Slate's 'Dear Prudence' gives listeners advice : It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders What better gift to give this holiday season than the gift of... advice? And solicited advice at that! For this episode, Sam is joined by Jenée Desmond-Harris, Slate's Dear Prudence advice columnist, to help answer everything from how to deal with a partner's overbearing adult daughter to a boyfriend's recent conversion to becoming a Swiftie (read: a fan of Taylor Swift) to the group dynamics of the Thanksgiving prayer in an atheist household. Happy holidays, everybody.

From Taylor Swift to Thanksgiving, Dear Prudence gives the gift of advice

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders, and this week, we are bringing you advice from the one and only Dear Prudence.


BEATLES: (Singing) Dear Prudence...

SANDERS: Well, it's really Jenee Desmond-Harris.

JENEE DESMOND-HARRIS: I'm Jenee Desmond-Harris. I am the Dear Prudence advice columnist at Slate magazine.

SANDERS: She took over Slate's Dear Prudence advice column earlier this year. You know, as we head into the full swing of the holiday season, what better gift could we give to you, the listener, than answering questions about your family and friend troubles and giving you more nuanced solutions than the internet's perennial favorite of just break up, which is actually my favorite? My advice to everyone having couple trouble - break up.


REESE WITHERSPOON: (As Elle Woods) I do.

MATTHEW DAVIS: (As Warner) I think we should break up.


WITHERSPOON: (As Elle Woods) What?

DAVIS: (As Warner) Well, I've been thinking about it, and I think it's the right thing to do.

SANDERS: Jenee is someone who does not give advice that always ends in just break up. And because of that, she gets some complaints online.

DESMOND-HARRIS: I really try to think about, what's something this person will actually do? And that's not always the thing that I think is the best idea. And I find that when I hear negative feedback from readers, they're saying, no, you should have just told her to leave him.

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

DESMOND-HARRIS: You should've just told them to break up.

SANDERS: But here's the thing - they're not going to break up.

DESMOND-HARRIS: That's the thing. And that's really hard. I remember when you and I were talking, when I first got this job, you said, if you were an advice columnist, you would just tell everyone to break up.


DESMOND-HARRIS: And I get it because, honestly, most people should, right? But we know that most people won't.

SANDERS: You know, another piece of advice that I like to offer that's usually always very salient is be quiet. You don't have to have an opinion or a comment about everything. Silence is powerful and sometimes even healing. That's my advice. I say this as someone who talks for a living. I know. I know. I know. Anyhoo, in this chat, Jenee and I talk about everything from how to deal with an overbearing adult daughter to Taylor Swift to the group dynamics of religious prayer in an atheist household. With that, let's get to it. Happy holidays and, listeners, thank you for your questions.


SANDERS: We got a lot, and I'm going to start off by telling you one that we're just not going to answer because it was too short and weird. But here is the question that we've been joking about here on the team for the last few days. The question was one sentence, one question - should I leave the family business? Anonymous. That was it.

DESMOND-HARRIS: That was it?

SANDERS: And I was like, oh, you got to go. Like, there's no - the anonymous was like, oh, you got to go.

DESMOND-HARRIS: I lean strongly toward yes as well. I mean, it's just that - I'm comfortable answering it yes.

SANDERS: OK, good.

DESMOND-HARRIS: Because you want to.


DESMOND-HARRIS: A lot of times, I think just the act of writing into an advice column gives you so much information about the person's situation.


DESMOND-HARRIS: Like, if you saw a tweet from Sam Sanders that said ask me for advice and your first thought was, can I get permission to leave the family business, you need to leave.

SANDERS: Then you should leave the family business.


