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 email@example.com.)
Readers! Ask me your questions on the voice mail 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.
Q. Break up over veggies: I was raised by my grandparents in Appalachia. There was an outdoor toilet, and hunting and food stamps made up a huge percentage of our meals. I have eaten squirrel and know how to sew, knit, can, and garden by sheer necessity. I got a scholarship to school and ended up very gay and very politically blue.
My long-term lover was born in California to very upscale gay parents. She has never wanted for anything in her life, and I consider her one of the best people I know. She has been trying to go vegan for a while now. I don’t mind the dietary restrictions, but we keep arguing over ethics. I find them holier-than-thou and rooted in a smug, classist outlook. She thinks eating meat is murder.
This topic is a thorn in the side of our relationship. I’ll point out that increased demand for quinoa from upscale Americans has damaged local South American economies; she’ll send me upsetting PETA videos. Otherwise we work out beautifully—sexually, spiritually, and mentally.
We have been getting serious until this, and we both want kids. It is a big deal to me to be able to teach my children how to hunt, fish, and survive off the land. My grandparents died a few years ago, and I want their legacy to live on.
I don’t think marriage counseling is going to solve this, but I really do love her. Do you think we can resolve this problem?
A: First, the bad news: I don’t think I have a better sense of whether this relationship can work out than you and your partner do. I can tell you that, based on what I’ve seen from other couples (and what I’ve learned in writing this column for nigh-on two years), differences of opinion about how to raise children tend to get more important over time, not less.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for two people with extremely different dietary outlooks to start a family together, but you two can’t possibly move forward as you are now. Repeatedly sending you slaughterhouse videos in lieu of having a difficult, honest conversation is not a great choice on your partner’s part, regardless of how strongly she feels about meat-eating. Telling your partner that you believe her vegan convictions are solely the result of having had a relatively easy childhood is not a terrific choice on yours, either.
Whether or not you two seek out a counselor for help mediating this conversation, I think the most important next step is to figure out how you can talk about food and children in a way that is not rooted in contempt and antagonism. Can you both accept that the other is a fundamentally good person who is attempting to live a valuable, self-sufficient, moral life to the best of her ability, in accordance to her own values? Can either of you imagine a possible compromise when it comes to raising children—for example, eating primarily vegetarian meals at home except for what you have hunted or fished yourselves?
I can’t answer those questions for you, but I think it’s worth at least trying to resolve this together. If after all your best efforts you still think the other is being fundamentally unreasonable, you may have to part ways and find partners with more compatible views on child-rearing. But it’s worth fighting for what you have first.
Q. Night-shift roommate: At the beginning of the summer, my roommate got a job working the night shift. We talked about the situation well in advance of his start date, and I agreed to be quiet and conscientious in common areas during the day in order to let him sleep. My roommate has a short temper, and in the year we’ve been living together, he’s handled conflicts aggressively—swearing at me, breaking my dishes, and removing furniture from common areas without first asking me. I was worried that the stress of working the night shift would only exacerbate his anger issues, and that appears to be the case.
While I’ve taken extreme care to avoid even being in common areas during the day, he’s reacted to even the slightest sounds with a lot of hostility. He’s sent angry, all-caps messages, he’s slammed doors in front of me, and he’s screamed at me to shut up when I’m working or eating quietly in common areas. This is only a temporary job, but I think the issues here run deeper, and I think it may be time for us to stop living together.
I love my apartment, I love my neighborhood, and I don’t have the resources to move out right now. I also don’t want to put my roommate in an unsafe or financially precarious position—or make him even angrier!—by asking him to move out. We’re both on the lease for another year. Should I try to resolve the situation and ask him to be less hostile, or should I just bite the bullet and try to navigate a moving-out discussion?
A: It is definitely time for you two to stop living together. There’s no maybe about it. The issue here is not whether your roommate is getting enough sleep (which I’m very much in favor of!); the issue here is that your roommate has a violent temper and makes no attempt to curb his outbursts.
