Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week by signing up in the box below. Please send your questions for publication to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Questions may be edited.)
Got a burning question for Prudie? She'll be online here on Slate to chat with readers each Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
My sister got married recently. Some weeks before the big day, she pulled me aside and asked me to dye my bright blue and purple hair a more innocuous color so that I wouldn’t stand out too much. She wouldn’t listen to reason as to how I love my hair, nor as to how the process of bringing it to a more natural color would be difficult, expensive, and damaging. At the suggestion of a friend, I invested in an excellent honey-brown human hair wig, similar to my actual hair texture and length. Her big day went off without a hitch, and she never even seemed to notice my “innocuous” hair. At the end of the reception, after nearly everyone had left and my family and I were helping tidy up, I removed the wig.
My sister freaked out. She’s still angry, and she says that I violated her trust and that for the rest of her life when she looks at her wedding pictures of the family together or of me in the background, she’ll know that there’s blue-and-purple hair under there, and it will infuriate her. I don’t see any problem with what I did. I didn’t want to change my hair color for ONE day in her life, and I even invested in a hairpiece specifically meant to give her peace of mind. I hadn’t considered telling her about the wig beforehand, simply because she was busy and, as long as I showed up with “normal” hair, it should have been fine. How am I in the wrong here? Did I owe it to my sister to actually color my hair for her wedding? I wasn’t even a bridesmaid.
—Sister Wigging Out
I shouldn’t be laughing at this, but I can’t help myself. The idea of your sister, years from now, surrounded by her loving husband, children, and grandchildren, staring sadly at her wedding photo album, a wizened figure pointing at a picture of you as she whispers, “But underneath ... underneath it was all blue and purple,” just tickles me to death. Imagine how ridiculous your apology would have to sound: “Sorry the brown hair I wore to your wedding wasn’t permanent enough.” Refuse to let your sister’s temper tantrum affect you. You did a very nice thing by changing your appearance to suit her mood in the first place. The fact that she got married does not entitle her to dictate the color of your hair. If she brings it up again, tell her the photos were lovely. And if she commands you not just to wear contacts but to get laser eye surgery for the birth of her first child, stand your ground.
* * *
A couple of years ago, my sister-in-law, a stay-at-home mom, made some nasty comments to me about my choice to continue working after having kids. She never apologized, and while I am pleasant to her out of necessity, it isn’t the same. I don’t trust her. Now her husband is out of work, and she wants me to recommend her for a position at my company. I do not like or respect this woman and do not want to work with her. My husband admits he wouldn’t help either. I know there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women, but do I have to help her here?
I don’t think it’s helpful to offer a professional recommendation for someone you wouldn’t actually recommend. If you’re interested in getting real with her, you can absolutely say, “You may not remember this, but those remarks you made about working mothers a few years ago hurt me deeply, and I would not be able to recommend you as a result.” If you’re not interested in having it out, you can simply say that your department isn’t hiring, but you’ll “let her know” if anything comes up. If she insists (something tells me she will be the kind of person who insists), or if she sees a posting on her own, go ahead and give the hiring manager your honest opinion: You don’t believe she’d be a good candidate for your company and can’t in good conscience recommend her. Then, when she doesn’t get the job, offer her your sincere (or as close as you can get) condolences. That “special place in hell” aphorism doesn’t mean you’re under any sort of obligation to help any and every woman get a job in the cubicle next to yours no matter how much you dislike her.
* * *
I recently broke up with my partner of five years. We were one of those couples that was great together when we were good but horrible when we were bad. There was a lot of mistrust on both sides: He lied about some pretty serious things, and I got caught sexting other people. He always took issue with what he perceived as my flirting with other men. It’s hard for me to be objective and definitively say if what I did was flirting. My ex and I have discussed the possibility of reconnecting down the road when we have worked through some of our individual issues and trauma (I left my abusive ex-husband to be with my now ex-partner).
I’m reaching out to you because my ex has put the stipulation on our future relationship (in any form—friendly or romantic) that if I engage in anything sexual or romantic with any of the male friends that he’d perceived as interfering with our relationship while we were together, he will “hate me for life” because he will then see that person as the reason we broke up. Is his response reasonable? I could understand that, if I were to enter a long-term relationship with one of these men, this would hurt him. But on the other hand I also feel that we are broken up and as a single person I can date whom I choose. I would appreciate your perspective in what is potentially owed to an ex when it comes to future romances.
