Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Feb 03, 2014

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 takes your questions on manners, morals and more.

Okay, so the Super Bowl itself was a bust, but I am now the president of the Bruno Mars fan club!

My wife and I have a female-led relationship. Before we got married, I agreed that she could "take other lovers", while I would remain faithful to her alone. She said that she might not ever see anyone else, but she liked that I knew she *could*. Well, now she's pregnant, and I'm wondering the obvious. We do have intercourse, but not often. She was away on business near the time she would have conceived. I don't know whether she's ever had another lover. I could have asked that before, but now I'm afraid of how it would come across. Should I ask, or just wait to see if the baby looks like me?

Thank you for informing me of the phrase "female-led relationship." From reading the definition, I see that it doesn't necessarily mean that the wife take lovers while the husband is home making soup. It just means she is in charge. (Hear that, Darling, it's not me being intolerably bossy, it's a lifestyle!)  In an earlier day, writer John Mortimer delightfully appropriated the term, She Who Must Be Obeyed, to describe this sort of relationship in Rumpole of the Bailey.  But just because you agreed your wife would  set the terms of both her behavior and yours doesn't mean you are not now entitled to rethink things. If you say you want to talk about the pregnancy and the child's possible paternity and she orders you into the dungeon, then you two are suffering from a failure to communicate. One of the basics of embarking on parenthood is knowing how the event came to be.  If you're afraid to ask, then you need to rethink what it means to raise a child together not as equal partners.  I assume you don't want your offspring to think of dad as a timid, quivering wreck. If you don't have the guts to discuss this up with your wife, then maybe you can pass her a note saying you'd like the engage the services of a marriage counselor so that you have a safe place to talk to her.

My daughter is getting married soon. She wants to ask guests to pay for their meals in lieu of gifts. I have never heard of such a thing in all my years, and this seems outright tacky to me. She says there's nothing wrong with "just asking" and apparently her friends have made similar requests, like contributions for honeymoon and cash gifts. There are some relatives coming as well and I'd be very embarrassed if my daughter were to make such a request. Am I being old fashioned or is this completely outrageous?

If only the former governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen had thought of this as a way to pay for the catering for their daughter's wedding. Then they might not have been indicted on criminal charges! Does your daughter take PayPal? She certainly wants to make underwriting the wedding as easy as possible for her guests. Also she should clarify for them if payment is due upon sending in their RSVP, or if the waiters will come around with the check at the end of the celebration.  Yes, your daughter is being completely outrageous. Unfortunately, I promise you she is not at the vanguard of expecting one's friends and loved ones to pay for her special occasion. As the example of the McDonnells proves, much heartache can be avoided by living within one's means. If your daughter can't pay for a fancy dinner, then the reception should be a buffet of something she and her fiance can afford. Or they should make the celebration a dance party with passed hors d'oeuvres. Your daughter is starting out a new phase of her life, so urge her begin without expecting those she loves to underwrite it.

I live in a fairly large apartment building, and we have an unattended mailroom, in which carriers routinely leave packages for residents to pick up. One of our (former?) neighbors in the building whom I do not know ordered a high quality pair of shoes, easily worth several hundred dollars. The shoes were packaged in well-marked box and left by UPS in the mailroom. Although some folks had long-ago opened the box to investigate, six months after delivery, nobody has taken the shoes. The shoes are very nice, and, did I mention that they fit perfectly? I figure I have four choices: I could make the effort to take the shoes to one of the shipper's retail outlets, I could pay to ship them back, I could consign them to the mailroom for all eternity, or I could keep them. Can you offer some guidance and possibly some rationalization? 

I think you should call the local TV station and have a crew come to your mailroom to record this example of the world's most honest apartment building. The Tale of the Abandoned Choos would become a fable for our time. I can think of a fifth option, which seems pretty obvious. Go to the management of the building, say this tenant -- either current or former -- never received her shoes. If she's moved on, you hope they have her forwarding information so that the shoes end up in the right place.  I'm guessing that given the time that has passed, the tenant is no longer in residence and either forgot about the order during the business of moving, or thought it never arrived and got reimbursed. If management does not have the information, since the shoes are tantalizing you and driving you crazy, then take it upon yourself to do some detective work. You have the order number, so contact the shipper and simply ask what you should do.  If they want the shoes back, they should send you a free shipping receipt and you can arrange for UPS to pick them up. If they say too much time has passed and they've written off this order, then you've just gotten a pair of shoes that fit, Cinderella.

