Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Mar 12, 2012

Need help getting along with partners, relatives, coworkers... and people in general? Ask Prudence! Emily Yoffe -- a.k.a. Slate's advice columnist Dear Prudence took your questions on manners, morals and more.

Good afternoon.  Let's get to it.

Hi Prudence. My best friend, "Kris" and I are sophomores in high school. We've been best friends since grade school, and so I'm really in shock about what's happening to my friend and how she's dealing with it. Kris and I are in the same history class. There's this really awkward boy in our class names "Herman". Sometimes when the teacher goes out of the room, Herman covers his lap with his coat, puts his hands under the coat and wiggles around a bit. No one ever says anything, but they make fun of him a lot out of class. Last week, Kris confessed to me that she's pregnant. She says that when we were doing group work in class, she sat in Herman's chair, and the chair was wet, but I don't believe her. That's not even possible, is it? I think she's making this up because her parents are very religious and are going to flip out. Now I'm really confused. Should I just tell Kris I don't believe her, and that what she's saying is wrong, or should I go to the principal or counselor or someone? Kris says her parents don't know yet.

Kris needs to let go of the fantasies of Herman the sperminator and make some serious decisions, and soon, about this pregnancy.  She needs to see a doctor, tell her parents, and identify the father.  As a friend, you should  encourage her to get the medical and emotional help she needs as soon as possible.  If she won't act, then tell her you are going to tell your own parents and the school counselor because every pregnant woman needs medical care.  I suppose if this ends up being an immaculate conception, that fact should mollify her very religious parents.  I also hope Kris is not spreading the story about Herman around school about Herman spreading his seed.  It sounds as if he needs help, too, but no one should be the victim of false accusations.

Dear Prudence, My son is getting married in a few months to a smart, funny, and pretty young woman. They recently had their engagement photos taken by a professional photographer, and the photo shoot included taking a handful of "silly pics" along with the more traditional ones. The problem is that my son's future mother in law shared a couple of the silly pics with her friends on Facebook, and in turn one of her friends, as a joke, had one of the silly pics published in the local newspaper in the engagement announcements. My son is pretty upset with his mother in law to be, but not as much as I am. He says he's willing to just let it go for the sake of not getting off to a rocky start, but I'm not willing to just sit and watch while he gets pushed around. I want to teach her a lesson. How can I help my son understand that it's not a good idea to just lethis in-laws step all over him?

Last week  I had a letter about a mother-in-law who was possibly poisoning her daughter-in-law. Many people wrote in to say a few drops of Visine in food can cause unpleasant eruptions.  So maybe you can give your son a bottle of Visine to season his future mother-in-law's next meal.  That will fix her!  What you're so angry about is  some silliness that got out of hand. The bride's mother didn't send the photo to the newspaper, a so-called friend of hers did.  You may not want your son to be "pushed around" by his future in-laws, but if you don't put a lid on your own behavior, you're going to be one of those crazy mothers-in-law I get letters about.

When I was 6 my mom left and we haven't seen her since dad remarried. Now, 26 years later, my maternal uncle contacted me with the news that my mom was disabled (no other detail) and she really wanted to see me. She apparently contacted my brother a year ago but he didn't respond. He said she doesn't need any financial help, but she simply wanted to get in touch with us. Oddly, he also mentioned that she lives with her sister who is getting on in years. To me it sounded like he was suggesting there was nobody to look after her and she eventually wanted me to care for her. My aunt on dad's side thinks I should meet her at least once. I don't think I'd even recognize her on the street. I don't really want anything to do with her, but am I being cold hearted?

If you were someone who'd wondered all these years who your mother is and why she left, then you would be feeling differently about this contact.  But for you the mystery is why now, after all these years,  she suddenly want to get in touch.  For you, and apparently your brother as well,  this is a mystery best left unsolved.  You are not cold-hearted to want to keep your life as it is without unearthing what must have been very traumatic memories.  Your aunt expressed her opinion about what you should do, but you disagree.  Declining contact is a perfectly reasonable response and one you don't have to explain or defend.

My dad's girlfriend proclaims she hates/is allergic to kids on Facebook. When my brother and I spend the night at their house (every weekend) she stays in the bedroom until we go to bed. She complains that my little brother, ten, only plays video games. But she rejects his frequent requests to read or do a puzzle. She also turns down my invites to go for a walk or to a museum. My dad says he respects her right to not want kids. I'm sixteen and very protective of my brother. I don't feel we're welcome in our dad's home anymore. We love him, but I'm so scared he's chosen her over us. Mom doesn't know, because she'd flip. She married a man who loves us. I don't know what to do and feel so lost.

