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. Grave situation: I dated my first husband for eight years before we married a decade ago, so I was considered part of his family. We were both in our early 30s. Within the year he died suddenly of a massive heart attack. As you can imagine, it was a terrible shock. His parents handled all the arrangements, which I really appreciated. However, this included a double gravesite for the two of us, with his name, date of birth, and death, and my full name and date of birth on the tombstone. Obviously I should have paid more attention, but I was just numb. They still refer to “our” gravesite, even though I am happily remarried and have 3-year-old twins. I tend to tiptoe around this, but clearly they expect me to be buried there. However, my preference now is to be buried with my current husband. My first marriage was so short, and I am happier and more fulfilled in this one. My former in-laws are in their 70s, so in the ordinary course of things they should go first. But if that doesn’t happen, I don’t want to cause an ugly fight. Is stating my preference in my will sufficient? I don’t want to be cruel, but whenever I try to gently broach the subject it does not go well.
A: If your former in-laws are otherwise accepting of your new husband, I’d be inclined to tell you to make your own arrangements, say nothing to them, and bank on the very strong odds that you will outlive them. But as your own experience bears out, life does not always follow the “ordinary course of things,” and the potential fallout and hurt feelings that could result if either of them outlived you would be very painful for your husband and children, I’m sure. Rather than try to broach the subject, which implies that you are inviting their input, just tell them (kindly, of course) that while you loved their son very much, when you die you’ll be buried with the father of your children.
Q. Bi the way?: I recently came out to my parents as male-to-female transgender. They were understandably shocked, and it took a while for them to come around. At the time, one of my father’s primary comforts was that I identified as a lesbian. I wouldn’t be dating a guy. At the time it seemed true—any interest I had in guys was purely sexual, nothing romantic. Now, after months of hormones under my belt, it’s fuzzier. I feel like I could develop romantic feelings for a man. I generally prefer other women, but could fall for the right guy. Do I come out to my parents as bi, and steal my father’s silver lining? Or should I wait to cross that bridge if or when I get to it?
A: There’s something tragically comic about your father saying to himself, “Well, at least she’s a lesbian” as some sort of solace. I’m glad that your parents have come around. I’m of the opinion that it’s better to come out before a relationship “forces” your hand so that you and your family have time to adjust and discuss it before introducing a new boyfriend into the mix. “Mom, Dad, I’m actually bisexual” is a challenging enough conversation; “Mom, Dad, I’m actually bisexual, and this is David” is varsity level. Tell them as soon as you feel ready to introduce the subject. Your dad will cope. Plenty of men have daughters who aren’t lesbians, and they’ve all survived.
Q. TP trouble: This may be a trivial question, but here goes. I’m a graduate student who shares a house with another graduate student, and we make the same amount of money. I usually buy a hefty load of toilet paper from Costco that lasts us for a while, but I don’t go to Costco very often, so when we run out, I ask my roommate to replenish our stock. However, she ends up buying the cheapest option available and in very small quantities, which is both rough on my tush and leads to wiping panic when we run out. What’s the solution here? Do I bite the bullet and make a trip to Costco, ask her to up her quality and quantity of TP, or live with the reality that my roommate is cheap and just relies on me to provide our toilet paper?
A: This is a deeply important question. It’s about toilet paper, but it’s also about everything. If two people have to share responsibility for a particular chore, and one of them cares about it a great deal less than the other, who has to compromise? Unfortunately, in your case, you’re dealing with someone who’s willing to take the nuclear option, as she apparently doesn’t care if you run out of toilet paper. The person who doesn’t care about running out of toilet paper is the person who wins. She has nothing to lose. You have already lost.