Figure out what you need to do in order for moving out to be financially viable, and start taking steps to find your own replacement on the lease. If you have a friendly relationship with your landlord, ask him or her about what options you have short of breaking the lease early.
In the meantime, if you have any friends or family you can stay with while you figure this out, I urge you to do so. I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it must be for you to live around someone who might fly off the handle and start screaming and breaking things if you cough in the living room. Of course you can also try to ask him to curb his rages, but something tells me that if he thinks breaking your dishes and screaming curses at you is a reasonable response to ordinary roommate conflict, he’s not going to listen.
Your best, and safest, option is to start planning your exit.
Q. Re: Night-shift roommate: Please! If this were a marriage or romantic partnership, this would be considered domestic violence, and we would be telling you to get out of there now. You have no emotional involvement of that sort. Please just get out of there. Maybe crash on someone’s sofa for a few weeks and pay a last month’s rent to help the guy out.
Otherwise, please don’t worry about “putting my roommate in an unsafe or financially precarious position.” He put himself there! You can’t make him not get angry. He is angry. That is his personality and also his tactic.
Please, please pack your things and get out of there now! He has already shown that he gets physical in anger. He could hurt you and might!
A: Right, the roommate’s financial situation should be the very least of the letter writer’s concerns. Since they’re worried about their own financial burden, they should contact the local tenant’s rights organization. Since they’re on the lease too, it won’t be as simple as paying “last month’s rent” in order to get out of the contract, but that doesn’t mean the only option is to stick it out for another year of walking on eggshells.
Q. Baby uncle: My dad and his second (much younger) wife are about to have a baby boy, just about a month after I had my second child. I’m really happy for them and glad my new son will have a relative his age. However, it turns out my dad and stepmom fully expect my kids to call the new baby “Uncle X.”
I think this is ridiculous. They’re older than him, and he’s a baby. When I expressed this to my dad, he said it would be disrespectful for the kids not to call his son that, regardless of age.
A: Sometimes a situation does not have a clear right side and wrong side! (Those are the worst situations. I’m so sorry.)
If your father expected your children to treat his as-yet unborn son as some sort of elder authority, we might be having a different conversation. But if all he wants is for you and your family to refer to his kid as your kids’ uncle, I think it’s worth humoring him. It’s technically true!
That said, it’s possible your father is insisting your kids refer to his son as “Uncle Fortescue” instead of his given name at all times, even when they’re playing together, which would be more than a little ridiculous and almost impossible to enforce. You can certainly introduce your kids to their new uncle by his title, and say things like, “Look! Uncle Fortescue just rolled over. How exciting for Uncle Fortescue,” but odds are excellent that by the time all your kids are in the 2- to 5-year-old range, little Uncle Fortescue is not going to be interested in demanding he be addressed by his full title. And you certainly shouldn’t go out of your way to correct a group of toddlers playing together and using one another’s given names.
Q. Can I ask my friend-with-benefits for sex?: I’m just going to begin my question by acknowledging that the relationship I’m about to describe is a little unconventional. I’m in my late 20s; the guy I’m seeing is in his mid-40s. We’re not in a relationship, though we’ve been exclusively intimate for about two years. We’re also very good friends. He’s extremely supportive of my life, family, and career, and vice versa. We consider ourselves friends with benefits, which, despite all the horror stories, is a label that mostly works for us.
But here is my problem: It’s been a little over a month since we’ve seen one another (we live about two hours apart and each have a young child), and I’m starting to get an ... itch. I’ve inquired a few times about getting together, but he’s been busy with work, and I obviously want to respect that. Is it reasonable to call him up and just say point-blank, “Hey, I need sex. Can we figure this out?” Or is that pushy and obnoxious?
I realize I could inquire with different men, but I honor the monogamous aspect of our relationship and would hate to screw it up over something trivial. Except that this isn’t trivial; the itch is real, and I don’t mean in a “Well, maybe you should try masturbating” way. Am I being crazy?
