Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
I’m a queer woman, and I’m marrying the woman of my dreams next year. My fiancé has left the conservative church she was raised in, but her parents are still members and remain steadfast in their belief that our relationship is sinful. They have made great progress in recent years (I’m the first person my fiancé has ever been allowed to bring home to her parents), but they refuse to acknowledge our engagement and upcoming wedding. I feel like I should be more grateful for the progress they’ve made, but I am deeply hurt by their rejection of our relationship and my identity. My family is atheist, and we don’t believe in the concept of sin, which makes it difficult for me to understand where my future in-laws are coming from. My own parents are deceased, and I am grieving their absence as we plan our wedding, which makes me feel this rejection even more acutely. Am I supposed to just let go of this hurt or “get over it”? How on earth do I do that?
— In-Law Issues
Dear In-Law Issues,
There are two main camps when it comes to how we should think about bigoted relatives.
“Family is family, and it’s wrong to let any beliefs that come from religion or politics change the way you feel about or treat anyone.” “People who have values that you find repulsive — especially if those values keep them from treating you with respect — don’t deserve a place in your life.”
For what it’s worth, I think #1 is bullshit. But what matters isn’t what I think, it’s what you and your fiancé think. You need to talk about it. Is the plan for the two of you to work for the rest of your lives toward the highly theoretical prize of her parents’ approval, bit by bit? Do you want to be around people who treat you as second-class citizens because of your status as “sinners”? Will you take whatever attention and approval they give you? Would you be satisfied if they were a little quieter about their beliefs, or if they attended your wedding silently judging you and praying for you but not making a big deal about it? And are the two of you going to accept them as they are and quietly roll your eyes at their backward views and behaviors forever, or are you holding onto hope that they’ll change?
These are going to be hard questions because your fiancé loves her parents, and you are hoping they’ll love you. I’m not sure there are right or wrong answers, but I think you’ll be in less pain if you decide together what your approach will be and then don’t waste too much more mental energy worrying about how to deal with them.
The one thing I’d argue with in your question is the idea that you should feel grateful for the progress they’ve made. No. Raise the bar off the floor! Being treated like a human being is not a special treat, and no one deserves praise for being slightly closer to decent than they have been in the past. They should be grateful to you for being much warmer and more patient to them than they deserve.
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My best friend of nearly 20 years currently lives across the country from me. Our amount of contact has gradually decreased over the years while we’ve been living in different places, which seems natural. That doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is that she is very flaky about making plans to meet up when I visit her city, which I typically do once a year for work. I have to put in a lot of effort to make a plan to meet her for dinner or whatever, and more than once she has cancelled on me at the last minute. But whenever we manage to get together, we have a great time. I didn’t make this trip last year, but I’m headed to her city again this summer. I texted her my travel dates and asked if she’d like to get together, but got no response. From past experience, I know that if I keep asking, she will eventually respond and we will have a great time together. She’s not ghosting me; this is just how she is. And I haven’t seen her for two years! I really miss her! But I’m getting really tired of this dynamic. Should this be the year I give up on trying to make plans with her? Or should I give it one more try? Maybe things would improve if we could talk this over in person. Or maybe it’s time for me to focus on friends who make it more of a priority to stay in touch. What do you think?
— Tired Friend
Great job! You answered your own question. But I am happy to affirm what you already know. It’s one thing to be bad at keeping up on the phone and another thing to avoid making plans when a once-a-year opportunity comes up. You do enjoy your time with your friend, and she hasn’t done anything awful, so you should still reach out to her, especially as we come out of this socially weird pandemic time. But going forward, consider downgrading her from “best friend” to “old friend” or “high school friend” and don’t invest too much more energy into trying to figure out her flakiness.
My husband and I moved to a touristy town. It is expensive to live here. My son-in-law is a professional and flies here to work in this town for two or three days a month. He makes very good money. We welcomed him to stay with us, but here is the problem: He never offers to buy food or contribute in any way. He expects to drive my car for free and very seldom mutters a thank you. He is taking advantage of our hospitality, and we are tired of him being a moocher. We would like him to contribute in some way, like buying food or taking us out to dinner or some sort of appreciation. He can certainly afford it. We are retired and on a fixed income. We are saving him hundreds of dollars by providing a free room, free car, and free food. It doesn’t seem to bother him a bit that he mooches off of us. Our daughter is very sensitive, and we don’t want to alienate them. How do we handle this?
—Tired of Moocher
It’s not totally clear from your letter whether your son-in-law visiting is a financial burden that you can’t afford, or whether you just want him to repay you or express gratitude on principle.
If it’s really a matter of money, maybe you can say to your daughter, “We took a look at our budget and we’re doing okay, but things are a little tight and we’re looking for ways to save. We realized we love seeing Dan, but the extra groceries and utilities and wear and tear on the car when he comes to town are a little more than we can afford. Do you think you two could help out financially a little bit each month?” Or you could ask him directly, “Do you mind picking up a rotisserie chicken and a bag of salad for dinner on your way from the airport?” “Could you put some gas in the car and pull the trash cans to the curb before you leave?”
I suspect these things won’t really satisfy you, however, because your issue is less about the expense and more about the fact that you feel taken advantage of. This is tricky, because when you offer to let someone stay at your home, it’s a lot like giving a gift: You should do it without any expectations. Plus, a “thank you” or dinner out won’t feel great if you know it only happened because you demanded it. And I agree that your relationship with him and your daughter will suffer if you close your door to him to punish him for bad manners.
So maybe you can reframe how you’re thinking about this, and focus on being grateful for the relationship you have and open to the idea that you’ll be repaid in a less immediate way, like when you get older and your needs are greater and he and your daughter step in. I get the sense that your son-in-law is comfortable with you and considers you his parents, so as a result he’s not focused on the etiquette of being a guest. In a world where so many people are at odds with their in-laws, that’s a really good thing, even if it doesn’t come with a monthly thank-you note.
Catch up on this week’s Prudie.
More Advice From Pay Dirt
My partner grew up poor, while I grew up more middle class. He has always controlled all our finances, and spends hours monthly on budgeting and checking bills, credit cards, etc.
I’ve never known anybody who obsesses like this. All income, including gifts, goes to the joint account, and I have to keep receipts for everything I buy, down to a coffee, so he can record and check it. We have a fairly big (but manageable) mortgage, and our child has added many more costs to our lives, but otherwise we’re OK. I was very young when we got together, and I went along because I didn’t know anything else. Recently, I’ve started to hate it. I can’t see a solution. Maybe you can?