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My husband and I are both very committed to being child-free. Our conservative, reactionary family is not. We avoided the arguments, lectures, and condescension by using “not yet” as the answer for years. Now we have gotten into our mid-30s, we have changed from “not yet” to “not possible” in order to get around the “you’re not getting any younger” arguments. Most people respect that, but my sister-in-law had fertility problems. She is on a crusade to get me pregnant. She will badger me about our “problems,” talk about IVF, and natter on about adoption even as we ask for her to drop the subject.
She is opinionated, zealous, and overly invested in the ideal of motherhood. I am dreading Thanksgiving. Being honest with her is a no go; it will cause a bigger problem than this. I am ready to fake cry and lock myself in the bathroom if it will get her to leave my husband and me alone. I just want peace or at least the illusion of peace before we can go take our Christmas trip to Hawaii. What do I do?
I’d normally advise you to come up with a polite rebuff to well-meaning questions, but if your sister-in-law is truly incapable of having a conversation with you without trying to ensure you’re pregnant by the end of it, you should reconsider spending the holidays with her. If locking yourself in the bathroom is a likely outcome of spending Thanksgiving with your family, it might be kinder and less stressful for everyone involved if you make alternate arrangements.
I also urge you to consider being honest with her (and the rest of your family); it doesn’t sound like your slightly evasive policy has actually resulted in hearing fewer arguments, just different ones. You don’t have to have this out before the holidays, but I think you should—at least once—tell them that you don’t want to have children, so that you’re not giving them false hope that you might be persuaded. After that, if they start going into the old routine, you can always draw a hard line and say, “We’ve made it clear that we don’t want children, and we’re not interested in arguing the point. As far as we’re concerned, the topic is closed,” then leave the conversation (or the room) if you have to. What an exhausting battle they’ve chosen to wage! Take more trips to Hawaii, and fewer trips to hear guilt-inducing lectures from your relatives, at least until they can learn to stop micromanaging your fertility.
* * *
I hate housework: It is a Sisyphean, bullshit task that drains my already limited energy and will to live. My partner and I both work full time and could easily afford a cleaning service. He, however, thinks this would be a waste of money—worse, he actually enjoys cleaning. I have suggested he does the housework when it’s his turn and I pay for it, out of my own paycheck, when it’s mine, but he still thinks this would be a ridiculous expense. Instead, he’s suggested he do all the housework he wants to do—and I put the money I would have spent on maid services aside and buy him a motorbike, or pay for us both to travel overseas. This feels odd to me, and I can’t put my finger on why. Would it be ethical for me to take him up on his offer?
—Maybe he likes the misery
This sounds amazing. I’m totally on your side, for what it’s worth; if you can afford to hire a housecleaning service and you hate doing housework, I think it’s worth paying for. Your husband, though, doesn’t mind cleaning, and would rather see that money go toward something enjoyable and memorable, and I think you can take him up on his suggestion with a clear conscience, if he’s really serious about this offer. (Go for the vacation, obviously; if he was foolish enough to offer a choice of a present only he could use or a vacation you both get to go on, choose the vacation and you win twice over.)
Also, if anyone would like to make me a similar offer, I can be reached at email@example.com.
* * *
I recently finished working a fun seasonal job and have come to realize I’m attracted to my boss. We’re both in our 30s. I’d like to get to know him better, but don’t know how to go about it. If he were anyone else, I’d invite him for a beer or a coffee and see what happens, but since I worked for him, I am not sure if that would make him uncomfortable. I’d like to continue working this job next year, too, and he really liked the work I did there, so I am a bit concerned about jeopardizing our professional relationship. On the other hand, he seems like a really cool person, and I’d like to get to know him and see what happens. Is there a way I could go about getting to know him without making things weird between us?
—Contacts and Crushes
Not if you ever want to work for him again. There may be a way to ask out a former employer that controls for potential weirdness, but there definitely isn’t a way to ask someone out while also making it clear that you’d like to become his employee again, regardless of how things go between you romantically. (Was it a Halloween store? Because if it was a Halloween store, you can definitely ask him out. If it was any other seasonal job, don’t, but I think the kind of person who manages a costume shop is probably used to a lot of slightly unusual situations and could handle getting asked out by a former employee with unshakable aplomb. You can’t unseat the kind of person who manages a Halloween store. They’ve seen it all.) But if you would choose giving this a shot over coming back to work again next year, be sure you’re ready to make that trade before you offer.
* * *
My best friend and I got pregnant together, had our daughters within a month of each other, and basically have shared every high and low of motherhood together. Our girls are in fifth grade now and growing apart. My best friend’s daughter, “Amy,” has been struggling with anxiety and a learning disorder. She is very shy and has a hard time making friends. My daughter has been growing apart from Amy for a while since she got into sports. She spends time with Amy but has confided to me that Amy is not her best friend anymore and she doesn’t like spending time with her. I am not sure what to do. The girls get along when our families get together, but I am very worried about what will happen in the future. How do I navigate my own friendship away from my daughter’s?
