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.)
Readers! Ask me your questions on the voicemail of the Dear Prudence podcast. Just leave a message at 401-371-DEAR (3327), and you may hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.
Mallory Ortberg: Hi everyone! Let’s chat.
Q. Denied the Bunny: This weekend we planned a campout for our 8-year-old son and a few of his friends. Parents were all happy to allow their children to attend even after we realized it was Easter weekend. However, one mother was insistent that I create a treat basket to give the kids from the Easter Bunny. My family does not celebrate this, and the other children camping with us all are aware of the nonexistence of the bunny. She wanted us to hold a special meeting, pre-campout, to explain to all the children that her son still believes and that we all need to keep up the facade. I politely rescinded my offer to take her child explaining that we have different goals for this campout and different beliefs. That while having her son with us, we would not be able to “keep the magic alive,” as she says, and it is unfair to ask a group of five 8-year-olds to lie to a friend. Now she is angry, telling people in our community that my family is against celebrating Christian holidays. Have I handled this incorrectly? What should I have done differently? Is there a need for me to apologize or do I try to ignore the accusation and hope cooler heads prevail?
A: Oh, Lord. No, you do not need to apologize to this boy’s parents for failing to prepare a treat basket for their son nor for enlisting a fleet of his peers to ensure he believes in the Easter Bunny for another year. (How odd, by the way, that this woman would conflate the Easter Bunny with a Christian holiday; bunnies are not a thematically significant element in the story of the Resurrection.) Holiday figures like Santa and the Easter Bunny are charming when it comes to entertaining small children, but it gets creepy when adults start concocting increasingly elaborate schemes to artificially extend their kid’s naïveté. Let her have her anger and stay distant but polite; the obvious irrationality of her complaint against you will not persuade any reasonable people that you are a bad parent or a poor sport.
Q. Fun granny: This past weekend we spent some time with my family for the holiday. My mom in particular was in a great mood, something that I have not experienced for a few years. She has a condition which causes her chronic pain and has swung between depression and anger over the past year or so. It’s gotten to the point where I rarely answer her phone calls because I’m not sure whether or not I will be berated on the phone for things I have no involvement in, so seeing her in such a good mood this weekend was a nice surprise—and I was wondering what made the change happen. Well, it turns out she has a new prescription for medical marijuana that seems to be working. I think that’s great, the improvement in her mood is wonderful and our two toddlers had a fantastic time playing with grandma this weekend. When I returned home and told my friends about the change and the prescription they told me I shouldn’t leave my kids alone with her because she’s “high.” I feel like that mindset is a bit outdated, obviously I wouldn’t leave toddlers, or any child, with a “stoner,” but I feel like this is different. Who is right? I don’t want to endanger my kids or hurt granny’s feelings.
A: First off, it’s fantastic that your mother has found such profound relief from medical marijuana. It sounds like her course of treatment is successfully pain-relieving and has not, thus far, resulted in profound or noticeable impairment. Which is fantastic, and I think your distinction between your mother’s genuine improvement as a result of this treatment and just “getting high” is a legitimate one. She’s not attempting to check out mentally or emotionally, she’s attempting to manage her chronic pain.
That said, it’s your responsibility as your kids’ parent to do some research, just as you would if your mother were taking any other medication with possibly mood-altering side effects. At least at first, I think it’s reasonable for you to make sure you or your partner are always with your mother when she’s spending time with your kids, so you can observe for yourself how they interact. You might ask her what her dosage is and how she’s feeling on it—not as part of an interrogation to prove she’s an unfit grandmother, but simply to learn more about how she’s doing and how you feel about it. If you feel comfortable leaving the kids with her for a few hours but not letting her take them on an overnight road trip, plan your visits to Grandma accordingly.
Q. Best friend/girlfriend dilemma: My best friend is a guy. We’ve been best friends for years and I adore him. (There are no I’m-secretly-in-love-with-you feelings here.) He’s always had relationship troubles—can’t keep a girlfriend for more than six months, etc. Over the last year, I’ve begun to fear that one of his reasons for losing girlfriends is because of our relationship. We text 100 times a day, all of our stories are about each other, we can’t make a decision without talking to each other. Well, yeah. We’re best friends. But to be honest, if my boyfriend had a female best friend like me, I’d probably have a problem with it. I don’t want to stop being his BFF but I also want him to find a healthy relationship. Should I back off? But I don’t want to!
A: I hope there’s at least a degree of playful hyperbole in your description of this relationship, because if you truly can’t make a decision without getting your best friend’s input, you need to start drawing some boundaries with him immediately. Not because you’re worried about some hypothetical future girlfriend of his, but for your own well-being. The fact that you feel partly responsible for your friend’s supposed inability to maintain a romantic relationship may speak to an unnecessary over-involvement on your part. You seem to think this is only a problem if it keeps your friend from getting a girlfriend, but put him aside for a second. How are you doing? There’s nothing wrong with having a deep and intimate friendship with another person, but I wonder if you have room for other relationships in your life (not just romantic ones!) if “all your stories” are about a single person. Let your friend worry about the women he dates, especially since this sounds fairly hypothetical so far. It’s not as if he’s told you he’s been dumped repeatedly as a direct result of his friendship with you. You don’t need to use his romantic life as an excuse for dialing back from a 100 to a 94 on the Emotional Intimacy Index.
