Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Jul 11, 2011

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 your questions.

Dear Prudence, I married my ex-husband when I was 21. Early on, we took Playboy-style pictures and saved them as slides. We divorced years ago and he kept the slides. I recently asked for our joint slides to digitize the pictures of our foreign travels. I found the old nudie pics in the slide boxes he happily sent me. I do not feel comfortable with sending these slides back to him. I want to burn them. Do I need to warn him before I destroy these slides? I have no reason to believe he would share them after all this time, but with the ease with which pictures travel the internet, I do not want them going public. Your opinion please.

It sounds as if you are on good terms with your ex, so I think you should be honest and say while you were looking at your old photos of your trips to the Tetica de Bacares  mountains in Spain and the Grand Tetons out west, you came upon some photos reminiscent of those sites you'd both forgotten about. Tell him now that you've stumbled upon your old photo shoot,  you want to hang onto this evidence of a fitter time.  You have a strong case since you're now actually in possession of the photos and they're images of you. He'd be hard-pressed to make the case that he owns them;  surely he's not going to try to re-open  your divorce settlement over this.

But don't burn them! If you looked good enough to be an amateur Playmate, why destroy the evidence? Everyone is entitled to an envelope of sexy pictures stuck in the sock drawer.  When someday you're clearing everything out for the move to the retirement community, how nice it will be to find these again and think, "Irrefutable evidence that I was hot!"

I'm a recent college grad in my first job, and I plan on staying on my parent's health insurance; it costs me $300-400 per year to be with them, and my employer's plan is $300-400 per month. I'm saving the company quite a bit of money but they're only reimbursing me the amount I pay, not the amount they would spend to cover me. Is this an appropriate thing to bring up my to HR person, confidante at work, boss?

If I understand correctly your employer is reimbursing you for the small amount of money you're paying to get health coverage elsewhere. But you would like them to write you a big, fat check for the money they would be out, but actually aren't, if you decided to join their program.  Maybe when you have this conversation you could also say that by not having children yet, you are not taking family leave to care for them, so they should give you extra vacation time to make up for this.  Alternately, you could conclude that given the number of people with no jobs and no health care coverage, you are in a sweet situation, your employer is in no way exploiting you, and that this is the definition of a non-problem.

The father of my son was convicted of various violent offenses and is now in prison. He has never made contact with us and I do not plan on contacting him. My son is now four and I've explained to him in simple terms that his daddy is alive but far away and can't see us. I plan on telling him about his father gradually and age-appropriately until he is old enough to understand the full story. But with the plethora of information available on the Internet I am worried that my son will look up his father's name out of curiosity and come across disturbing articles. I have a 9 year old nephew who is a whizz on the computer and I have nightmares about the kind of things my son might come across. There is plenty of information about his father, as well as graphic videos, on the world wide web. I know it's unrealistic for me to prevent my son from using the computer altogether without my supervision until he turns 18. What, if anything, can I do about this? Thank you.

You say you are wisely planning to add to the information your son has about his father over time and in an age-appropriate way. That means you cannot keep from him until he is 18 that his father is a violent offender.  This is a very painful piece of news, and you're right not to want to dump it on him too young, but long before your son turns 18, you'll have to explain that his father is a troubled man and that sadly he is in jail for bad things he did.  Many parents who have difficult news to convey worry that they will be forced to tell their children everything at one sitting. But if you son feels the subject of his father is not taboo, you will be better able to say, "If you want to talk now about why your dad is in jail, I will. But if it's okay with you, I think it would be better to talk more about this when you're a little older."

Do keep in mind during these discussions to also express to your son that no one is all bad or all good, and there were some good qualities in this man that made you choose him.   It might also be helpful for you, and your son, to find a support group for people dealing with children and incarcerated parents.

Prudie, I stopped using my non-profit's health care plan, and they reimburse me the cost that they would be paying for me were I still using it. So - I don't think the poster's question is that far-fetched. Health care is a benefit that should still be extended to people not choosing to use it. Thanks.

Half the responses say I was too nice to "this entitled ninny" and half, like you, say there's money she's leaving on the table.  Your letter makes the world of employee benefits appear even more impenetrable.  A non-profit (!) has an employee who has chosen to get health coverage elsewhere, so they give her money for the benefits she's declined? Amazing.  Given this new knowledge, the young employee should go to the person who oversees benefits at her company and ask very straightforwardly what the company policy is in a case like hers.  If the policy is not to pay for benefits not received, then forget about it.

Dear Prudence, My husband has a sometimes habit of putting his dinner knife in his mouth, closing his lips around it and then pulling it out of his mouth. It seems to me that this is not good table etiquette for dining out, but I don't want to call attention to it if I'm off here. Is this improper table etiquette or not? Thanks for your advice.

