Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
I have an odd issue I don’t think I’ve seen dealt with here. I (66 cis gay man) live in independent living in a retirement community in a large American city with my husband (73 cis gay man) of 30 years. We moved here five years ago when we were convinced by numerous acquaintances that the place was welcoming and inclusive. We counted ourselves lucky to be ensconced here during the pandemic, where we felt protected and all our meals were delivered, etc. We noticed, however, that the lockdown in the retirement community system left some of our singleton neighbors bereft of company, as all activities that couldn’t be performed over Zoom or in-house television channel were forbidden.
During this time, my husband and I began to notice a certain neighbor (female singleton, probably 70s) who seemed to be exhibiting strange behaviors: double or triple masking, odd clothing (almost, but not quite, aluminum foil hats), etc. We (to each other only) began to refer to her as “Crazy Agnes.”
Fast forward to last week, when all the extraordinary precautions are off, and we are all free to move about as we please. I was passing through the lobby on my way to the grocery store.
“Crazy Agnes” angles her way across the lobby to say “I just have to say, those colors (I was wearing a rather flashy silk Hawaiian shirt) are JUST PERFECT on you!!!” I said thank you and proceeded on my way when she yelled after me “But of course, you’re so handsome you could wear any colors you wanted!”
Oy. I most definitely do NOT consider myself to be “so handsome” in any way (sadly neither does my husband…), but I joked to my husband that it seemed Agnes was not so crazy after all! We laughed and laughed. And be it said, I have had MAD crushes on men who were by no means conventionally handsome (looking at you, Canadian college hockey player from 1974…) so I’ve been on the giving side of such behavior.
But, here’s the kicker: Now-Not-So-Crazy Agnes has been sitting in dining rooms and bars here in the “home” where she can look at me for extended periods. It seems that every time I look up from my drink or meal, she is looking at me. It’s starting to creep me out. She knows my husband and I are a couple, nothing is ever going to happen, but I keep getting stared at by someone who has told me I’m “so handsome.”
Am I being paranoid here? Is there some way to stop this without making Crazy Agnes feel weird (any weirder than I feel anyway) or hurt?
Dear Elder Crush,
Part of the joy of being in a retirement community like yours is that you get to develop loose connections with a group of people who are similarly situated. The downside is that you don’t hand-pick these people and they might be weird or annoying. But it’s all kind of part of the package.
If Agnes was harassing you or making overtly sexual gestures or truly making you feel unsafe this would be a different story. But it’s really hard to police how someone looks at you—and harder when they are already a person who may be experiencing a decrease in mental sharpness and runs afoul of social norms. To get Agnes to stop giving you crush eyes would be a lot of work for probably not a lot of reward. So my best advice is to keep laughing about it. And being (jokingly but maybe not-so-jokingly, because your husband doesn’t find you attractive and it’s nice to feel attractive?) flattered. Maybe even shift from dismissing her as crazy and going “Oh my God, there she is again” to engaging with her and talking to her every once in a while. While you might not be “exhibiting some strange behaviors” like she is, you very well could begin to in the not-so-distant future, so think about treating her the way you’d want people to treat you if and when you do.
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My sister had a very intimate shoestring wedding where I did her catering. My boss let me borrow several tents, tables, and chairs, and I made wraps, sandwiches, and other finger foods myself. I didn’t even see more than half the ceremony since I was setting everything up by myself. It was utterly exhausting and I never plan to do it again.
Only now, my brother is engaged to the bridezilla to end all bridezillas. There is no budget, but she still wants a blow out and keeps throwing fits when told no—and guess who she wants to do the catering? With the earlier wedding, my sister paid for food. I prepared it and transported it myself. I set up the reception mainly by myself, and my boss gave me a big favor in using company property. I am not asking again.
My brother has lost all backbone since he got engaged. I will list out all my concerns about catering to them, and she tells me it isn’t “fair” for me to do one wedding and not another. Then he insinuates it is because his fiancée is a different race than us. I don’t care about the color of her skin, just her wild sense of entitlement! I spent my sister’s wedding running around on no sleep, no pay, and completely stressed out so she wouldn’t be. I was barely treading water. My brother’s fiancée is trying to pull the same shit on other people. Our neighbor got harassed to be the free photographer for their engagement photos and she flew off the handle when they turned out only mildly okay. I need help here.
Dear Not Again,
If your brother is making up an allegation of racism in the hopes of guilting you into free catering services, that’s pretty messed up. If he actually thinks you’re racist, that’s also bad! If, God forbid, you have actually given him legitimate reasons to think you have a problem with his fiancée’s race, that’s even worse! I think we have to at least act as if he was being honest. If he was, you can understand and address it and if he wasn’t, he has to deal with his claims becoming a really big deal.
