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. Dead to me: My twin brother died in an accident last year. My sister raised money for a charity in his memory. He was pro-choice, so I was shocked to find that the charity is a “women’s center” that lures pregnant women in with the promise of free health consultations then tries to persuade them not to have abortions. I confronted her about this, and she refused to apologize, saying that it made her feel better to support a cause she values and that I should let her grieve in her own way. My inclination is never to speak to her again. Is this too harsh a response?
A: It is not. If it truly made her “feel better” to support a cause she values—and it’s telling that rather than donating to a women’s shelter or an organization that supports single parents, she raised money for crisis pregnancy centers that provide women with false information in abhorrent attempts at manipulation—she would not have needed to use your dead brother’s name as cover. You gave her the opportunity to apologize, and she used your brother’s death as an excuse for her nasty little trick. It may be that someday she comes to her senses and realizes what a terrible thing she’s done, but in the meantime, you’re right to want to steer clear of her. I’m so sorry for both of your losses.
Q. Humblebrag by proxy: A family member sent an email out to several other family members congratulating his or her adult child on a large charitable donation she made. I’m virtually positive, knowing the child, that she would not have wanted that information (including the amount!) spread around but will likely not say anything because her parent can be fairly overbearing. The whole thing honestly just makes me feel icky because it feels very much like the parent congratulating himself or herself for raising a selfless child. This kind of move (sharing family members’ personal information, including mine and my husband’s, under the guise of “praising them” or “asking for prayer”—though this is the most egregious offense so far) is becoming a pattern. Should we say anything, and if so, how should we handle it?
A: Oh, how fascinatingly vulgar. That is possibly the most vulgar thing I have heard yet in this column—congratulations! As the Good Book says, “Be sure to let your right hand know what your left hand is doing at all times, by email blast if possible.” It is, as you point out, a deeply icky thing for the family member to have done, but I don’t think there’s a way of saying, “Please don’t inform me of your daughter’s charitable donations” without inviting conflict. You can, however, deny the family member the praise he or she is so clearly fishing for and refuse to reward that behavior with a response.
Q. “Stealing” a parking space: I am from an area where parking spaces are ubiquitous and not hotly contested. Recently, I was vacationing in an area where parking spaces are a hot commodity. A man was waiting to make a left turn into the last parking space in a lot while a long line of cars was filing past on the right, most of which wanted to leave the lot, but I was behind and I had also been circling trying to find a spot. Since I was making a right-hand turn and he was making a left, that made me closer to the spot, and I got it. Of course, the left-hand turner thought I had “stolen” his spot and cussed me out. I do not understand why he felt that he was entitled to the parking spot when we both wanted it and we both had to wait for it and I was closer. Did I do something wrong?
A: Oh, come now, my darling. You know entirely well what you did, and I will not grant you the absolution you are looking for. Whether you live in the middle of a parking lot or the Montana backcountry does not enter into the equation, and you know it. You saw a man preparing to take a parking place, and you prioritized your sense of hurry over common politeness and were sharply reprimanded for it. You know yourself that you did not have a better claim than he did. You simply wanted it and took it. You got the parking spot; take your medicine with it.
Q. Re: Dead to me: You condemn all pregnancy crisis centers???
A: I certainly do condemn them. Crisis pregnancy centers are known for circulating false medical information, suggesting that abortion leads to increased risk of breast cancer (it doesn’t), falsely claiming that abortion is a risky surgical procedure (it isn’t), spreading misinformation about birth control, and regularly misleading women about their options. There are innumerable better ways to support adoption and single parents than CPCs.
Q. Foreclosure surprise: After getting out of a dead-end relationship, I recently started dating a friend (“Joe”) whom I’ve known for about eight years. Joe is amazing in so many ways: He’s made me feel alive and actually want marriage and children (something I never even considered before). He basically brought me back from the dead, and I’ve never been so in love. We have been talking about joining our lives; however (there’s always a however) since we both own our homes, I was recently on housing websites to see what our homes are worth to determine which house to sell and found that his is in foreclosure! For as long as I’ve known him he has been financially stable and responsible. My question is: Now what do I do, or rather how do I broach this subject? I have a great credit score, am financially responsible, and don’t want to have a child with someone who isn’t. Could there be a mistake with the website information? What do I say now? I am dumbfounded.
