Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
As a kid, my family moved from apartment to apartment. We were never allowed any pets. If I tried to even feed a stray cat, my parents would scold me and tell me to stop wasting my money on “creatures.”
One of the reasons I love my partner is our shared passion for animals: Between us we have two dogs, four cats, and several rabbits. We finally have found and purchased the perfect home for all of us—literally five minutes from the dog park and with a huge screen-in back porch. We already have plans to build an outdoor and indoor hutch for the bunnies and create “cat ways” throughout our entire house. We also plan to convert useless spaces like the front formal living room in places for our passions.
My family has been nothing but critical over our choices. I have heard more and more nasty cat lady jokes from them as our plans have progressed. Especially from my older sister. She has three kids and is stuck in a tiny two-bedroom apartment because of her custody agreement and rising rent prices. She has straight up told me I would be “sorry” when my partner and I have kids because we will have to change everything back (we don’t want kids).
She got particularly nasty when she asked what we were going to do when the family came to visit. I told we had a sleeper sofa and air mattresses or people could get a hotel room. I have been pretty involved in her kids’ lives since her divorce. My sister called me stupid and selfish for dedicating rooms to our animals but not her kids at least. She expected my partner and I would be taking them on more on weekends since we have the room now. I snapped that her children were not my first priority here.
Now everyone in my family is hounding me. They can’t believe I would be so cruel to my sister and don’t love her kids. I have been accused of being jealous, obsessed, and heartless. This is killing all my joy. My partner thinks we should limit contact with my family. I do love my sister’s kids, but this house is the haven I have been dreaming of since I was 6. Help please.
— Animal Lover
Dear Animal Lover,
Your sister and your relatives who are harassing you are being ridiculous. Plenty of families with kids live in “a tiny two-bedroom apartment” (or, gasp, a tiny one-bedroom apartment!). And very few kids have entire bedrooms set aside for their weekends at an aunt or uncle’s home. You deserve to live your dream, and your nieces and nephews will absolutely love to come over and camp out on an air mattress in the middle of your in-home petting zoo whenever you’re able to host them. To the extent you can stomach it, don’t go back and forth with your sister about her unreasonable demands. Be pleasantly dismissive, firmly repeating what you aren’t doing and what you are: “Sorry, that’s not in our plan. But we’d love to have the kids over two weekends from now. Let me know.”
My girlfriend of three years and I have talked about marriage, but she is more than a hundred thousand in debt with her school loans. She makes a decent amount of money, but not enough to live on and pay her loans back. She has lived with me rent free for the entirety of our relationship so she can focus on her debt. That has always been the agreement.
My uncle is selling his older second house and offered me first crack at it. I have the down payment saved up. My mortgage would be a third of what I pay for our downtown apartment. It would be a drive and then a transfer to the local train lines, but it is workable for both our jobs.
My girlfriend hates the location and the house. I have laid out a spreadsheet and showed her that in the next few years we will be able not only save enough for a wedding but also flip the house for a profit (the area has started to become marketable). She told me she would need her name on the title as a guarantee if she is going to contribute to the flip. I balked because I had been taking care of all our expenses for years and never thought to ever ask the same of her.
We seriously fought and are sleeping apart now. I am having serious doubts here. I need another opinion.
— House Hunger
Dear House Hunger,
You’ve talked about marriage, but you are not married or even engaged to be married. So you’re legally single, and you should do what you want with the house without your girlfriend’s buy-in and without putting her name on the title. If you want her to live with you rent-free because you’re generous or because you enjoy her company, that’s great, but don’t expect to be repaid in any way. And although it would be nice of her to offer, since you’ve paid for her housing for your entire relationship, don’t expect her to help with the flip. It’s just easier to keep things involving money and investments separate when you haven’t made a lifelong commitment to each other.
(And I would say something similar to her: You’re talked about marriage, but you are not married or even engaged to be married. So you should live where you want to, but you should not expect to profit from any house-flipping work you agree to do while you’re living rent-free.)