SANDERS: Yeah. Anyhoo, with that, let's get to our formal questions. My colleagues, Jinae and Jordana, have gone through a long list of ones that we got sent to us, and we're going to share our favorites with you and ask you to give our listeners some advice. Here's the first one. It is from someone who calls themselves Bummed in Buffalo. They wrote, Dear Prudence, my love of 10 years has his 32-year-old daughter still living at home. He sent her to a good university, but she has no job and seemingly not many friends. Before the pandemic, he and I would go out five or six days a week and I rarely saw her. Now I go to his house to make dinner a few times a week. His daughter won't join us at the table, but she hovers around interrupting our conversation to complain about something one of us has said or to demand he fix something she has created to be angry about. She often tries to monopolize his time while I am there, and if we ignore her behavior, she attacks him or picks a fight until he tells me I should go. For example, she often goes on about how she can't wait for him to die so, quote, "her house quits smelling like old people" - end quote.


SANDERS: He says he is unhappy with the situation but feels trapped. I am starting to feel the same way because this is depressing nonsense, but I love him and don't know how to help. Any advice? Bummed in Buffalo.


SANDERS: That's something right there. Let me tell you, I'm never having kids.

DESMOND-HARRIS: It really is.

SANDERS: I'm never having kids.

DESMOND-HARRIS: (Laughter) Or dating anyone with kids, right?

SANDERS: Yeah (laughter).

DESMOND-HARRIS: This sounds really hard. I want to validate that. It sounds awful. It sounds like this young woman probably needs some outside help. So I have a piece of practical advice, which is you don't have to be at his house all the time. It sounds like this was working before the pandemic. Can you have him over to your home? I just wonder if there are any practical solutions to sort of avoid these interactions. But more broadly, a principle that I believe is true is that you don't change people's relationships with their children, no matter how much you think they should change or how right you are about that. I think it's a losing battle. This is clearly the kind of relationship they've had for a long time, so don't try to manage or control the situation. But I do think there's room here for one good clear talk. And by that, I mean, just - and this is the advice I give in a lot of situations - the letter writer may have kind of alluded to some problems here or said this made her uncomfortable or showed her discomfort, but I wonder if she's really had a sit-down with her partner and talked about the toll this is taking on her and sort of what her limits are, how much of this she can handle. I think she needs to let him know very clearly how much this is upsetting her and what's at stake and then sort of take a step back and see how he reacts.

SANDERS: Yeah. You know, I hear it, and I want to know, what is the backstory of the relationship between this father and this daughter? I feel like - is there something in their history that has the father feeling so guilty that he thinks he has to keep letting her live in his house and exhibit this bad behavior? I don't know what it was. Reading that letter to you, I said to myself, oh, I wonder if this is a divorced family, and the dad still feels guilty about his role in the divorce and how it might have hurt this child.

DESMOND-HARRIS: I can totally see that being the case.

SANDERS: And it's like - and so I'm like, is that having him continue to accept this really bad behavior from her because he feels bad about, I don't know, not being the best dad he could have been years ago? But to that I say, apologize and live in the now. And the now is, 1, your 32-year-old daughter with a college degree is still in your house - not a good look for any parties involved - and 2, she's running the relationship. I don't know, not to say break up with your daughter, but listen - break up with your daughter. Sorry, I'm not supposed to give advice.


SANDERS: You are (laughter).

DESMOND-HARRIS: No, I mean, you're absolutely right. I think you're absolutely right that that's what he should do. And if he were writing in, I think that's definitely what we would tell him. I'm just not sure that his partner is going to be able to say one thing and get him to change the way he's related...


DESMOND-HARRIS: ...To his daughter for his whole life, which obviously has, like, deep emotional roots. So I don't see the relationship changing dramatically. That said, she should make her concerns known and give him a chance to change it before she leaves.

SANDERS: Yeah. Is there any advice as to when this woman should know when it's time to totally just leave? How do you know when you've reached that moment? Like, what if she has the conversation? How does she know how to proceed after that and when to, like, say that enough's enough?

DESMOND-HARRIS: I think she has to check in with herself about exactly how distressed she is by this. So is she merely annoyed, or is it really taking a toll on her life, or is it stopping her from enjoying the relationship? So I think some self-reflection on that would really help. And then on a more practical note, I would have the really clear talk with him and give him, like, two months to absorb it and take some action.


SANDERS: All right. Coming up, Dear Prudence answers more of your advice questions, including one about Taylor Swift.


