Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Welcome to this week’s chat. There’s a lot going on in the world, as usual, but I know there’s a lot going on in your personal lives too. Tell me about it.
Q. Old house owner: Three years ago, my wife died while we were in the process of separating. Her death was unexpected and left me with conflicting emotions, so I haven’t dipped a toe back in the dating pool until now.
“Zoe” is my first serious relationship since then. She is a single mom to a 5-year-old boy. Dad is dead (and a deadbeat). I never thought I would enjoy kids, but I really have gotten attached to her son. After seven months together, we discussed them both moving in with me, and marriage. Zoe and I seemed to be on the same page about everything until it came to my furniture. My late wife was an interior designer and basically did choose everything in our house. Most of it was high-end and expensive.
Zoe wants to get rid of everything.
I have told Zoe I would be happy if she wanted to repaint the walls or choose new artwork or a new bedspread and pillows, but shelling out thousands of dollars for new furniture is nuts. Her stuff is all thrift store finds that have seen better days. And her son sleeps on a camping bed. If we need to spend money, it needs to be in his new room. Zoe insists I can afford it and if I love her, I will do this so there are “no ghosts left.” I pointed out that I don’t have any pictures of my late wife up, save for a few group family reunion photos. Zoe has several framed pictures of her ex with their son as a baby. Zoe tells me that isn’t the same. It is for her son and she was bitterly over her ex before their son was born. Zoe said I can’t say the same. If my wife had lived, would we have gotten back together? I threw up my hands and told her unless she knew a medium with a counseling degree, that point was moot. My wife died. Maybe we would have gotten a divorce, maybe counseling would have worked, but speculation is pointless.
I want a future with Zoe and her son. I want to move on, but I don’t think getting rid of my couch and coffee table is going to do it. My in-laws got all of my wife’s personal belongings.
I have hit the brakes about Zoe and her son moving in, but their lease is up in May. This is such a bizarre sticking point. I like how my house looks. Zoe did too until she learned my dead wife designed the place. My friends tell me this is a red flag but otherwise Zoe and I get on great. I am starting to love her kid.
A: This is in fact a red flag, and you should put the brakes on this relationship and cancel plans to move in. At least for now. I say that not because you’re having a disagreement over furniture, but because you’re having a disagreement over furniture that is rooted in Zoe’s insecurity about your past relationship and about your love for her. That insecurity will potentially rear its head in a million different ways that have nothing to do with home decor. Especially because there’s a small child involved, you don’t want to move in only to have to break up over whatever comes next: phone snooping, restrictions on the friendships you’re allowed to have, or a need for you to prove your dedication in a way that feels impossible. You don’t have to split up, but you should slow down until Zoe feels more secure that neither your late wife nor anyone else represents a threat to your relationship that she has to make ridiculous demands to control.
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Q. Read a newspaper: This is going to sound like such a small issue, but here goes: My friend “Abbie” pays absolutely no attention to the news. Like, she actually prides herself on it: “Who wants to take the time to follow the news? I have enough going on in my life, I don’t need to hear about the rest of the world’s problems!” While I do think it’s a little weird (I’m not some news enthusiast, but I do think it’s important to be aware of current events), I wouldn’t otherwise care, because why should that affect me?
Except here’s the thing: Any time there’s ever a discussion about a news story, she then feels left out of the conversation, so she interrupts and demands people fill her in on whatever we’re talking about. Every now and then, someone will “jokingly” say something to the effect of “That’s what Google is for Abbie!” or “It’s been all over the news for days!” But she just continues to reiterate that she doesn’t follow the news. Recently, another friend flat-out told her, “I’ll text you the link—read it, then we’ll talk about it.” Abbie got annoyed and just walked away.
It really came to a head when we were talking about the Ukraine/Russia situation. None of us pretend to be experts or have done deep dives on information, but we were having a general discussion. Abbie of course pipes up and asks us what we’re talking about. We all just stare at her, and finally I say, “Abbie, not only is this a huge news story right now, but you have family living in Ukraine. How do you not know what’s going on?” She yelled “Why do you always have to be so rude to me when I want to know what’s going on?!?” and stormed away. She texted me later that day saying she doesn’t appreciate how we make her feel stupid when she asks questions. I haven’t responded yet, and I need help on how to handle this! It’s not like we’re all talking about some obscure topic; we’re all average people who pay attention to the news, which she is entirely capable of doing too! It’s not our fault she chooses not to, but then still wants to be included in the conversations. So, Prudie, how should I approach this with Abbie?
A: It’s perfectly reasonable that you don’t see it as your job to explain everything going on in the world to Abbie. But you can make this clear and set a boundary without chastising her in front of others or shaming her for her ignorance. You should apologize for criticizing her for being clueless, while letting her know that you’re not going to be providing recaps of major events. The next time she asks for a live, personalized news digest, say something like “I’m not up for summarizing it, but remind me after you’ve had a chance to read up and we can discuss together—I’d love to know what you think.”