—An Ex’s Influence
You owe an ex nothing when it comes to future romances. You can’t ask someone to sign a sexual noncompete clause after you break up. Your ex has warned you that if you ever reconnect in the future, he’s going to overly involve himself in your personal life, judge your dating choices, and look for an excuse to “hate you for life” if you end up dating someone you knew while you were dating him. He is promising to be a bad friend to you. Take him at his word.
* * *
A close friend of mine has recently turned over a new leaf and now has taken to trying to find the best in everyone and to defend people. While that may seem admirable, she’s doing it with everyone! This has led to her defending people my other friends and I complain about, whom she has never met and who were often abusive, because she thinks they might not be “that bad.” A recent example involved my describing the lengths I had to go to to leave a very abusive relationship and her telling me my actions were probably abusive toward my ex because I didn’t take her feelings into consideration. She’s never met my ex but knows the history we have. While I get that she’s trying to play devil’s advocate and be a good person, it’s just getting annoying and honestly hurtful that she’s disregarding the opinions of her friends for people she’s never met who honestly weren’t pleasant. What, at this point, should I do? I’ve tried talking to her and gotten nowhere.
—Best Friends With Devil’s Advocate
“Trying to play devil’s advocate” and “trying to be a good person” are not necessarily the same thing. I don’t know if this is an irritating new habit she’s picked up or if it’s her passive-aggressive way to try to get you to stop complaining to her about people she’s never met, but I think the simplest solution is to stop complaining to her about people she’s never met. That doesn’t mean you have to pretend no one has ever wronged you; it simply means that this friend is not going to be a useful outlet for venting about your exes. Find something else to talk about when you’re together, and this problem will go away on its own.
* * *
I feel like a jerk for admitting it, but my boyfriend (we’re both guys) loves to talk. A little too much, actually. I used to find it endearing, but he has a tendency to ramble on about things he’s passionate about—even if whomever he’s talking to doesn’t know anything about the subject matter or is bored or tired. He hates being interrupted, too, so he gets annoyed even if you try to ask him a question about whatever he’s talking about. I appreciate the fact that he has passions, but I feel like I’m being lectured every time. Even my friends and family have pointed it out. I’ve tried gently broaching the subject, but it’s like he doesn’t get social cues. He’s very sweet and well-meaning, but when he drones on about obscure bands, cars, and so on, I have trouble paying attention, and I often zone out. What do I do, Prudence?
Oh, this is my nightmare. I live in fear that I’m the un-self-aware bore who doesn’t know when to shut up, so the idea of resenting (presumably gentle) interruption is a little foreign to me. I’m a little concerned that he gets annoyed when you try to ask him questions rather than be excited about your interest in things that matter to him. You’ve tried being gentle, and that’s gone nowhere. So get less gentle. If he doesn’t “get” social cues, offer direct social correction: “I don’t think you’ve noticed this, but when you start talking about Steely Dan, you monopolize conversations and act irritated when I try to contribute to the discussion. It makes me feel like I’m being lectured, and I start to tune out, which I don’t want to do with you. Can we talk about this?”
I imagine his initial reaction will be defensive, but it’s worth being direct, because I can’t imagine you’re the first boyfriend (or even friend) who’s given up and zoned out rather than risked an argument. The alternative is listening to him prattle for the rest of your lives, until you become a gently nodding ghost who can only say, “Yes, that’s quite right” and “Oh, how interesting.” That’s not the life I want for you.
* * *
I am getting married this fall to a wonderful man. We’re financially stable, own a home, and always pay our bills on time. We aren’t hurting for money to get married, but help would still be appreciated. My issue is my mom has offered us a large sum of money for the wedding. Great, right? Except the money would be coming from my grandmother, who has dementia. In a moment of clarity, my grandmother offered this money, and I know if she were still in her right mind she would want us to have it, but I just don’t feel good about it. There’s nothing shady about it, I guess, but am I crazy for possibly turning it down?
You’re not crazy for wanting to make sure you’re not taking advantage of an old woman’s mental fogginess for financial gain. That makes you a good person. Have a serious conversation with your mother about your qualms. It’s helpful that your grandmother made the offer herself in a moment of clarity, but I think you’ll feel better if you’re extremely diligent about examining this situation from every angle. Does your grandmother have a living will? A conservator who helps her make financial decisions? Will she have enough money to pay for her own care after helping to sponsor your wedding? I trust you when you say your mother has good intentions, but don’t rush to take the money, especially since you don’t need it. Make sure you wouldn’t be compromising your grandmother’s future medical care for the sake of your wedding.