Q. My duties as a daughter: During college, I spent a year studying abroad in Scotland. I met and fell in love with a Scottish man and didn’t return home when my program ended. My parents were understandably upset. Weeks passed where we didn’t talk because every time we talked they told me how much I disappointed them. They have always blamed my now-fiancé for our strained relationship. Recently my sister called me and told me I need to move home, now, indefinitely, to take care of our mom. Our parents are going through a messy divorce, and our mom is an emotional wreck. My sister has implied that it’s my duty to move home because of the strain I’ve put on their marriage. I love my mom, but the thought of leaving my fiancé and my career is incredibly painful. Am I a horrible daughter if I don’t go home to care for my mom?
A: No. Your parents are throwing a slow-motion tantrum, and your sister is acting as a megaphone to make sure the sound of their petulant wails reach you across the Atlantic. I don’t think it was “understandable” of your parents at all to have been upset that you met a man you fell in love with and wanted to marry. Typically, the response to “I’m engaged” is “Congratulations! I’d love to get to know him. How did you two meet?” not “Well, I guess I’m going to have to leave your mother now.” The idea of pinning responsibility for their divorce on you for getting engaged is bizarre. It would be laughable if their demands weren’t so outrageous and selfish. Stay where you are.
Q. Caught in the act: My long-term boyfriend and I were having sex in our kitchen last week. And then his parents walked in. Apparently they decided since we didn’t answer our phones or our door, they could come inside via our backyard and side door. It was horrible and hilarious—until I got a private text about propriety and proper womanly virtue from his mother. Then it got offensive. Confronting his mother makes my boyfriend green around the gills, and I have no idea how to respond to this. Care to throw your hat in?
A: Yeah, your boyfriend needs to tell his mother not to text his girlfriend blaming you for sleeping with him. This is absolutely his problem, and he needs to tell his parents first not to walk into your home uninvited and second not to berate you over text for having sex in said home.
Also, if the side door was unlocked, start locking it. If they have keys to your house, change the locks.
Q. Racist Family: I am biracial and bisexual. I want to marry my long-term girlfriend and start a family. My mom’s side is very enthusiastic and occasionally overbearing. My dad’s side does not know I even have a girlfriend. They are deeply homophobic and say nasty comments about my girlfriend’s ethnic group. I have increasingly lost my tolerance for their bigotry as I have grown up and seen the world. (I could choke on the irony of talking about Selma and then wonder why the gays want “special” rights to get married.) Do I send out invitations as an olive branch, or just marry the love of my life without them there? I think my dad will come—I hope. How should I light this bombshell?
A: I don’t think you should invite your father’s relatives. You’re not close with them—they don’t even know you have a girlfriend—plus they’re racist and homophobic to boot. What kind of olive branch can you offer someone who thinks of your marriage as a “special gay privilege”? They’re not an important part of your life now, so don’t feel any compunction to include them on your wedding day.
Q. Nosy dog-walker: Our dog-walker takes our beloved bulldog on a walk every weekday. Normally we are not home, but occasionally my husband or I will happen to be around when she arrives. The lady is driving me up the wall! She constantly criticizes the way we treat our dog (Her: “Daisy was out of water today!” Me: “That’s because she drank it after I filled it this morning”), is nosy (she asked who smokes after she saw a pack of cigarettes), and she offered to buy the dog platforms for her food and water because she thinks the dog needs them (I am perfectly happy the way it is). Our dog is a Manhattan dog, treated better than I was as a Midwestern child! If our dog were unhappy, I would simply find a different walker, but our dog adores the walker, and also I would have to see this dog-walker regularly because she seems to walk half the dogs in the neighborhood. Help! What do I do? Signed, #RichPeopleProblems.
A: I don’t think you have a problem. “Daisy was out of water today” is an awfully mild criticism, as criticisms go, and all you had to do was say, “No, thanks, we’re fine,” when she offered to buy your dog elevated food-and-water dishes. It’s slightly rude to ask who smokes, but it sounds like you were able to deflect it well enough. You only see her occasionally, and she makes your dog happy. Don’t encourage her questions or suggestions, be polite but distant when you see her, and enjoy your otherwise satisfying life.
Mallory Ortberg: Thanks, everyone! Be kind to your bisexual wives and daughters, if you have any.