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.
Mallory Ortberg: Good morning, Slaters! Let’s chat.
Q. Embryos: My family has three beautiful children courtesy of IVF. We still have several embryos on ice, so to speak. My husband and I are conflicted on what to do with them. He would rather see them destroyed than donated—he doesn’t want a stranger raising what would be our biological children. My brother is gay, and he and his husband are looking into having children. I want to give the embryos to them. They are both dedicated, kind men and adore our children. My husband is not opposed to this. The only hurdle is his sister, who is struggling with infertility. She is much older than us and already has a 15-year-old son. And she is completely unhinged.
I understand the grief and loss and raw wanting that comes with infertility. I also understand it is not a license to inflict your pain on the world at large. My sister in-law did not speak to us for four months after we announced we were having twins. The year before that, we both miscarried, and I tried to reach out, only to be told “mine didn’t count” since I already had a baby. She is a dominating force in my husband’s family—his parents and other siblings tend to fall in line. If we announce we are giving the embryos to my brother, she is going to try to get her claws in. She will demand our embryos.
I shudder to even think of her raising any child of my blood. She is not a good mother and neglects my nephew. She is also nearly in her 50s. I don’t know what to do. I would love to see my brother have the children he deserves, but the thought of the thunderstorm that follows makes my head ache. Can you help me think of a way out, or should we just leave the embryos as-is?
A: You and your husband should come to a decision about whether you want to donate your embryos to your brother or have them destroyed as if his sister did not exist.
If your husband is merely not opposed to the idea, then you two need to have a serious conversation about what he wants. If you two decide to donate your embryos to your brother, then it should be with genuine enthusiasm on both your parts, because what you’re contemplating is profoundly intimate and long-term. Even if you all understand your brother and his husband to be the sole parents of whatever children are born from this arrangement, you’ll still be bound up in their lives in a new and complex way. It’s possible that the children may someday have their own, complicated feelings about you and your husband. So the two of you should get on the same page, whether you make the offer or not.
Q: Husband never told me he has HIV: About a month ago, I discovered my husband’s HIV medication and confronted him about it. To date, I am steadfast that the relationship has to end because I feel he lied to me every time he took the medication and didn’t tell me—five years of lies. He is certain that we can work through it, and I’m starting to doubt my resolve. What advice can you give on how to move forward?
A: What would “working through it” look like to you? Do you want to work through it with him, or are you merely doubting your own resolve because he’s trying so hard to wear you down?
Has he apologized? Has he granted you reasonable space to have your own feelings about what you’ve discovered, or is he pressuring you to forgive and forget before you’re ready? Is he willing to go to couples counseling, or does he want to put this behind you as quickly as possible? What reasons did he give for not disclosing this to you, his partner, after five years? Did he believe you would have rejected or judged him based on his HIV status, and if so does that have anything to do with the kind of person he believes you to be? Does his idea of “working through it” look mostly like “hurry up and get over this so we can go back to the way things were,” or does he seem genuinely willing to find a more honest foundation for your relationship together?
Find the answers to all of these questions—in addition to getting tested yourself, if you haven’t already—before you decide whether you two have a future.
Q. Should I have come out?: I’m 23 years old and came out to my parents as bisexual with a strong preference for women last year. They didn’t take it well.
They seem to be stuck on the idea that I have these feelings because I was in a long-term relationship with a man that ended badly, despite telling them that I’ve felt this way since I was very young. Visiting home is awkward—there’s no mention of my dating life (they used to be very interested) until either I bring it up or there is alcohol flowing. Then all I hear about is how they don’t want the rest of our family to know. They think I’m “not really gay” and will regret this “lifestyle choice.” They say that if I really do like both then I should just choose to be with a man.
I’ve even explained to them that even if I do end up with a man, I will still be bisexual and will therefore still be part of the LGBTQ community, adding that I would really appreciate it if they could try harder to educate themselves and be accepting. I want to think they’re trying, but I’m honestly not sure. It seems like they don’t get it at all.
I was stressed, self-obsessed, and miserable when I was in the closet, but my relationship with my parents was so much better then than it is now. I miss how close we used to be, and how I felt so comfortable sharing most of my life with them. What can I do to make this better?
A: I think you have done, and are doing, everything right! I wish that translated into real-life, real-time results, but that’s not always the case. The work that needs to be done now must come from your parents. You can continue to be honest, point them in the direction of resources, challenge nonsensical or biphobic remarks, and remain patient, but you cannot do the actual work of accepting your sexuality for them.
That’s not to say I think it’s likely your parents will always be exactly as they are now—it’s only been a year, which seems like a long time, but when it comes to the parent-child relationship, you’ve got to play the long game. If you’re delaying coming out to the rest of your family because of your parents’ response, I think you should go ahead. It may be that you’ll have to take a little space from your parents for a time and visit home a little less often than you might otherwise. Keep up the good work, correct misperceptions when you encounter them, hope for the best, and focus on the people in your life who don’t want to shove you back in the closet.
