I’m bisexual and genderqueer, and I live with my long-term partner, also genderqueer. I have a very uncomfortable relationship with my mother due to her alcoholism and drug abuse and the fact that she stole my identity to open credit cards before I turned 18. She also waged a hate-mail campaign against me when I came out and brought a lot of abusive men into my life growing up. I now live in another country and limit our contact to phone calls on birthdays and holidays. She recently moved, and during one of our holiday calls, mentioned that she’d found a box full of letters, poems, and pictures from my first high-school boyfriend.
This boyfriend was verbally and physically abusive. He raped me, threatened to commit suicide to keep me from breaking up with him, and forbade me to come out as bisexual. I have told my mother this before. Because he was the only straight, cis man I ever dated, she idealizes him. She announced a plan to set up a place in her office where she would display these items, which made me feel sick to my stomach. I told my mother to burn them and reiterated how violent he had been. She started shrieking, “You’re LYING, he LOVED YOU” over and over again.
My mother refuses to acknowledge my current partner. She has done the same with every other woman and queer person I have dated. But I had no idea she was obsessed enough with my first (and last) boyfriend to build a shrine. I consider this the last straw and now wish to cut off all contact. I know that if I do, it will trigger a campaign similar to the one I received when I first came out, where I can expect hate mail and endless harassment, and so can my boss and my friends. Do you have any advice for beginning the process of estrangement in a way that is safe and preserves my well-being, as well of that of anyone my mother might target? The upside of COVID is that with the border closed to American travelers, she cannot show up in person to threaten me, but how do I handle the rest?
—A Shrine Too Far
I’ll start by acknowledging the obvious and say that you’re making the right decision. Since self-protection is paramount and your mother has a history of harassing you, I think you should start this estrangement quietly, rather than with an announcement that you won’t be taking her calls. Block her number; she won’t be notified, and her calls will go straight to voicemail (and they’ll be partitioned off in a “Blocked messages” section). Do the same for her email address and any other social media platform she may use. The Crash Override Network has a helpful primer on security for anyone experiencing or anticipating online abuse. Give your boss, coworkers, and friends advance notice that your mother may attempt to contact them in order to harass you. I realize no one wants to have to discuss the particulars of their family dynamics at work, but I hope you’ll feel greater peace of mind once you know they’re on guard against her and primed not to give out any information about you.
Beyond that, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Al-Anon, or support groups for people estranged from their families may prove helpful, as will turning to your friends for reassurance, support, and compassion. Even ending a minimal-contact relationship with someone you’ve known to be abusive for years can be exhausting and sad. Knowledge that you’re doing the right and necessary thing doesn’t always immediately address the sense of guilt that can arise from attitudes like “but they’re family.” I believe, however, that you will be surprised by how light and relieved you feel when you realize you never have to sit through another forced holiday call with the woman who delights in sentimentalizing your abuse. You never have to do that again. Congratulations—you deserve it.
My mother and I have always been very close, but lately I’ve been worried about her. She is overweight and has various health issues. She is very sedentary and tends to spend her days watching TV. She will do sewing or crocheting as well, but again, there’s not a lot of movement there. She used to be slightly more active pre-pandemic, but not by much.
Over the past few months I have noticed her quality of life decrease. It has become particularly evident over the holidays that she can barely walk. I know she’s having trouble with her knee and ankle (she had knee surgery on one knee several years ago but keeps putting off getting the other one done). She can barely walk a few steps without holding on to something, and she lives alone. The thing is that she gets super defensive if I try to talk to her about this. I get it—I’m overweight, too, and I would hate if someone talked to me about my weight. But at the same time, I’m so worried about her. My sister has tried to talk to her before, although her approach leaves a bit to be desired. My brother just buries his head in the sand. I want to help her, but I don’t know how.
I think you’re right to begin by imagining how you would feel, in your mother’s position, if someone in your family told you to lose weight, and I’d encourage you to rethink your approach. It’s one thing to express concern about her safety and to start a conversation about how best to prioritize her independence and well-being in her old age. It’s another to assume that weight loss will fix all of those issues.
Since you know that your sister’s approach has put your mother’s back up already, and your main priority is your mother’s safety and comfort, begin the conversation by acknowledging her autonomy and feelings and asking open-ended questions. You might ask, for example, whether she feels safe moving around the house, whether she’s concerned about falling, and if she’d like you to join her for an appointment with her doctor to discuss options like installing a grab bar in her bathroom, seeing a physical therapist, employing a home health aide, or getting a cane or brace (her insurance may cover some of these costs, if she’s worried about money). If she’s been putting off her second knee surgery for a while, you might ask her to tell you more about her hesitation. Did she have a bad experience in the hospital last time? Is she in pain now? If so, how frequent and intense is her pain, and does she have good pain management options available to her? It’s possible the reason she gets defensive is because others have approached her weight as the “magic bullet” that will solve all of her problems. If your approach is inquisitive and supportive, and if you make it clear that you want to help in ways she’s comfortable with rather than override her wishes or tell her what to do, I hope you’ll get a lot further than your siblings have. Good luck!