* * *
I started a new job about six months ago and struck up a friendly relationship with my two other team members. We get lunch together most days. Mostly this is great, but on occasion we’ll pass by a homeless person and one or the other of them will make a snide comment about “crackheads” or mock the way they ask for money. This really gets me upset! If I say something fairly mild like, “There but the grace of good luck go any of us,” I get accused of being too nice, like I’m ruining their fun. Really I want to go off on a long rant about mental health and addiction and support systems, but I can’t imagine that going over particularly well or changing anyone’s opinion. So what should I do? If I suddenly stop joining in on the team lunches it will look very odd and would negatively impact my job and leave me pretty isolated in my office. Am I being too much of a bleeding heart? Should I just shrug it off and ignore their inhumane comments?
“It makes me uncomfortable when you make fun of the homeless people we walk past every day. Would you please stop doing that in front of me?” is both mild and direct, and makes it clear to your co-workers that continuing to crack jokes at the expense of panhandlers will be a very intentional choice and not something they can just laugh off as a bit of fun. You may not want to be the company buzzkill, but you also don’t have to laugh along at cruel, unfunny, repetitive jokes. However, if they persist, since you’re the newest member of a small team, I think you’re right that you’ll have to swallow back that rant, at least for a while. They’re already saying you’re “too nice” for acknowledging that bad fortune, untreated mental health issues, or drug addiction can happen to anyone, which says something about the level of niceness that’s tolerated at your company.
* * *
I have a great group of friends with big dreams to change the world. We’re also all woefully underemployed—working freelance, at nonprofits, or as adjuncts. No one among us has much money, and those who do are generally funneling it toward our mountains of student loans. As one of the few who has managed to get some job traction (low-paying but finally full-time), I’m subject to an onslaught of GoFundMe, Kickstarter, and Fundly campaigns to finance my friends’ big dreams of launching startups and foundations to increase the social good. I generally donate when I can and politely ignore requests that are out of my budget, but these requests are becoming more frequent and insistent. My issue is twofold. One, I’m annoyed at their feelings of entitlement. I would also like to make a grandiose plan to change the world, but I’m financially solvent because I understand that no one is going to finance my dreams and I still need to be responsible for my own living. I’d like to suggest that rather than crowdfunding another nonprofit idea with the paltry wages the few of us with full-time gigs earn, they network and get entry-level jobs at actual organizations addressing these issues, but that’s unsolicited and unlikely to make a difference. Second, I’d like to find a way to kindly but firmly rebuff requests of this nature without seeming rude or insensitive. Can you help?
Ah, for the good old days of, “Sorry, I gave at the office.” My first piece of advice to you is to gently release your annoyance at your friends’ sense of entitlement. You will not be able to change your friends’ fundraising habits by quietly resenting their expectation that the world is going to make their startups viable. They will find out soon enough, if no one is hurrying to finance their big dreams. Mute them on social media or set a fundraising email filter you only check once a month, if that helps you feel saner, but don’t feel responsible for personally jolting all of your friends to financial reality. Answer the second: “I’m afraid I can’t afford to donate to any more crowdfunding efforts, but best of luck” is a nicely vague way of saying, “You probably won’t make a penny on this, but I don’t want to out-and-out declare your project a failure.”
* * *
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Porn Pays: My family has no idea all our money comes from adult websites.”
“Hanky-Panky Politics: I once had an affair with a man now running for office. Should I come forward?”
“Twist and Shout: My husband punishes our children far too roughly. What can I do?”
“Can’t Stomach It: I was shamed for getting gastric bypass surgery. Should I keep the procedure a secret?”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Getting Out of Hand: Prudie advises a woman whose 14-year-old son is pleasuring himself too much and in odd places.”
“Too Hot to Hold: Prudie counsels a woman convinced her boyfriend’s good looks will doom their relationship.”
“Oh, Boy: Prudie counsels a letter writer whose sister dresses her 4-year-old son in pink tutus.”
“Rumor Has It: Prudie counsels a woman hounded by gossip that she secretly put a disabled baby up for adoption.”