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 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: Good morning! Are you still thinking about that tiny house letter from last week? I need some sort of signed affidavit promising me that she did not move in with that guy.
Q. How to throw a grown-ups-only party: What’s the classiest way to say “really and truly, do not bring your kids into my house, no matter how cool or mature they are”? We have this problem where we throw nice grown-up parties and our friends bring kids.
We’ve tried to be nice. First we changed the names to identify the nature of the party—“Fancy Cocktail Hour,” “Wine & Dine,” et cetera. That helped but didn’t fix the problem. So we got direct and included “please, no kids” on the invitation. We still get a few people at every party who bring their kids because their kids are cool, their kids are mature, blah blah blah.
It’s my house and I don’t want kids in it. It’s not childproof, and most people do not supervise their kids well. It also makes me intensely uncomfortable to have little kids at a booze-oriented adult party; I don’t care how much drinking and swearing they witness at home, it makes me uncomfortable to do those things in front of your child. (And yes, I’m totally judging you for getting drunk and cursing like a sailor in front of your child—is that really supposed to make me more comfortable with this arrangement?) As the holiday season looms near, I dread having to waste another Halloween or post-Thanksgiving affair where I spend the whole time fretting over someone else’s kids.
A: Subtlety is really overrated when it comes to getting what you want. Continue to write “please, no kids” on the invitations, and if you know any repeat offenders, call them and offer a reminder that you’re throwing a kid-free party. If after that any of your friends still try to bring a kid to one of your mixers, then I think you’ve got someone who is absolutely determined to provoke conflict on your hands.
Q. He’s pretty to me: Last week’s false compliments letter writer has me writing in about this: I’m in a similar position where my boyfriend is not objectively good-looking, but he is such an amazing person and partner that I’m attracted to him anyway. The problem is that some girls in our large friend group (who we’re around a lot but aren’t close to) think I’m better looking and loudly make fun of us during get-togethers: I must “really like his personality,” et cetera. Thorny banter is the norm for my friends, but this makes him sad and me angry. Any ideas for scripts?
A: My first piece of advice is to stop thinking of your boyfriend in terms of “objectively good-looking;” since you find him attractive, you’re already aware on some level that enjoying someone’s looks is, in fact, a fairly subjective process. When it comes to your friends, the best script I can suggest is this: “I can’t imagine why you think disparaging my boyfriend’s appearance is a kind or loving thing to do. Stop it.” Please stop making him spend time with people who berate his appearance—that’s terribly cruel, and I can’t imagine how terrible it must make him feel when you fail to defend him.
Q. Whispering love birds: One of my closest friends, “Tina,” has been in a happy relationship with “Diane” for about a year. Tina and Diane have this very annoying habit of whispering to each other when we hang out. It doesn’t matter if it’s just the three of us or if it’s a large group. I’ll be in the middle of a sentence saying something in conversation, and Tina and Diane will start whispering! I find this to be very rude and annoying.
I don’t think they are talking about me specifically because they do it no matter who is talking. I honestly have no idea what they could be whispering about. But they do it constantly. If we were hanging out for three hours, they probably would whisper to each other six times, at least. One time they did it when it was just the three of us in the car and I was in the back seat! I thought maybe it was just a honeymoon phase, but it’s been a year now.
Am I right that this is rude? Should I say something to Tina about it? My boyfriend said it’s just a quirk and to let it go.
A: I’m inclined to agree with your boyfriend! It’s certainly not my favorite quality about Tina and Diane, but if they exchange a brief, private conversation on average of twice an hour in public, I think you should let it go.
Q. Stunned silent: I recently showed my friend a pic of my daughter and her boyfriend. Her only comment was “He’s so dark!” (He is a different race from her.) I was stunned and didn’t know what to say. Since then, her comment has been really bothering me by how insensitive and racist it was. Is this a dealbreaker for our friendship or should I forgive and forget?
A: You can’t “forgive and forget” something you’ve never discussed. That’s not forgiving and forgetting, that’s ignoring. Talk to her. “When I told you about my daughter’s new boyfriend the other day, the only comment you had to make was about the color of his skin. I was upset and I didn’t know what to say, but I didn’t want to let the moment pass without addressing it. Can you tell me why you thought that was an appropriate response to finding out my daughter was in a new relationship?”
Q: Re: How to throw a grown-ups–only party: As someone who throws an annual adults-only Halloween bash, with copious booze and non–kid-friendly Halloween decor, there is another dimension to what you’re talking about: specifically, the possibility of legal liability. On the off chance that you were to get a visit from the cops (if the party got a little loud) and they saw kids there, you could be on the hook for endangerment of a minor, regardless if the kid is well-cared for or not. I’d draw a hard line on this, and if someone comes to your party with a kid, turn them away at the door.
A: It’s hard to imagine someone receiving an invitation that says “adults-only party,” also receiving a phone call reiterating the request, and then turning up with kids in tow regardless, but the liability issue is, I suppose, a fair and useful point. Hopefully it does not come to that—no party that starts with a discussion of potential liability and asking friends to leave at the door is going to be considered an unqualified success—but if the letter writer is having serious trouble convincing their friends to leave the kids behind on these specific occasions, then they might want to mention it when they make their follow-up “I’m serious, this is a party for adults” request.
