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.)
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Mallory Ortberg: Happy belated Labor Day, comrades. Let’s chat!
Q. Still not a dog person: Two years ago I adopted a dog from a local rescue. I’d never had one growing up, only cats. From the outside, it seemed to be a thing many people enjoyed immensely, and I thought it might be nice for my kids, as people say. But, for me, it never took. I’m just not a dog person, and, it turns out, neither are my kids.
They often ask if we could just give him away. I say, “No, we made a commitment to him by adopting him.” And I believe we did. I mean, we literally did because we signed one of those long documents these rescues give you, saying you understand it’s a lifelong commitment and you’ll never rehome the dog.
If you compare it to having a child, it seems clear that your responsibility would not evaporate just because you discovered you weren’t into it (I hope that doesn’t happen, but it probably does occasionally). At the same time, the idea of slogging through 10 more years with this member of our family no one appreciates is depressing.
To be clear—we are good dog owners in the sense of providing immunizations, regular grooming, high-quality food and socialization, petting, play, and exercise. We are doing the job we don’t like and paying the thousands a year that generally entails. (Once you count the furniture he’s ruined; and yes, we then took him to a trainer and spent time working on new behaviors.) I guess I’m exploring where our responsibility to pets begins and ends, and I’d like to hear what someone else thinks.
A: I believe there are circumstances under which rehoming a dog is very much necessary. That’s not to say it should be done lightly, or that it’s not difficult for animals to adjust to a brand-new home and a brand-new family. But a dog is not a child, and there’s no reason to attempt to compare the two.
That said, no one in your house is either allergic to or afraid of the dog, and he’s not currently suffering. You made a commitment with what sounds like insufficient research beforehand, and now you wish you hadn’t made it at all. That’s frustrating, to be sure, but consider whether rehoming your dog would actually be in its best interest. A better alternative would be to find ways to free your family from some of the pressure of his daily care. Look for a reasonably priced sitter, a local dog-walking service, a neighborhood teenager who’s willing to take him up to a dog park where he can run around a few times a week. That will likely go a long way toward alleviating your feelings of frustration and resentment.
If at some point you do decide to pursue rehoming your dog, please proceed carefully and make sure you don’t overlook any red flags or possible pitfalls because you’re so relieved at the possibility of relinquishing your pet. Make sure that whoever takes him in has a strong connection with him, is willing and able to take good care of him, and knows what they’re in for (namely, that they’ve done more research into what dog ownership entails than you did). I don’t think that should be your first or best option, but it seems clear that you’re at least already considering the possibility. Whatever you decide, keep your current feelings and frustration in mind if you are ever seized with an idle desire to get a dog again in the future, and don’t.
Q. Lesbian lament: Recently, our mother came out as a lesbian, and announced that she and our father would be divorcing after 20 years. My 16-year-old sister was devastated, locking herself in her room and refusing to speak to anyone for the past day and a half, especially my mother. She came to me, crying over their divorce and telling me how betrayed she felt by our mom.
My problem is that I’ve been helping with our mom’s lies for the past nearly 10 years. I’ve taken her phone from my sister, trying to hide hook-up apps and dating websites. I’ve created masterful alibis when our father asked where she was. I knew early on that she was gay and felt it wasn’t fair that she had to hide all by herself.
Should I tell this to my sister and risk our relationship? Or should I just let my mom bear the brunt of this? I love my sister, but I feel an urge to be honest.
A: Oh, boy. I think that right now, for you, the answer is to get slightly less involved in emotionally managing the other members of your family, and to set up some appropriate boundaries. It’s one thing to support your mother’s sexual orientation, but it was wildly Not OK for your mom to involve her child in her marital troubles, or to ask you to facilitate her numerous affairs.
Your sister is upset, confused, and hurt right now, and she’s going to have to process the end of your parents’ marriage in her own way. You can certainly tell your sister that you’ve known for a while that your mother is gay, but it would be unnecessary and hurtful to go into further details. In the meanwhile, I’d encourage you to find a therapist and resign from your unofficial position as cruise director of your mother’s dating life.
Q. Clean heart or clean house?: My husband’s ex-wife, Mary, is a contentious woman. She hates me and spent years sowing dissension and ill-feeling in the family: refusing to let the children go to family events if I was invited, making baseless accusations against me, and generally being unpleasant. As a result I have no relationship with my stepchildren, and their relationship with their father was strained, to say the least.
My husband died earlier this year. It was as difficult as any family situation over the last few years, and obviously more unpleasant than most. Now I’ve finally finished clearing out my husband’s things, and there are a lot of things I think his children, and possibly his ex-wife, would want.
Part of me wants to make a bonfire and let it all go, but I know that’s petty. However, I don’t want to invite these people back into my life. I know if I open that door even a crack by boxing this stuff up and dropping it with their grandparents, they will argue that I should give them more, that I’m withholding some precious plastic doo-daw that their father would definitely have given to them. It’s a small town, gossip gets around.
The only good thing from this year is that, terrible as it sounds, as a widow I will never have to have anything to do with his family again. Would it be wrong to just store the stuff and wait until I leave town, or die, to pass it on to them? I’m sure they’ll bad mouth me either way, but then I won’t care.
