Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Aug 08, 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 -- I hope everyone is having a good economic meltdown!

Dear Prudie I work as a nanny for a nice family. I love children, and the little girl (nearly 2 years old) I care for is a sweetheart. I noticed a few months ago that she started smacking herself in the head. I mentioned this to her parents, who also said they've noticed this and thought it strange. She eventually stopped doing this so I assumed it was some weird toddler behavior. Then last week I was looking for a blank CD at their place (with permission) to transfer some photos I took of the little girl on my personal camera. I stumbled across a surveillance footage taken of me in their home! I suspect that the parents suspected me of hitting their daughter and recorded me - or maybe they've been recording me this whole time, I don't know. I've always done my best in my job and I feel totally betrayed they would do this. I feel hurt, embarrassed, everything. Should I bring this up with the parents or just find another job? -Angry Nanny

Of course it's a shock to find out you were monitored, but think of it from your employers' perspective. They are leaving the most precious person in the world to them in your care, and all they have as a guarantee that you're the same responsible person when they're not around is the feeling they get from you, and the behavior of their daughter.  Just think if it turned out that their nanny was abusing or neglecting their daughter somehow and they looked back and said, "She was banging herself in the head. How could we have ignored that and been so stupid?" That doesn't mean that finding the nanny-cam doesn't feel like a betrayal. But there are many jobs at which employees computers have some degree of monitoring, or supervisors listen in on phone calls ("This call may be monitored"), or superiors come in and observe. 

The great news is that the parents found that you are the wonderful nanny they'd thought you were.  Presumably, seeing that they have nothing to worry about, they will not spend all of their free time reviewing what you did during their daughter's free time.  Were you to leave, consider that your next employer might have a camera stuck in the tummy of that teddy bear on the top shelf.  And you could hardly say to potential employers, "I quit my last job because I found I was being monitored.  You would never surreptiously record me, would you?" I think you should put the discs back, and tell yourself you work for responsible people who've confirmed they've hired a great caretaker for their child.

At my wedding three years ago, my father made an awkward, spur-of-the-moment toast. Essentially, he said that it took him a long time to warm up to my husband, and that he wasn't completely sold until a few months before we got married. I understand what he was trying to say -- I'm his only daughter, and I'd dated a lot of clunkers before meeting my spouse -- but my inlaws were very offended. Actually, I've learned that, years later, they're still offended. My husband revealed that the reason he's turned down all of my "Let's have both families over for Thanksgiving" suggestions is because his family doesn't want to spend any time with mine. He then begged me not to tell my parents the reason. I feel terrible that any possible inter-family relationships have been cut off because my dad is a lousy public speaker. Is this worth addressing? If so, how? Our families live several hundred miles apart, so it's not like we would -have- to hang out with both of them.

It's ridiculous that a few ill-considered remarks are going to earn your parents eternal holiday purgatory.  Even if your father was ham-handed, it's an old tradition for the father-of-the bride to view her suitors skeptically.  You say as he wended his way through the toast he got to the part about how "Biff" finally won him over.  And it's clear that your father spoke up to express his happiness as your union. Your in-laws sound like prigs, and three years is enough punishment. You should prevail on your husband to say that it's time for them to give your father another chance.  Eventually there might be grandchildren, and it would silly to have to require that the two sets of grandparents are never in the room together.  I hope your husband is able to take a strong stand and say that this year you two want to try having all the families together for Thanksgiving. If his parents refuse, he should say, "I'm sorry you won't consider coming. We'll miss you this year." 

After much consideration and years of yo-yo dieting, I have made the decision to have weight-loss surgery. How do I tell people (family, co-workers, friends) about my decision? Many people have strong opinions on the topic. I do not see this as an easy way out. I have struggled with my weight all my life, and at the age of 41, I realized I need more help than just diet and exercise. There are certain people I have to tell, like my boss. I am not very close with my co-workers, and they tend to be a gossipy bunch. My husband and mother are supportive about it, and their opinions matter most to me. I am doing this because I want to be healthier and see my daughter grow up. How do I handle the naysayers and know-it-alls?