I think your instinct to ask “how” rather than “should” is a good one, because it means that you are aware, on some level, that just because you and your friend are close, it does not necessarily mean that your daughters will develop the same sort of deep, lifelong friendship. That’s entirely normal and you shouldn’t try to force an emotional intimacy that doesn’t exist between them. However, I think the concern underlying your letter is that your daughter might someday attempt to separate from her former friend in a way that is maybe unintentionally hurtful, or that might exacerbate her mental health issues. Reassure your daughter that she’s doing everything right: She doesn’t have to be best friends with Amy just because you’re close with her mother, and it’s OK for her to decide who she wants to be friends with. But your daughter should continue to be kind and gracious, especially when your families spend time together. She doesn’t have to be Amy’s best friend, but she does have to treat her well.
* * *
My friends, Tammy and Joe, have two daughters ages 7 and 5. Their daughters are spoiled, rude, and a handful. Every time we hang out, they run amok and act out, especially in public. Tammy and Joe both have large families that live close by, but neither family can be relied upon for child-care assistance. This has led to what I consider to be a very rude habit—they show up to dinner, bars, and movies with their kids when the invitation was meant for adults only. Imagine trying to have an adult conversation with a 7-year-old butting in every few seconds to ask inappropriate questions or having to sit next to them during a movie that is definitely not age-appropriate. It makes everyone in our circle of friends uncomfortable. Growing up, if my parents couldn’t find a sitter, they’d stay in. I have kids of my own, and when the event or venue is not family friendly, I do not drag my kids along if I can’t find a sitter. I stay home and take a rain check. I don’t think Tammy and Joe realize how inappropriate it is to show up to a happy hour event with their kids. Should I say something to them? Help them find a reliable sitter? Or do we stop inviting them to the adult only events?
I don’t know that it is rude to bring children to an event that is not explicitly adults only. If they’re not curbing their kids from bringing down the walls in public, sure, that’s bad form on Tammy and Joe’s part, but it’s not at all clear to me from your letter that any of you have actually told Tammy and Joe which events are adults only, and have instead hoped they would simply read between the lines. If you want to have a gathering without children, it’s perfectly appropriate to get specific, either verbally or in writing. Start making it clear to Tammy and Joe which events are not meant for kids. It may be that you (and your parents) are better at intuitively discerning expectations—or simply have more reliable access to child care—so make explicit to your friends what was always clear to you. “We’re having drinks tomorrow at 7, and it’s adults only, so leave the kids at home.” “Do you want to come see a movie with us this weekend? The kids are welcome to come.” Repeat as often as needed.
* * *
I’m a single woman in her mid-30s. I’m not looking. I don’t have a tangible reason, like a bad experience or fear. Just as some people don’t want to have children, learn to sail, or get a pet, I don’t want to date or be in a relationship. Most of my close friends and family members understand that I have other interests and priorities, but casual acquaintances and people who I am meeting for the first time seem to take issue with my contented singleness.
I deal with both subtle and overt implications that I should be in, or at the very least looking for, a relationship. Some people seem to view me as less of an adult or person simply because I’m not “attached,” which is insulting. When someone asks about my love life and I say that I’m not looking, I’ve had people try to talk me out of it. I was recently, somewhat bafflingly, told that it was “a waste” that I am not in a relationship, as though I owe my romantic companionship to the world. It rankles after a while. There just seems to be a pervasive believe that people should be in relationships or at the very least want to be, and that if they aren’t, something is wrong with them. This isn’t the case for me. Do you have any good ideas for dealing with singlism?
—Single, Not Wanting to Mingle
On the bright side, I’m glad these people aren’t driving you to lock yourself in a bathroom to dodge their questions. But that’s cold comfort when you find yourself having to navigate comments that you shouldn’t be happy with the state of your personal life, or being told that your claims of personal satisfaction are the equivalent of whistling in the dark. It can be very difficult to convince someone else that you are genuinely happy with your choices when they’ve already decided you must want the exact same things they do, and therefore cannot experience real happiness until you get it. For anyone who is willing to declare your singleness a waste, I think a crisp, “I don’t think of myself as a waste, and I encourage you to do the same,” followed by a profound willingness to endure uncomfortable silence, is the best response. For everyone else, it might be helpful to have a few gentle but firm talking points prepared: “I’m really happy being single, and prefer not to date. I’ve noticed this often makes people really uncomfortable. I hope you can take me at my word when I say I’m not interested in finding a romantic relationship, and that I’m not looking to be talked out of it. So what’s new with you?”
More Dear Prudence Columns
“To B-Cup or Not to B-Cup: My college-bound daughter is ashamed of her small breasts. Should I offer to pay for a boob job?”
“A Rough Go: I can’t get over my wife’s sordid sexual past.”
“Next!: How does a newly divorced man play the field without being a cad?”
“Bloody Relations: My father was murdered when I was a child. Then I found out my uncle may have been the killer.”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Clean Break: Prudie advises a woman worried that her brother being the office janitor might hurt her career.”
“A Village of One: Prudie counsels a letter writer committed to raising a deceased friend’s kids despite the challenges.”
“He Said/She Said: Prudie advises a letter writer not sure how to converse with a male neighbor whenever he dresses as a woman.”
“Show and Tell: Prudie counsels a letter writer who “played doctor” as a kid, but whose fiancée thinks it was abuse.”