Q. Saying sorry: I think both by nature and nurture I tend to apologize more than the average person. It definitely comes from growing up in the culture of “nice” in the Midwest, but I’m also a conflict-avoider and people-pleaser by nature, which seems to amplify it. Additionally, I tend to use it a lot when I’m trying to sympathize with people—if they say they’ve had a bad day, my response is usually, “I’m sorry.” I know the whole discussion of how women say sorry too much, but it just seems ingrained at this point and part of who I am. It’s not done to minimize myself, my opinions, or my feelings.
The problem is the number of people who tell me to stop saying sorry—especially when I use it in the commiserating sense. If I say sorry after they tell me they aren’t feeling well, they respond with, “It’s not your fault!” which I know, of course. Is there a better way to communicate sympathy or empathy, and should I be sorry for being sorry all the time?
A: Extremely contrarian voice What women don’t say “sorry” too much? What if a lot of men say “sorry” ... too little? I don’t have much of a problem with the everyday “I’m sorry”; it covers a lot of bases quite efficiently! It’s a way of expressing sympathy, recognizing someone else’s graciousness or flexibility; managing minor social missteps; or just generally acknowledging all the little, often-forgotten work that goes into making everyone’s professional and personal lives run smoothly. Assuming someone who says, “I’m sorry” upon hearing bad news is attempting to take personal responsibility for it seems to be unnecessarily pedantic!
“I’m sorry to hear that” seems to forestall the “It’s not your fault” response most of the time; I’d recommend that or something like “That sounds terrible/frustrating/painful,” as an alternative.
If you’re genuinely concerned about overusing “I’m sorry,” consider replacing it with “Thanks for ____,” where blank is whatever you’re grateful to the other party for doing, whether that be waiting for you to arrive, listening to a long or painful story, or behaving graciously after you’ve inconvenienced him or her.
Q. How do I dispose of addictive prescription meds?: This past weekend, my dad (who is going through an awful divorce from my alcoholic stepmom) brought me a giant plastic bag filled with prescription opioid pills. We are talking thousands of dollars street value here. He had been saving them in case he got cancer and wanted assisted suicide, but we recently found out that my younger brother, who is 20, has been abusing prescription painkillers. Thankfully he has been staying sober, but my dad did not want this stuff in the house anymore.
Now it is in a drawer under my bed. How the hell do I get rid of this stuff? I would never sell it (it’s unethical and highly illegal, obviously). And flushing it is environmentally irresponsible.
A: Check Daily Med or Dispose My Meds to find the prescription disposal center nearest you. Many pharmacies will dispose of unused medication for you, and sometimes local law enforcement will too. Perhaps surprisingly, the Food and Drug Administration approves a number of opioids for disposal by flushing, too.
Q. Housewarming: Not a real problem! My boyfriend and I just moved into our first home. I want to tell people we moved and in turn do a mass “please, please please visit us” invite, but what is the appropriate way to do that? Do we send out cards that say, “We moved”? I don’t want it to come across show-offy—or, God forbid, a gift grab—but I do want to disseminate the information and let everyone know this is an exciting thing for us.
A: Throw a party! A housewarming party is the solution to all your problems, at least all the problems in this letter. In general, if you want people to visit you, it’s better to offer them a specific time they can either accept or reject, rather than put the onus of planning on the invitee. If you just send out a generic request to all your friends asking them to visit you “at some point,” you’re going to get stuck in a lot of formless text threads with questions like “Does next Thursday work for you?” and “What if we met up at my new gym after work instead? It’s closer.” You’ll never actually get to see a single friend ever again.
Pick a convenient date, block off a few hours, and let your guests know they can drop by anytime during that window to ooh and ahh over your water fixtures. Congratulations!
Q. Re: Saying sorry: This is a pet peeve of mine. Sorry is not just an apology or an admission of guilt. It’s also an expression of sympathy. And that’s how it’s most commonly used in countries other than the U.S. When you tell me your mother recently passed away, I say, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” That doesn’t mean I killed her!
Just try tacking on a couple of extra words so that others don’t feel compelled to correct your perfectly correct usage of the word sorry. Try saying, “I’m sorry for your loss,” for example.
A: I’m wondering now if, instead of shifting blame from the “I’m sorry”–sayers to the “It’s not your fault”–sayers, the problem lies somewhere with our collective national discomfort with sympathy and the idea that expressing mutual sorrow or pain somehow obligates us to fix someone else’s problems. Maybe the people who reflexively say, “It’s not your fault” don’t really think the people saying, “I’m sorry” are at fault any more than they do. Maybe we’re all just terribly uncomfortable at the prospect that something is wrong and nobody knows how to fix it, and we’re all trying to make sure nobody feels responsible for it.
Q. Sleepy: I don’t want to get out of bed this morning. Do I have to?
A: Absolutely not. If anyone tries to give you trouble about the matter, send him or her to me, and I’ll explain.