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Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
I know this is a ridiculous question but bear with me. Is it OK to not use my social media to post about activism, racial justice, etc.?
I (a white woman) work at a pro–racial justice nonprofit (and have done so my entire career), actively making decisions in my own life—schools, neighborhoods, houses of worship, etc.—to live my values. I have generally used social media to stay connected with folks and share more personal updates about my nonwork life. Last summer, I began feeling guilty that I didn’t engage in public activism on my social media. I follow a number of activist accounts, but don’t share or broadcast this. The guilt pushed me to post more actively about racial justice. But every time I posted, it was never just the right thing—folks on both sides of the political spectrum sent me messages nitpicking my phrasing or what I chose to share/not share, and I constantly felt angry and on edge. I also engaged less in in-person conversations because I was so jaded by the “unproductivity” of these online conversations.
I pulled way back from social media and have now resumed posting only personal updates. I feel happier and more centered. I have some friends who continually post about activist causes and have included phrases like “white silence is violence,” calling out white folks who post about mundane day-to-day content while activist issues are in need of amplification. I feel 100 percent OK with myself and my choices until I see these sorts of posts. Can you help me settle this within myself, once and for all: Is it OK for me not to use my social media accounts to post activist content?
—Activist, but Offline
I think you already know that it’s OK to use your accounts however you want. Obviously it’s OK! It’s OK not to have social media at all, to have an account that you use to lurk and never post, or to only share pictures of the most recent loaf of bread you’ve baked.
The issue is that if you don’t have a strong sense of who you are, social media is torture! You’ll think you’re supposed to look the way other people look with filters, you’ll be sure everyone’s having more fun than you are, and you’ll wonder if you should stop showering because celebrities say they don’t like water on their skin. And other people’s content about what you should be doing will feel like an attack.
I wonder what makes your confidence about your role in activism so fragile that these posts can shake it. I would suggest taking a step back and assessing the impact you want to have in the world, and how you’re doing with that. It sounds like you’ve made very intentional choices—including by dedicating your entire career to racial justice—and are not, by any stretch of the imagination, “silent.” In fact, you might very well be doing more concrete work than many of the people who casually repost these memes. But for some reason you’re not secure about that.
One thing to explore might be whether you’re willing to experience any discomfort or conflict in the name of anti-racism. Your comment that you stopped posting because you found the responses unpleasant suggested to me that this might be the case. Are you all for social justice until someone gets mad at you or criticizes you? If that resonates at all, maybe think about how it plays out in your life as whole and how you could be braver when it comes to facing a tiny fraction of the hostility that people of color face every day. I think it would be more worthwhile to reflect on this than to stress about what kinds of photos you’re uploading to Instagram. If you truly feel good about who you are and what you’re doing with your life, your friends’ posts won’t have the power to unsettle you.
I’m a mother of three small children and love to knit during my down time. Mostly I just knit for my kids, but the last two years my sister has asked me to knit my niece a sweater for her birthday. I was excited to do it the first year, but with yarn costs and shipping overseas it ended up being an $80 sweater. When she asked me the next year, I was definitely less enthusiastic but ended up feeling guilty since I do knit my children so much. I spent almost $100 that time around! Now she’s had another baby and wants me to send her things too! This wouldn’t seem like such a huge deal to me, but she never sends my kids anything. Literally, nothing! She doesn’t even transfer a bit of money for them for Christmas or birthdays. This year alone I’ve spent over $200 on yarn/shipping, and that doesn’t even include the countless hours I’ve spent knitting the sweaters! How do I talk to her about this?
If you can afford it, just do one last sweater for the third kid (so there’s not one sibling who wonders why she or he doesn’t have a special item from their overseas aunt) and then be done with it. After that, your response can be “Knitting and sending stuff out got to be too much for my budget, so I’m having to cut back aside from the clothes I make for my own kids.” Maybe that will inspire your sister to transfer some money along with her next request.
