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I come from a white old-money family in the Deep South, and ever since I went to college in the Northeast, my values have become quite progressive—and thus, quite different—compared with my family’s. My brother recently got engaged to a woman from India. My future sister-in-law is a computer engineer. She’s gorgeous, kind, and funny. My brother brought her to dinner at my parents’ home recently, and I was horrified by what I saw. My mother and father critiqued her table manners nonstop, like she was a child. My brother piled on, too. Prudie, my brother is a layabout who, at 35, still lives with my parents. By the end of the meal, my future sister-in-law was nearly in tears. I spoke to her afterward, and she told me that this is how these dinners usually go. I live out of state, so this was the first time I’d seen it. My husband and I tried to comfort her and tell her my family was out of line. I talked to my parents later, but my mother kept telling me they were trying to help “Gita” assimilate and that they didn’t want her to embarrass herself.
How can I talk to my family and tell them they are being horrible? Or, really, what I’d prefer is to tell Gita she should run. She’s a recent immigrant without family and friends here for support, and she’s in a vulnerable position. I hated seeing her bullied. She could do so much better than my brother.
I think there are ways to offer Gita your support that don’t amount to also discouraging her from marrying your brother. That’s not to say that I don’t agree she can do better than him—I think she can, and I think she should run as far away from your family as she can. But she’s already getting a fair amount of pressure from your family to exit this relationship, so I think you get the luxury of a different approach.
There’s no “trick” to telling your family that their rude, concerted effort to make Gita feel self-conscious and unwelcome was horrible. Just tell them you were surprised by their relentless rudeness, that nothing about it seemed helpful or in Gita’s best interests, that it struck you as obviously xenophobic, and that if you see similar behavior like that from them in the future, you’ll say something about it in the moment. I’m glad you checked in with Gita afterward, but I think interrupting the pile-on as it’s happening will go a longer way. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! Should I Tell My Brother’s Fiancée to Dump Him?” (May 16, 2017)
I am a young woman who recently married a very successful athlete. He is caring, kind, and thoughtful. We both want children, but in a world where so many children are without loving homes, I can’t imagine having biological offspring when we could provide a wonderful life for children who would never otherwise have one. My husband has always been supportive of this, but recently he brought up an interesting proposition. His ex-wife, who is older than me and has never remarried, asked him to be a sperm donor. She has a successful career and would not need financial support, but I think the proposition is bizarre. He argues that they both have excellent genetics that would be “wasted” if they do not jump at what could be their only chance to have biological children. He said it is no different from donating sperm to a bank, except that he knows the mother will be able to provide well for his offspring. The two split amicably due to pressures of both of their careers. Am I being selfish to say she should find another sperm donor?
There are many issues to sort out here, among them the materials and methods section of your husband’s proposal. The material is his sperm, but you haven’t elaborated the method of its delivery. Somehow I doubt these former lovers would go the turkey baster route. Additionally, no matter how much money the ex makes, your husband would be the father of the child, thus legally he would likely have a financial responsibility for his offspring, and morally he would definitely have an emotional one. It’s not hard to imagine that if they had a baby together, he and his ex would start to wonder why they split in the first place. So I agree with your instincts that this is a terrible idea for your marriage. But even if your husband tells his ex to go to a sperm bank and pick some other superb specimen out of the catalog, it does not solve your essential problem. Your husband wants to father a child. That is a normal desire, and if you two have a biological child or children it won’t ruin the world. Nor will procreating prevent you from trying to make life better for children in dire circumstances. You could go on to adopt children. You could put your time and resources into organizations working with needy kids. You and your husband must have a very honest conversation about what you really want out of life and what compromises you both are willing to make for each other. Or you may find yourself trying to adopt alone. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! My Husband Wants to Donate Sperm to His Ex-Wife.” (July 18, 2013)
When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I was really nervous about the prospect of fatherhood and wasn’t the kindest. After denying the pregnancy was even real, I asked her to abort and said if she didn’t I hoped she miscarried. She had a rough pregnancy health-wise and says she felt very alone. Now, five years later, I love my child dearly and deeply regret my reaction during the first trimester, but my wife will not move past it. She says it deeply hurt her, and she doesn’t know if she’ll ever be able to get over it despite my explaining the fear that caused my reaction. I want another child, but she’s afraid of my reacting in the same way. She thinks I am a great father to our existing child. How can I convince her it will be different this time around?
It’s good that you now love your child and that you’ve been able to acknowledge, to a certain extent, your past wrongdoing, but you have not correctly identified the scale of your bad behavior. Being “really nervous” and “not the kindest” during a partner’s pregnancy is not the same thing as saying “I hope you have a miscarriage” or denying your partner is pregnant at all. They’re not even in the same ballpark. What you did was abusive, horrifyingly cruel, and wildly beyond the pale of normal behavior. If nothing else, I hope you realize that this was not a standard part of being a nervous first-time parent, and that absolutely nothing could have justified the things you said or did to your wife.
Your goal, at this point, should not be convincing your wife to have another child with you. Your goal should be repairing the enormous damage you caused her, making genuine amends, and becoming a different kind of person with a different relationship to fear and anger. Realize, if nothing else, that the reason your wife does not seem able to “get over it” despite your explaining your behavior was motivated by fear, is that the excuse you are offering is flimsy and pathetic. If all you do is flip from trying to force your wife to have an abortion against her will to trying to force her to have another child against her will, you will merely have shifted your method of abusing her. Listen to your wife when she says she does not want to have another child with you. Listen to her when she tells you how you made her feel during her pregnancy. Do not approach these conversations with an agenda or a list of excuses—simply listen. Seek help from a counselor in dealing with your anger management and abusive behavior. Accept the consequences of your actions, and deal with the fact that you may not get the second child you want because of your past actions. Don’t worry about convincing your wife “it will be different this time around.” —D.L.
From: “Help! I Told My Pregnant Wife I Hoped She Miscarried, but Now I Love Our Child.” (April 18, 2017)
Recently one of my favorite cousins died unexpectedly. My girlfriend and I went to lunch with him and his partner about a week prior to his death, and it was her first time meeting them. Her birthday is coming up, and we’ve planned a small party. In an effort to reach out to my cousin’s grieving partner, I invited him to the party without consulting my girlfriend. Now she wants me to disinvite him and tell him the truth about why. She says she doesn’t want his grief to ruin her happy day. I take full responsibility for being insensitive in not asking her permission first, but how in the world can I disinvite him without hurting her feelings?
Sure, you should have talked to your girlfriend before expanding the guest list, but given your girlfriend’s churlish reaction, I think the question should be not how you disinvite your cousin’s partner, but how you disinvite your girlfriend. If the partner is up for socializing, what a nice gesture it was to give him an opportunity to get out of the house. If he’s not up for making merry with people he doesn’t know, he will decline. You’re right, there is no way to disinvite him. Your girlfriend wants you to not only rescind the offer but to explain that his tear-streaked face would be a bummer at her happy event. She has given you an opportunity not only to celebrate another year of her life, but to contemplate her character. —E.Y.
From: “Help! My Girlfriend Wants to Disinvite a Grieving Guest From Her Birthday Party.” (May 18, 2015)
More Advice From Dear Prudence
My husband is a smart, nice, funny guy. We have the same taste in movies, books, and music and have similar political views. We’re less compatible in the bedroom, though our sex life was generally adequate. One issue was that he was raised as a bit of a prude and was always dead silent during the act. In an effort to spice things up, I asked him to talk dirty to me.