The fact that you’re in a huge fight over this tells me you’re coming from really different places—not just about this particular move, but about larger questions about finances. If you’re able to get past this hump and your conversations about marriage continue, they should focus a lot on money. What are your values about saving, spending, and debt? What do you believe about how each partner should be expected to contribute? How do you feel about temporary sacrifice if it will pay off later? My guess is that you may be pretty far apart on these issues, and whether you can find compromise might help determine whether you choose to be more serious.
My wife and I have been married three years. She has a 19-year-old daughter. I have a 12-year-old daughter who lives three streets away with her mother (she comes over every weekend and afternoon but doesn’t stay over). And my 5-year-old son. I lost his mother when he was a baby.
When my wife and I were house hunting, the only local one we could find was a three-bedroom, two-bath. The two bigger bedrooms share a bath, while the smaller one has a private bath. My stepdaughter chose the smaller one when she moved in. The biggest one is my son’s bedroom/playroom, while my wife and I share the next largest one. My stepdaughter moved in with friends after she graduated high school but maintains her bedroom here. My daughter has told me she doesn’t want a bedroom at our house since she has a complete floor at her mom’s.
My stepdaughter has her lease coming up and has been fighting with her roommates. She wants to move back home, but has a ton of furniture and other stuff that will not fit in her bedroom. She wants the biggest room now and to shuffle her stepbrother into her old room, or we take it.
I think that she is being ridiculous. I told my wife and stepdaughter that we could sell her old high school bedroom set, build her a loft bed, and pay for half the storage of her other things. My son deserves his play room, and our king bed barely fits in our room. Not to mention the hassle of playing music in the bedroom when my step daughter moves out again.
My stepdaughter then called me a “cheap bastard,” and told me I should have renovated the house. I told her she needs to stop acting like such a greedy brat. My stepdaughter left fuming, and my wife told me I crossed a line. I pointed out she didn’t defend me during the conversation despite agreeing with me. She wouldn’t have let her daughter act like that when she was 15. Why now? How do we get a handle on this?
I think you’re right about the room—it totally makes sense that someone who’s lived on their own and is moving back in should not get to upend the household. And it’s very generous of you to pay for storage.
But you’re wrong when it comes to the messaging. On this issue and others, you and your wife should decide together and then she should communicate the decision to your stepdaughter. I say this because I’m assuming she’s closer to her mom. And also because you are bad at delivery. Any full-grown adult who calls a 19-year-old (yes, even a 19-year-old who just called them a “cheap bastard”) a “greedy brat” over a small dispute should just bow out. You’re bad at this.
The underlying issue here is that you and your wife aren’t on the same page about child/young adult-rearing. And that you seem to have a lot of rage and disgust toward her, her ex, and your stepdaughter. Have you ever asked yourself why your 12-year-old daughter really doesn’t want a room at your home, and doesn’t want to stay over? Could it be because you go around judging everyone and losing it if you’re challenged or don’t see eye to eye with them? With three kids who all have different needs and wants, this won’t be the last conflict you have. Rather than obsessing over the details of the layout of your house, put your focus on what you can do to create a home that feels good to be in, that’s filled with love and compromise rather than attacks and insults, and where the adults know how to be the bigger people.
Catch up on this week’s Prudie.
More Advice From Pay Dirt
My partner of several years struggles with pretty extreme food addiction. Since they’ve moved in to my house, their food habits have been a drain on our budget. I used to grocery shop once per week prior to their moving in and stuck to cooking my groceries—planning for once or twice a week when I’d dine out with friends. Now, seemingly on a whim my partner will get set on grabbing takeout or getting something else from the grocery store to make a completely different meal than what’s at the house. I ask their input on planning groceries for the weekly shop, but the very next day they’re unwilling to eat anything in the fridge. When I have gently pushed back asking to stick to what we have on hand, reminding them that food is keeping us from achieving financial goals, they freak out and have huge meltdowns or go completely catatonic and threaten a hunger strike. I am at my wits end on how to get our food budget back under control without causing more drama, because tens of thousands of dollars on takeout and additional groceries is much too much for me to ignore at this point.