Before you get the surgery,  get some therapy.  You need to be able to stand up for yourself and not be so affected by the opinions of others. It's your private decision what to do about your insides, even though the results will quickly be apparent on your outside.  You do not need permission or approval about this from the people in your life.  When they start noticing your weight loss, you can either decide to say you got the surgery, or explain you're eating less -- which you will be. Then, with the help of a therapist, you will work on ways of changing the subject or refusing to be drawn in to further conversation about how your relatives, friends, and co-workers feel about your body.

I have a female friend who I've known since we were kids. My wife has always been uneasy over this friendship but generally tolerated it. That is, until recently when she discovered that this friend and I had a one night stand a couple of years ago while my wife and I were dating. Since she discovered this she's been badgering me to stop seeing my friend. I can honestly say this happened only once and it will never, ever happen again. We have no romantic feelings for each other. Who's in the right here?

It does complicate a platonic relationship to have had it be consummated, though only for one night.  It sounds as if you were realizing this thing with your future wife was turning serious and either this would be a last chance to sleep with another woman, or you lifelong friends had better find out if you twp actually belonged together.  You found out you don't belong together.  In a way, your wife should be relieved that you and your friend dealt with the sexual tension and declared, "Let's not do that again!"

I bridle at husbands or wives who declare their spouses have no business being friends with people of the opposite sex. You say your wife "discovered" this one-night stand, so it sounds as if you never volunteered it.  You should apologize to your wife for not telling her, explain the psychological circumstances around the event, and reassure it that it confirmed you and your pal have zero chemistry.  Then you need to talk to your wife about the unfairness of asking you to give up a lifelong friendship when there's no reason for her to doubt you.

Dear Prudence, My brother and his wife have 2 children, but listening to them talk; you would think they had one gifted, amazing, beautiful, incomparably perfect child and the other one. The favoritism is blinding obvious, but I cannot figure out why. In fact, in my heart of hearts, I think they praise and favor the less admirable of the children. The preferred child is given special treats and privileges to the point of being ridiculous. The other child while not neglected, clearly does not measure up in the eyes of the parents, and doesn't merit the extra treats or attention. These children are pretty equal in their achievements scholastically, athletically and socially. As an aunt, is there anything I can do to even up the playing field for the over-looked chick?

Here's the rotten parent letter for today.  As many people who were the victim of childhood abuse wrote last week in response to a letter about observing abusive parents, it really makes a difference when an adult steps in and says, "This isn't right."  You should do two things. One is to spend time with the neglected child, showing that child how wonderful you find him or her. The other is to sit down with your brother and his wife and have a difficult conversation.  Start with the usual pap that they're wonderful parents, they probably aren't even aware of what you're about the bring up, blah, blah, blah. Then say that you've noticed over the years a favortism that's painful to watch. Say you are obviously speaking very reluctantly because both the children are great and you don't want to interfere with their child-rearing. But sometimes an outsiders perspective can be valuable, and you want to make sure both children get the praise they deserve.

Dear Prudie-- I recently got back from a 5-day wedding cruise for one of my best friends. It was a complete disappointment and I'm wondering if it's even worth trying to continue the friendship at this point. It was a considerable expense on the behalf of the wedding party--plane tickets, bridesmaid dresses, the cruise, wedding gift, shower gift, transportation to/from the airport, hotel, not to mention a week's worth of vacation time. She spent minimal time with her guests, giving excuses such as she couldn't sit in the sun or that her new husband didn't have anyone else to hang out with. She made almost no effort to see or talk to her guests. We really only saw her at dinnertimes. Furthermore, when we did see her, she kept making comments about how cheap the wedding was and what a great way it was to get married. Cheap on her end, yes; but on everyone elses, no. She showed a complete lack of appreciation for the time and money everyone spent to be there with her. She never even thanked me! I feel like she needs a lesson in basic manners and wedding ettiquette. How do I get the message across? Hurt Friend

