Help! I Want to Ask My Wife to Get a Paternity Test, No Matter What.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.

Dear Prudence,

Why does it seem like a husband asking his wife for a paternity test is so controversial and seemingly regarded as one of the worst things possible to ask? There are definitely many wrong ways to ask the question, so please assume the question is asked well in-advance before pregnancy, and that it is asked gently with space for discussion. The online discourse I read from women seems very unempathetic for this issue. What is the harm in a paternity test? Specifically, one conducted after birth where there is no risk to the child. Women (basically) never have to contend with the scenario that the child they’re raising may unknowingly not be theirs. Just as there are many experiences and situations that women go through that I, as a man, will never have to contend with but which I am empathetic to, this is one particular issue that women do not have to contend with that men do.

Studies vary, but false paternity is about 1-3 percent, which translates to millions of people in America. I do many things to make my partner feel secure in our relationship, so that she KNOWS something rather than taking it on faith, because why not give a person that level of security if you can? I’m aware that I could do a test in secret, but I do not want to keep secrets like that from my partner. Why is it regarded as so offensive for me to have a fear of mine resolved through a cheap, convenient test? It really has nothing to do with what I think of my partner, who I love, as I have always wanted to be sure of paternity ever since I decided as a teenager that I wanted to be a father someday.

—Parentally Insecure

Dear Insecure,

You’ve framed your question as being about society as a whole—what’s generally okay for husbands to do and why, what studies say, and why “it is regarded” (by who exactly?) as offensive for you to want this test. That’s the wrong way to think about this. It doesn’t matter what the stats are or what the online discourse says. The people making comments on the internet aren’t going to be in your house with you the day you tell your partner about your plan to go to Quest Diagnostics! This is about the two of you and how you can both be secure and happy.

You do have the right idea when it comes to bringing it up before she’s pregnant. Say, “I have something I’m a little nervous to talk to you about because I don’t want to offend you or hurt your feelings,” and then explain why you’re going to want a paternity test when and if she gets pregnant. But listen to me carefully here: The reason you’re going to cite is not “there are millions of false paternity cases a year, and it’s not fair that you’ll be sure that you’re the mother but I won’t have the same proof that I’m the father.” Absolutely not. The reason is “I love you and trust you, but I have this deep fear and anxiety about this issue. I’ve always had it and I would have it with any partner.” Then say, “I know it’s an unusual request, but is it something we could plan to do just to put my mind at ease? Or would you be okay with me doing it at some point and just not mentioning it? Tell me what you think because at the end of the day, this is about me wanting to create a family with you, and your happiness is a huge piece of that.”

Dear Prudence,

I am much closer in age to my niece than anyone else in the family. We act more like sisters than aunt and niece. She is 13 and having a real rough go at it right now. Her mom is very, very sick and was forced to move with her parents to seek treatment out of state. My niece is now living with her dad and her five new stepsiblings. She has to share a room with her 8- and 6-year-old stepsisters. She has zero privacy or time or attention placed on just her. Her stepmother constantly complains that she isn’t “helping” enough (i.e. being the free babysitter while her older step-brothers play video games). My niece is miserable. I share a studio apartment, but my roommate is usually gone every weekend to see her boyfriend. I drive down and pick up my niece most weekends. We usually don’t do much but Netflix and chill.

Well, my brother’s new wife is getting incredibly pissy over these visits: I am spoiling my niece or slighting her kids. Her solution is I take her two daughters along with my niece or I stay here on their lumpy couch. I want to be there for my niece, not be the unpaid maid for my sister-in-law. My brother is just wishy-washy. He will agree with my reasoning: It is less stressful for my niece; I don’t have the energy or the room to take on two smaller girls; his couch sucks; and it is a bit less chaos in his house. Then poof! His wife starts whining again, and I can’t win.