I will never understand how divorced parents choose new partners who behave appallingly to their kids.  There's nothing that should kill love, or even lust, faster than seeing your children being mistreated.  Unfortunately, this is a choice your father has made.  You must tell your mother what's going on.  Show her the girlfriend's FB page, explain that the girlfriend won't come out of her room while you are there and the atmosphere is poisonous.  Yes, this will create turmoil, unfortunately, but if your father can't step up and create a welcoming home for you two, another adult needs to take action.

My new roommate comes from Mississippi. The first thing she hung up when she moved into our dorm room was a large Confederate flag. I am not African American but I told her that, given its historical connotations, her flag makes me uncomfortable. She assured me she abhors slavery but that her flag is a symbol of her southern pride. I want to respect her right to make our room feel like home, but I can't make my peace with the flag. We don't go to school in the south, so many of my friends (of a variety of racial backgrounds) have judged her harshly. I don't want to be associated with the flag. Other than the flag, she's a pretty decent roommate. What should I do, short of going into RA-supervised mediation? Am I being too PC? I just don't get what it symbolizes.

There are many ways to feel pride in your home state, but I agree hanging a symbol of the Confederacy in a room you share with someone else is not one of them.  Tell your roommate that the flag reflects on both of you and that it's harming your relationships with other people.  If she won't take it down, then you should take it up the ladder.  You shouldn't have to look at flag on your own wall that makes you shudder.

Prudence, In an effort to spice things up a bit in the bedroom, my husband of 20 years has recently requested that I start wearing diapers around the house. I quickly said NO and left it at that, but he keeps pursuing. I am wavering now, and considering it, but not sure if I'm going crazy. Is this nuts? Is he nuts?

Think of what this will do for the sale of Depends if it turns out this is the secret to spicing up a long marriage!  Wearing diapers or seeing others wear them is one of the harder-to-comprehend fetishes. Either your husband should have let you in the fact that this turns him on 20 plus years ago, or he should have never let you in on it.  I can't tell if you are actually considering doing it because you want to please him, or because you are feeling pressured,  or because it will decrease the need to clean the bathroom. Unless this is something you want to freely and happily try, you need to tell your husband this is not for you.  But now that he's let you know that the idea of your losing bladder control gets him so excited he loses bladder control, you have to have a further discussion about how he has, or plans to, explore this facet of his sexuality.

I was adopted by my incredible parents days after my birth. I don't know my birth mother, but if and when I time comes that I want to find her, my parents have told me they will support and help me throughout the process. I recently mentioned to a good friend's mom that I was adopted. She revealed to me (her kids know) that her parents pressured her to "adopt out" her son when she was seventeen. She asked when I planned to find my birthparents. When I told her I didn't know when or even if I would, she became distressed. She implied that my life will be incomplete, that I will suffer from mental and emotional problems, if I don't find my birth family. Her implications make me angry, because I do not feel incomplete. And my parents are amazing. I'm not sure what to do, though, because I feel for her and her situation...

You were right to feel angry.  This woman should be old enough not to dump on you her unresolved feelings about placing her child.  Some adoptees want to find their biological parents, some don't.  If you're one of the ones who doesn't want to, you should be completely confident about the health and rightness of that choice. If your friend's mother brings this up again  tell her you undertand her point of view, but you don't want to discuss it anymore.

Twice in the past year I caught my dad having sex with the same woman while my stepmother was out of town. Both times angered and confused me. My dad begged me not to tell my stepmom. I didn't know what to do. So I kept his secret. When my stepmom discovered the affair two weeks ago, my dad told her everything, including how I caught him twice. My stepmom is furious with him and now also with me. She said I have terrible morals and that she will never trust me again. She refuses to take my phone calls and has asked me to leave her alone. I am so ashamed of myself and my behavior. I love my stepmom, and I betrayed her so badly. I don't think she'll ever love me again. I cry a lot. My dad has been busy cleaning up his affair mess and hasn' had much time to talk with me either. What can I do to make my betrayal up to my stepmom?

This has become the "adults who should know better behaving badly" chat.  It's a perfectly reasonable choice to decide not to get involved in your parents' sex life.  Your father must be pretty brazen if you stumbled twice upon his extracurricular activities. But no matter how close you are with your stepmother, you weren't obligated to let her know.  He's obviously such a clumsy cheater that he was going to get caught, eventually, which he did.  Your stepmother is hurt and angry and lashing out.  If she becomes rational again she will see that knowing about his cheating a few months earlier wouldn't have made any difference.  You can send her a note saying how much you love her and what she's meant to you, but that you felt caught in an impossible situation. If she won't come around, then it's truly sad you have to suffer because the adults in your life won't behave like grown ups.

