahead and Google “at-home insemination.”