Dear Prudence, I have a bad habit of nagging people and being overly particular about things, and I have come to realize over time how annoying this is to other people, so I have tried to hold my tongue more often and go along with the flow. This works well enough in casual social situations, but in my relationship, I find myself becoming annoyed with my boyfriend for not doing little things like better planning out how long it will take to prepare a meal, or keeping his apartment tidier) even though I haven't asked him to do them for fear of coming off as a nag. (He welcomes my planning acumen on specific tasks, like planning the details of a vacation, but I fear backlash if I start to micro-manage his life.) How can I frame my guidance on these sorts of things to him in a constructive way that won't leave me resenting him for his lack of psychic powers, but also won't him feeling henpecked?

Forget worrying about him being hen-pecked, just announce you two are in a female-led relationship! Good for you for recognizing you can be a very annoying person. I understand that it takes some effort to control this in more casual situations, so you have a deep psychic need to just be yourself in your most intimate relationship -- and that means making sure everything is exactly to your specifications. But you must recognize this quality is going to end up torpedoing your most intimate relationships. Try to sort out and order the things that bother you. If you are the kind of person who plans everything out with military precision, and he's a person who likes to act at the last minute, you two may be fundamentally incompatible. Talk to him about your different styles and how you can accomodate each other. Confess how you sometimes have difficulty reigning in your micromanaging. Forget about things that are none of your business -- the quality of his housekeeping being one. But if you can see now that everything he does sends you around the bend, you have more work to do on yourself.

At my office today everyone is talking about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman and how great of an actor he was. I made that the comment that while he was talented, he was also a junkie who just left three children without a father. I am now getting the cold shoulder from many colleagues. If he hadn't have been famous many others would be also be critical of the situation. How do I mend the fences and find some middle ground within the office?

Everyone who loves great acting, who has been moved, thrilled, and chilled by a Philip Seymour Hoffman performance is mourning his tragic passing. Yes, it was due to the fact that he could not overcome his addiction. But fortunately, society is moving to a place where we recognize this is a terrible illness, one that needs treatment and compassion. That doesn't mean one simply excuses the terrible things that addicts can do; part of treatment is accepting responsibility for one's actions. But if Hoffman had been a colleague of yours who had been struggling with addiction, I doubt many of your co-workers would have agreed with your,  "Hey, what do you expect -- he was junkie" remark.  I think you should reconsider what you said and tell people you feel terrible for being so harsh. Say you know he openly struggled with his demons, sought treatment, and you truly feel sorrow that he couldn't overcome them.

I actually think that is an ingenious and quirky way to have a kind of "self sufficient" wedding. Especially since the payment of the meal is probably FAR less than the standard cost of a wedding gift, which the bride and groom have, unmaterialistically, said they don't want. Plus in this scenario, the person shelling out the money towards the wedding actually gets something in return, albeit slightly cold roast chicken and sad veggies. As long as this request is worded carefully with some acknowledgment of how strange it may seem to older, more traditional guests I say go for it and I'm impressed by the ingenuity of creating a happy, inclusive occasion to celebrate their marriage with all the people who want, and expect, to be invited.

No. Gifts are optional. This is charging admission to be a guest. If you can't afford to put on the wedding of your dreams, then you wake up and put on the wedding you can afford.

My son and his wife always wanted children, but they kept delaying child bearing each year because of varius reasons. I was so disappointed because I knew they were ready for kids and would make excellent parents. When they stayed at my house for a few weeks during their home renovation, I found some condoms in their room and decided to poke hole into a few of them. I didn't seriously think it would result in a pregnancy, but it did. They were happy, I was happy, and as I predicted, they are now wonderful parents. I do wonder, though, whether I should come clean about the circumstances of my grandson's conception. I feel a little guilty, even though it's resulted in such a happy outcome. On the other hand, maybe it wasn't even the holey condoms, maybe they just forgot to use it one night. Should I confess?

You say you poked holes in the condoms, Grandma, but I'm going to poke holes in your story. I think that this young couple would have noticed when they went for a condom that the wrapper had been ripped open. I doubt they would have concluded, "How thoughtful of Trojan to pre-open the condoms to save us time while in the throes of passion." At least you didn't say that you picked a used condom out of the trash, put Ambien in the couple's dessert one night, then used a turkey baster to inseminate your daughter-in-law.  I rarely get questions I think are fake, and when I do I discard them. But here's an example of one I'm not buying.