I am getting married to a divorced father next weekend. We live very close to his ex-wife, who remains my fiance's good friend. I really enjoy the mother of my stepchildren, but I'm not sure how to handle a recent "confession" she made to me. My fiance cheated on her, which ultimately led to the disintegration of their marriage. He also watched porn during their marriage and had some serious kinks. She told me all of this because she wanted me to go into our marriage "knowing everything." I was too embarrassed in the moment to tell her that not only did I already know all of that - I supported the latter two habits. I don't know if I should follow up with her or tell my fiance. Help!?!

If you like wearing diapers, then you've found the perfect man! Since you and the ex know and enjoy each other it sounds as if she's not acting out of malice but because she doesn't want to see this new marriage collapse because her ex-husband wasn't honest with you.  Fortunately, he was honest with you.  Whether to tell your fiance depends on how you read the situation.  If he'd laugh it off, fine. If he'd blow up and it would make everything uncomfortable between the three of you, I don't think you're obligated to tell.  Since you will be co-parenting children together with the ex, you probably do need to at least acknowledge the conversation.  You can say, "About our talk last week. I want to reassure you that nothing you said came as a surprise."  Then move on to more appropriate topics like where Freddy, Jr. left his math homework.

I wrote into this column about 4 weeks ago because I am adopted and my biological mother reached our to me via attorney to see if I wanted to set up a meeting. I could not decide if I wanted to, but thanks to this column, I gained the confidence to make a decision I was really happy with. I set my birth mother a "bio" of me -- notable dates, achievements, life plans so that she would have a sense of what I am doing. This way, she got closure but I didn't have to meet her and put myself through unwanted meetings and emotions.

Thank you so much for writing back! I wish I heard from more letter writers about how things turned out. This sounds like a compassionate response to your biological mother and an excellent decision for you.  I'm glad to hear it. 

Prudie, Since the Visine trick has come up again, please inform your readers that Visine, ingested, is not something that causes mild diarrhea, but can cause serious illness and death. You can check this on Snopes. -Worried

If anyone thinks I am advocating Visine, or any other poison, in the food of one's nasty relatives, I am not.  Thanks for the clarification.

The most intolerant folks on earth are the ones that preach tolerance. If she wants to show she is TRULY "pc" that she needs to allow her roommate to be herself. Part of rooming with folks in college is learning to put up with stuff you wouldn't do yourself.

It is pushing the definition of tolerance to its limits that in order to learn how to get along with people with different viewpoints, you have to live with a noxious symbol.  The flag is impinging on the letter writer's ability to have comfortable relations with her other classmates.  Being proud of being from Mississippi should not mean  someone to forces her roommate to condone a Confederate flag on the wall of her room. The flag needs to come down.

I do not love my adopted daughter as much as my biological children. My wife and I adopted our daughter four months ago. I have two biological children from my first marriage. I felt an overwhelming love for them from the moment I first laid eyes on them. I do not feel that visceral connection, that primal adoration, with my adopted daughter. My wife is herself adopted and adores our little girl. I, in turn, adore my wife. I'm terrified she'll leave me or hate me if I'm honest about my feelings. I am ashamed and disgusted by how I feel, too. I do love my adopted daughter, and I would gladly die for her. But I know my experiences with and feelings for my biological children were much different. I never anticipated this problem. What should I do?

Be glad you are able to be this honest with yourself and are mature enough to recogize your feelings and wonder what to do about them.  I think what you've written sounds perfectly normal.  Four months is a relatively short time.  You already love your little girl enough to say you'd die for her -- so that's a lot!  This sounds like the kind of thing that you could explore in an on-line support group.  I'm sure you'll be swamped with responses from people saying they felt the same way, and you should just hang in there.  That should make you feel better about yourself -- there's no reason to be disgusted by what you're experiencing. While I believe in honesty in a marriage, I don't think marriage requires we take everything that's in our heads and share it with our partner.  If a support group, and time, don't solve this problem, then talk it out in short-term therapy.  You love all your kids, so don't beat yourself up that you don't love them precisely the same way.