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This is a really low-stakes question, but I’d love your input. I’m gay, and I have a well-meaning Christian co-worker. Every conversation I have with her somehow leads to her saying things like, “you know, the gays are all OK!” or she’d start talking about Neil Patrick Harris being really cool even though he’s gay and one time she gave me a “pretty gay lanyard,” which was rainbow-striped, back before COVID when we were still in the office. (I was like, “you mean it looks pretty gay?” and she was like, “No, I meant it was pretty because of the rainbow!”) She even introduced me to another friend of hers in another department by saying, “He’s gay too! I think you’ll be good friends!” Well, remote working has got me spoiled, and now that we’re finally going back to the office, I’m finding her cheery “love the sinner not the sin!” attitude to be grating. She doesn’t mean anything by it, I’m genuinely happy she’s trying for my sake, but last week she started asking me why Lil Nas X has to be so flamboyant when I’m not flamboyant at all, and it took all of my patience not to snap at her. How do I find my Zen? Or alternatively, how do I delicately tell her I’m not her go-to gay ambassador, and she can just treat me like a normal co-worker?
—Gay and Tired
Dear Gay and Tired,
I don’t think this is low stakes at all. What your co-worker is doing sounds deeply annoying at best, and I can only imagine these microagressions from someone who is on the fence about whether it’s even OK to be gay could really take a toll on you. Also, depending on local laws and company policy, some of this could cross into sexual harassment territory! That you even had to write this letter indicates that your colleague’s inappropriate obsession with your sexuality is negatively impacting your ability to work—a situation that could very well be illegal.
Either way, you’re under no obligation to find your Zen around someone who’s spewing barely sugar-coated homophobia—whether she “means anything by” it or not. I know it won’t be easy to be direct, and she might not take it well, but I suggest saying or emailing something like “Sheila, I know we’ll be seeing each other back in the office now, and I’m looking forward to catching up in person. But can I ask for a favor? I’d appreciate it if you didn’t bring up my sexuality or ask me questions or discuss how you feel about gay people with me. I know you mean well, but it can make me uncomfortable at times and I’d rather keep our conversations focused on less personal topics. There’s a lot more to me than being gay, so I know we’ll have other things to chat about. After all, we never talk about your sexual orientation, and I’ve still been able to get to know you well. Thanks for understanding! By the way, are you going to be bringing some of your oatmeal cookies to share with the team? I hope so!”
If that doesn’t put an end to the intrusive comments, it’s time to go to HR.
I love my daughter but she has the worst taste in men. Put her in a room with 10 good men and one creep, she will run right up to the creep and let him ruin her life. I’ve watched her get her heart broken again and again: It hurt when she was in high school, but as an adult, it is not just her heart getting broken—it’s her car, apartment, finances, and career.
In college, her boyfriend smashed up her car after she let him drive it. He did it again after we replaced it and made her promise not to let anyone drive it. She still stayed with him. She has let one leech after another live off her until her bank account is empty. She has quit jobs to follow a boyfriend of a few months across the country only to break up before her bags are unpacked.
She has moved home five times since she graduated college because her love life ruined her actual one. My husband and I help her get on her feet, try to get her in therapy, and wait for the next one. My husband says we are lucky our daughter hasn’t gotten pregnant yet and gotten permanently tied to one of these jerks. My daughter is nearing 30. She thinks she is just unlucky and bemoans there are no good men left. I told her she needs to look at the common denominator in all her relationships—herself.
That started a serious fight. My daughter was currently living with her sister and working with the man her sister was dating. My daughter was cheating with this guy. When her sister discovered it, she threw my daughter out on her ear. My daughter then lost her job. She wants to come home again. We told her no. Our family has imploded over this. My daughter has called us both crying—she made a mistake and is currently living in her car. We sent her money, but where does it end?
You’re obviously entitled to tell your daughter she can’t live with you, and I can understand why you’d be upset with her for cheating with her sister’s boyfriend. But why are you so mad at her for her history of choosing crappy boyfriends? Nothing she’s done has harmed you, and cutting her off is not going to help her make better choices.
I encourage you and your husband to sit down and talk about your goals for your relationship with her (not for her relationships with men) and whether you think punishing her for her bad romantic choices by letting her live in her car will get you there. I don’t think it will.
I don’t know all the details, so disregard this if it doesn’t feel like a fit, but would it be worth reflecting on what her relationship with you and her father was like growing up? Is there anything there that might represent the beginning of a pattern where she seeks love from people who don’t respect her and treat her poorly? Did she go through anything especially difficult that harmed her self-esteem? If there’s anything you need to apologize for or heal from as a family, now is the time.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“I think it’s OK not to post when you’re not sure if you have anything to add.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I recently left a five-year relationship with one of my best friends’ cousins, who was physically and emotionally abusive. I am mad that I stayed so long. I used to confide in my best friend about almost all of the things her cousin did to me from cheating to being physically abusive—think black eyes and bruises on my body. She said a couple of things that were off-putting. She said that I “make him out to be the bad guy” and he “probably cheats because you’re always accusing him.” I have changed my number and blocked him on every platform available and am thinking about doing the same with her. What do you think about me ending the relationship with her as well? He will always be her family, and I don’t want her to pick sides, but I don’t want to ever hear his name mentioned again. I am wondering if my fresh start would be better without her as well.