You say you don’t want to back off, but you also sound genuinely concerned about the degree to which you two rely on one another, and I wonder if part of what worries you is the fear that you only have two options when it comes to connecting with your friend: brutally exposed, eyeball-to-eyeball closeness and constant, ceaseless communication or a painful, forced, artificial separation. I think you have more choices than that! What if you two texted, say, only 50 times a day? If merely “lots” of your stories were about one another? If occasionally you made a decision—even just a small one, like where to get lunch tomorrow—without talking to him about it at all? If you two left room in one another’s lives that allowed potential outside relationships room to flourish? I can’t guarantee this course of action would result in the immediate appearance of the perfect girlfriend for your BFF, but I think you might find you both cherish one another all the more for a little breathing room.
Q. Can’t avoid my ex: I’m in college at a really small school, and have had the same group of friends for the entirety of the three years I’ve been here. I dated one of this group of friends for about a year and broke up with him a few months ago. He wasn’t a terrible boyfriend, but we were incompatible, and attempts to be friends haven’t been working. I’m now dating someone I’m a lot happier with, but the problem is I constantly see my ex. He’s still friends with the rest of my close friends, so I can’t go to smaller gatherings without it being awkward. He’s also almost always in my apartment as he’s close with my roommate and she invites him over, and it’s gotten to the point where I feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in my own home, especially when it comes to inviting my current SO over. My ex has never acknowledged the problem with this, despite attempts to speak to him about it. He usually avoids talking to me now, so I’m not sure what the best solution to this ongoing awkwardness is.
A: If your ex-boyfriend is as much a part of your circle of friends as you are, it’s likely you’ll have to resign yourself to continuing to see him at least some of the time. Your apartment, however, is another matter. Have you ever asked your roommate to dial back how frequently she has him over as a guest? Do you two have any mutually-agreed-upon rules about guests in general? It’s always frustrating to have a third “unofficial roommate” hanging around, much less when that third roommate is someone you used to date. Ask to establish some basic ground rules about having guests over together. Depending on how that goes, you may decide you want to spend some more time out of your apartment and away from this particular circle of friends. That doesn’t mean you have to move across town and ditch your entire social circle; just make sure you set aside time every day doing something you know won’t involve seeing your ex. That may involve looking for a different roommate next year.
Q. Re: Fun granny: Medical marijuana strains can be selected so that they include the chemical that relieves pain but not the chemical that makes one feel high. Some strains are specifically identified for people who need pain relief but must go to work and be fully engaged and clear-minded. The whole field is much more sophisticated than it was formerly.
A: Absolutely! We don’t know what strain the grandmother in question is using, or how she’s ingesting it, but there are lots of medical marijuana users out there whose treatment plans involve symptomatic relief and not getting high.
Q. Bad advice from my therapist: My therapist wants me to do something and I think it’s a bad idea, so I’m looking for some neutral advice. When I was a child, I was sexually abused by my older brother. For a very long time, I didn’t think this had much of an impact on me. It only happened a few times. When I told my parents, they talked to my brother and it didn’t happen again. We never spoke of it again. Here I am, 25 years old, two eating disorders and a suicide attempt later, and I realize how very stupid that was. I’ve never been in a relationship. The idea of sex terrifies me. I haven’t even been kissed since middle school. My therapist thinks I should talk with my family and get everything out in the open, so they better understand what I’ve been through. I don’t think there’s anything to be gained from this. I can’t change what happened, and as far as I know, my brother has never repeated his behavior. My family isn’t good at honest conversations—but I don’t need them to be. I would rather deal with this on my own. What do you think? Should I try my therapist’s idea?
A: If you don’t feel ready to speak to your family about your abuse, or simply don’t wish to, then that is reason enough not to do it. Every patient has the right to say “No” to their therapist, and a good therapist will respect the boundary and move on.
Q. Women on a guys’ weekend: My husband and I socialize with another couple that we met at a meetup about a year and a half ago. Six months ago, the husband invited mine on a guys’ hiking weekend. In the six months leading up to it, it was discussed often and always as a guys-only weekend. On the car ride there, my husband found out that some men were bringing their wives. I am furious at the couple for lying to me. I wouldn’t have wanted to go, and I wouldn’t have been upset that my husband was going, but I do think it’s a huge lie considering we talked about it no less than 10 times in the months leading up. I expressed my anger after the weekend and got a halfhearted apology from the husband and basically that they see it as a guys’ weekend because their group doesn’t bring their wives. I maintain that since women go every single year, it had to be a deliberate choice to keep me in the dark until my husband was on the way there. The wife began texting me this weekend (the trip was in the beginning of March) because they want to move forward and go back to hanging out. I feel that they either deliberately lied to me or if not, they have horrible judgment in never once mentioning that other guys might bring their wives. I know my husband would like me to get over it too but I just can’t, especially since their apology was, “I’m sorry but we didn’t do anything on purpose so you shouldn’t be mad anymore.”
A: You should let this go. Your friend and his group clearly treat this weekend as a guys’ getaway, and if the camping trip is anything like the meetup you all met at, they can’t control whether or not unrelated strangers bring their partners. Regardless, this does not fall under the category of “a huge lie,” and your outraged response is unwarranted and unpleasant. You have not been betrayed or “kept in the dark” about anything significant, you are not the Count of Monte Cristo, and you should accept this couple’s overtures and move on. If you don’t—and if you insist on holding this up as an example of “horrible judgment”—you may find yourself left off even more invitations in the future.
Q. Bridesmaid vs. bridezilla: When a bride insists that her bridal party get their hair and makeup done professionally by a person of her choosing who charges Hollywood prices, who should pay? The girls in the party want to either do their own, which some are more than capable of, or find someone in their budget range. The bride is unmovable. Her mother even called me to ask if I’d foot the bill for my daughter as “photos matter” to the bride. I’m currently unemployed, so this is a big ask. What is the etiquette?
A: The etiquette is, “No, I will not pay for that.”