Two months ago I gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. They are healthy and thriving, but I had major complications that kept me in the hospital another 12 days, so you know they were serious. My husband and I had agreed on names, e.g., "Karen" and "Kevin." However, while I was completely out of it, he put different names on the birth certificates, e.g., "Brian Mark" and "Brenda Marie." Since our last name starts with W, their initials are now BMW! I only realized this shortly before I was discharged, when the nurses asked me why I was not calling them by their right names. I am furious beyond belief at this, but my husband insists it's no big deal, says people think it is "cute" and in time I will, too. Trust me, I am now a BMW-type person! It turns out that changing their names legally is a big hairy mess. I'm so angry I'm about ready to divorce him and take the children with me. I'm independently wealthy so can afford to do this. What do you think?

I can understand your distress, but it's odd to think this the first stunt your husband has pulled during the course of your marriage.  You just had twins, so before rushing to court to dissolve your union, step back, try to put this perspective, and tell your husband you two have to give your kids names your both happy with. It sounds as if your children are actually Karen and Kevin, except on paper. So  explain to your husband his unilateral action requires his unilateral fix -- you're a little busy caring for twins.  Please don't rip your family apart before you've even had time to physically heal.

Dear Prudie, My brother recently purchased a house and is having a housewarming party in a few weeks. Last weekend, my boyfriend of 2 years proposed to me on a date that was significant to us. I happily accepted. When I called my parents to tell them my news, my mother asked me to refrain from telling the rest of our family about the engagement until after my brother's housewarming party. She said that announcing this before or at the party would draw attention away from my brother and that is poor form, particularly since I will be having showers and a wedding in the future. I agree with her that announcing it at the party is inappropriate, but I would like to call my relatives and tell them before the party. My fiance and I do not want to steal attention from my brother's day, but we also do not think we should have to keep our engagement under wraps. Is this the sort of thing that is not worth an argument and possible hurt feelings? Or should my brother just deal with the fact that I am engaged now, regardless of his party? I don't want to be one of those horrible brides I read about in this column, but I also don't want to keep my mouth shut when people ask "So what's new with you?"

Please don't tell me that ever since he was a little boy your brother has dreamed of the day he would own his own home and has been saving pictures of the perfect powder room for decades.  I hope we are not now entering the land of the homeownerzilla.  I assume your mother for some reason is being overly protective of your brother -- only you know that backstory. But you don't have to keep your happy announcement a secret until all your brothers trivets have been unwrapped.  You're engaged -- start spreading the news.

The flag is impinging on the letter writer's ability to have comfortable relations with her other classmates. *************** If you take a closer look at LW's letter, she says the classmates are commenting on her roommate, not LW. And maybe you don't realize, but there is Confederate imagery in the state flag of Mississippi, so would the roommate not be allowed to have that up either?

And there will be people who come in and don't say anything but think both these students like the Confederate flag.  I'm surprised by the number of commenters who are saying the girl with the flag objection should be the one to compromise, and that the flag could prompt many fascinating discussions.  I wouldn't want a big Confederate flag in my room, period.  I don't care how many fascinating conversations about the Civil War, civil rights, or political correctness it might spark.

I hope it's not sacrilegious to mention another advice columnist here...But Dan Savage is the father of an adopted son. He wrote frankly about how he didn't feel an instant connection with his child while his partner Terry did. I'm fairly certain there's a 'This American Life' episode in which Savage talks about this. Sometimes connecting with an adopted child takes time.

That's very helpful, and the adoptive father should definitely read and listen to what Dan has to say.  (Dan and I sometimes agree, and sometimes disagree. But I was amused to read he was annoyed that the gay incestuous twins wrote to me!)

I'm an adoptive mom. My husband didn't have kids before we married, but he didn't connect instantly with our first son either. It took time and patience, but eventually he came to love our baby boy "more than life itself." My husband was honest with me about his feelings. Knowing about them helped me to help him bond with our son. The wife can be his greatest ally in finding support while bonding with his daughter.

This is a good point, but it's a little more complicated to say, "I'm not feeling the same way about our child as I did about my biological children."  Of course he should be able to explore his feelings with his wife. But if he accepts his feelings are completely normal, he might stop feeling shame and digust and the issue will evaporate.

Goodness! To my knowledge, all colleges allow you to switch rooms within the first few weeks if there is a problem. But since it's March, how can this be a new problem? She has about 6 weeks left with this roommate and then never has to olive with her again.

Now there's a good point!

And there's no time left in this chat. Thanks, everyone.

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Emily Yoffe
Emily Yoffe -- a.k.a. Slate's advice columnist Dear Prudence, offers advice on manners, morals and more. She is also Slate's Human Guinea Pig, a contributor to the XX Factor blog, and the author of What the Dog Did: Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner.

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