Parrot on a wedding cake

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Dear Prudence,

My mother had a beautiful parrot for over a decade until it died five years ago. Ever since then, I’ve gotten a monthly update about “Polly.” (Think: “It’s raining today. Polly always loved the rain,” or “Happy Halloween, missing Polly.”) I understand my mother’s sadness at losing her pet and try to be supportive without letting our entire conversations be about Polly. My father chooses to do “whatever your mother needs” to grieve, which means their house is basically a Polly shrine and discussion of getting another pet is forbidden.

My fiancé and I plan to get married next summer, and my mother has already insisted someone mention Polly during my wedding. Originally, she wanted Polly mentioned in the formal speeches and among the family pictures at the reception, Polly-themed dessert and favors. I put my foot down and said my wedding will not become a bird funeral six years after the fact. My father told her she needs to tone down the Polly demands and told me I should do one small thing (he suggested Polly’s photo incorporated into my mom’s mother-of-the bride corsage). My fiancé privately laughs about the whole thing and says we should just elope anyway. I’m leaning toward eloping just to avoid dealing with my mom’s bird grief on a day that’s supposed to be about the love I have found with my fiancé. What do you think?

—Not a Bird Funeral

On the one hand, if your mother wore a corsage that incorporated a picture of a parrot to your wedding, I think that would fall into the “slightly kooky but mostly charming” category and add a pleasant but minor tone of eccentricity to the day. If you think that’s a compromise you can live with, go for it. On the other hand, your mother’s original requests were pretty over-the-top, and you’ve already had to do a lot of work over the years managing her on this front. If you suspect agreeing to the corsage would open the door to another round of Polly negotiations, you can say no. And on, I guess, a third hand, eloping is a perfectly suitable option! It’s not inherently an angry or punitive choice, and lots of couples do so and have more relaxing, low-key celebrations with friends and family afterward.

My strongest instinct here is that you should speak to your mother directly about this, rather than letting your father continue to act as go-between. She’s allowed to love and miss her beloved pet, but it’s not cruel or dismissive to turn down her requests, and I think your father’s insistence on treating her like glass and trying to cushion her from honest conversations with other people is counterproductive. “Mom, I love you, and I know how much you loved Polly, but we’re not going to incorporate her into the wedding” is a respectful, loving, appropriate response.

Dear Prudence,

I am a white woman married to another white woman. We have been planning on having a child via donor sperm this year and have recently begun the process (I’ll be the one who gets pregnant). The bank has a search feature where you can choose for hair color, height, and other physical features, as well as race and nationality. I assumed we’d choose someone who matched my partner. My wife wants to find a black donor. She thinks that it’s important to “normalize” race, given the current state of racism in our country. She has often said that if people of different races had children, then race would become obsolete. I told her I was uncomfortable with this, since neither of us are black, and expressed my concern about raising a child who would face challenges neither of us know how to prepare them for.

We went back and forth, and she got me to admit that if I had a black partner, I would have no issues (since the child would have a black parent). I’d also be open to adopting outside of our race, since those children are in urgent need of parents. But my wife is insistent and thinks my objections are racist. My best friend is a black woman, and she said she didn’t think it was wrong, but that it made her uncomfortable for reasons she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Her husband agreed and said children shouldn’t be conceived to prove a political point. With so many recent high-profile moments of anti-black racism, my wife is even more adamant, while I am even more hesitant. She keeps bringing it up, even showing me a video of police brutality to stress how important it is to “normalize race” and fight against these types of situations. I just nod politely and then try to change the subject or go back to what I was doing. I have not had the energy to bring it up with our couples therapist because the conversation with my wife is exhausting. I am hoping I will find the mental and emotional energy to deal with this again, but I don’t even know how to resolve this difference between us.

—Reluctant Parent

I don’t know what your wife means when she says she wants to “normalize” race. I also fail to understand why she thinks showing you videos of police brutality is a persuasive argument for which sperm donor you should choose. Does your wife have black friends of her own, besides yours? Is she meaningfully involved in anti-racist work? Has she given any thought as to how you would raise a black child so they would not grow up in a mostly or exclusively white context? Would she know how to properly care for and style your child’s hair? Why does she think the most important thing she can do to address anti-black racism that affects people here and now is to become a parent?

I share your friend’s concern that your wife wants to have this child as a political point, out of a belief that the solution to anti-blackness is to “do away” with race. Crucially, in your wife’s vision of the future, there are no black people; racism has been extinguished because race is “obsolete.” But the answer to anti-black racism cannot rest in a future without black people. And the fact that she’s been pressuring you so relentlessly when you’re the one who would be carrying the child is also worrying. I fear she would bring that same indefatigable sense of her own rightness into parenting. She also claims that either you share her desire to find a black sperm donor because you hate racism or you oppose it because you are secretly racist. But you do not have to accept these premises. The question is not whether a nonblack person can be a good parent to a biracial child, but whether your wife in particular is prepared to parent that child safely and healthily, in a way that supports and affirms that child’s blackness. I think your exhaustion and anxiety about her behavior will lead you to the answer to that question.