What you were on was not a cruise with your friend, it was a honeymoon. It's traditional that the honeymoon couple go off together and have sex relentlessly, and then during their breaks they stare moonily into each other's eyes. This is why they should do this alone, and not have to be entertaining friends, or have friends hanging around feeling neglected. I know there are many bridal couples and guests who've had a fabulous time at destination weddings, but I continue to think they're generally a bad idea.  But once you signed up for the boat ride, you should have been prepared to entertain yourself -- or hang out with the rest of the wedding party -- after the nuptials were performed.  That said, what a crude, rude bride to crow to all her guests how their giant tab meant a small outlay for her.  Forget telling her how she didn't pay proper attention to you.  But if all the bridesmaids are feeling there's a big thank you that hasn't been said, you can go to your friend and explain there are some lingering hurt feelings and a bunch of  notes to everyone for making her event so special would go a long way.

My husband and I have many friends of the opposite sex. However, I don't think I'd be all that comfortable if one of them was someone he had slept with while we were dating. To me, that is some pretty strong evidence that the friend does not have a lot of respect for our relationship. I don't know how I'd feel in a similar situation, but I do think the letter writer has some valid feelings.

Then that also says her husband has no respect for their relationship, which I don't think is the case.  At a certain point the wife can "win" and make it too painful for her husband to see his friend. But that seems like a pyrrhic victory. 

Another person wrote that it might help if the husband included the wife in dinners or whatever with the friend, which is a good idea if all of them are able to expand the friendship.

My boyfriend of two years recently told me that he lost his virginity at the age of 12 to a family friend that was 30 at the time. He swears that he is the one that seduced her and that it is a very happy memory for him; I have no reason to doubt him and he is "older" than his years and has always dated older women. But I'm very grossed out by the woman in question. I'm picturing myself allowing a 12-year old to seduce me (I'm 30) and the thought is disgusting to me. I really don't think she is a predator and my boyfriend really does seem to have quite an effect on older ladies - they all just want to take their pants off for him. My question is mainly that I don't know how I'm going to face this woman - we see her about 3 times a year at family events and one is coming up next month. I am not great at keeping my facial features neutral so I'm worried she's going to figure out that I know. I don't want to "out" her. I'm definitely not going to touch a drop of booze that day because I don't want to get tipsy and say something I'll regret. I really just don't know what to say to this woman or how to act in front of her! Help.

I agree with your disgust but I disagree that she's not a predator.  There are no circumstances under which a 30 year-old should be having sex with a 12 year-old, and I don't care what the genders are of those involved.  However, instead of seeing this as a violation, for your boyfriend it's a lovely memory, so let it be.  If you have trouble with your facial features, start practicing in the mirror.  There surely at times at work when you're saying, "That's a great idea, boss, I'll get right on it," and you're thinking, "Another idiotic request!" but you don't want your face to give you away.  You know how to be cordial to an old family friend, so make some brief polite conversation to Humberta Humberta, then walk away.

It's also important to remember that while the one night stand is old news to the husband and the friend, it's brand new to the wife. Might take a bit of time to adjust and move past it. Asking the husband to back off the friendship a little while the wife processes (maybe short term counseling?) isn't unreasonable.

Good point. That's why the husband has to be really upfront with the wife about this and apologize for not telling her previously.  Lots of readers are saying the husband cheated on the wife while they were dating.  Maybe they were in an exclusive relationship and it was a violation. But maybe there was no declared exclusivity.  Again, the wife can "win" this.  But how much more powerful it would make her if she could be confident about her marriage and let the friendship continue.

Dear Prudie, I'm getting married this weekend and I'm going crazy with guest RSVPs. I had to turn in my final number already but there are still 6 people that haven't replied to any of my calls or e-mails. Is it ok to not include them in the seating chart and just consider them a NO? I'm afraid that they will show up and I will have to be looking around the ceremony for guests so that I can notify the venue.

Ah, the guestilla problem.  The inability of people to let you know whether you will have the privilege of plying them with food and drink is a continuing one.  You're getting married in less than a week, and these goons have been treating you as if you are a collection agency.  Their silence means  no.   If they show up,  they'll quickly realize that in the game of musical guests, they're lacking seats. 

Prudie, that is a horrible answer to the woman whose boyfriend had sex with a 30 year old when he was 12. She sodomized one of her juvenile male relatives. I don't think someone does something this creepy and disgusting only once. Who else is she seducing? Not saying anything just to get along is what allows this creeps to continue to get away with their crimes and seek new victims.

I agree this woman is despicable. But unfortunately some situations have no easy resolution.  The girlfriend is not going to make anything better by notifying the authorities about the older woman, she will only be ending her relationship.   If the girlfriend becomes more serious with the boyfriend, discussing how he was taken advantage of should be a continuing conversation between them.  But since in the boyfriend's telling, he pursued the older woman, I don't see how the girlfriend can take any action against the woman now.

"my boyfriend really does seem to have quite an effect on older ladies - they all just want to take their pants off for him." Older women are taking their pants off for him and she's just breezily saying so? Even if this is about his sexual history and not his current sitch, it makes me wonder if he developed some sort of pattern as a result of his early experience. If it really was good, I'm not one to judge, but if a woman who'd been with a 30 year old at 12 had a reputation for canoodling with older men, I suspect some klaxons would be going off. Are you sure this guy's OK post-Humberta?

Excellent point.  The girlfriend should be aware that her boyfriend may have some long-term issues stemming from his sordid introduction to sex.

I have been in a relationship with an older man (23 years difference) for almost a year and a half. We have a great, fun, loving relationship; I never notice our age difference when we are alone but am very uncomfortable when I am mistaken for his daughter in public, or when my friends are shocked (appalled?) when I tell them the age difference. Over time, I have met and spent time with several of his friends (he has no issues with me meeting them). I'm still very uncomfortable with him meeting my friends because of the "taboo-ness" of our relationship--he has only met a couple even now. It upsets him sometimes and he accuses me of "hiding him" and being "embarrassed"... and I suppose on some level, I am. It's not that I think my friends wouldn't like him; I do think once they got to know him, they'd see what I see in him-- but I just think it would be very awkward to invite him to hang out with a group of mid-twenty year olds. Not to mention, I hate the initial shock reaction. I'd rather just spend time with him alone, where I can be happy and relaxed, rather than feel like I need to prove something to someone else. Am I wrong about this?

At least you're all adults here. Whether you want to keep your boyfriend stashed depends on what this relationship is about.  If it' a temporary stop with an more experienced, mature man, then it makes somewhat more sense that you don't want to try to integrate him into your social circle. But if you see this as a possibly long-term relationship, then you have to confront the fact that you are embarrassed to be seen in public with him, or have him spend time with your friends. That doesn't sound promising.  He apparently sees this relationship as something more than you do, since he's hurt by your keeping him hidden.  But it tells you something important that you'd prefer to be alone with him, so you don't have to explain to anyone why you're holding hands with your Dad.

we have a co-worker who talks 24/7 really loudly about personal, non-work related stuff all the time. Vacations, cats, food, etc. She knows she bothers everyone but she doesn't care. She also complains about how overworked she is although she never seems to work. She is combative and people are intimidated by her. She is gone a lot on trips and vacations and when that happens, it is bliss. Her supervisor doesn't seem to be doing anything. Meanwhile, she is ruining the environment for everyone. What do you suggest?

First of all people have to deal with her directly. "Lucy, sorry, I don't have time to talk about Fluffy." "Lucy, can you lower the volume, we're trying to work over here." When that does nothing, several of you need to sit down with her supervisor and say you've tried to address this directly, but Lucy is a constant distraction -- as well as being hostile -- and her behavior needs to be addressed.  I really fail to understand how in a world in which millions of hard-working people can't find employment, the loud-mouth slackers continue to be allowed to haunt the  office.