SANDERS: Next question from Nicole (ph) in St. Paul - she says, I am a geriatric millennial - stop right there. I don't like it when they say that.


SANDERS: Makes me feel bad.

DESMOND-HARRIS: I don't either 'cause I'm the oldest possible millennial.

SANDERS: Wait, what is your birth year, if I can ask?


SANDERS: OK, I'm '84. Yeah. Yeah.

DESMOND-HARRIS: OK. So I think by, like, the most generous interpretation of millennial...

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

DESMOND-HARRIS: ...I squeeze in there as the oldest possible one.

SANDERS: Can you quote any lines from "Reality Bites"?

DESMOND-HARRIS: I watched that movie so many times, but I don't think I could actually quote a line.

SANDERS: So then you're probably spiritually Gen X.

DESMOND-HARRIS: OK, I'll take it.

SANDERS: I don't know. Anyway, neither here nor there.


SANDERS: Here's Nicole's question. She wrote, I am a geriatric millennial with no kids and no significant other and live at least an hour from all the closest people in my life. I am also one of those introverts that loves to be social with people she knows, but it sucks more energy being social around strangers. As an adult, I am finding it extremely hard to make friends, especially when not collecting friends through osmosis via children or partners. How does one go about making friends as an adult when you are not the outgoing life-of-the-party sort? Is there an app for that? Nicole in St. Paul.

DESMOND-HARRIS: The first thing I want to say is that this is so, so, so common. Actually, there's a Slate podcast called "How To!", and the October 19 episode was all about this dilemma. So they brought in a woman whose husband is in the Air Force and has moved a lot, so she's always had to make new friends. And she gave some really good advice. I'm going to sort of recycle it here. She said the No. 1 way to make friends is to ask for help. So if you're in a new workplace, you know, asking, where do people go for lunch, or could you give me a hand with this task, or help me understand this colleague of ours - even if you don't really need the help, just asking can create the conversation and make people feel useful and start a relationship. She also said to be OK with being desperate. It's OK to say I really want friends, and I need help. And I would say, you can ask your friends to match-make you. You could put a post on social media.

SANDERS: Oh, that gives me anxiety.

DESMOND-HARRIS: That's one thing social media is great for.

SANDERS: That gives me anxiety. Oh, my god.

DESMOND-HARRIS: Or latch onto someone else who's doing it. A friend of mine did sort of a friend matchmaking thing on Instagram. She asked all her friends from different places to say where they were and what they were looking for, and just that invitation really opened it up for people. So I think just being OK with sharing the need and knowing that you're doing a service to other people when you do that could be really helpful.

SANDERS: So my editor Slacked me while I was reading that question, and she says, this letter writer is engaging in some negative self-talk. And I think I agree. Like, that line where she says I'm not the outgoing life-of-the-party sort - you don't have to be. You know, like...

DESMOND-HARRIS: You really don't.

SANDERS: And like, she says, I'm one of those introverts that loves to be social but knows that it sucks - like, she's kind of downplaying her skills and not just accepting the reality that, like, in our current era of internet and living away from home, it's hard for everybody to find and keep friends. And I wonder how much of it is not just the difficulty in having friends, but thinking that she's just a worse person and can never make friends and how much that hurts her as well.

DESMOND-HARRIS: That's such a good point. I wonder if there's a different way she could have written this letter or just a different way she can talk to herself where she's saying - instead of, I'm not outgoing, she could be saying, I'm a great listener.

SANDERS: Exactly.

DESMOND-HARRIS: Or, you know, I love doing crafty activities at home, or I'm a big movie buff.


DESMOND-HARRIS: And I love other people who enjoy movies. So I'm sure there's a different way she could frame this that would feel like she's not operating at a deficit of some kind.

SANDERS: Yeah. And, like, I also made peace in adulthood with realizing that I don't have to do everything that I do in my life or in my day around other people, around my friends, you know? Like, I used to think that I could never eat alone in a restaurant. Now I love to, right?


SANDERS: I used to think that I would never want to go to the movies by myself. That's my favorite kind of night, you know?