My parents have expressed concern about my niece and asked if maybe she should move in with them. They live close by but in a different school district. I feel like people keep having me hold loaded guns. Should my parents take my niece? Should she go live with her other grandparents? Should I confront my brother and his wife over this bullshit? My niece tells me she likes being with me because it is quiet. We watch TV, or read, or take walks to the park. I tell her she can ask me anything, but I am never going to push her. I usually socialize during the week because most of my friends work retail. I am 24. I am in over my head here. Help!

—Russian Roulette

Dear Roulette,

I understand that it’s coming from a place of caring about your niece, but you’re taking on too much when it comes to trying to change her parents and make an entire plan for her life. You’re not going to be able to win a debate with her stepmother. There’s no need for a huge confrontation with your brother, or a decision about whether her grandparents should take her in.

Instead, you can simply stand your ground and respond to the request that’s been made of you. A boundary in this situation could look like saying “I’m not equipped to take the other girls, and I want to sleep at my own home.” Keep up your weekend routine with your niece until you are explicitly told you are not allowed to anymore. Her stepmother being pissy doesn’t count—she’s free to be as pissy, or angry, or jealous as she wants to be. And your brother can be as wishy-washy as he wants to be, as long as he’s not actually saying “She’s not going with you.” Given how overwhelmed the two of them must be with six kids in the house, and the fact that your brother must love his daughter and see how much she’s struggling, I don’t think they’re actually going to put a stop to your visits.

If they do, that’s when you start to negotiate, in ways that show an understanding of how unsupported they probably feel as parents—and of course, in ways that reflect what you’ll actually feel good about doing. Something like: “If I can take her for the weekend, I’ll take all the kids out for ice cream on Sunday when I get back,” or “If I can take her on the weekends, I’ll babysit for four hours on the first Friday of every month, so you two can have a date night.” Giving your niece wonderful experiences on the weekends is such a generous use of your time and energy, but because of her situation, it might require some less-enjoyable sacrifices as well.

“We’re glad you’re here, but I’m just worried about your home life!

Jenée Desmond-Harris and Joel Anderson discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

I’ve been stewing about this for some time, and I need your clarity. I have nine grandchildren. Seven are well-educated and have good jobs, two are older teens. I always remember their birthdays with a gift of cash and on Christmas, I give presents. None of them give me birthday or Christmas gifts, cards, or even a text. Please understand, I truly don’t need anything, but I’d like to be acknowledged with something small, a flower, a box of candy, or just a text. Frankly, I feel unappreciated. My grandchildren are warm and loving when I see them. My question to you, is this common behavior for millennial and gen Zs? Am I being too old school?

—Trying to Understand

Dear Trying,

When I first read your letter, I realized I actually had no idea whether this behavior was common. I can say that I (the oldest possible millennial) called my grandmother frequently and sent her thank-you notes as well as cards for most occasions when she was alive. She set the tone by sending cards for every occasion, including Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day. And my mom urged me to reciprocate from a very young age. Physical gifts weren’t really exchanged unless we were in the same place for a holiday. But what are other people doing? What are people in younger generations doing? I was clueless. After all, “What, if anything, do you get your grandmother for her birthday?” isn’t really something that comes up in conversation a lot (outside of circles where grandmas are complaining about it!).

So I decided to poke around on Twitter to ask people what their gifting relationships with their grandparents looked like. You can read all the responses; the conclusion I came to was that most people do acknowledge birthdays and special occasions with at least a call or a text. But two things seem to predict the frequency of these communications and whether cards or gifts are also included. The first is the closeness of the relationship outside of holidays. People who live near their grandparents, see them regularly, and know them as more than “the nice lady who sends a check on my birthday” are much more likely to prioritize honoring special occasions. The second determiner is the tone set by the parents (your kids, in this case) and whether they let their children know that they’re expected to celebrate their grandparents and (at least for teens) give reminders to make sure it happens.