Dear Prudence: I'm a military spouse whose husband is about to complete his eighth deployment. This morning, I woke up to about nine e-mails/facebook messages of friends and family sending me a link to the "homecoming" Budweiser commercial that aired on TV during the Superbowl last night. This is the most glaring example yet of a pattern of people sending me links to EVERY homecoming story/video/picture that they come across and/or inquiring about what "epic plans" I have for my husband's return. For the record, having been through this process on multiple occasions and knowing how difficult re-integrations can be, I think "surprise" homecomings are awful and can't imagine how hard they are on families, especially children. I have tried to respond graciously in the past, but it is starting to get on my nerves. I don't think that the stories and ads are sweet and patriotic. I think that they are exploitative and insincere: that Americans post these feel good snippets so that they can feel like they are doing something to "support the troops" while they ignore/allow involuntary drawdowns, untreated PTSD, family violence, VA backlogs and all the other unpleasant realities that happen after the ticker tape parades are over. I know, of course, that my friends and family mean well and I don't want to upset them by unleashing this rant, but it gets harder and harder to bite my tongue. Can you suggest a firm but gentle way to request that the onslaught cease? -Counting down to 20

Thank you for this important statement.  I have written about the effect of surprise homecomings on the children of deployed service people, and I agree that they are not a good idea. The kind of celebration portrayed in the Bud commercial was not a surprise for the kids. But you raise really important points about an  epic homecoming. I'm sure there are people who have appreciated this outpouring, just as there are those for whom it would be a strain. You also make the larger point that a few hours of hugs and balloons make the celebrants feel good, but do not deal with the physical and psychological struggles of those who may have been deployed many times and endured terrible things.  What you've said here -- tempered just a little -- is a good place to start in responding to well-meaning people. You can say your husband is coming home for the eight time. Explain that a parade and hoopla is not what he needs. Then if there is something real people can do: bring meals, help with the kids while he acclimates, say so. You can explain a lot of military families feel pressure to have a big celebration, when what really is needed is a chance for quiet reintegration and a support system, because serving in a war zone comes at a high cost.

I agree that the condom question is probably fake...but I don't think, in the throes of passion, that I would notice a pin hole in the wrapper!

Your insight show how bad I'd be at this kind of insemination game. Of course, the now-grandmother would have  just have pierced the package and not actually opened it!  My goodness, what if this is for for real? In that case, Grandma, keep forever to yourself that you briefly ran a successful fertility clinic from your own home.

A few days before Thanksgiving, my nephew succumbed to his addiction to heroin. A wonderful, intelligent, warm, outgoing, friendly 18 year old. I can tell you what would happen if I heard any of my coworkers react like that person.... and it wouldn't be pretty. The fact that Hoffman stopped using over 20 years ago and then fairly recently resumed shows that the fight against addiction is never won, it is just sometimes managed. Every single day is a fight.

I'm so sorry for your loss. At least as a society we are finally starting to move away from the punishment and criminalization model of dealing with addiction. You are right, it is something people must deal with for a lifetime. I hope we will continue to develop better means of treatment.

Prudie, My mother is a 52 year old Rx addict. As a family, we have tried talking to her, rehab, hospital stays, you name it. She agreed to rehab only to get there and manipulate and bully her mom to come get her. Long story short, she got her way. I was raised by my grandmother, so she's the only mom I've ever known. Yet now, she's chosen to take on my mother and let her live with her, and life go back to just as it was. Mom's seeking drugs again and lashing out at grandmother for even talking to me. I've come to a point where it's not even a battle worth fighting. I called for commitment, mom gets out, I've called for adult protective services, no investigation since grandmother is a willing participant (and the enabler to these actions). My question to you is, how do I move forward from here? I'm losing my grandmother because of my mother. I don't want to let go, but our relationship isn't the same now. The only person who was supposed to take care of me turned her back on me and is now taking the only mom I've ever known away. I've got a wonderful husband and his family is great- but still, dealing with the aftermath of mother being gone and her choices means my grandmother made choices to still support and enable my mother and drive a great divide between us. How can I move past this and keep my life in balance?