Does he lick the soup bowl, too? You're right that putting the knife in your mouth is not good table manners. It's too bad he didn't cut his tongue in boyhood to cure him of this habit.  You don't want to mention this when you're out. But at a more neutral time you can say, "Honey, you're probably not even aware of this, but sometimes when we're at restaurants you lick the knife. It may sound silly, but that's something you're not supposed to do at the table."

I was a nice, normal kid who grew up into a nice, normal adult. But I wonder if that would have happened if my nice, normal kid self had found nudie photos of my mom on one of my somewhat-regular snooping journeys into her dresser. Burn 'em. Kids will find anything. Besides, I'm guessing her current husband might wonder why she keeps them.

If you're snooping in your parents' dresser to find scandalous stuff, you deserve to come upon Mom's nudie photos.  And I doubt it would have affected your buddy psyche to have found irrefutable evidence that when you snoop, you might discover Mom is hot.

My wonderful, sweet, loving boyfriend and I have been together for about 7 months now, and we are mostly very happy. There is just one problem, and it seems pretty big: he has terrible memory. I often have to remind him of details about events we attended together, because he simply can't remember most of the things we see or hear together - including arguments and why we have them. It irks me that he can remember the details of almost every sport he watches (including hockey, baseball, basketball, etc.), but cannot remember what we argued about 2 days ago. This memory problem inevitably leads to MORE arguments, when either he gets frustrated about me referring to things that he doesn't remember, or when I lose my patience at having to explain every single event over again. He is in no way a stupid guy, but this memory problem causes him to be so slow! I know I have a bit of a lack of patience, which is a problem I'm working on, but is there any way to make his memory better? Or are my short temper and his (lack of) memory doomed?

You make such a compelling case for wanting to improve your boyfriend's memory: because you enjoy rehashing  the details of every disagreement, and it's impossible to do when he's oblivious to why you're so mad at him.  I don't know if your "wonderful, sweet, loving boyfriend" has some neurological quirk which makes it difficult for him to remember personal interactions, but easy for him to remember sports statistics.  But if your incentive for him to seek to improve his memory is so that he can recall all the nasty things you said to him, I think you need to go to some basic psychology textbooks and look up "operant conditioning."  It could also be argued that one secret to a successful relationship is a poor memory for your partner's misdeeds.  You've been with this guy for 7 months. Unless these memory problems are causing him difficulties in the workplace or other aspects of his life, you just have to accept he knows everything about Derek Jeter's career, and nothing about what pissed you off so royally last month.  If that makes you want to walk, start moving.

As silly as it sounds, when we found the racy loveletter from my uptight dad and prudish mom, written during the 1950s BEFORE THEY WERE MARRIED ("I can't wait to make love to you again!!!") when we were in high school, it actually gave my parents, and their love, a whole new dimension. Now, granted they weren't that graphic - but it humanized them. And yes, we deserved what we got for snooping. I didn't need to know some of the naughtier parts...

It is funny that people get shocked by stumbling upon evidence that their parents enjoyed sex -- their own existence would seem to speak to this probability.  Good for you for enjoying the new understanding these letters gave you.

My husband's father left his family while my mother-in-law was pregnant. Despite years of pleading he didn't bother to make contact with my husband as he was growing up. My husband eventually graduated college on full scholarship and made a big name for himself in his field. He recently appeared in the local newspaper about an achievement he made in his work, and the article briefly mentioned his financial success. Then out of nowhere his father appeared, suddenly repentant about his past and full of charm. My husband is enthusiastic at finally getting to know his dad and spends a lot of time with him. During the past few weeks it emerged that his father filed for bankruptcy in the past and his business is barely profiting. I am suspicious that he has emerged as an attempt to financially benefit from a rich son. My husband takes his father to expensive restaurants and showers him with gifts as if making up for lost time. My MIL confided that her ex-husband was the type of person who would borrow money to buy and flaunt extravagant watches and suits as it makes him feel important. I do not have the heart to advise caution as my husband is overwhelmingly grateful for his father's sudden affection. What can I say to him? Worried Wife.

You're his wife, so I hope you've had some conversations about how it feels to your husband to have his father suddenly reemerge in his life. You need to be both a sounding board and reality check -- understanding that this a momentous event for him, and encouraing him to go slowly emotionally, and every other way.  Sure, your husband is in thrall to having his prodigal father return. But surely it won't be too long before this man puts the touch on your husband and his real intent becomes clear.  When the request comes, you don't want to say, "I told you so," but you can help your husband sort out what have to be very complicated feelings.  You also might want to be in on a discussion of how much money your husband gives, if the request is for a substantial amount.  Sadly, it turns out that sometimes long-lost relatives are best never found. 

You are cranky today Prudie! Have you considered that the poster is frustrated (and THAT is what leads to the arguments) because the boyfriend can't remember to do a chore or an appointment they had, or fulfill an obligation he made? And that it gets extremely tiring being being the one to have to remember everything in a relationship?

To the poster: It only gets worse after you get married and have kids - he will feel like an additional child to you (and you will become resentful). Look into adult ADD. And do not do everything for him - make him responsible for himself (his appts, where his keys are, etc). Good luck!