All of which is to say, while the behavior you’re dealing with does appear to be on the rude and unappreciative end of the spectrum (after all, it just isn’t that hard to send a text), it isn’t totally unheard of. If you want to understand the dynamic better, you might ask your children whether they ever had any conversations with their kids about reaching out to you on special occasions. I’m guessing the answer is no. If that’s the case, you might get some comfort from knowing that they unintentionally fell short in this area, and your grandchildren’s behavior reflects cluelessness rather than a lack of care for you.

Then, if you want to see a change, you might consider trying to deepen your relationship with your grandkids. Text them to see how they’re doing. Let them know what’s going on with you. Get to a point where you’re communicating enough that it would feel natural for you to say “I can’t believe I’m turning 85 next week! I’m going to be having lunch with a friend, but what would really make me happy would be to hear from you and all your cousins.” That’s not too much to ask.

Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be edited for publication.) And for questions on parenting, kids, or family life, try Care and Feeding!

Dear Prudence,

My mother and I have a complicated relationship, for reasons that aren’t worth getting into. As a result, I’m not as close with her as my siblings are (to their credit, they recognize and understand the reasons for this). I’ve managed to forge a “call her weekly, see her annually” relationship with her, largely by accepting that she will never acknowledge her part in why we’re not closer. Lately though, she’s been experiencing serious health issues that may indicate the end is near, and … I’m ok with that. My wife has gently asked if I want to spend more time with her before the end, and I’ve told her that I’m fine with things as they are.

What I’m finding harder to navigate is how to talk to friends and coworkers. If things become imminent, I would like to let my boss and coworkers know that I’ll need time off soon (I work in a very collaborative field where an unexpected absence will definitely impact others). But when the time comes, I plan to attend her funeral and then go back to work the next day and just get on with life, which I know is going to shock a lot of people. That said, I’m still going to have emotions around it, and I’d rather not even have to explain things as much as I have here. What can I say to them to acknowledge that they would not/could not do the same if one of their family passed, but that my relationship with her and my feelings about her passing are my own?

—Not that Broken Up

Dear Broken Up,

You don’t owe anyone an accounting of your feelings about your mom, and I’m hopeful that no one will push for that. If you do hear “Wow, back at work already?” responding with, “I’m learning it’s really true that everyone mourns differently, and the best thing for me right now is to stay busy. How was your weekend/ How’s that big project going?/ Want to grab coffee later?” will do the trick.

Dear Prudence,

I relocated to a new city shortly before the pandemic began. It took a while to find friends in my new city, and one of the first friendships I made was a friend of a friend who had also recently relocated. Over time, this friend and I started hanging out with more people, and the circle grew pretty quickly which has been great. The downside is that this friend has now become a source of stress. They rarely reciprocate sharing in a way that leaves me feeling vulnerable, they interrupt and intrude on conversations when we’re in group settings, and one of their modes of connection is venting about other close friends when they don’t take their copious unsolicited advice. I can’t help but think that they do the same thing when I’m not around. It’s not as if there is a major incident that needs to be addressed, so a “breakup” feels extreme, but this friend still asks to hang out one-on-one in a way that I’m not entirely comfortable with. Am I overthinking things?

—Outgrown the Friendship

Dear Outgrown,

First of all, I should follow up with you to get your tips on making friends in a new city. I get so many letters from people who are struggling to connect with anyone, so the fact that you have created a large circle in a relatively short time is really impressive.

I hesitate to tell you to cut this person off. That’s because it sounds like the two of you played an important role for each other at one time, and you must be compatible on some level to have collaborated on creating a new friend group together. Also, their behavior strikes me as immature and less than ideal, but not totally awful or unforgivable. I know this isn’t easy, but I wonder what would happen if you could start to non-dramatically let them know when they do things you don’t like and give them a chance to improve.