A: First, and perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t sound like your husband left any of the items in question to his children or ex-wife—you’re not withholding anything they have a legal claim to, so whatever you decide to pass on will be an act of generosity and consideration. You’re under no obligation to give them anything beyond what was stipulated in his will, and if you choose to leave the items in storage, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
If you do decide to pass some of his more sentimental belongings on to the rest of his family, consider using a go-between—the lawyer who handled his will, maybe, or a neutral friend who’s willing to drop a box or two off on your behalf. Practice a standard dismissal in case your thoughtfulness is met with “But where’s Father’s beloved haunted zither, with which he used to chase all the neighborhood ghosts away?” Whatever you decide, feel enormously free to limit your contact with your husband’s extended family to whatever extent you need to while you grieve.
Q. Sing-along Sally: This summer, I was lucky enough to see a famous musical. The show is not anywhere near my home, so a friend and I booked flights to the show. Fast-forward several months. We were thrilled to arrive at the play we had been vying to see for so long. As soon as the opening number began, however, she began singing along! Not full singing, but a loud enough whisper to draw the attention of nearly everyone seated around us. This was distracting to me because although I know all the lyrics, I was trying to pay attention to actors.
Upon intermission, I asked her if she noticed all the people seated in front of us turning around to stare at her and thereafter suggested that her whispering bothered them. She was shocked that this behavior would be considered rude and then stated that it was their problem. She proceeded with this through the end of the play. I’m shocked no other patrons confronted her. Based on this fact, I wonder if perhaps I am wrong and overly sensitive. Who is right?
A: Oh my God, you’re right. On no planet, no parallel dimension, is singing along with a musical from the audience considered good theatergoing etiquette. A few years ago a woman was thrown out of The Bodyguard musical for doing exactly what your friend did. Obviously there’s nothing to be done about it now, aside from committing to never seeing a live musical with her again, but if you simply want the rush of being told you were right by a stranger on the internet, allow me to grant you that rush: You were right, and your friend was rude.
Q: Can I invite co-workers to my bridal shower and not the wedding?: I started a new job about six months ago and a group of women quickly welcomed me to their little circle. We have lunch and go out to happy hour every now and then, and have hung out on weekends completely unrelated to work. I’ve never really had a job with women in my age group, and it’s exciting that we’re on the way to becoming friends.
I’m getting married in a couple months, and my sister wants to throw me a bridal shower. I did not invite these women to the wedding since the guest list was set before I started my job, and we’re trying to keep it small to save money. However, I would like to invite them to the shower because I would enjoy celebrating with them. Is this incredibly rude? None of them are expecting to come to the wedding, but I don’t want to come off like I’m inviting everyone I know just for the gifts.
A: If your co-workers were throwing you an office bridal shower, that would be one thing, but if you’re merely contemplating inviting a few of them to your social bridal shower and not the wedding itself, don’t. The implication (even though that’s not what you might intend) is that you’re happy to pump them for gifts but don’t consider them close enough to attend your wedding.
Q. Husband hiding money: I just found documents that show my husband of 35 years has taken money we both received from the sale of a house and put it in a bank account in his name only. Also, he has a son from a previous marriage listed as the beneficiary when he dies. Is there anything I can do—short of divorce—to get back the money that is rightfully mine?
A: I think you should consult a lawyer. This is above my pay grade as an enthusiastic layman.
Q. Not a friendly invite: My partner and I often get invited to “girls-only” events because we are gay men (bridal showers, etc.). What’s the appropriate response? I feel like, “We’re men, not women, even though we’re gay, so if you’re going to have a mindlessly gender-segregated event, don’t include us,” is not friendly.
A: If these are coming from people you know more than just in passing, it’s perfectly friendly to say a (slightly edited) version of what you wrote above—”I’m sure you meant to be friendly, but please don’t invite us to otherwise women-only events; it feels off-putting and uncomfortable.”
Q. Re: Bridal shower: Hmm. Normally, I would nix the idea immediately, but I feel like if I were one of her co-workers, I would be happy to attend the shower and understand that the guest list was already planned.
A: It’s certainly possible that they might understand (I’d probably feel the same, in that position), but I’m wary to encourage someone to send that invitation on the strength of “the guest list was already finalized.” It’s not unreasonable, of course, but I don’t think having a conversation with a new-ish co-worker explaining why you can’t invite them to your wedding is the highest possible good. I think it’s better to continue to socialize with your co-workers at non-wedding-related events than to run the risk of making anyone feel like they’re being pumped for gifts.
Q. This is why no one likes lawyers: My relative has worked for the same law firm in my hometown in Tennessee for years. Last year, she told me she was having trouble hiring a new runner—because the firm refused to hire black people (my hometown in mostly black). She had even interviewed a black woman, but the firm’s reaction was “we’ve never hired a black person, we can’t start now.” When I was last home, she told me a similar situation had arisen, except this time they had interviewed a black, female attorney. She was eventually rejected—100 percent because of race and gender. The firm has never hired a female in an attorney position, either.
My relative is annoyed—because she needs these positions filled, not because of the discrimination. She’s not going to do anything. I no longer live in the country, and I don’t even know these women’s names. I feel angry and helpless at the thought that such a powerful law firm (people who should know the law!) is getting away with blatant, unabashed racism and sexism. I hate that I’m sitting on this information without doing anything. I’ve thought about contacting my congressman, or the local media, but I don’t have any proof other than hearsay. Any advice for steps I can take?
A: I’d love to hear from anyone who has more specific suggestions, but my first and best guess is that since you haven’t experienced any of this firsthand, and you live so far away, there won’t be much you can do directly. You might try filing a claim with the Better Business Bureau. You can also certainly have further conversations with your relative who seems only mildly put out by her firm’s racist and sexist hiring practices, and encourage her to think more critically about the role she plays there. Beyond that, I’m not sure—floor’s open if anyone has any further thoughts.