You should reach out and say “Hi Brother and fiancée! I’m so sorry I won’t be able to cater for the wedding. As I’ve explained, it was extremely difficult to do it for Sister’s wedding, and I learned that it’s too much for me to take on. Beyond that, I’m not comfortable asking my boss for another huge favor with all the equipment. I wish I could help more with your special day, but I would definitely be happy to make one dessert [or whatever you are actually willing to do]. I also want to respond to Brother’s allegation that my stance is because of racism. I was horrified to hear that because it couldn’t be farther from how I actually feel, but I can’t help but wonder if anything I’ve said or done in the past has created that impression. I’m concerned there’s something I’m doing unconsciously or out of ignorance that I need to correct to make sure I don’t send the wrong message. I am open to hearing anything the two of you might want me to know about this, and I am committed to being better. I am sure you wouldn’t want anyone who came off as unsupportive or bigoted at your wedding, so I would love to clear things up as much as possible before then if you have the time and energy. Either way, let me know what dessert you’d like me to prepare.”
If you really have something to answer for, they’ll let you know. But I’m pretty sure your brother’s bridezilla fiancée will get this text and say to him, “I am planning a wedding! And now you’re making me talk to your sister about something you made up to get us free catering? Do you understand that I don’t have time for this? I have to shop for 19 outfits for my bachelorette weekend!” And he’ll switch his focus from guilt-tripping you about free labor to getting you to simply stop bothering them about the racism intervention.
My wife and I are at odds over my 9-year-old daughter’s upcoming birthday. We are a blended family. My wife has an 8-year-old daughter “Zoe” who has mobility issues. We have a toddler together. Zoe can walk but can’t do any intense or strenuous physical activities. Usually we have the party at home since we have a pool. Zoe will float around or end throwing tennis balls into the pool with our retriever while the other kids run wild (she does join in some games).
This year, my daughter wants to go ice skating. She has been taking lessons and wants to show off her skills to her friends. There is no way Zoe is getting on the ice. My wife thinks it is cruel to expect Zoe to stay on the sidelines and watch all the other kids have fun. She suffered enough of that at recess. My daughter has her heart set on ice skating. I have suggested bowling, going to the movies, and even offered the expensive theme park nearby. She wants ice skating. I have suggested a dual party. Regular one at home and later on in the week I take my daughter and a few friends ice skating and then dinner. My wife wants to make this a lesson that my daughter has to be considerate of her stepsister. We have always agreed that we each discipline our own kids and stay on the same page rule-wise. We have been fairly successful at navigating parenting problems until now. My late ex was nearly a professional skater and my daughter emulates her. She died when my daughter was 5. This is why it is a sticking point for me. I see my wife’s position, but I can’t agree with it. Can you help?
Dear Sticking Point,
I really don’t like the idea of having a party—even a second, bonus party—that Zoe can’t attend. What it comes down to for me is that when I think about the experience of an able-bodied kid who wants to ice skate and doesn’t get to (when, keep in mind, many kids don’t get to do the activities they’d like to do!) and compare it to the experience of a disabled kid who is excluded from a sibling’s party, I’m just much, much sadder for the disabled kid.
As a person who was diagnosed with several disabilities, including juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, at 13-months, and is now a law professor who specializes in disability law, Kat Macfarlante agrees. “I have memories like this of being excluded. The experience of sitting on the sidelines and watching your peers and/or siblings take part in an activity that doesn’t include you sticks with you. It stings. It’s a message that your belonging doesn’t matter. I have vivid memories of being excluded in this way and they still make me both sad and angry,” she told me when I shared your letter with her. “If you have a stepkid with a mobility impairment, you can’t choose to include her except for when it’s inconvenient. I’m with the mom here, and it pains me to think about how these discussions are going down at home.”
She urged that you avoid framing this as one daughter versus another and simply take the lead in planning an inclusive birthday party.
Arionne Nettles, the mother of a teenage son who is developmentally disabled, made a similar suggestion: “The first thing I’d do is check to see if there are facilities nearby or within driving distance that allow adaptive skating equipment,” she said. “Because of programs like the Special Olympics, there are many options for kids with mobility issues and there is even a sort of ice-skating sled where the kid is seated and a parent or adult can push them. It doesn’t have to be an either or thing! If, though, there isn’t a skating place nearby that has this equipment for rent, maybe a family trip where both girls can talk about how Zoe’s mom was. Find fun outfits even to wear on the ice! I think it’s one of those things where, luckily, there are more and more places that are able to make accommodations and equipment that can be rented.”
She also offered this hopeful note, which really makes the situation feel like much less of a dilemma: “I have found that kids are way more understanding of disabilities than adults. It could even be that Zoe and her stepsister might end up skating together! Zoe could push her. They’ll have a new activity. Adults act really weird but kids generally understand.”
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I have a 4-year-old son who hums loudly while eating food he really enjoys. My husband thinks this is inappropriate behavior at the table and is a problem to be corrected. I see absolutely nothing wrong with it and assume he will grow out of it. He’s a completely normal delightful/crazy-making 4-year-old. I don’t want my husband wasting quality time with his son harping about something that doesn’t really matter. Am I wrong on this?