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.
Q. Speak no evil or spill the beans: This question seems like it has a simple answer, but bear with me—I think it’s more complicated than it seems. I caught my sister’s fiancé cheating on her, two months before their wedding. Do I tell her or not?
Thing is, I love my sister to bits but she makes bad romantic decisions at an Olympic level. Her fiancé has cheated on her before, left her, stolen money, come back, wrecked her credit, wrecked her car—every time she says she’s through with him, and every time she takes him right back. So I am kinda torn. Do I spill the beans because sis deserves the chance to ditch this guy before tying herself to him irrevocably? Or do I hold my peace, since experience demonstrates, it will cause a lot of distress but not actually change anything?
I just feel like it is cruel to ruin her big day for her, when nothing else he has done has put her off.
A: I’m of two minds about this one! Have you ever had a conversation with your sister about her choices around this guy writ large? Do you feel able to attend her wedding and support her, even if you think she’s making a mistake? If you two have discussed him before, you’ve made your concerns clear, and you still want to show up for her on her wedding day, then I think it makes sense not to bring it up—you’re not providing her with any new information and the less involved you get in the inner workings of their relationship, the better. You can set a boundary if she wants to come and complain about him to you, saying, “I don’t think you deserve to be treated this way. If you ever decide you’re ready to leave, then I’ll help you in any way I can. But I don’t want to discuss the same bad behavior I’ve come to expect from him.”
But if you’ve kept quiet, then I think it’s worth, at least once, telling her you think she’s making a mistake (that she’s apparently made many times before). Whatever choice you make, it sounds like your sister is committed to staying in a painful pattern for at least a little while longer. That’s sad, and I hope you can find a way to keep a bearable distance while also hoping she someday sees the light.
Q. Can I ghost my best friend from college?: I have a good friend from college. We grew up in the same town but met at school and were very close through college and the five years after. She still lives in our hometown and I have had to move due to my husband’s job. She is habitually flaky and often has been oddly unsupportive of my life choices (getting married, having a baby after being married for six years). She has never visited me despite the fact that I made it a priority to see her whenever we were in town. Last time I visited home, I didn’t let her know. She found out via a group email we are on and expressed surprise that she missed my visit. I have wrestled with feelings of anger toward her lack of support and follow through for years. Can I keep on ghosting her without guilt?
A: Sure you can! If you don’t think you two would benefit from a heart-to-heart conversation, or if you’re not interested in repairing the relationship, you can absolutely match her flakiness and let your friendship turn into the kind where you email one another twice a year and say, “Can’t believe I missed you again! Lunch next time you’re in town? Hope all’s well, etc.”
Not everyone stays close with their college friends, and if she’s been distancing herself from you for years, there’s no reason why you can’t take her cue and step back too. You can also talk to her about this, if you want. You don’t have to, but it’s an option, especially if you already feel like the friendship is mostly over—you don’t have much to lose.
Q. Honey can you drive my car?: My wife dislikes driving. I drive whenever we go somewhere together or as a family. We do a fair amount of shuttling little kids around, often in time I could really use to stay up on work. In the passenger seat, nearly 100 percent of the time, my wife is lost in her phone. Not working, but aimlessly browsing social media—as the kids are asking questions or demanding a change of music, and as I am trying to navigate.
If she isn’t going to drive, is it reasonable to ask that she actually be present for the kids? Or if she’s ignoring them, that she at least get some work done so she can buy me some time later to catch up on work I am missing while I chauffeur? Should I be getting her and the kids an Uber from time to time instead?
A: Of course you can ask her! In my experience, many people (myself included) can get a little defensive when someone suggests we’re a little too focused on our phones—don’t do it when you’re in the car together. Tell her that what you really want is to spend more meaningful time together, that you miss her company when she’s lost in her screen for the entirety of the drive, and ask her if she would be willing to stow the phone during longer trips.
Q. Feeling like a tortoise: My husband and I have been competitive distance runners for the past two years. We love competing for personal bests in formal timed races we enter, and it’s been a great activity we can do together that has helped us stay healthy. A few months ago, my sister-in-law took a sudden interest in running and has wedged herself into our running habit. We assumed that her interest would go the way of her previous fitness interests and fizzle out over time. (She went to Crossfit five times a week for two weeks, joined a spin gym for a month, tried aerial silks classes for a month, and then attempted P90X before selling all the DVDs on Craigslist after about three weeks.)
While we’re thrilled she’s trying to find something that works for her, having her along while we’re trying to run races has been very taxing. She is extremely slow and hasn’t seemed to grasp that running is not a team sport, and is a personal best endeavor. She gets upset if we post on social media about a race and didn’t invite her (we do about one per month), and when we do invite her, she throws a fit if we don’t stay with her for the race. During the last race, my husband got so frustrated and so concerned about his overall qualifying time for an upcoming race that he lost his temper and ran ahead when she stopped to rest for the fifth time, after which she wrote a nasty post on social media about how family stays with family and how she was “betrayed today.”