A: Ask him! Ask, my girl! If there is a correction or an explanation to be made, it will have to come from him. If you want to share your life with him, you’ll have to have lots of difficult and sometimes painful conversations. This may be one of them. Tell him you were doing some market research and that it looks as if his home is in foreclosure and you wanted to know if that was true. Try not to make it sound as if you are asking him whether he is a serial murderer or that the future of your relationship hinges upon the answer. It may be a misunderstanding. He may have an excellent answer. Whatever the situation, he sounds trustworthy enough that you owe it to him to hear what he has to say before deciding his credit score is too low to love.
Q. Brother’s GF: My younger brother has recently started dating a girl who our entire family feels is wrong for him. Though she’s a nice person, she is unemployed and bounces from couch to couch. She has no support from her family and suffers chronic health issues. Unfortunately, she has no education beyond high school. She lives in the suburbs without a car and thus depends on friends, and now, my brother, to get around. How can I politely suggest that my brother raise his standards without alienating him?
A: I don’t know that you can. It may be that this girl is wrong for him, but all I can see from her letter is that she failed to attend college and has health issues that seem to prevent her from working, neither of which are character defects. If she takes unfair advantage of your brother, that’s one thing; if she’s simply poor, that’s quite another.
Q. Friend bother!: A friend of my mum’s is kind of like an aunt to me. A while back, she helped me pick up a new bed for my daughter and offered to cut it down to fit in the awkwardly sized room, since I don’t own power tools. This was in May last year. I’m so grateful to her offering her help, and I don’t want her to feel rushed or pressured like I’m being impatient, but it’s been months, and she hasn’t brought it back! I started asking her about it in September when my daughter’s old bed actually broke, and she told me we’d arrange a day for her to bring it over and her son would put it up for me. A month later I said that because I’ve had to move my daughter into my room, I really don’t mind if she doesn’t cut it down but asked if she could drop it at my house and heard nothing back. Just before Christmas, I invited her out for dinner, hoping we could catch up and talk about it, and she said she’d love to. The day came, and she delayed me for six hours before turning her phone off, and I was officially stood up. She’s a really lovely person, but the flakiness is driving me crazy, and I’ve had my toddler in my room for nearly four months now! Should I just buy a new bed and let her keep flaking on me? I don’t know what to do!
A: Let this be a lesson to us all to resist the temptation of overpromising and underdelivering (and then avoiding our debtors as if they might forget about our promise if they can’t get hold of us). Assume your friend has not yet cut down the bed and has no immediate plans to. Tell her you’re going to come by this week with a professional handyman to pick the bed up and resize it yourself. Don’t phrase it as a question. If she locks the door and pretends she’s not at home, which frankly wouldn’t surprise me, I’d recommend you go out and buy another bed, and don’t accept any favors from her in the future.
Q. Re: Foreclosure surprise: Another possibility: Like so many people from the 2008 recession onward, the letter writer’s boyfriend may have found that he is underwater—that is, he now owns far more on the house than it is worth. If that’s the case he is entirely right to let the house go to foreclosure so as not to throw good money after bad. This isn’t an immoral decision. It’s a business decision, and it won’t take more than a quick Google search to find it’s one that corporations frequently use as well.
A: An excellent point.
Q. Not always there when you call: What’s the best, “chill-est” way to tell a dude to stop asking me to hang out super last minute? As in texting me to hang out at 7 p.m. on a Monday with no prior warning, or asking where I am at midnight on a Saturday when I hadn’t heard from him all week. I obviously realize this is booty-call behavior (which I’m not interested in), so I want to address it and call it out, but I also have a fear of looking “crazy.” And yes, I confess to still liking him even though he’s pulling this nonsense.
A: I do not believe chillness is the highest good in this situation, nor do I think wanting to plan proper dates in advance rather than wait around hoping for a midnight text is a sign of craziness. “I’d love to get together, but you’ve got to give me more advance warning than ‘what r u doing rn’ if you want to see me” should fit the bill just fine. If he keeps up the last-minute texting, gently redirect your attentions to someone with better long-range planning skills.
Mallory Ortberg: Thanks, everyone! Hope you’re all staying warm during this blizzard. It’s 60 degrees and sunny here in Oakland, but I saw some snow once, so I know how you feel.