Your situation is an example of the damage addicts can do to those around them. Compassion for addiction is, as I've said, not a free pass. I'm wondering if there is some kind of intervention you can do for your grandmother. That is, whether you can try adult protective services again, explain the abuse is escalating, and at least get a social worker to come with you and talk to your grandmother -- away from your mother -- about the cost to her of enabling her daughter.  You can make clear to your grandmother that you understand she wants to help your mother, but that she isn't. You can say that as long as your mother is using drugs, you have to step away from this situation, and that it is agony for you to see your grandmother caught in the middle of this terrible cycle. Whatever happens, please seek a support group or an individual therapist. You need help for dealing with having never having had a mother, and now the pain you feel over the loss of your relationship with your grandmother.

Recently, I was on a well known website and found out that my mother was married the first time many years before she married my Dad. It obvious to me that she never ever wanted me to know about it (I have no siblings) and it now explains why she evaded certain questions during her lifetime - missing pages in the photograph album for one. The man she married apparently was a fine gentleman - I actually got in touch with one of his distant descendants. I am dying to know what happened to this relationship. Most of her friends and all of my family of her generation are long gone, but a few remain that might know about this. However, they might not and by asking about it I'm sharing her secret. A friend has suggested it isn't right to betray my mother by asking, is it?

It's really too bad your mother was never able to tell you herself. Maybe husband number one wasn't such a fine gentleman. Maybe your mother wasn't such a fine wife to him. In any case, as you've discovered, it's better for the person to tell their life story while they have a chance,  instead of leaving some big mysteries for loved ones to ponder. I disagree with your friend. You are simply trying to understand your mother's life better.  If you inquire in a respectful way, those who knew your mother back them might be relieved to finally get to tell the story to the person who will love her memory no matter what is revealed.

You're letting her off pretty easy. If her story is true, it's an incredible breach of trust, something so heinous that she should run, not walk to counseling.

Yes, it's totally appalling. Let me state unequivocally that grandma should stay away from the couple's birth control even if in a year or so she starts thinking it's time for a sibling.

I just found out that for the past three years, a co-worker has been sabotaging my career for her own personal advancement, mainly by telling lies about me and by withholding important information that would allow me to do my work more effectively. She is now being promoted to a bigger position outside of our group, but within the company. I have hard evidence that she has broken several major company policies along the way and am considering taking it to HR. However, I'm worried about potential blowback. I'm also interviewing for another job outside of our company, but don't yet have an offer. If I'm leaving the company, should I take it to HR as a nice parting gift as I leave? If I don't get the job, should I take it to HR with the potential consequences? Or should I just count my blessings that she won't have me to kick around anymore? -Fed up

If this new job doesn't come through, then keep looking. I wish it were the case that if someone knows of a perfidious, manipulative co-worker, management would like to be informed so they can then take appropriate action. But since you mention possible blowback, you yourself know that isn't necessarily the case. The co-worker is being rewarded for her actions. She may have tainted you. This means that your presenting your evidence could end up hurting you, as unfair as that is. While you're looking, be glad that she's out of your immediate circle. This is a great opportunity to show just how capable you are, and things may get a lot better at work. If you do end up leaving, simply say how much you enjoyed your opportunities at the company.

My Mother-in-law has complained about her weight since I've known her despite being petite, however prior to my meeting her son she was overweight so I can see where this could come from. Her weight gain/loss is a topic of conversation that comes up every time we see her, which is frequent. I'm currently six months pregnant and made the mistake of calling myself fat (I'm not) to my husband in front of our almost three year old, which resulted in our daughter telling everyone she met for 2 days about how fat she was. I've learned my lesson, but I'm now worried about the body image my mother in law is presenting to my daughter. I try not to censor what people say to my daughter, unless its abusive, profanity, etc; and am unsure of how to broach this topic with my MIL, of if I should even bring it up. My MIL is an overly sensitive person who is overly sensitive about her weight.

As is usual with cases like this, I think it's better for the biological relative to broach sensitive topics with in-laws. Your son can tell his mother that he knows she struggles with her weight -- and he is proud of well she is doing! But that kids are really impressionable and you particularly don't want your daughter hearing a lot of negative talk about body image. He can tell the anecdote about your 3 year-old and how that was a warning signal for all of you. Your mother-in-law will probably never be perfect in this regard, but let's hope she finds it liberating to not talk about her weight while enjoying being a grandmother.

Thank you all. I appreciate the chance to talk about the loss of the great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Perhaps his death will prompt some important discussion about addiction and the dangers of relapse.

In This Chat
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.

Read previous Prudie chats

Like Dear Prudence on Facebook
Recent Chats
  • Next: