Help! My Cat and I Are Being Stalked by the Child Next Door.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Prudence,

About a year ago, I moved into a unit on a shared driveway. I’m at the back, and up the front is a family with two primary-school age kids. They often play on the driveway in front of my place, which is fine as none of us have big backyards and I don’t park there. The kids are friendly, and while I don’t know the parents well enough to know their names, we’ll chat if we’re both coming in and out of our houses at the same time. This is all normal and good, part of having neighbors—but there is a problem I’m not sure how to handle.

I have an indoor cat, and the younger kid, she’s maybe 7, is very, very keen on him. Several times a week, she comes and stares at him through the front window, which I find partially cute (I also loved cats as a little kid) and partially a bit invasive (I am at home in my private space and she’s just standing there staring in). Sometimes she leaves cat litter and food that I can’t use on the front step, and if I don’t take it inside immediately, the next time I’m on my front step, it’s obviously been moved as if she thinks I didn’t see it. This has ramped up lately, and I’m feeling the lack of privacy. It is uncomfortable having a kid stare at me while I make dinner or sit on the couch or work out! I know I need to chat to her parents and say it’s gotten to be a bit much, but they don’t have a heap of space themselves, and I’m aware that when you’re 7, hearing no can be pretty upsetting. I don’t want to be unkind to this family, but I also don’t want to close the curtains any time I’m home. There is a box of cat supplies I didn’t ask for and can’t use on my front step right now.

—Leave Me and My Cat Alone

Dear Cat Alone,

Would you be comfortable setting aside 15 minutes every afternoon (maybe right when the kid comes home from school?) or an hour once a week, or whatever works best for you as “cat time”? If so, why don’t you say something to the parents like, “I’ve noticed Peyton really loves to come look at Mr. Whiskers! It can be a little startling to see her standing there looking in the window so often, but I’d love to set up a regular time for her to come over and see him instead. She could even play with him or help me feed him if she’s interested and you’re comfortable with that.”

Then tell the 7-year-old the plan and give her a child-friendly reminder not to hang out on your porch like a little stalker every day. For example, “When you see that I’ve hung the picture of Mr. Whiskers on the door, you are free to sit on the porch and watch him or come in to visit him. If it’s not there, please play in front of your house and come back another time.” If this works out, everyone will be happy, and you’ll be training a future pet-sitter in the process.

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Dear Prudence,

I feel like I have the most basic situation. I am a 30-year-old cis het woman in a major city, I want kids—at least 2. I want a partner in raising those kids, who wants to raise kids. The issue is, I hate dating. Like, REALLY hate it. The apps are terrible. I can’t make myself open them often enough to keep my phone from un-downloading them for storage space. I know I have a lot of insecurity around being a fat woman, I’m in therapy, and my therapist is always encouraging me to try dating. But I simply do not want to!!! I also can’t handle the idea of speed dating or other ways of meeting people—I can’t stand the idea of showing up somewhere like that and having no one be interested. I have hobbies and great friends but am always in spaces that are female-dominated, so no luck there either. I have excellent executive functioning skills in every other area of life. But I have no idea how to make myself find a partner. It feels like my most straightforward path towards kids and my own, much-wanted nuclear family is slowly ticking away with time. Please help!

—Just Do It (How???)

Dear Just Do It,

Are you by any chance part of a culture that embraces arranged marriage? Because that’s the only way I can think of to find a life partner without dating (and even then, you’d probably need a few meetups to confirm interest in each other). Hoping to do so is almost like saying you want a job but you don’t want to apply or interview. I get it. Nobody enjoys putting themselves out there, but—in love or career—you’ve gotta find some way to let the other party get to know you before they commit to you.

I do think you might be able to achieve this in a way that feels less empty, superficial, and traumatizing, and leaves you less vulnerable to repeated rejection. After all, almost everyone hates the apps on some level, and speed-dating seems unnecessarily stressful. There has to be a better, more gentle approach that doesn’t make you miserable. A few ideas:

1)  Turn a friend into a partner. Maybe? Is there anyone right under your nose who you’re already comfortable with and who you might have some flirtatious energy with? A guy who always seems willing to come over and do stuff like mount your TV? Or better yet: Someone who volunteers to drive you to the airport? If so, he loves you. And you’re already comfortable together. It might be worth exploring whether you two are compatible and whether you could see him in a different light.