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Dear Prudence,

During quarantine I agreed to let my husband help me overcome some genuinely bad linguistic habits of mine. These include overusing like, correcting with questions rather than being direct (“Isn’t X north of Y?” rather than “X is north of Y”), jokingly mispronouncing words (saying the P in pterodactyl), using dated slang, etc. Another is my habit of using you instead of one or me. For example, “That sense of disappointment when you reach for a chocolate chip cookie only to discover that it’s actually oatmeal-raisin.” I often don’t even realize I’m saying these things, so he helpfully points it out. However, now that we can return to a safely distanced social life, I’m feeling conflicted. He told me that my speech patterns were endlessly irritating to himself and others, but our friends seem more dismayed by his frequent corrections. People say his reminders sound disrespectful and disrupt the flow of conversations. Yet if he waits to remind me of all the things I’ve said, I feel greater shame and anxiety and don’t have a chance to correct myself. I want to be a better person, but I don’t want to make him look bad in front of others. How do I navigate this? (If you could possibly answer in a non–Slate Plus forum, that would be really great. Getting Slate Plus back is my agreed-upon reward for reaching the goal of not saying like—or any of these other things—for one month!)

—Keeping Quarantine Goals

I have to side with your friends here. It’s one thing to have a conversation with your partner about a conversational tic that may be harmless but frustrating—but offering “rewards” like magazine subscriptions is something you do to a child, not with a spouse, and certainly not over something as common and banal as saying like. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with deciding to try to cut back on conversational fillers. It’s fine! It’s just not the highest possible good, and it crosses the line into weird and kind of controlling. Nor do I agree that it’s “right” to correct with a flat statement and “wrong” to do so with a question.

But even if I were to concede that your husband was right on all these issues, none of them warrant constant correction. What your husband is doing is jarring, distracting, disruptive, and completely at odds with any sort of friendly, ongoing conversation. Worse, he’s made a matter of personal taste (one and you are often interchangeable and universally intelligible) a question of “being a better person” and convinced you that you’re making him look bad if you remind a friend with “Don’t you mean Thursday?” instead of “You mean Thursday.”

The fact that you’re now consumed with shame and anxiety when you talk is equally concerning, as is the fact your husband has attempted to claim that other people have the same response to your speech patterns as he does, even though multiple people have contradicted this claim. I hope you listen to your friends when they express their concern. Regardless of your husband’s intentions, the result is that you feel anxious and ashamed, he’s constantly interrupting you both in public and in private, and other people are starting to worry. He needs to stop what he’s doing and let this go—it’s not helpful, and it’s a direct impediment to your ability to have conversations with him.

Help! My Extended Family Is Offended We’re Doing a Virtual-Only Funeral for My Mother.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Nastia Voynovskaya on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

Subscribe to the Dear Prudence Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Dear Prudence,

I work for a large university that is allowing almost everyone to work from home. Our team is small, and everyone’s working hard to keep things moving smoothly—except for one of us. She claims to have no computer or internet at home, so she’s essentially on a paid stay-at-home vacation. The rest of us are picking up her slack on top of our own projects. I find myself increasingly angry about her unwillingness to even offer to help. When she joins Zoom calls on her phone, we can see a computer in the background.

Our bosses, when asked if she could pitch in, say “no.” I realize our university can’t ask her to buy a computer or internet, but everyone else on the team is working so hard. We know that she’s recently purchased a new car. She’s also one of the higher-paid employees in the department. Should I express my frustration to my boss, knowing full well that he can’t disclose any information about her situation, just so I can express my feelings of demoralization to a higher-up? I know that most of our team is frustrated too, but everyone is too scared to say anything. I’m not scared—I just wonder if there’s a point.

—Nonworking Co-Worker

If your bosses are already aware of her decreased workload and have made it clear she’s not available to resume her normal schedule, it’s possible they’re privy to information about extenuating circumstances they can’t share with the rest of the office. I don’t know what those circumstances might be, and I don’t think it would be productive to try to guess, but if your bosses aren’t normally in the habit of giving employees carte blanche to stop working without reason, it’s worth considering the possibility that this is necessary. I’m not positive about that, and it’s certainly not unheard-of for management to bend over backward to accommodate someone high-paid and difficult while expecting junior employees to pick up the slack, but it’s worth reminding yourself that you may not know the full story.