Q. Sick over this treatment: I live in a small enough town that I see my former doctor, “Dr. B,” everywhere from the grocery store to our kids’ school events. Last year, I went to Dr. B to discuss some health concerns. No matter how I described them or the impact it had on my life, she blamed my weight, and she wouldn’t run the tests for which I asked. When I asked, “What advice would you give to a patient with my symptoms who wasn’t 20 pounds overweight?” she told me, “Well, that’s not you.” Eventually my husband and I drove three hours to the nearest metropolitan area so I could see another doctor. Within minutes of hearing my symptoms, they ran the test necessary to determine I had a specific medical condition. I’m now receiving treatment and am feeling so much better, even if I have to travel to receive that treatment.
Whenever I see Dr. B, however, I panic. I feel betrayed by her judgment. I don’t know whether making an appointment with her to explain to her how she was wrong or if writing a letter to her would be warranted. I want her to know how her mistake could have cost me my health and well-being, but I’m not sure she’d care. Should I avoid her the rest of my life?
A: You should be proud of yourself for getting the care you needed, and you deserve to be able to enjoy the fact that you’re feeling better. It’s not fair that you can’t enjoy walking around town because you’re afraid of running into this ignorant and irresponsible doctor.
I think you should write her a letter. The tone is up to you—if you want to to express your sense of betrayal and anger, you should. But you can also choose to make it as simple as “Here’s a recap of the symptoms I shared with you and what you said. … Here’s what happened when I went to a different doctor. I thought you should know because it might be helpful if you see another patient who’s my size with my symptoms.” You could also choose to file a complaint with your state’s medical board. Either way, you did nothing wrong. She did. And she should be the one who’s anxious about running into you around town!
Q. Tiny dancer: I’m in a ballroom dance class at my school. There are way more followers than leaders (I’m a follower) so we usually dance with all the leaders once in a while. The problem is, there is one boy in my class I really, really don’t like dancing with, to the point of dreading the class. It’s nothing that he’s done, I’ve just had a traumatic experience some years ago and dancing with him reminds me of it.
I’ve told the teacher and they were very understanding, but it’s been a few weeks and nothing’s changed. I’m very nonconfrontational and I don’t want to seem nagging about it, and besides I’m pretty sure most of the other followers would prefer not to dance with him either (he’s autistic and a lot bigger than anyone else in the class). Like I said before, it’s nothing he’s done, he’s really pretty sweet. I just don’t know what to do.
A: Under no circumstances should you have to dance with someone who brings up a traumatic experience for you. But if the person has done nothing wrong—and this guy hasn’t—the issue is yours, not his, and the solution is not to ask the teacher to protect you from him but rather to find a way to remove yourself from the class. It would be especially troubling for a kid with autism who deserves to participate as much as anyone else to be left out because the other kids are skeeved out by him. So the path forward is to make a case to the teacher, your parents, and possibly the school counselor that because of your history of trauma, a class that involves physical contact with other students is not right for you and you require a transfer or an alternative way to complete the course requirements.
Q. Re: Old house owner: Big red flag. Run fast in the opposite direction. She is irrational and who knows when she will start telling you to get rid of other things, activities, people, and jobs that you like and work well for you. I feel sorry for her son. I also think that seven months together is too soon to think about moving in together, particularly when a child is involved.
A: Yep. And good point—I glossed over that, but seven months really is a short time.
Q. Re: Old house owner: Zoe is wrong in that she thinks he is emotionally tied to the furniture because his dead wife picked everything—he is not emotionally tied to it, he just thinks the house looks nice. He is wrong because she wants the house to be their house, and to feel like she belongs there and is not just a visitor.
A: “Zoe said I can’t say the same. If my wife had lived, would we have gotten back together?” suggests to me that this is about much more than wanting to collaborate and not feel like a visitor. I don’t think compromising or giving in to her demands would solve the underlying issues she has with his feelings for his ex-wife.
Q. Re: Read a newspaper: I think this wording is good for one-on-one situations, but what about in the group environment? Can folks in the group choose to all hold that boundary and continue the conversation, or is that mean?
A: I think everyone can say what they’re personally willing to do, one-on-one or in a group. Who knows, there may be someone who enjoys acting as a pundit and would love to provide a summary and analysis. I wouldn’t push to get others to commit to a plan that might not feel right to them.
Before my mother died, she had the diamonds on her engagement ring made into three necklaces for her three granddaughters. My niece left hers with her mother before going to college; she is engaged now and wants to turn the necklace back into a ring. My sister lost the necklace. She swears she turned the house upside down looking for it. It’s missing. Now my sister wants my daughter to give up her necklace and pretend it is her daughter’s. The necklace has been appraised at over $1,000.
My daughter is older and gay, and she never wears jewelry. My sister insulted my daughter by saying the necklace was “wasted” on her and it was “highway robbery” for her to pay the full price. She insinuated that our mother wouldn’t want my daughter or me to “ruin” the only wedding any of the grandchildren will have.