Dear Prudence Chat online every week Live chat with readers every Monday at noon ET. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Hope everyone had a good weekend! Let’s get started.
Q. Q. This is a strange problem. Two brothers have been given to me. Zach is 38. The other is my younger brother Gil who’s 15 and is convinced that I’m his biological parent and that I was forced to give him up to be raised by our mom and dad as a teenager. He’s believed this since he was 13.
It isn’t true. Technically, it was possible for me to do it when I was 17. But it never happened. My brother is not convinced of this. It will come back to the surface occasionally, but he will sometimes let it go. He approached my ex-boyfriend to ask if he was Gil’s “real” father, called our parents “grandmother and grandfather,” and made bitter, inappropriate comments about me “raising my other children” at family events. My children are toddlers and don’t really understand him, but I want this sorted before I have to deal with that too. Zach wants us to do a DNA test to settle this but other proof we’ve offered (photos of me that year not pregnant) just made Gil dig his heels in harder. I believe Gil requires real psychological help. And anyway, our parents won’t agree. They say we shouldn’t dignify his delusion by addressing it.
That said… his birth was really weird. I was in France for a semester and Zach was at college—neither of us ever saw mom pregnant. Strange idea that our parents might have adopted baby? And why, when they’d always expressed relief that she would have an empty nest soon?) But it’s possible. It’s a box of worms that I worry about opening when Gil is already in such a weird place. With that in mind, how can I get Gil to stop harassing my about being his mom? I feel mean writing that, and I know he’s always struggled that Zach and I aren’t as close to him as we are with each other, but I also just want him to stop.
A: This is very strange. Why don’t you go ahead and do the DNA test just to put it to rest? I agree that a two-year-long obsession with this topic is troubling, but who knows, maybe his instinct that he’s not being told the whole truth is right. It would be worthwhile to calm him down (or to push your parents to tell the truth about his adoption). Also, if he won’t accept the evidence or develops another theory about being an outsider in the family or being lied to, that will confirm that there’s an issue with his emotional and mental health that’s bigger than this question. If he goes “Whoops, sorry, I guess my hunch was wrong” and doesn’t lash out, you’re left with a brother who, like you said, would really like to be closer to you. With this issue over, hopefully you can make it happen.
Help! My Mom Doesn’t Think My Fiancé Is Enough.
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Q. Immovable Object Versus Unstoppable Force: My aunt is a great talker. Talking is her lifeline. It has always been that way. I used to talk with her several times per week but she stopped asking me questions about me and my family. It’s all about her. I remind her that she will only inquire for a short time but then all things go back to her. I love her dearly, and I know there is no way to change her, but I recently blew up and told her how much it hurt me that she didn’t ask about us. After several months of silence, she now wants to communicate again, but she is the same. My resentment has started to build again. Is there any way I can change the situation?
A: This sounds like a great way to practice acceptance. You can also steamroll. Let me clarify: You won’t make your aunt polite enough to ask you about yourself. And you’re going to continue feeling really frustrated if you keep hoping she’ll change. I don’t know why she’s like this, but you say “She’s always been this way” and she probably always will be. Accept it. If it doesn’t make you want to cut her off, here’s where the steamrolling comes in: You get her on the phone and just start talking about yourself. Do you know her ability to go on for hours without stopping and not taking a deep breath? You can do it! Speak as much as you wish. Talk over her if she interrupts and starts talking about herself. Only pause if she’s asking a relevant question. And then, when you’re done and you’ve been thoroughly heard, ask her how she’s been.
Q. Plantation Abomination Both my wife and I have been married for six years. We are now able to move from our condo in a dense, expensive Northeastern area (on which we made an amazing profit) to 18 beautiful acres in the semi rural Southern region where I grew-up, near my family. The land currently contains a nasty old single-wide trailer where we’re living with our dog and three cats until we can build our dream house, after which we plan to start a family. However, we’re having trouble agreeing on the style of the house. My wife, who is Black but physically close to white-passing and grew up in urban Northeast, wants a white plantation-style house with large pillars around. I cringe at the thought of living in a replica of slavery as a Southern-raised white woman.
My wife thinks I’m being silly because it will be a brand-new house “with no history but ours.” Neither of us is a fan of modern architecture, but my first choice would be a Mediterranean-style house, which my wife insists would be “all wrong” for the area and the site, which is full of magnolias and mossy oaks. She’s shot down French provincial and Craftsman as well. Should I give in and let her have her plantation house, even though it’ll mean a lifetime of protesting, “But my wife is Black!”? What can I do to get her out of this?
A: First, a clarifying question: Are You Are you against the house, because living in an imitation of slavery makes it seem sexist? Or are you against it because you’ll have to say “But my wife is Black!” when and if people judge you for it?
If it’s the latter—that you’re just trying to stay on the right side of Black people and It seems anti-racist—defer to the main Black person in your life and let her have what she wants, assuming it’s really feasible to build in such a style in 2023. You can just absorb any side-eyes or comments from the public.
