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A Family, A Traffic Ticket And A 2-Year Lie

Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from member station WBUR. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer "radical empathy" and advice on everything from relationships and parenthood to dealing with drug problems or anxiety.

Today the Sugars tackle three separate questions. First, a letter-writer is in a bizarre situation: her sister gave her name when she was stopped for a traffic ticket. The most unexpected part is that the rest of the family concealed this episode from her — for two years!

Then, the hosts hear from a woman who isn't happy with getting a cheap wedding ring from her boyfriend. How cheap? $20.99 cheap.

Finally, a 24-year-old man has bad relations with his birth parents, and he wants to go through with getting legally adopted by another family. Is it worth it?

Dear Sugars,

I found out that my younger sister gave my name when she got a ticket for an illegal U-turn two years ago and that my entire family covered it up. I've always been proud of my clean driving record, so I didn't think I'd have any problem passing a motor vehicle background check in order to volunteer to help refugees acclimate to my city by driving them to the library, etc. I got an email today stating that I had failed due to two moving violations.

I thought it was a mistake, and immediately called my dad for advice on how to correct this. When he paused for a bit too long, I knew something was wrong. He said, "I didn't think we'd have to tell you this," and explained that my sister had given my name when she got a ticket two years ago and my parents had decided that was an acceptable thing to do, and as long as she never told me, it would all be OK. To make matters worse, there is also a speeding ticket that was given four days after the U-turn that she won't own up to either.

I'm so hurt that my family lied to protect my sister, and didn't think about what the lie would do to me. They think I'm making too big a deal out of this and should drop it, but I feel betrayed. My mom and sister are two people I trust more than anything, and to know they've lied about this makes my stomach churn. They don't seem to understand how I feel. I've barely gotten an apology from them. Am I in the wrong here for making a big deal out of this? How can I move past it?


Stolen Identity

Cheryl Strayed: Stolen Identity, you are not wrong to make a big deal out of this. This is so absurd, it's almost beyond belief. It's so strange to me that your parents would want to protect your sister at your expense. Your family needs to make it right as quickly as possible, whether that means you get an apology from them, or they fess up to the authorities and your sister deals with the consequences. At the bare minimum, they need to take this seriously, and stop enabling your sister, who is committing crimes that you are the victim of. It's absolutely wrong.

Steve Almond:This isn't just about protecting your own interests, it's about making sure your parents and sister don't keep playing out a pattern that is ultimately going to screw your sister over. It's deeply unhealthy, and you need to let your family know that in no uncertain terms.

Dear Sugars,

My boyfriend and I had our first baby last month, and now I'm fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home mom to our beautiful 7-week-old boy. Since getting pregnant, we've discussed getting married, and we decided we should get engaged.

A few days ago, I came across a ring-sized box my boyfriend was obviously planning to give me. It had the name of a company on it, and I immediately Googled it out of curiosity. I was taken aback when I found that this company sells cubic zirconia rings that cost about $20. So I did something that I now regret — I peeked inside the box. It was an engagement ring and wedding ring set that I saw on the website costs $20.99.

I'm both upset and baffled by this, because my boyfriend is not one to be cheap when it comes to jewelry. I'd shown him a ring that I wanted, which cost around $300. I thought that was fairly inexpensive for an engagement ring.

So here's my question: Do I say something to him about it when he gives it to me? I'm truly hurt that he would be so cheap when it comes to such an important moment. Then again, I don't want to be shallow, and I'm incredibly grateful for our life together. I'm lucky to have such a great partner. The ring itself is fine, and actually pretty, but it's not really what I wanted.


Speak Now or Forever Hold My Peace?

Cheryl:Speak Now or Forever Hold My Peace, you're not being shallow by telling your boyfriend that he made a mistake. I don't think he meant to hurt your feelings, but I think he was wrong to give you a ring that cost less than $21.

I would sit him down and say, "I'm so touched that you gave me this ring, but it is not what I had in mind. It's important to me that I look down at my hand for the rest of my life and feel nothing but love and joy and gratitude for this bond that we have, and this ring makes me feel bad."

It matters that you love the ring, and I think you just need to have that complicated, painful conversation with him. He may be defensive or hurt, but ultimately, I think you guys will come out the other side of it with an understanding.

Then you can go out together and get the ring you want at the budget that feels right to you. And you can use this as one of the many times in your marriage that you are going to have to have difficult conversations where one of you will have to tell the other, "I'm disappointed in you."

Dear Sugars,

I am a 24-year-old man in a rather uncommon situation. I have a chosen family that began when a friend took me home for a winter break during college. Now, four years later, I consider that friend my brother, and his mother to be my mother. She has given me a place to call home and a relationship that feels like the one most of my peers have with their parents — complete with phone calls, holidays, advice and chores when I'm at home. She provides both emotional and logistical support that I don't and didn't receive from my parents of origin.

My conundrum is that my biological parents are still living. My friends and my therapists have described my relationship with them as "bizarre," "neglectful" and "emotionally abusive." They aren't willing to do any work — emotional or otherwise — to be in a relationship with me.

My parents of origin don't know that I call someone else my mother. They don't know that I call some other place my home. I am now considering going through a legal adoption process. My chosen mother is perfectly accepting of my decision either way. There are many reasons why I would like to go through with it — personal, emotional, legal, as well as logistical. The only reason I wouldn't is that I would have to notify any living biological parents of the adoption.

I'd very much like to be legally bound to my chosen family, and I don't think I'd lose anything by severing ties with my biological family. But I would be doing something very cruel to my parents of origin, even though it's not my reason for wanting to do it. I don't know if I can justify telling someone that the child they had is no longer theirs. The benefits of going through with the adoption would be excellent and sensible, especially because it would provide closure. But I've been stuck for months now on whether or not to do it. Do you have any advice for me?


Potential Adult Adoptee

Cheryl:Potential Adult Adoptee, why do you really want to do this? You say several times that there would be many benefits, but as a 24-year-old, I think those benefits would be quite limited in legal terms. At that age, parents aren't responsible for their children. If this adoption is about emotional closure, my recommendation would be to keep the legal system out of it.

Steve:You say you want this for closure, but I think it's going to open up a deep wound. I think you want to do that, because there's a part of you that's angry and disappointed at your parents for not having been the parents you wanted or deserved. I think that's what you need to mourn and reckon with.

Cheryl:So many people I know have "chosen families." None of them have been legally adopted by anyone else, and that doesn't diminish or amplify their connection. It isn't about who you belong to, but the sense of family and community that you create.

You can get more advice from the Sugars each week on Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR . Listen to the full episode to hear more questions about various dilemmas.

Have a question for the Sugars? Email dearsugarradio@gmail.com and it may be answered on a future episode.

You can also listen to Dear Sugar Radio on iTunes , Stitcher or your favorite podcast app.

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