We have a race coming up in a few weeks, and it’s a big one for us, but we’re terrified to say anything about it online for fear that she’ll invite herself and then demand we run slowly with her. Should we just acknowledge that we’re going to hurt her feelings in the short term and wait for her to move on to something else? Is there something else we can say to her that won’t cause her to feel so hurt?
A: “Jellicle, I’m glad you’re taking an interest in racing and hope you enjoy it, but we’re going to continue to run at our own pace and set our own schedule.” If that hurts her feelings, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. She is choosing to be unreasonable, and the only person she is hurting is herself. Gently encourage her to make better choices, and don’t feel responsible for her self-inflicted pain.
Q. Dinner time etiquette?: I’m having a good friend over for supper tonight. I suggested 7 p.m. as the time. I picked this time because it seemed like a good compromise. My friend, like many people in our area, eats around 5:30 p.m. I prefer to eat around 7:30 or 8:30—even 7 is a little early! My friend accepted the time but made an off-hand comment about how late it was and how she’d need a snack beforehand. It struck me as a tad passive aggressive. I have no idea if she meant it that way and chose to ignore it.
But now I’m curious: My view is that if you’re at somebody’s house, their rules stand. So, if I’m visiting with family or friends that prefer to eat early, I eat early. But if someone comes over to my place, it would be polite for them to accept my time of eating, or something closer to it, without fuss. Is this correct?
A: If your friend prefers to eat at 5:30 and you prefer to eat at 7:30, the “compromise” you suggested means she has to wait an hour and a half to eat, while you only give up half an hour from your ideal start time. You’ve definitely stacked the deck in your favor, and while your friend could have been more direct, she may not have felt she could suggest an alternate time because you were offering to host her as a guest in your home.
The purpose of inviting someone over is to make them feel welcome, so next time you extend an invitation, ask them what time they prefer to have dinner. If their answer is wildly different from when you’d prefer to eat, offer a compromise that actually lands somewhere in the middle.
Q. Marriage equality, but I don’t need it: Australia is something like the only developed English-speaking country to not have marriage equality. The current federal government has proposed a compulsory postal survey that is designed to get an overall “no” vote (though 70 percent of Australians support it) and even if it doesn’t, does not compel parliamentarians to change the law. It sucks.
I am a bi woman happily married to a cis man. No one voted on my marriage. Am I making this “all about me” unnecessarily when I try to come out to my friends and work colleagues to ensure they know an LGBTI person? Is it better if I keep quiet and focus on being an ally to people who are currently in relationships that cannot be recognized by marriage in this country? I know I enjoy a lot of straight-passing privilege and I would just like to do the most good for the most people.
A: These are two separate matters, I think. If you wish to advocate for marriage equality, you can and should. If you want to come out to your friends and colleagues, both for your own peace of mind and also to broaden their perception of what queer peoples’ lives can look like, you can and should. You are not making the matter of marriage equality “all about you” in doing either. You acknowledge the relative privilege afforded you by marriage to your husband, while also affirming this does not make you heterosexual, and are committed to spurring on legislative change. All of this is to the good!
Q. Loud roommate: I live with a guy who is just loud; his normal pitch is what I’d think of as shouting. The thing is, he knows it, frequently saying, “I’m loud.” We live in a house of four people, and I just don’t think it’s OK for him to shout all the time. Is it appropriate to say, “You’re shouting. You need to keep it down for the housemates.”?
A: Acknowledging one’s flaws does not mean one is now free from criticism. If your roommate shouts at all hours and it disturbs you, ask him to keep it down. If he tries to deflect your request to behave differently by suggesting he is somehow ontologically committed to loudness and therefore unable to speak any quieter, you do not have to accept his argument on face value. Of course it is OK to say, “You’re shouting and you need to keep it down”; you are not critiquing his very being, you are making an easily fulfilled request.
Q: Re: Can I ghost my best friend from college?: Yeah, no. To me, the dividing line is whether the other person notices or cares. If the letter writer drops out of contact with the old friend and gets radio silence, then great, mission accomplished. If, on the other hand, the friend says something (like how she expressed surprise the last time they didn’t get together), and then continues to not take the hint, that’s when ghosting turns jerkish. It’s horrible to have a friend stop talking to you and not know what you did wrong, especially when the only reason for the ghosting is so they can avoid an uncomfortable conversation. I’m not saying the explanation has to be involved, but a “we’ve grown apart” or even a “I don’t really like you much anymore” would be one last kindness that would leave the letter writer feeling confident she handled this maturely, and the friend no longer wondering whether her old college friend is mad at her or dead or etc.
A: That’s a useful criterion for whether ghosting is mutually desirable! I wonder if the “surprise” expressed by the friend in question was genuine or mere social convention—the after-the-fact equivalent of “oh, let’s get lunch sometime.” Either way, the letter writer doesn’t have much to lose if they simply address the fact that their friend’s habit of flaking last-minute bothers them. And if a friend is “oddly unsupportive” of a major life change like getting married or having children, you can and should tell them that their lack of enthusiasm is painful—you don’t have to just swallow the hurt and keep making plans to get together.
Mallory Ortberg: That’s it for today, comrades. See you back here next week.