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My wife and I were elated to find out we are going to have a daughter! We decided to discuss names last week and gave ourselves three days to prepare our ideas. I spent a ton of time on this and even put together a presentation with each name and the reasons I liked them. I chose some important family names and some special names from literature and the arts—all of which I think would be beautiful. My wife showed up with a few names scribbled on the back of a grocery list as if she hardly even cared! Also her ideas were trashy misspelled names like Lauryn and Bethonie and 18th-century presidents’ names like Madison, Taylor, and Polk. I was so disappointed in my wife for not taking this seriously, as I feel it is very important. Honestly, this episode has me questioning the foundation of our relationship, let alone raising a child together. Obviously, I can’t just leave now because I am committed to the child, but how can my wife and I get past this major red flag in our relationship? I have tried to discuss it with her and she doesn’t even think she has done anything wrong, so we are at a major impasse.
—Baby Name Blow-Up
I have good news for you, which is that your wife’s behavior is not anywhere near the neighborhood of red-flaggery, and after you’ve recovered from the initial shock conveyed in your letter, I hope you’ll agree. It’s not even in yellow-flag territory. You don’t mention that your wife seems indifferent at the prospect of having a daughter, or that she’s talked about child-rearing techniques that strike you as negligent or unsafe. Most parents-to-be don’t develop PowerPoints for possible baby names, and the fact that your wife didn’t write an essay for each of her ideas is not an indication that she’s going to make a lousy parent or that she’s less excited than you about having a child. For my own well-being, I’ll assume you were joking or exaggerating about having contemplated, even for a minute, ending an otherwise loving marriage because your wife thinks “Bethonie” is a cute name.
As for what makes a good name, more broadly, “trashy” and “misspelled” are highly subjective categories. “Lauren” used to be a boy’s name; that doesn’t mean naming a girl Lauren today is somehow “less correct,” and “Lauryn” is a plausible variation on the standard spelling of the name. If you don’t like her suggestions, you can say, “I don’t like the name Taylor” without resorting to, “How disgusting for our child to share her name with someone who only made it a year into his term before dying from drinking too much iced milk.” I guarantee you that there is at least someone out there who considers your “special literary names” to be affected and not nearly as unique as you think they are. “This is our daughter, Bartleby the Scrivener” may have a nice ring to you but won’t to everyone. “This is our daughter, Fragonard’s The Swing,” or “This is our daughter, Enfield Tennis Academy,” is not inherently better than “This is our daughter, Lauryn.”
The takeaway here is not to get attached to the delusion that your taste is objectively good and your wife’s taste is objectively bad, about names or anything. Apologize to your wife profusely for your unkind overreaction, then have another brainstorming session—have several—and try to bring a great deal more generosity of spirit and open-mindedness to the process.
* * *
During my best friend L’s last two years of life, her brain cancer made her volatile and often unkind. I made a promise to her that I would look out for her socially isolated sister. Whenever I check in on her sister K, she blames me for not being a better friend to L while she was alive. I would have never promised to look out for K if I didn’t intend to follow through. I want to be a person who keeps her promises; I understand that K is probably in the anger stage of grief and hope to rise above. I put myself second during L’s last years, which took their toll on me. My friends say my promise didn’t include causing myself emotional trauma. K has little insight, poor communication skills, and is emotionally closed off, so talking to her hasn’t worked. Any thoughts?
—Drama Beyond the Grave
You offered to “look out” for K, but that doesn’t mean you have to subject yourself to cruel accusations about how you treated your dead friend, nor does it mean you are singly responsible for K to learn how to speak to others with kindness and respect. From now on, make that a precondition of all your interactions with K. Say “I loved your sister and I was there for her as she was dying. It’s not OK for you to tell me I wasn’t a ‘good enough friend’ to her.” If she brings it up again, leave. You’ve tried to do your best for your friend’s sister, and you’ve already explained (repeatedly, from the sound of it) how her behavior is hurting you; at a certain point, trying to force yourself to continue in this friendship goes beyond fulfilling your original promise and becomes an exercise in self-flagellation. Think of it this way: In a way, you are looking out for K by refusing to allow her to demean and berate you, thereby demonstrating that all relationships, however casual, must be founded on basic respect and civility.