SANDERS: And so there's also a moment to just check in with yourself, Nicole in St. Paul, and say, are you underplaying how much enjoyment you might get from doing some things by yourself? And that's OK. Like, do you have this unnecessary expectation that you need to be around people a certain amount of the day or week? Let that go.

DESMOND-HARRIS: Right. She does say that she has introvert tendencies, even though she appreciates being social. There's a place for an introvert day.

SANDERS: Come on.

DESMOND-HARRIS: My mom gave me a great piece of advice that I sometimes tell people. You should not feel like you're in enemy territory when you're by yourself.

SANDERS: Woo. Woof (ph). Yeah.

DESMOND-HARRIS: It's good, right?

SANDERS: It's real good.

DESMOND-HARRIS: I mean, you want to feel comfortable. You don't want to feel anxious and nervous and like you have to fix it just 'cause you're alone.

SANDERS: Yeah. Next question - this is about Taylor Swift. It's from...


SANDERS: Yeah, yeah. It is from anonymous. Oh my God, well, first, before that - have you listened to the ten-minute song that's all about Jake Gyllenhaal?

DESMOND-HARRIS: I haven't. I've read a lot about it and a lot of commentary and a lot of people getting, like, upset about whether it's good or bad. But I haven't listened yet.

SANDERS: I listened. Let me say this. All the songs are catchy. She makes catchy songs. But...

DESMOND-HARRIS: She really does.

SANDERS: ...Ten minutes, 10 years later, about this man you dated for a few months? I'm not going to say get over it, but I'm going to say get over it. She needs some advice.

DESMOND-HARRIS: Wait, but wasn't the song written years ago, and she just redid it?

SANDERS: She expanded it to make it ten minutes long, so she added more.

DESMOND-HARRIS: Oh, she expanded it?

SANDERS: She added more to be like, and Jake Gyllenhaal, one more thing.


SANDERS: And I'm like, OK, y'all.


SANDERS: Now come on now.


TAYLOR SWIFT: They say all's well that ends well, but I'm in a new hell every time you double-cross my mind.

SANDERS: Well, what advice would you give Taylor Swift?

DESMOND-HARRIS: You know what? I would actually tell her it's good, and the way you can think of it is that you're clearly helping a lot of other people because what you're saying is resonating, and it's letting people know they're not alone.

SANDERS: OK. What advice would you give to Jake Gyllenhaal, who's just still in these songs 10 years later?

DESMOND-HARRIS: Oh, I would be like, just skip it when it comes on. Like...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

DESMOND-HARRIS: That's her. She's doing her thing. Like, it's not actually about you at this point.

SANDERS: Oh, man. Let me tell you. Anyone thinking about writing a song about me, don't do it. Don't you dare.

DESMOND-HARRIS: Or if you do, do it in a timely fashion, not 10 years later.

SANDERS: Yeah, exactly. You get one year after breakup to write a song about me.


SANDERS: After that, I'm filing a cease-and-desist, buddy, OK? Can't do it. All right, here's the question from the Swiftie (ph). They're anonymous. They wrote, quote, "I've recently converted my boyfriend to Swiftie-ism (ph). He is not as big of a fan as I am, but he knows and likes lots of Taylor Swift's newer albums, "Lover" and beyond, though he's not as excited about the rerecorded albums as me. If Taylor goes on tour any time soon, I'm planning to buy floor tickets, no matter the cost. My question is hypothetical. Should I take my boyfriend, since a live show might make him an even bigger fan and get him into her older stuff, or do I go with the tried-and-true Swiftie who I know would go absolutely rabid with me?"

DESMOND-HARRIS: This is so easy. Bring the tried-and-true Swiftie.

SANDERS: Come on. Or stop being cheap. You love Taylor. Buy three tickets. Call me crazy.

DESMOND-HARRIS: That's true. But if it comes down to it, I mean, this friend is going to appreciate it so much more.


DESMOND-HARRIS: I hate to say it, but the boyfriend might not be around in a few years.

SANDERS: (Vocalizing, laughter).