But you can certainly speak to your own boss about the way her workload is affecting you and push back against the unofficial reassignment of her tasks: “I need your help establishing priorities this week. I know you wanted me to update you on X and Y projects, but I’ve had to take on Sara’s work as well, and I’m not going to have time to get to them all. Which deadline should I prioritize?” You can even go a step further: “I understand you can’t go into the details about Sara’s new arrangement with management, but I’m not able to complete my own work and take up her projects at the same time. Is there a plan for reorganizing her workload? We’re going to need one soon.” Just because you can’t enquire about the details of her living situation or why the computer you’ve seen in the background of her Zoom calls isn’t usable doesn’t mean you have to accept all this new work without question.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“These are not good parenting skills. Take the gift she is giving you: foreknowledge.” Danny Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

I’ve been with my partner for four years now. I’m 26, and he’s 29. Everything was very easy right from the start, and we went from “dating” to “settling down together” quite quickly. We communicate well, compromise easily, bicker occasionally, and are happy living together. Our relationship is not passionate—we’re more like an old married couple. We’ve started talking more seriously about marriage and kids, and I’m anxious. According to my friends and a lot of books and movies, there seems to be something about love I haven’t experienced. I love my partner, but I don’t have that feeling of urgency I’ve heard other people describe as love, and neither does he. (We talk about everything.)

He says he is perfectly happy as we are. I had a meltdown about this last year, and he was very supportive, even suggesting I move away and try out “a new life” for a few months before reconnecting. This offer meant a lot to me, even though I would not have taken him up on it.

Friends talk about when they “knew” they were going to commit to their partner, how they can’t imagine themselves with anyone else. But I don’t know, and I can imagine. I don’t want to leave. Just the thought makes me cry immediately. But what if there’s something more, that neither of us have experienced, but we’re keeping each other from finding? Then again, what if there isn’t and I throw away a perfectly happy existence in pursuit of a fiction?

—Unready

The good thing is you never have to leave your partner if you don’t want to. And the fact that you burst into tears at the mere thought of leaving the man you love and share a home with sounds a bit like—a kind of passion! Books and movies are fantastic, and many of them have challenging, exciting, thoughtful things to say about love, but they’re not a road map for how a person should love or organize their emotional priorities.

I suspect the key to your letter lies in what kicked off this anxiety: talking about marriage and kids. Do you want kids? Do you want to get married? You don’t say either way, which leads me to suspect the bigger question is not “Do I love my partner?” but “Do I want to get married and have kids with him?” It will also help to get specific about the “something more” you’re worried you’re missing out on, rather than leaving it as a vague prospect. Is it the exhilaration of living alone and answering to no one but yourself? Is it moving to a different part of the country, or moving to another country altogether? Is it trying to date a lot of new people and the excitement of possibility? Whatever option you pursue, either with or without your partner, would not be a fiction—it would be the next part of your life. You’re allowed to want things that aren’t easy or that don’t make immediate and intuitive sense. You’re even allowed to try new things with your partner: You don’t have to choose between “stay with him, do everything expected of me, settle down further” or “leave him, try new and exciting things.” But try to move past the vague suspicion of whatever something more may be for concrete, specific possibilities.

Dear Prudence,

For about a month, I’ve been planning a solo road trip to the next state over. I shared my plans with my mom, and she’s been hinting that she’d like to come along. I don’t want to invite her. I love my mom and know we’d have a good time, but I’m really looking forward to traveling solo. I’ve always wanted to travel alone, and I feel like much of my life, an uncomfortable amount, is wrapped up in my family, and this is an opportunity to do something entirely my own. On the other hand, it’s been on my mind a lot lately that creating memories with my parents is valuable to me. I’m torn. Do I seize the opportunity to spend some time with my mom, or do I insist on doing this alone, like I originally planned? If you think the latter, I’d appreciate a script that will let her down kindly.

—Solo Traveler

I’m of the opinion that hints don’t require scripts—if she’s not willing to admit out loud that she’s trying to invite herself, then you don’t have to play both sides of the conversation for her. You’re free to simply ignore her hints or to respond to them in kind. For example, if she says, “I’m so jealous of your trip—I wish I could go,” you can say, “You should think of taking one yourself! I think more people should take solo vacations, and I bet you’d have a great time.” But you should resist the urge to insist upon your right to take a trip you’ve planned alone, as well as the belief that it’s your responsibility to let her down when you haven’t offered her (nor has she asked you for) anything. By discussing the trip, you didn’t raise her expectations only so you could pull out the rug from under her. The fact that you’ve felt like an “uncomfortable amount” of your life has been wrapped up in your family’s interests is key here—such that you feel you have to defend a benign thing like spending a few nights away on your own. You’ll have plenty of other opportunities to create memories with your parents. You’re not planning a sea voyage to Ithaca by way of Aeolia, just driving to the next state over.

Classic Prudie

My spouse—a man—pees standing up. I have told him several times that no matter how careful one is, it leaves pee on surfaces—the toilet, the floor, and probably his legs! I have shown him several times how there is pee on the flat part of the rim. He huffs and cleans it up, but of course he doesn’t see what’s on the floor. My problem is that he acts as though he is doing me a favor by sitting to pee. If he cleaned up the toilet area and left it pee-free, I wouldn’t care a bit how he goes. But he gets very offended when I point out that standing up to pee just isn’t very clean. How can I convince him about this without getting him defensive?





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