How to Get Advice From Prudie
• Send questions for publication to email@example.com. (Questions may be edited.)
• Join the live chat every Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
• Call the voicemail of the Dear Prudence podcast at 401-371-DEAR (3327) to hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.
I’m a divorced woman in my 40s with two older teenagers. I’ve been dating a lot over the past few years and having a great time. I used to talk to my mom and sister about it, but they’re more socially conservative, and they seemed judgmental that I was dating at all, rather than just parenting. Since the pandemic started, we’ve been in touch about every day via a group text—mostly chitchat and little updates. Last year I matched with a lovely man on a dating app who lives a few states away. We reconnected about a month ago and have been having ersatz dates over Zoom. We’re planning an in-person visit for later this month in his state. This relationship might have potential, but I won’t know until we spend time together in person.
But should I tell my mom and sister about my trip? It would be unusual for me to go out of state for two nights without mentioning it, but I know they will not approve of me traveling to meet a new man, even aside from COVID (and please know I’m being pretty sensible on that front too). This trip might seem inappropriate or even shocking to them, and I don’t want to hear their criticism of my sex life. I definitely don’t need to hear my mom say, “You don’t need a man” anymore because … I know that! I like sex and dating. I like this man, and I trust my instincts. I know I’m not obligated to tell them anything, but do I talk around it? Say I’m visiting a friend? Lie outright? I’m not ashamed but don’t want their judgment quite yet, until I see if there’s potential with this guy.
It’s generally a good thing to trust one’s own instincts about a potential romantic partner, but I do think more than instinct and “being sensible” are called for when it comes to out-of-state, non-essential travel during a pandemic. It’s reasonable that you wouldn’t turn to your mother and sister for advice, both because of their history of sex-loathing judgment and because they’re neither medical professionals nor epidemiologists. But I do encourage you to study your state’s and your potential new boyfriend’s states’ COVID travel rules and restrictions and make sure you’ll be compliant (and postpone the trip if you won’t be).
As for your broader question, and as a general rule with your mother and sister, I think you should lean into making going out of town for a day or two without telling them slightly less “unusual.” You’re a grown woman with a right to make her own decisions about her dating life, and they’ve made it abundantly clear that you should have gone into “sexless mommy mode” after your divorce if you really cared about your kids. Who you’re seeing or thinking about seeing is not information they’ve demonstrated they can handle respectfully or appropriately. There’s no reason to inform your relatives about every (potential) first date you go on, unless you want to—and it seems pretty clear that you don’t want to.
Help! I Feel Like I’m Always Competing With My Boyfriend’s Flirty Best Friend.
Danny M. Lavery is joined by Bijan Stephen on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.
I am a teenage girl who fairly recently has begun to come to terms that I’m not the heterosexual young lady my conservative Christian parents always wanted. It’s been very painful. I am homeschooled, and we live in a rural area, so it is difficult for me to find any resources except online. I also suffer from anxiety and depression. I’m on medication now, but I still have some very bad days. The online communities I’ve found are full of young people in the same boat, but they’re sinking. I want to offer support to the suicidal people all around me, but I’m on shaky ground as it is. I don’t want to drag them down by trying to support them and becoming toxic because I still have so much healing to do. Do you have any suggestions on where I can get the help I need to help them?
—Supporting My Supporters
It’s not toxic to prioritize your own healing, especially when you’re a depressed teenager trying to find confidential support without coming out in a hostile environment. Nor is it toxic to recognize your own limits, to acknowledge that you cannot do much more to support suicidal strangers than offer them compassion and a listening ear for a little while when you’re both online. Ending a conversation, going for a walk outside, reading a book, or otherwise doing something for personal pleasure and restoration is appropriate, healthy, and important. Rather than thinking of getting help only so you can immediately turn around and help others, I’d encourage you to reframe it thusly: “Being of service to others is important, but it’s not the only reason I’m alive. I deserve peace, support, affirmation, healing, and freedom in my own right, not just in order to make me more helpful to others.” You’re still adjusting to a new medication regimen, you’re homeschooled by homophobic parents, and you’re trying to keep yourself safe and well on a day-by-day basis. That’s a tall order, and I don’t think you should try to add anything else to your plate by taking on additional responsibilities. Good luck, and stay safe.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“All of these conversations need to come from a place of finding accessible solutions, not wishing that things were different.”
Danny Lavery and Future Tense editor Torie Bosch discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I’m recently separated from my wife, and we’re now in the process of mediation and divorce. It’s amicable. We’re still finding our co-parenting routine, but there’s no animosity on either side, even though things have been over emotionally for some time. I’ve learned a lot about myself over the past year, both in terms of how I contributed to our marital issues and about what I ultimately want in a relationship. I’ve been seeing a therapist for some time and have seen significant improvements. I feel like I’m ready to put myself back out there. I know that building a long-lasting relationship will take time, particularly in the current environment, and I’m certainly willing to put in the work to find what I want. My concern is that potential partners will think I’m looking for a rebound or to get over my divorce, which is not the case. How do you suggest I explain to someone I’m interested in that I’m honestly looking to find the right partner rather than a fling?