Q. When to have the talk?: My boyfriend and I have been together for about five months and it’s honestly the best, healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in. I am 31, he is 29. We’ve met each other’s friends and families, said “I love you,” and probably spend four to six evenings a week together. Both of our leases end this spring and I want to move in together.
I am so nervous about broaching the topic, most likely because I’m terrified about messing things up if he doesn’t want to or thinks it’s too soon to discuss. I have to make a decision about renewing my lease in January. When do you think it’s OK to bring it up, and how do I gird up my loins to get past my anxiety about saying something?
A: I do not have an official timeline before which it is never appropriate to discuss living situations; if you want to talk to your boyfriend about someday moving in together, you can raise the topic now. It may be that you can renew your lease for a six-month period or continue on a month-to-month basis. It may be that he wants to move in with you too, but is also nervous about moving too quickly. This may relieve your anxiety to know that you’re both on the same page, even if you don’t decide to move in together in January. You both have a number of options. If you’re anxious about having the conversation, start by saying, “I feel nervous talking about this, because things are going so well and I don’t want anything to change that”—sometimes addressing your greatest fear directly takes some of the power out of it. Good luck figuring this out!
Q. When friends are social media shamers: A friend was recently the victim of an online mob inspired by half-truths and outright lies that rallied to seek revenge for a perceived slight. It spread like wildfire from virtual to real life with calls for boycotts and threats of physical harm at her place of employment. I’m doing what I can to help her rebuild.
My problem is that months later, I’m still angry with the friends and friends of friends who participated in spreading this. Social media gave me a peek inside the nastiness of those I once respected. If it was gossip over the fence, I wouldn’t know. But the link between the first post, the early sharers, and the people who showed up at her job to hit her and throw urine and feces at her was evident in my Facebook feed. I can’t unsee or pretend I don’t know who joined the pile-on.
I was about to hire someone who liked and commented. Now I won’t consider her. Do I tell her why I never want to see her again?
A: I think when it comes to the job applicant, declining to bring her in for an interview is the most appropriate response. When it comes to people who are still a part of your social circle, however, whether they’re dating a family member or you simply share a lot of the same friends, you should absolutely talk to them about your concern over their behavior.
Q. My mom is still hurt over my dad: My father and mother had a very turbulent relationship throughout my childhood. They separated when I was 13 but stayed married. I didn’t see my father again until I was 17 and went to live with him; now we have a fairly good relationship, but we don’t talk often.
Although I visit my mom often, our relationship is souring. We can’t talk about anything without her bringing up my dad. She goes on and on about how badly he treated her and how he is still doing her wrong because he’s dating somebody and they’re still married. I tell her to get a divorce, but she screams at me and tells me that he is her soulmate and they are supposed to be together until the end.
Honestly, I am so tired of it. I love my mom, but I hate being around her because of this drama. Is there anything I can do to help her get over it? I thought about counseling but she’d probably flip out on me.
A: ”Mom, you can’t talk to me about the intimate details of your frustrations and resentments relationship toward my dad. He’s my dad. I’m your child, I am uniquely unqualified to act as a marriage counselor or discuss this situation with you. I hope you can talk to your friends or a therapist about it, but whoever you decide to share your feelings with, it can’t be me.” Your mother will almost certainly flip out when you say this, but your mother is already regularly flipping out at you anyway. The only thing you are able to change in this situation is whether you stick around to listen to your mother throw a fit. Once you’ve said this to her, you can end the conversation every time she brings your father up. If she’s sufficiently motivated to keep talking to you, she’ll find another outlet to talk about her over-in-all-but-name marriage. If she doesn’t stop, then you’ve at least got enough information to know that you don’t want to keep talking to her.
Q. Money and love: I recently got an unexpected inheritance of a vast sum and I haven’t told my long-term boyfriend about it yet. He is amazing—attractive, attentive, fun, funny, the complete package—but he is attached to a mother who treats him like dirt. Because my boyfriend isn’t a sociopath or a druggie, he isn’t worth anything to his mother. Her time and affection goes to his younger brothers who have been in and out of jail, smoke weed all day, and won’t work. She also pays their bills but is then often unable to pay her own electric bill or what-have-you. My boyfriend has to pony up his own cash—and then I cover him.
This inheritance is a game changer. I have already quietly paid off my school loans and my car, but I am terrified of this getting back to my boyfriend’s family. It would be completely natural for my boyfriend’s mom to do something reckless and then expect my boyfriend and me to take care of her.
I have never kept a secret like this before from my boyfriend. I don’t know what to do.
A: You have the right to keep your finances separate from a partner. Everyone has that right. Your decision not to share this money or information with him makes a great deal of sense in light of your relationship, and I think the best thing for you to do right now is find an Al-Anon or CODA meeting to figure out how you can set appropriate boundaries with your boyfriend’s family. Whether or not you and your relationship will be able to continue unless your boyfriend is willing and able to join you in setting limits, I can’t say, but you do not have to endlessly foot the bill for your boyfriend’s choice—because it is a choice—to bail out his mother. “Taking care of his mother” and “paying for his brother’s bad decisions” are not the same thing.