2)   Ask people who love you to hook you up—an oldy but a goody! Make a sincere request, and tell them you’ll be open-minded. Emphasize your seriousness about finding a life partner and starting a family. See who they come up with! You’ll still have to go on a date to meet the person, of course. But this could help screen out men who care too much about weight, who would totally waste your time, or are just kind of assholes. Your friends and family wouldn’t introduce you to them.

3)   Work with a professional matchmaker. It might be worth it for the reasons listed above and because you won’t waste energy with people who don’t meet your basic requirements. Someone else will do the preliminary screening and analysis for you. You may also receive some coaching that makes you feel more confident and comfortable when you do have to meet someone in real life.

4)   Go to Home Depot. Or really, any other place where you might find more men than you do at your all-female book club. Don’t force yourself to endure an afternoon at a sports bar or go to a shooting range if those things sound terrible to you, but how about trivia night or one of those kickball leagues where nobody cares who wins and everyone goes out for drinks afterward? (I have a friend who joined a kickball league specifically to meet men and she now has two children with the second baseman!)

5)  Say yes to every invitation. Babies’ birthday parties (there could be a single uncle), housewarmings, requests from a friend to run errands together. The more places you go, the more people you might meet. And even if you don’t meet your partner, you might meet the person who introduces you to your partner. (I have another friend who went out to an event hoping to meet a guy, ended up chatting with a really nice woman instead, and was introduced to that woman’s cousin. They now have two kids, too!)

6)   At all of the places above and in your daily life, flirt. If you’re running errands alone, don’t bury yourself in your phone. Look around, take in the scene, and enjoy being there—and if you have to fake it initially, that’s fine too. But you have taken yourself out of dating app hell, so hopefully you’ll be feeling a little lighter and happier. Smile at people. Joke with people. Compliment people. It will lift your spirits and you never know when it might ignite a little spark.

7)   Finally, make a backup plan, even if it doesn’t feel ideal. If you want to be a mother, there are a lot of different paths to get there. And if you want a partner in raising your kids, there are ways outside of romance to find that partner. It’s 2024 and it’s not unrealistic to think you might find a man who wants the same things you do and is willing to (with the help of a good lawyer to clarify everyone’s rights and responsibilities) make it happen. Simply having a vision of what you’ll do if you don’t meet the person you’re looking for—and knowing you can activate that plan at any moment—might bring you a sense of calm and make the dating process less desperate and miserable. And maybe even a teeny tiny bit fun.

Dear Prudence,

A little background: My brother and I were adopted by my grandparents when I was around 3-4 because my mother and father were both alcoholics and drug addicts. Fast forward to now, my father died from cirrhosis of the liver seven years ago, and now my mom also has cirrhosis. My mother has always had a negative attitude. My childhood was a living hell because of her, and I check the box on every symptom of an adult child from an alcoholic. She likes to shame me over things that have never occurred. My kids (7 and 10) haven’t really seen or been around her in the past three years because she still continues to go on benders. She had been sober for the past three months after her diagnosis, but started drinking again a few days later. She told my aunt it was because she is depressed and lonely and would like for my kids to visit her.

Here is why I am struggling—my grandmother (her mother) makes me feel guilty about her being lonely and not taking my kids to see her more often. I do not feel like it’s my responsibility to worry about other people’s feelings, especially when that person puts my wellbeing at risk.
I have learned the power of saying no and have for the most part, left my people-pleasing tendencies in the past. My kids don’t want to voluntarily go visit my mother and neither do I. I’m already there once a week to help her around the house and whatever else she needs. I have helped my mom for years—I gave her a place to stay for two years until she got wasted and kicked a hole in my son’s bedroom door. I always bailed her out of jail or picked her up when she was in a bad situation. I always gave her rides to doctor’s appointments because she didn’t want to take the transportation offered by her insurance. I enabled her to continue drinking. Am I responsible for my mother feeling lonely? I don’t feel like I am. She’s nothing but a burden and inconvenience to me. I am, and have been, emotionally burnt out.

—Emotionally Burnt Out

Dear Burnt Out,

You answered your own question. You’re not responsible. You’ve gone above and beyond, and the best thing you can do now is to prioritize your kids in the way she wasn’t able to prioritize you.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

Seven months ago, I started counseling to deal with trauma. These memories are personal and hard to share. My therapist was wonderful, positive, and helpful. I felt we had connected and had a good patient-therapist relationship. About two months ago, she left her counseling practice and switched to a new one. She then reached out and we continued meeting. However, she started canceling frequently, and appointments became sporadic. After she stood me up for an appointment, I emailed her and said I felt it was best for me to end my sessions as we seemed to be struggling to meet consistently. My therapist never responded in any capacity.