—Ending a Long Friendship
End it. Someone who excuses abuse is not your friend, and your instinct that your fresh start would be better without her is exactly right.
Give Prudie a Hand
Sometimes even Prudence needs a little help. Every Thursday in this column, we’ll post a question that has her stumped. This week’s tricky situation is below. Join the conversation about it on Twitter with Jenée @jdesmondharris on Thursday, and then look back for the final answer here on Friday.
My wife looks at photos of the woman she crushes on pretty much every day. (I’m also a woman, fwiw.) I would describe this as an open secret between us. That said, a lot of this looking takes place on our shared computer, where she doesn’t erase her search history and has saved dozens, if not hundreds, of photos of this woman. I’m happy with our relationship and it’s not like my wife is looking at photos of her exes or anything like that. I understand the celeb is an inaccessible fantasy and not a threat. But knowing that this fantasy is part of my wife’s everyday routine is tough. She knows that I know about this crush, but when I’ve tried to talk to her about my feelings about it she’s shied away. What should I do? When is a celebrity crush too much?
When do I stop being indebted to a kind stranger that returned my pet?
We lost track of a (legal and well cared for) pet tortoise. We put missing posters everywhere and offered a reward. No one was more relieved than I when someone found him! This person turned down the reward but mentioned several times how attached her young child was to this tortoise and how she’d cried and didn’t want to give it back. Each time this was followed by a request for more evidence that I was in fact the rightful owner. I was concerned they were finding reasons not to return him
Ultimately, I offered to gift her child a habitat for a less needy variety of tortoise (although all need special care) if the parents were willing to take care of it properly. Mom was thrilled, and said she wanted to get one anyway. I followed through with this and our own pet was returned.
My problem is that this person is texting me daily asking advice on the pet and asking when her child can come meet my children and visit our pet tortoise. There is nothing wrong with the child, but she’s younger than mine and we are very busy people. I have a small social circle that I’m not looking to expand, being a mother of five. I also am not comfortable giving constant advice about how they should care for their own pet. It’s crossed into a gray area that has me asking “When will it end and how do I end it?”
I feel rotten about it, but I’d be happy to get on with our lives and move forward. Should I have her and her daughter over once or is there an OK way for me to get out of that?
You’ve done enough. I am certain that child—who is probably thrilled to have a new tortoise and habitat—doesn’t care about spending time with a random adult and other kids whom she’s never met. So don’t worry about her. Now as far as the mom, I can’t decide if she’s inappropriately pushy or just a friendly person trying to build community. I’m leaning toward inappropriate because of the way she behaved when she first found your tortoise. But it doesn’t matter because you’re not interested in developing a relationship. Inviting them over once would be a mistake, because it would establish a relationship and then you would have to deal with “We haven’t hung out for weeks! We need to catch up!” messages. Rip the Band-Aid off now by texting something like this:
“Hi [Tortoise Mom]. I hope everything’s going well with you, [Tortoise Daughter] and [Tortoise]. I know we’ve talked about possibly getting together but because of some family issues I’m dealing with, I’m letting my friends and contacts know that I won’t be able to be social for the foreseeable future as I focus on managing everything. It’s been so wonderful getting to know you and I will always appreciate you for finding [your Tortoise’s name]. You have all my gratitude, and I hope you and your daughter continue to enjoy your new pet and stay safe and healthy.”
I’m a woman who uses public transportation daily. On a regular basis, people offer me their seats on the train or bus, even when other women are standing closer to them. Most people don’t say why they’re offering, but one woman did ask me directly if I was expecting. I’m not pregnant, and I never have been, but I’m assuming that the seat offers are from people who think I am. My question is: Am I allowed to take the seat offers? Sometimes I’ve taken the seats offered, and my friend says this is wrong because I’m neither pregnant nor disabled. My argument is that I’m being offered a seat without any conditions and would never take it from someone who seemed like they needed it more than I did (i.e., an elderly person). Am I being deceptive, or is it OK to take a seat if it’s freely given?