—It’s Been Over for Years
Tell them exactly what you told me. I think what you may be hoping for is a surefire script that will reassure doubtful dates in the event that they don’t take your word for it, but there isn’t one. You may feel confident about your readiness to build something serious, but regardless of how well you know yourself or how easily you’re able to explain your situation, some of your dates may simply decide that dating someone whose divorce isn’t yet final is not worth the risk. That’s the part of dating where you can’t control for outcomes, because everyone gets to exercise their own judgment. You sound fairly self-aware, open, and honest to me, so if I were to hazard a guess, I’d expect that a significant proportion of your dates would appreciate your self-assessment and wouldn’t let it deter them from considering a second date with you. But I have no idea how many dates you’ll attract to begin with, how many of them will be looking for a serious relationship themselves, whether you’ll run into other early relationship problems besides your ongoing amicable divorce, whether you’ll actually like the people you go out with, and so on. The best you can do is be honest about what you’re looking for without coming on too strong. If a date suspects you’re not “ready” for something serious despite your best attempts to speak honestly about yourself, you should take that as an indicator that either they don’t trust you to know yourself or that you’re simply not compatible. In either case, it’s a sign that it’s time to move on to the next one.
Now available in your podcast player: the audiobook edition of Danny M. Lavery’s latest book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You. Get it from Slate.
I am in a long-term romantic and sexual relationship, which I find delightful. Before that I had a number of other relationships, some casual and some serious, where sex was a significant motivator for me. I recently read a story by an asexual author with an asexual main character that felt so profoundly resonant to me that it hasn’t left my mind since. I don’t think I’m asexual, but I’m starting to think that I may not be allosexual either. As a teenager, I was utterly baffled by my friends having “celebrity crushes” because I could not muster up any desire for any famous person of any gender. I veered between feeling deeply embarrassed at what I assumed was me being dysfunctional in some way and just assuming that everyone else had to be lying—that no one actually really had crushes on celebrities, that they were just pretending in order to seem cool or something. It also made my coming to terms with my queer identity more complicated. I now realize I have never experienced sexual desire for someone I haven’t interacted with in person.
I’ve talked about this a little to my partner, and a close friend, which felt good and important, but I don’t know what to do next. It doesn’t feel like I need a label or access to a new community, exactly—the actual course of my relationships would be unchanged if I was more typically allosexual, so perhaps it doesn’t matter? I certainly don’t want to pretend to have a set of struggles that I don’t. And yet, there was a moment in which a bewildered, incredulous part of me felt recognized like never before, and I don’t want to ignore how deeply moving that felt. I would really appreciate any advice or words of wisdom you have.
—Hardly Worth Mentioning
I’m not sure if this qualifies as wise, exactly, but if you simply want to acknowledge that you recently had a moving experience that clarified some unquestioned assumptions you made as a teenager, you should do so. That’s lovely! You do not ever have to pretend to be interested in a celebrity again, and if you want to discuss the fact that you’re not attracted to strangers with your friends or whenever sex comes up in casual conversation, you absolutely should. The question of whether new information or self-knowledge is going to materially change your relationships or future is entirely separate from whether it “matters.”
The only other advice I’ll offer is not to be too quick to assume that everyone else felt the same way (about celebrities or attraction or anything else) when you talked as teenagers. As you know yourself, lots of young people try to suss out what it seems like everyone else is saying or doing before volunteering anything about themselves, so while you may have felt alone at the time, you might also have had something in common with more of your peers than you realized. The point is that you recently read a book that deeply moved you and made you feel recognized in a new way. You’ve also consolidated a deeper understanding of how you experience sexual desire. That’s good! That matters. You should feel free to discuss it as you feel so inclined, free to abstain from joining any communities you don’t feel an impulse to join, and free to change anything or nothing about the order of your daily life, without worrying it’s a final ruling on whether your understanding of yourself “matters.”
Joanne, my BFF and co-worker, and Melanie, a former co-worker, both recently applied for the same exciting, awesome job. When the diligent, talented Melanie left our company, I offered to be a reference for her. Joanne told me how intense the application process was—her parents were divorcing at the same time, so she was frazzled—so I expected a call from the hiring company. It never came. Neither Joanne nor Melanie got the job. Recently Joanne confessed that while in my office one day, she intercepted a call from the hiring company; the rep wanted to talk about Melanie’s employability. Joanne told the rep that Melanie was intelligent but also lazy and entitled. She didn’t think the reference was bad enough to tarnish Melanie’s or my reputation permanently and begged for my forgiveness. Joanne is normally a sweet person, and I don’t think she would have done this if she hadn’t been so stressed. My question is, what do I do now? I don’t want to see Joanne hurt.