* * *
Multiple people in my life have a habit that drives me nuts, and I can’t tell if I’m being too sensitive. Whenever I do something they think is remotely odd, they laugh and ask “Why are you doing that?” and mock me for doing something “weird.” It’s always something benign, like getting iced coffee instead of hot, holding my purse the “wrong” way, or even glancing at something. I feel on edge and forced to explain (“This is just how I hold my purse”) and whatever answer I give gets another laugh. I don’t mind joking around about myself, but it doesn’t really come across as joking around. I’ve tried replying dryly with “Why do you care?” but then I come across as hostile. Am I overreacting? These people are not all from the same friend group, so I wonder if it’s just me.
—Fun or Relentless?
Since this response comes from multiple people with no connection to one another, and generally revolves around innocuous little quirks, I think it’s likely that your friends are not trying to put you down or hurt your feelings. They don’t see themselves as demanding an explanation for some perceived lapse in “correct” behavior so much as genuinely curious about the habit in question.
It’s also possible your friends are just joshing you in a spirit of non-judgmental friendliness, in which case they may see your explanations as further excuses to escalate said joshery. Getting iced coffee (even if it’s already cold out) is a matter of taste, not objectively odd behavior. Feel free to defend your quirks! But it may even be more effective not to defend your quirks, which make up who you are: shrugging or laughing the moment off may be all that’s needed to get back to the rest of the business of being friends, especially since there’s definitely a realm of normal social behavior wherein friends sometimes call one another weird, and expect to be called weird in turn.
But if you truly find their teasing observations hurtful, it’s fine to ask them to stop without worrying if “it’s just you.” Even if it is just you, it’s perfectly fine to tell a friend that something they see as neutral or even light-hearted actually bothers you. A good friend will cheerfully apologize and do their best to knock it off. Feel free to ask them to check their behavior while making it clear you’re not assigning malice as a motivator: “You may not have noticed this, but sometimes you’ll point out little quirks of mine and I’d rather you don’t tease me about how I do things.” Based on what you describe, I imagine most of your friends would be surprised and sorry to learn that this makes you feel on edge and as if you are being forced to justify your every action. If one of them occasionally slips up and truly doesn’t seem aware that what they’ve just said feels harsh, you can briskly but kindly say, “This falls under the category of things I’d rather you didn’t ask me about. Let’s talk about something else.”
* * *
Dear Prudence: The “Anti-Pronoun” Edition
Hear more Prudence at Slate.com/PrudiePod.
I’m from the East Coast and am trying to decide where I want to live this coming year. Last month, I visited one of my best friends on the West Coast (we’d discussed the possibility of my moving there). I also hit it off with one of my friend’s good friends, and she and I have stayed in pretty regular contact since then. We’ve talked about trying to be together if she and I are ever in the same place at the same time again. Right now I have a lot of flexibility in terms of where I live. Is it a bad idea to move to the West Coast? I don’t feel like I’d be only moving there for this girl, but I also wouldn’t mind if something happened between us once I got there.
—Making the Move
I can’t promise you that moving west on a romantic hunch will be the greatest decision you will ever make, but this also doesn’t even come close to the worst idea to have crossed this column. (This West Coast city wouldn’t be any chance happen to be West Covina, would it?) You’d already been thinking about moving to your friend’s city before meeting this woman, and you’re not planning on getting into a committed relationship right away or moving in with her. If there are other cities you’ve been considering, go ahead and visit them too, and try to give your other options as fair a shake as possible before making the final call. But if this potential relationship tips your friend’s city into front-runner territory, then by all means, go and see what happens; even if things don’t work out between the two of you, you still like the area and know other people there—she’s not your only hope for a social life.
* * *
I am the oldest of four children ranging in age from 31 to 22. My dad died four years ago and my mother has only recently started dating. I know I should be happy for her but I am having a hard time with it. I avoided meeting her boyfriend for the longest time but I finally had dinner with them several weeks ago. He’s nice enough but it doesn’t make this any easier for me. I don’t really understand why I’m so angry about it, but I am. I try to put on a brave face when he’s around or when Mom talks about him, but I’m afraid my resentment is going to leak out. My siblings seem to tentatively approve of him, and I haven’t asked them what they truly think because I feel obligated to set a good example. I’m doing my best to appear supportive but it’s wearing on me. My mom is a wonderful woman and has every right to move on but when I see her with this guy, internally I’m screaming NO, WRONG, NO! Any idea how I can get past this?