DESMOND-HARRIS: And the friend probably will. And you'll have this memory (laughter). And it just seems like Taylor Swift is a friend experience. It's not romantic.

SANDERS: Taylor would say, don't bring the boyfriend. She'd say, bring the friend.

DESMOND-HARRIS: That's the best advice. Taylor would want you to bring your friend and not your boyfriend.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

Stay with us. Coming up, mixing religion and Thanksgiving. I have some thoughts on this one.

Before we get to some more questions, I want to go back to just, like, your life as Dear Prudence. You crowdsource a lot of your advice questions, and I like it. You will take a question to Twitter and say, chime in with your answers. If I like one or two, I might share it in my response. What was the impetus for that? And how's it going?

DESMOND-HARRIS: So every week, I do a live chat. And then I do a regular column. And in the beginning, I was trying to answer one of those questions. And it was about, if I remember correctly, a woman who was bisexual but had never actually dated another woman, and she wasn't sure whether she should apply for - I believe it was, like, a scholarship that was for queer people. And I was just like, I don't know. I'm not - I want to answer her question, but I would love the input of people who actually are bisexual or who have thought about these issues more than I have. So I took it to Twitter, and I got some really good responses that I thought were so much smarter than the one I originally sort of came up with. And I think it makes so much sense for an advice column because in this day and age, we all have social media. And you rarely make a decision just by sitting quietly by yourself and thinking.


DESMOND-HARRIS: It just made perfect sense to me that I would ask for input from the many smart people who are out there.

SANDERS: So what advice did you end up giving to the woman who was considering whether or not to apply for the scholarship?

DESMOND-HARRIS: So my uninformed advice was going to be, you know what? Probably don't do it. The intention of this scholarship is for people who are queer who probably have suffered some kind of discrimination or setbacks because of that or are going to end up using the platform to, like, advance LGBT issues. So maybe just pass and leave this one to someone who's a little more engaged with the community. But I was set straight by the responses where so many people weighed in and said this person has internalized biphobia. Like, she is bisexual, whether or not she has acted on it yet and whether or not anyone knows. And we really need to be careful about sort of policing who gets to be bisexual and who doesn't. Many people shared their personal experiences with that. And they also pointed out that nowhere in the scholarship or application materials did it say, you have to be out. You have to have suffered discrimination.


DESMOND-HARRIS: And so I said, you know what? Go for it. This is yours as much as anyone else's. And it might even help you sort of, like, on your journey to feel more clear and secure about who you are.

SANDERS: Yeah. Last question - It comes from anonymous. They wrote, (reading) usually, my family has a really wonderful and relaxing Thanksgiving with my family and one other family, my mom's sisters. Nothing big. And we are all in agreement about our fundamental beliefs. No big Thanksgiving blowups over here, including religion. We are all atheists. My uncle, mom and aunts' brother, just died. And my mother has invited my other aunt, his widow, to our Thanksgiving, which she accepted. However, knowing this aunt, I'm certain that she will be leading a predinner grace, likely to be longer than most and very intense, including many tears. She would be the only religious person at the table, and we would be in our home. So the host, my family, would also not be religious. In the past, when I have been at tables where grace is being said, I politely join hands and bow my head slightly, though that is all. However, those have also been places where the host is the only one saying the grace. Question - when the host as an atheist, the guest is saying the prayer, what is the proper etiquette? The easy solution is to bow my head and join hands as I would in someone else's home, but that feels fundamentally dishonest to me. How can I politely excuse myself from a prayer without being rude? Anonymous.

DESMOND-HARRIS: So my disclaimer here is just, like, constitutionally and personality wise. I don't like conflict, and I'm OK with a little white lie to avoid conflict.


DESMOND-HARRIS: At a recent holiday, my husband's 94-year-old grandmother asked us where we went to church out here in California. And we don't go to church, never have. And he and I kind of locked eyes and just communicated to each other, OK, we're just going to fly real quick here. And so I just put the name of our city together with the first denomination I thought of and told her.

SANDERS: Wait. Say it.

