Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat. (R. Eric Thomas is filling in as Prudie for Jenée Desmond-Harris while she’s on parental leave.)
R. Eric Thomas: Hi everyone! I was up in Saugatuck, Michigan last week, on the lake, doing a lot of writing and a lot of great eating! What a beautiful part of the country! Hope things are beautiful where you are. What’s on your minds?
Q. Trust Me, I Can’t Get You Into Any Parties: Here’s a relatively low-stakes question: What’s the proper etiquette when you have a famous relative and you meet a fan of theirs? I’m related to a minor celebrity with a dedicated cult following. I don’t talk to them ever, and generally, only see them at weddings and funerals. Our relationship is friendly but not close.
I’ve recently started online dating and have encountered a few people who are huge fans of theirs. I’ve just made it a point not to say anything unless I wind up getting serious with one of them. Is that fair? I don’t want to be deceptive, but I also don’t want someone to date me because of my proximity to them (or because they think I can get them an ‘in,’ which I can’t).
A. I think your choice is the right one. Ultimately, who someone is related to is essentially trivia. And while this trivia is more likely to come up if that relative is famous, there’s no real reason for you to mention it unless it benefits you for the other person to know. It sounds like it’s going to create more trouble than it’s worth, so I say let potential partners just run into this celeb at weddings with you.
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Q. Not the Best Man: In March 2020, a childhood friend, “John,” asked me to be his best man. I was flattered to be asked, but I felt that I was a slightly odd choice. Although we were close when we were young, we’re not in regular contact anymore: We live in different cities and only see each other once every few years, if that. I said yes anyway, wanting to honor our history. Then, of course, COVID happened, and John and his fiancé were married in a family-only ceremony during lockdown instead. Now they (understandably!) want to have the big wedding they were denied—but we’ve barely spoken during the pandemic, and I feel even less prepared to be his best man than I did before. I don’t want to hurt him, and I know his social circle is very small, but I truly feel that someone who met him more recently would be better equipped to talk about the man he’s become and the blossoming of this relationship, most of which I’ve missed. Is there any way for me to back out now without ruining the day?
A. It’s possible that John hasn’t developed strong adult ties or that your childhood friendship made such a strong impression that he wants to honor it. But if it’s making you uncomfortable, you owe it to him and to yourself to let him know. You might use the lack of contact during the first years of the pandemic as a jumping-off point. Ask him if there’s someone he’s gotten closer to and kindly express your own reservations. Maybe he’ll agree with your point of view or maybe he’ll let you know that there is no one better equipped. You still don’t have to do it if you don’t want, but getting more insight into his decision might make yours easier.
Q. Nap Time: Every now and then I’ll start to doze off while watching TV with my girlfriend, but when I do, she gives me a quick poke to the side to wake me up. She’s really good at it too, my eyelids will barely close and she’ll know I’m heading off. She says that she can feel my body kind of slump, and then I get the finger in the side. I really hate it. We’re both in our 40s, we live together and enjoy some cozy couch time in front of the TV, but when I doze off she feels like she’s just watching TV alone. I understand why that would bother her, but it’s also really irritating to get that finger jab, shocking me awake. I try to avoid shows or late-night movies that might make me konk out, but sometimes I can’t help it. I really want to tell her to stop waking me up, but I also feel bad that it bothers her. I’m not sure how to tell her without sounding like a meanie. Help!
A. You’re allowed to sleep! Tell her to stop poking you. I get that she wants to watch TV together but it’s not at all unusual to doze off during a program. If she’s watching you like a hawk, is this TV time really about the program anyway? Try reframing the cozy couch time as not just a bonding moment. Acknowledge the reality that you’ll probably doze off and come up with other ways you can get your together time in, before the drowsiness hits.
Q. Going Solo: My son is getting married for the second time in three years (the first marriage lasted less than a year) and he and his fiancé are planning a destination wedding about seven hours from where I live. When I asked about the guest list, I was told it was limited to 30, mostly family of the bride and coworkers of my son. I’m the sole family member on his side invited! It is also planned for a weekday, so I’ll have to miss two days of work (I’m a teacher and it’s in the middle of the semester). I’ll have to drive there and back alone, and won’t know anyone other than the bride and groom, so will be basically on my own the whole time. I know it’s rude to ask for a plus-one, especially with such a limited guest list, but would it really be unreasonable since otherwise I’m driving a total of 14 hours by myself and have no one I know to talk to at the reception? I’m seriously considering not going at all because I have anxiety issues related to driving and social situations and this is really going to be awful if I have to do this all alone. But I don’t want to alienate or hurt my son/his fiancé.
A. You’re the parent-of-the-groom, you get a plus-one at the very least! I know they’re doing a limited guest list but if his coworkers can come, you can bring someone to share the arduous drive with and talk to during the wedding. Ask for a plus-one and if they turn you down, explain the extenuating factors. If they won’t budge, you may have to send them well wishes from home this time.
Q. Murder or Loneliness: My husband has struggled with depression all his life. He’s been spiraling in recent months, to the point that the smallest thing can trigger panic attacks and suicidal ideation. I’ve been trying to wrap him in cotton though I am also feeling overwhelmed. The problem is that my mother thinks he just “needs to grow up and get over it” and has made it her mission to “toughen him up.” Because of her badgering, she’s now banned from our home and he’s blocked her out completely, so she has turned her attention to me. I want to set boundaries but it seems that the only one which would work is cutting her from my life too, which is only possible if I also cut out other family members whom she’d pressure to advocate on her behalf. I already feel so isolated, I live with the constant fear that I will soon be a widow, and I am also at the point that I could well become an orphan if she continues to hector me. Any advice beyond getting my husband into therapy (he’s already there)?
A. Your mother’s pressure campaign and lack of respect for boundaries are concerning; this is very aggressive behavior. I’m glad your husband has put his foot down and that you’re prepared to also cut her loose as it sounds like she is only going to be an abusive presence in your life. Can you talk to the other family members in advance, either to set a boundary with them or to get some help with your mom? Preemptively talking to them about the problem you’re having will also give you information about whether they are actually a good support system or part of the problem as well.
Q. Re: Going Solo: For goodness sake, you are his parent! He and his fiancé should be flying you there and putting you up, and either let you have a plus one or introduce you to other people before the wedding so that you’ll get to know them. That’s a bare minimum unless there is a bad history with you for other reasons.
A. Agreed! I get the sense that LW feels this would be an imposition, but unless there’s some other family history that’s coloring everything, LW’s presence is surely wanted and their happiness is important.
What can I do to get my husband to stop using the family flatware on the dog’s food? Our dog eats food that has to be heated in the microwave and sometimes chopped up. I have begged my husband to use plastic utensils, but he still uses the same utensils with which our family eats. It makes me nauseous. The thought of using a knife that was used on dog food makes me want to throw up.