—Shouldn’t Feel This Way
This is such a beautifully clear-cut case of Go to Therapy Tomorrow (GT3, trademark pending). It’s one thing to share privately with your siblings a sentiment like “I’m happy for Mom, and it’s also hard and strange in some ways to see her with someone who isn’t Dad”; it’s more of a concern if what you want to ask is, “Do you feel a pervasive sense of total panic at the sight of Mom’s new boyfriend?” That’s not to say you’re a bad child for reacting internally in a visceral way, but given that you don’t understand why you have these feelings, you should process them with someone outside the family.
If your goal is to make sure those barely suppressed feelings of resentment and aversion don’t leak out in your interactions with your family, then your best bet is to share them in all their messy glory with a professional. In the meantime, if you have to keep your interactions with your mother’s new boyfriend on the brief side in order to stay composed, that’s fine too. You don’t have to become his best friend. Just stay polite and friendly and make sure you’ve got something scheduled immediately afterward that lets you release some of that pent-up aggression. You’ve only met him once; there’s an excellent chance that with time, therapy, and repeated exposure-therapy family dinners you’ll be able to get to know this guy on his own merits and not feel like screaming “YOU’RE NOT MY DAD” every time you see him.
* * *
My fiancé and I are getting married this month. Everything is already booked, and we’re expecting lots of family and friends to attend. My beloved grandmother is very ill in hospice care and will likely die quite soon—possibly on or just before our wedding day. I’d like to be able to continue with my wedding (and honor my grandmother during the ceremony) but I also wonder if it’s appropriate to have a ceremony at all while she’s on her deathbed or has recently died. Should we postpone the wedding? What if she dies on the day? I’m already devastated that she’s sick, but I don’t know anything about the etiquette about death and weddings besides the Hugh Grant movie. I want to respect my grandmother and, if possible, not lose the thousands of dollars we’d forfeit by canceling the wedding, as heartless as that sounds.
—One Wedding and a Funeral
There are a number of questions for you and your fiancé to sort through before you make a decision. I would suggest sitting down together and figuring out both what those are and how to answer them. Here are just a few: How much time will your parents be able to spend away from your grandmother’s side during her final days? Would you feel a sense of relief if you postponed the ceremony? Do you have an idea of what your grandmother wants (if she is aware enough to understand)? Would it be possible to recover any of your deposits this close to the day, and would you be able to absorb the financial blow if you couldn’t? How many people are coming in from out of town who may already have purchased tickets and taken time off work?
You are not, I think, obligated to postpone your wedding because of your grandmother’s illness, and it would not be necessarily inappropriate to go forward even if she had very recently died. Death is always sad, but this is not a surprising or untimely death. Consider what plans you’d like to make beforehand for a number of possible eventualities, weigh your options, and make whatever decision you feel the most comfortable with. But if what you’re looking for is permission to go ahead and continue with the wedding, you have it. It’s neither cold nor calculating to want to hold to your wedding date as planned as well as mourn your grandmother’s imminent passing. “In the midst of life we are in death”; spend as much time with her as you can in her final days, and celebrate the excitement of your upcoming wedding.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Lost Cause: My boyfriend killed himself after a fight, and his family blames me.”
“In Fidelity: My cheating husband died suddenly, and I want to help his mistress.”
“Play Money: Our kids squander the strict budgets we give them for their birthdays.”
“The Wall Between Us: My husband supports Donald Trump. Will it ruin our marriage?”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“You, Me, and … Him?: Prudie advises a woman whose husband wants to have a threesome with his unattractive best friend.”
“Graveyard Shift: Prudie advises a woman who doesn’t want to be buried next to her deceased first husband.”
“Chosen One: Prudie advises a woman whose in-laws only give gifts to one of her kids.”
“I Ink I Love You: Prudie advises a student who got tattoos in tribute to her professor.”