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Am I a terrible person?

A collage of an annoyed teen girl next to an older woman wagging her finger.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by stockyimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Prostock-Studio/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

To get advice from Prudie, send questions for publication to prudence@slate.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. Or call the Dear Prudence podcast voicemail at 401-371-DEAR (3327) to hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.

Dear Prudence,

My mom is very elderly and forgetful, and she does nothing but complain. She’ll repeat the same detailed complaint five times in 30 minutes, and it’s very difficult to be around her. It’s a lifelong issue, and it’s not going to improve at this point. When she visited recently, she wanted to spend time with my kids, who are teenagers. I understood this. But they hate being around her, and I honestly don’t blame them.

I forced them to be around her. After an hour or two each, they felt they had done their duty. But her visit was for two weeks. So I paid them. I secretly paid them to sit and listen to their grandmother complain. So am I a terrible person or just a moderately bad one?

—Paid Companions

This is perfectly fine. It might not be financially sustainable if your mother lived in your neighborhood and visited every day, but you can file “listening to Grandma complain with patience and a smile” under the umbrella of chores that kids are expected to do, and it’s not unheard of to offer your kids an allowance at least partly on the basis of chores. Your mother is presumably happy she got to see the kids, the kids are happy to have extra cash, and you’re happy not to have been the only person absorbing her complaints. Don’t beat yourself up for making the best out of a bad situation.

Help! Do We Have to Speak Kindly of My Cruel Father-in-Law at His Funeral?

Danny M. Lavery is joined by comedian Josh Gondelman on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

Dear Prudence,

I’ve recently started dating a wonderful man. He told me that one of the things that drew him to me was my sense of confidence and lack of anxiety. He’s dealt with his share of anxiety over the years but hasn’t had much since we started dating. I’m a fairly positive person and like seeing people lifted up, so I’m often very encouraging. I enjoy this most of the time, but I’m having a problem with encouraging “Ryan,” a friend of my boyfriend’s. He seems very anxious about his skills and has been having a rough time as a writer. The problem is that I think he is a terrible writer. He’s written two books and several short stories. I can barely get through the short stories and haven’t been able to finish the books. He’s trying to write works that are a mix of great literature and philosophy, but they just come off as rambling messes of thoughts. I think he particularly wants my advice because I have a Ph.D. in a field that relies on some works of philosophy. It seems like nobody in this group of friends has been able to finish Ryan’s work either. Some of them feign a lack of education, and some of them seem to lie and say they like his work. I hate lying but I can’t seem to come up with one word of encouragement. What do I do?

—Writer’s Block

Let this guy who’s a friend of your boyfriend figure out his own career as a writer. You cannot offer him genuine encouragement because you don’t like his work—and, more crucially, he hasn’t actually asked you to give him a boost. If your boyfriend asks you to, tell him that you can’t help Ryan. If you feel an implied-but-not-stated-outright push from the rest of your friends to solve the problem of Ryan’s motivation, just allow the moment to pass without comment. You are a skilled conversationalist and a generally encouraging presence to your friends and partner. You are not an encouragement-producing machine who can generate supportive content on demand and without reason.

Dear Prudence,

My sister-in-law says she would like to be friends and get together outside of family functions. I am totally supportive of this idea. Though she is 10 years younger than me, it would be nice to get to know her better. Due to our age difference, I am not that close to my brother and have no sisters of my own.

The trouble is every time I call or text her, she never calls or texts back. Or she’ll offer an excuse and say something vague like “Maybe next time!” Then at the next family get-together, she’ll say: “Oh, why didn’t we ever get together?” “Don’t you want to be friends outside of family functions?” I don’t know what to say. “You’re the one ignoring me” sounds rude. I don’t know if she really wants to be friends. I’m so confused. I don’t want to further distance myself from my brother, and I know he would like us to get along.

—Hot-and-Cold Sister-in-Law

I have no idea what’s going on with your sister-in-law either, but I think it’s best to let her know the ball is in her court, expect nothing, and then be pleasantly surprised if she ever actually suggests a specific date for getting coffee. “I’d love to get together! Since my last few attempts to reach you didn’t work out, I’ll let you take the lead. Just call or text me whenever you want to set something up. Have you tried the onion dip yet? It’s terrible.”

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From How to Do It

I have a wonderful boyfriend who is very sexually generous (goes down on me, asks what I like during sex, etc.) but for one thing: He totally avoids me during my period. We don’t touch, kiss, and he doesn’t allow me to go down on him because he says he doesn’t want to be selfish. I’ve asked him what I can do to make him more comfortable and he says he just needs time because he’s always been “grossed out” by the blood and has never engaged in period sex with anyone. Because of the pill, I barely have a flow, and the little there is is still too much for him. For context, we are in our 30s and talking about marriage, and I am a little impatient at thinking of a future with 25 percent of the month off the table for sex. I don’t want to nag him or pressure him, but is there anything I can do to make him more comfortable with some (any!) contact during this time? It makes me feel self-conscious and undesirable.


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