For example: “I know you’re just venting, but I don’t feel great about talking about Jordan when she isn’t here. And honestly, it kind of makes me worry that you do the same thing behind my back,” or “I noticed that I share a lot of my experiences and struggles with you, but you don’t tell me much about what you’re going through. Feels kinda unbalanced! What do you think?” They might decide that you’re a drag and voluntarily give you the space you want. Or they might actually adjust their behavior, because they care about being a good friend. Then, if you don’t see any changes, you’ll have a legitimate basis to say, “You know, because of some of the stuff we’ve talked about around the different ways we interact with our friends and our different expectations, I think we’re better in group settings than one-on-one.” And you’ll be totally confident that you’re right.

Dear Prudence,

I recently had two friendships of three years end, and I am hardcore grieving and have never felt so lonely. I admit, I have a significant portion of fault for leading it down that road; I broke their trust, and since then it had been tense and different, and the group of three had, in my eyes, become a group of two w/ me on the outside. I kept trying to fix things and talk to them, but I kept getting brushed off and assured that nothing was wrong. Eventually, I found that they were saying not nice things behind my back, and I freaked out and the friendship ended.

I feel now that I am stuck in a state of helplessness, with no close friends or support system at university. I keep trying to meet people, but I keep looking for the same qualities of the friends I lost and feel that I am expecting to make new best friends right away. Every time I meet someone I don’t click with, I lose more and more hope; I worry that I will never have that same connection that I had with those girls again, especially as a 20-year-old (is it too late for me?!?!). I don’t know what to do, and I can’t help but compare myself to other friend groups and ponder “what-ifs”.

—Friendless and Feeling It

Dear Friendless,

The end of a close friendship is really hard, and you may need some time to mourn the relationship you had with these two. Just like someone who broke up with a boyfriend might not feel ready to jump back into the dating scene, or like someone whose beloved dog died might not feel ready to adopt another one right away, you’ll go through a very normal period of “Nothing will ever compare to what we had!” until one day you wake up and can suddenly see yourself being close to someone else. The good news is, when that day comes, you’re going to be a more mature, sensitive, and overall better friend. I say that because it really does sound like you learned a lot from this experience. I don’t know what you did to break their trust, but I bet you won’t do that again. I’m sure you also walked away knowing that a freak-out is not the way to get back in the good graces of people you’ve hurt.

Believe it or not, you’ve grown. And this is actually a great moment in your life to start fresh. At 20, you’re on your way out of the stage when your friends are just kind of dropped in your lap, as classmates or roommates or teammates. As you move into adulthood, you’ll have the opportunity to choose your friends based on the qualities you admire. You’ll be able to be intentional about finding people who make you feel like the best version of yourself—not just warm bodies who provide the optics of the kind of friend group that everyone else appears to have (Spoiler: Everyone does NOT have that). You know it’s unrealistic to expect to make best friends right away. Plus, the desperate energy you might give off trying to do that would turn people off. So lower your standards.

Make it a goal to meet three people who you can make plans to hang out with. That’s it! One to study with, one to party with, one to go to yoga with, or whatever. Try to keep yourself from obsessing about where things are going. And don’t attempt to replicate the personalities of your former friends. The goal is simply to have company and enjoy yourself, and to pay attention to how you feel when you’re with these people. Happy and relaxed? Inspired? Comfortable? Hang out again. Judged or judgemental? Insecure? Bored? Move on and meet one more new person. There’s a quote that circulates on social media and Etsy art that says “You haven’t met all of the people who will love you yet.” It applies to friendship as well as romance. And for a person who’s 20 years old, I would even add “You will completely forget about some of the people who you currently think you can’t live without.”

My now-retired husband of 40-plus years has a single, work-based friend with whom he is friendly in a slightly-too-intimate way. Whenever she was in town, they would go for drinks at romantic rooftop watering holes. She once commented that if she could have a marriage like ours, she would have gotten married. On Christmas morning, she sent him a text saying she was thinking of him. I think this is too much. Hubby is emotionally clueless and no doubt enjoys her admiration and caring, but I don’t think he fully realizes the threat to our marriage.