My cousin, a successful real estate agent, is a miser. I can't believe she's lived this long in life without being turned into a Disney character who puts Ebenezer Scrooge to shame. She's never paid for family dinners (we generally take turns paying) but hordes all the leftovers, and even tries to sneak a plate or two to sell on eBay. When I used her onion she made me drive over the next day and replace it. Even if I use her eraser she will make a point of borrowing mine to use it herself. For my wedding she gave us two pairs of matching socks, wrapped in newspaper (I wish I was kidding). Oddly enough, aside from being a cheapskate, she's an affectionate and thoughtful person who worries about my mother's health and encourages us with (free) kind words. She is getting married soon and family tradition dictates that I get a gift for her separate from my parents, as I am now a married woman. I love giving gifts and usually go all out for weddings, but this time I'm sorely tempted to go as cheap as I can. My mom says I shouldn't stoop to her level and to be generous. But I don't want my cousin to think she can be a selfish miser and expect the rest of the family to remain generous with her. What should I do?

Who is marrying this lunatic? Your cousin sounds sick, and I feel sorry for her potential children, dressed in flip flops in the winter because boots are so expensive.  You are not going to teach her any lessons no matter if you give her an onion for a wedding gift or a silver place setting.   Simply get her something nice (picture frame, salad bowl) that you can afford.

First, this did not happen in America so forget contacting authorities. I just can't explain it, but I know this woman and I know my boyfriend and I really believe that this was an odd situation for her - my boyfriend said he hit on her for a month before she relented. He was also extremely "manly" at that age - I've seen photos and he looked sixteen and was very handsome and charming. Which is also the reason women tend to love him - he is sweet and kind and also manly and strong at the same time - younger women like him too. I keep thinking of that teacher (Mary-Kay something) and her 12 year old student -she never fooled around with other young boys and they are married with children now. This woman had an awful marriage and an abusive husband and I'm sure that had something to do with her allowing it to happen.

It doesn't matter how much older he looked or how unhappy he was, it's still wrong. However, thanks for the background.  Again, I  say arrange your facial features neutrally.  But if you're with a guy who gets off on making women of all ages melt, be aware of the implications.

Dear Prudie, I recently was hired to run a small company. The past few months have been fantastic, but I'm having an issue with one of my employees. "Joan" is constantly nagging me. Joan works from home and we communicate mostly be e-mail or phone, with occasional face to face meetings. I am very timely with my responses to her requests, but sometimes I tell her I have to think about something or I'm unable to respond because I'm in a meeting. For example, one day I was at a conference. I came back to my e-mail inbox with five e-mails from her asking just about the same question.  I've tried to tactfully let he know that "asking me just once is ok!" She also tends to do this with some of our clients and when I've discussed it with her, she says she feels that her "reminders" are helpful in reminding busy people to get things done. While I never express it to her, I tend to get angry about being asked to do something multiple times. Should I learn to just let this go? Or is there something I can say to her to get her to stop?

You're the new boss and you've discovered you have an employee who harasses not only you but your clients! You must do something about this.  Put Joan on notice that this behavior has to stop because it's seriously jeopardizing her effectiveness with the company.

Prudie, your advice may be fine in this case, but could you just be really, really clear that a 12-year-old, boy or girl, *can't* legally consent to sex with a 30-year-old? They can't. Even if they want sex, and I certainly believe that they can (I was 12 once), it is the grownup's job NOT to do it. This is not complicated.

I think I've made that clear. No matter how the boyfriend romanticizes his past, this was wrong.  But I also don't think anything can be done about it -- particularly given how the girlfriend has clarified what the circumstances were.  The girlfriend needs to focus less on the "older friend"  and more on how her boyfriend may have a distorted view of his relations with women.

Get her a pair of matching socks...

Wouldn't wedding be so much more pleasant if all people had to shell out for whas a pair of socks


Thanks, everyone. I'm off on vacation, and I'll be back August 29. Have a great rest of the month!

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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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