A: First things first: It is not “crazy” to ask someone you are having sex with to have sex with you. It is perhaps the least surprising thing you could ask for, given your arrangement.
Ask for sex point-blank! Why on earth would you consider it pushy? It’s not pushy to stand in line at Starbucks and order coffee. One naturally follows the other! It would be pushy to order a coffee after closing time or to leap across the bar and demand the barista ignore every other customer in order to make your drink first. But you’re not suggesting anything remotely close to that.
You’ve been sleeping with this guy for two years, consider him a friend, and call him “extremely supportive.” Why are you so afraid to ask him to have sex with you?
Q. Re: Night-shift roommate: In some states a domestic violence situation requires that the landlord let a threatened lessee out of a lease. Not sure if the letter writer’s situation would apply, but he or she should consult an attorney.
A: That’s a helpful point and worth investigating! I think the letter writer should take any and all help available to get away from this guy.
Q. Unrequited for now?: I admit I have a crush on a close friend of mine.
He and I started hanging out this past semester, but we spent almost every day together because of classes. We have the same interests, and he’s every bit as compassionate, cute, smart, and funny as one can hope for.
About two weeks into our friendship, though, I made a small comment that accidentally revealed my crush. He knew about my huge breakup from a year before but not much else about me, so he politely declined. Fast-forward seven months, we talk every day, and my crush is worse. Half of me wants to abandon it completely because he’s already declined. The other half thinks if he gets to know me better, he’ll find something he likes about me and there’s still hope.
We’re entering our last semester together, and I need advice on what to do before I end up asking him out at graduation.
A: If you two have spent the past seven months talking every day, I’d wager your crush already knows you pretty well. He has been given sufficient information and can make an informed decision as to whether he likes you as more than a friend!
Since the first time you asked him out was so early on in your acquaintance, I think it’s fine to ask once more. But why wait until graduation? At this point, I think any delay would have more to do with self-preservation than a genuine desire for him to “get to know you better,” since you’re already fairly close. If he doesn’t want to go out with you now, then it’s better to know so you can put your crush to bed and try to move on. If he does, congratulations! Have a great time on your date!
Q. His ex lives with us: My husband was married briefly in his early 20s, and the divorce was amicable. We are now in our early 40s and dealing with both elderly parents, downsizing, and a disabled child. When my husband’s ex asked if she could stay in our house while looking for real estate, we both happily agreed. “Mila” is a lifesaver. I can’t tell you how nice it is to come home to a hot meal and a clean house after a 12-hour shift, picking up a grumpy child, and taking my parents grocery shopping. We have additional income now and have been able go on actual date nights!
Mila has no family except an estranged brother. When she offered to move out, my husband and I both asked her to stay at least for another year. She can save her money and wait for a better real estate market and we all can live together happily.
My personal family is happy with this; my extended one is not. My siblings contribute very little to our parents’ care but are perfectly happy to gossip about me and pass it off to our parents. I nearly slapped my sister for accusing me of letting my husband move his mistress in. I told her Mila has done more for our parents than she did in the last 10 years (unless it was to beg money from them).
This is the only sour note in what has turned to be a new song in our lives. How do I stop them from spoiling it?
A: Congratulations on what sounds like the most delightful, difficult-to-achieve living arrangement of all time! I hope Mila is enjoying the arrangement as much as you and your husband are and that you two have enthusiastically shown your appreciation for all that she does around the house, as well as made sure she gets some time to herself.
You’ve already explained to your siblings that there’s nothing sexual or romantic going on between the three of you and that while your roommate situation might be unorthodox, it works for you and makes you happy. If they can’t or won’t accept that explanation, feel free to say (as often as necessary): “We’re very happy living with Mila, and I’m not going to discuss it any further.” If this means you end up spending less time talking to your siblings—frankly, that sounds like a bonus.
Mallory Ortberg: Yes, there’s that upturned chin and that grin of impetuous youth. I believe in you. See you next week.