If it’s the former—and the idea of living in a plantation-style home is upsetting to you personally—put your foot down. Slavery is something that white people can and should dislike. It’s possible, however, that you have been exposed to slavery in your own community. Just like anyone would be within their rights to pass on a house styled after a high school best known for being the site of a mass shooting, even if they hadn’t personally been affected by a mass shooting, you are within your rights to not want to wake up every day in a physical reminder of human suffering. Tell your wife. And—exactly like every couple with wildly different tastes featured on House Hunters—find a compromise.
Q. Don’t Want My Butt In Your Face: This is a simple question but it’s worth asking. I’ve noticed that recently when I’m sitting in the middle or window seat of a plane and have to get up, instead of also getting up to let me out, people will just gesture for me to clamber over them, which is putting me VERY IN their personal space. Like, I’m basically in their lap (it’s economy! There’s not a lot of room, to begin with). I don’t know if this is standard operating procedure or if people are just doing it because I’m a woman in my early 20s and I seem … agile? I’m not getting up a ridiculous amount, but sometimes it’s a six-hour flight and you’ve gotta pee. It’s not a big enough deal that I’m going to ask people to get up instead, it just seems super awkward to me, so I’m just looking for a take on what the social contract is for this situation.
A: Flying is now so uncivilized. I really don’t feel like there are any social contracts. Just think of the debates about whether it’s okay to recline your seat, whether toddlers should be allowed to watch cartoons without headphones, and whether adults should give up a seat for a parent and child who want to sit together. No one is agreeing! And people get MAD. Someone was talking about giving people large amounts of money to remove their masks. It’s ridiculous. We weren’t made to be stuck next to strangers in a confined space for long periods of time. It’s honestly amazing that there aren’t more physical fights in the air.
Two tips: 1) Say, while looking your seatmate in the eyes, “Excuse me, do you mind Get up for a minute so I can get out?”
2) GET AN AISLE SEAT so you’re less vulnerable to whatever strange choices other people make.
Q. Rotten Candy: I have an in-law who sends me emails pitching her children’s fundraising efforts for school activities (the usual stuff: selling candy or whatever to finance trips or equipment). These emails are polite, and not too pressure. I find it odd that she does this for her children. She even handles the Venmo cash.
If the kids actually reached out to me (they are tweens), I’d buy. We are in a close relationship. Sometimes we even text each other. The mom seems lazy to do it. It should be noted that the school is well-funded and the activity groups are probably financially sound. This is why I believe these sales are necessary. It teaches these kids that not all things are free and that it costs money. They also benefit from the investment in their activities. Are you being a fuddy-duddy? Should I tell the mom that I’ll buy something if the kids do the work? Or, just be a terrible uncle and not purchase anything. Or, just buy stuff and suck it up?
A: I have a friend who has her daughter make a personalized video for each person she’s asking for support for her fundraisers. The friend then sends them a text. This shows that the little girl was invested and put in some effort. It takes a lot of effort and time for everyone, which I can also imagine. More time and effort than most people who aren’t total overachievers could spare.
Parents and kids these days are so busy. I imagine your in-law got the news about the kids’ fundraiser at the end of a long day of work and parenting and felt social pressure to raise some money and decided to send out a quick mass email after bedtime instead of spending the weekend bugging her teens to make sales calls. To me, this is perfectly understandable. It’s also 100 percent fine if that doesn’t inspire you to buy the candy. Just ignore the message and save your money for supporting the kids in some other way that actually feels good to you—like by shoving a $20 bill in their hand the next time you see them. They’ll probably remember and appreciate that more anyway.
Re: Q. Re: Q. Is it possible that Gil has picked up something from the more uninformed or misogynistic parts of the internet that would lead him to believe that women over a certain age are past their “sell-by date” and therefore can’t get pregnant? I’m wondering if he’s so convinced his parents cannot be his parents because he thinks it’s physically impossible for his mother to have been pregnant in her 40s. If he’s misinformed on the biology of pregnancy itself, maybe a sex-ed lesson can help clear up some of his misconceptions. In either case, it seems like something caused it and it may be worth investigating why.
A: This is something I would never have thought of, but it might be a good idea. I would never doubt the internet’s ability to convince a teenage boy of something weird. You’re right that more questions about what’s behind his thinking would be a good start.
Re: Q. Rotten Candy: I’d tell my in-law, “Please have Jake and Thea call me. I’d love to chat about what they’re up to in school and hear about this upcoming trip/new uniforms/what have you, and we can talk about the candy sale.” Then buy generously to reinforce the phone call.
A: I have to admit I don’t love this approach. It just seems like a forced interaction that isn’t going to leave anyone feeling great. However, it serves the purpose of LW putting the responsibility or candy-selling back onto the kids. This seems to be what they want. Instead of texting them, why not? parents?
I hate hugging my family and parents. I have no idea what to say. When I was younger, my mother was especially distant and rarely hugged me or told me “I love you.” My father was more open but was not around as much because of work commitments.
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