Every week someone points out to me how cranky I am "today".  There's a pattern here and I will acknowledge that  I'm cranky every day. 

I accept this letter writer might find this boyfriend's mental deficit very frustrating.  But she puts it in terms of his not being able to remember their fights! They've only been together a few months. If he's so annoying, she should forget about fixing him and move on.

After the deaths of my grandparents, we found the old nudie pics of my grandma that my grandpa carried around during WWII. Of course, my dad was a little grossed out, but I got a kick out of how hot my grandma was. Don't throw them away! Future generations will appreciate them.

Good point that  skipping a generation may make the evidence more entertaining than disturbing

My brother and sister-in-law and I are putting together a book of pictures, letters, cards, etc for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. We sent out scrapbook pages with return envelopes to friends and family in mid-May and the anniversary is in about three weeks. We have a lovely collection from their friends and my Mom's side of the family, but essentially nothing from Dad's relatives. One of his cousin's sent an e-mail to me. I'll figure out some way to include the one relevant sentence, but that is it. I don't know how he is going to take this. Really no idea. I can't see making a joke about it when we give the book to them. I don't even know if we should say anything - like assure him that we included his sister, aunts and cousins. Or would that make it worse? My mother's side is missing a few cousins, but that is it. Is there anything you can think of that would ease the realization?

Your parents have been married for 50 years, so relatives from your mother's side of the family have been in his life for half a century. Surely the reminiscences you have include both your parents. The remarks and photos from friends are not about being from "his side" or "her side" of the family.  Do not draw any attention to the paucity of contributions from his relatives.  Happily present this wonderful book of loving memories without any caveats.

One of my dearest friends is turning a milestone year in a couple of weeks - she is a wonderful person who has had my back so many times and I love her dearly. The party that has been organized by another friend is relatively modest and the activity fits her to a tee. As embarrassing as it sounds, I still can't afford to go. I mean, I really can't afford to go and it isn't that much, really. In any other circumstance, I wouldn't have thought twice about the cost, but my life right now is not any other circumstance. How do I bow out gracefully without making it clear I'm not snubbing my friend, but at the same time not totally humiliating myself to my social circle, who are not aware of my current financial predicament? And, no, borrowing the money isn't an option - we aren't (and I am not) the type of people/person who does that.

If the party is not a surprise (it doesn't sound as if it is) talk to your friend.  If you are so close surely she knows that right now you are in dire financial straits.  Tell her you long to join everyone, but right now you're just trying to keep your utilities turned on. Tell her when things get better, you'd like to treat her to a belated birthday dinner.  And if your friend says having you at her party would be the best present she could get, and she'd like to pay your portion (which you say is a relatively small amount) let her do it!  That's what friends do for each other. If you are in tough circumstances, an outing with friends will be a tonic. Don't let a point of unnecessary pride keep you from celebrating this milestone.

Own it baby! ;)

Thanks. My husband would assure you that I do!

My boyfriend and I have an amazing relationship emotionally and sexually. Unfortunately an incident happened that has created a very awkward feeling between the two of us. I am a bit more adventurous sexually than he is, nothing crazy but I have no problem when the mood hits to go with it even if we are outside of the bedroom (as long as we are alone of course). Well such a moment happened outside in our very secluded and wooded porch. It started out great and ended horribly with him laughing because of his discomfort in the situation and both of us being upset and embarassed. My question is how to deal with this? I'm upset because he is making me feel like I've done some great wrong, can't understand why I'm embarassed, and embarassed because I now feel like he views my sexual thrills as funny. Also I don't get why if he was that uncomfortable he didn't just move us inside. This is such an awkward situation! I don't know how to have this conversation with him and resolve this tension. Please help!

A sense of humor, even about sex, can get you through a lot of awkwardness.  Don't let this become The Porch Disaster We Can Never Mention.  Say something like, "Hey, you know what would really turn me on tonight? If we spray ourselves with DEET and do it in the front lawn!" Every couple willing to experiment is going to find that sometimes trying Geese Flying Backward results not in thrills but a twisted knee.  If you can laugh it off, you're better able to try, try again.

My husband is also very forgetful about events. It only bothers me when I have held this really wonderful memory of a special experience we shared, and when it comes up he says "What are you talking about? I don't remember that." or "Oh. . . . right. When was that?" It can be irritating that he has no memory of special moments we have shared, especially when they are meaningful to me. So even though the LW seems to want to rehash old arguments, I think she has a point on the shared events thing. My husband and I have been together for 8 years now, so I have pretty much accepted it as a quirk that I have to remind him of 'our' wonderful memories (but I do keep good photo albums so 'our' memories are preserved!).

Thank you for bringing this full circle. I hope this means your photo albums contain nude picture to help jog his memory of your hotness!

Speaking of hot -- I hope everyone has a good week and a working air conditioner.  Thanks, all!

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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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