DESMOND-HARRIS: I said, we go to Palo Alto Baptist.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

DESMOND-HARRIS: And she said, wonderful. And everyone was happy. And I am fine with that. I'm also not religious, but I'm totally fine with holding hands. Closing my eyes, bowing my head and having a moment of quiet meditation or gratitude or just silence before a meal. I don't see that as fundamentally dishonest, and I would challenge the letter writer to ask themselves, who are you being dishonest with? Also, if everyone else has their head bowed and eyes closed, you don't have to bow your head and close your eyes 'cause they won't see you.

SANDERS: Come on.

DESMOND-HARRIS: So (laughter) you can just sit there. But I get the feeling that the letter writer knows all that, and they're actually asking, like, a deeper question. Or they have a deeper issue, which is that it's the principle for them. I think there are kind of two levels of responding to this that could help them be more comfortable. One would be, go to your aunt before the holiday. Explain your discomfort and say, you're my guest. I want you to be able to say grace. I'm not comfortable being part of it. So what we're going to do is I'm going to get up and say, I'm going to go to the kitchen and get the gravy. Start without me. And that will be your cue to do grace while I'm in the kitchen. Or if you really want to be bold and it's your home, you can let her know that you're not comfortable with that at your table.

SANDERS: Yeah. You're nicer than me.


SANDERS: I just find this anonymous question asker to be a little self-centered and selfish. They point out in the letter that her husband just died.


SANDERS: She's a new widow, right? She's going through it. And I think that everyone at this point in the family knows who is religious and who is not. So this anonymous person being in the same room where a prayer happens - I don't think that's going to convince anyone in the family that they're no longer an atheist, right?


SANDERS: Like, we know where people stand. So there's a reality in which you just sit there, don't close your eyes and just be quiet.


SANDERS: I don't know. I just - I'm someone who prays, and I am a Christian. And I have been in a lot of environments where people either aren't praying, or they're praying to some different religion. And you know what I do? I smile and nod.


SANDERS: Let me tell you I have crashed so many Ramadan dinners...


SANDERS: ...Where I will just do what I need to do to be nice to the host, so I can eat the food, you know?


SANDERS: And it's like, I know I believe in my belief enough, and they believe in their belief enough to know that, like, hospitality is not going to damage my or their belief, right?


SANDERS: Also, to act like you saying, I don't want you to pray in my house is going to keep prayer out of your house - the thing about people who pray is they can pray silently, as well.

DESMOND-HARRIS: Oh, definitely.

SANDERS: They can pray silently in their heads all up and through your house.

DESMOND-HARRIS: Right, right. I think this is a great example of how in many questions, there's an answer that has to do with what you have a right to do. And it's not the same answer that is - that means what makes the most sense to do. And again, I didn't really focus on that part of the question, but I think it's such a good point that you made that this aunt is mourning someone right now. And there's just a place in life, especially around the holidays, for just trying to be compassionate and generous to people when it costs you absolutely nothing.

SANDERS: Yeah, it costs you nothing. My auntie can't pray at my house. Pssh (ph).


SANDERS: Your auntie is already praying at your house, buddy.


SANDERS: Aunties like that - they're always praying, OK?

DESMOND-HARRIS: Right. About you specifically...

SANDERS: (Laughter).


SANDERS: Yes, literally. Let me tell you - if you make her not say her prayer over the turkey, her first bathroom break, she's going to be on that toilet, whispering to Jesus.


SANDERS: I guarantee it, OK? OK?


SANDERS: Thanks again to Jenee Desmond-Harris. You can find her over at Slate's Dear Prudence advice column. And thanks to all the listeners who sent in their advice questions. All right. This episode was produced by Jinae West and edited by Jordana Hochman. And, listeners, don't forget we're back this Friday with another episode. For that episode, we want to hear from you. Share with us the best thing that happened to you all week. Just record yourself, maybe on your phone, and then email that file to me. Our email address is - Besides voice memos, we also love to accept cute photos of your pets and your babies and your backyard gardens, whatever. With that, till next time. Be good to yourselves. I'm Sam Sanders. We'll talk soon.


Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.