Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Feb 21, 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.  Look forward to your questions!

Hi Prudence, I had been struggling to make a living at my job for a few years now and decided to apply as a bartender to a local strip club. After a few days of working there, the manager said he was low on girls for the night and asked if I would like to dance for the night. I was a little hesitant at first but decided it was just one night. I ended up loving it and made around 800$ in a few hours! We talked, and I became a dancer overnight. This was about a year ago. The other night while doing a set, one of my parents friends comes up to the stage and asks for a VIP dance. The entire time he was telling me how he wants a cut of my earnings to stay quiet and not tell my parents what I am doing! I either have to come clean to my parents (who are VERY religious and would disown me), quit my job and get further in debt or start paying this guy half of my nightly earnings.

Is this guy married? If he makes his threat again you could offer this deal: you won't tell his wife that he's a customer of a strip club and you two will call it a draw.  Tell the manager of the club who this guy is, that he is blackmailing you, and you would like him banned.  In the movies, places of employment like yours have big guys with shaved heads who bodily escort such customers to the door.  If this old creep does tell your parents, so be it.  Hold your head (and your pasties) high and tell your parents the last thing you wanted to do was to have to ask them to bail you out financially.  Say you understand they hate your moonlighting job, but you hope they can respect that you're an adult and your choices are your own. I hear that pole dancing classes are the latest fad in fitness, and if your mother doesn't flip out, maybe you can offer to give her and her friends some lessons.

Since when did it become rude to enquire if someone had children? While at a party I was talking to my friend about our kids. There was another person standing next to us (someone I met that evening) and not wanting to make her feel left out of the conversation, I turned to her and asked, "do you have any children?". She immediately looked irritated and answered gruffly, "No. I never plan on having any, either" and walked away. Afterwards I heard that she thought I was rude and invasive for asking a "personal question."  Prudie, I don't care if someone I'd just met has twenty kids or none. I was simply trying to include her in the conversation. Having children is hardly a secretive or intimate piece of information, and I don't understand why it's inappropriate to ask in a casual way. Was I committing some faux pas with this question?

No, but the childfree can live in a state of perpetual interrogation about their reproductive choices and that gets wearying. However, it's ridiculous to assume an innocent, appropriate question is the opening of an inquisition.  The other woman should have said something like, "I don't, but I have a neice your daughter's age, so I've heard a lot about this." If she wanted to take pre-emptive offense, she was the one being rude.

When my dad in law passed away unexpectedly, my mom in law didn't take it well at all. After we found out she was on medication for depression we suggested she stay with us for awhile. We live in a two bedroom house and I've been sleeping in our baby's room (he has major sleeping issues) and mom was originally going to occupy the sofa bed. One night she went and slept next to my husband after complaining of a back ache and she has been there ever since. I once walked into mom and my husband chatting in bed like a married couple. He stroked her hair back affectionately and I felt completely weirded out. When I was pregnant I couldn't sleep well because of cramps, and whenever I asked my husband for a massage he didn't even bother getting up. He's never even helped me with night time feeding, either. Yet whenever he senses mom is having sleeping problems he'll wake up and make sure she's feeling okay. I feel a crazy sense of jealousy and I feel incredibly angry. I don't know if I'm being petty but it's been four months. Should I say something here?

If your husband and his mother have you convinced you're being petty because they are now sleeping together and stroking each other, it may be time to grab your baby and run.  You need to take an immediate stand that even though you have an infant, your marriage is in jeopardy if his mother doesn't move back into her own place -- today.  If she goes, you two need some therapy to reestablish the rules of your relationship. If she won't, I'm afraid you need to talk to a lawyer.  In addition, it's one thing to decide you want an infant to sleep in your room with you because it's more convenient -- but you should be sleeping in the marital bed. If you want the baby in his own room, get a baby monitor. Reclaim your pillow tonight and tell Mom to start packing.

My boyfriend of one year recently became friends with Fred, who he met through coworkers. Fred has hung out with my boyfriend and me several times, bringing along his girlfriend. This would be fine except he treats this poor woman terribly -- insulting her in public, telling people that she wouldn't go anywhere without him, and demeaning her to everyone within earshot. His comments about women in general are indicative of someone who is very controlling. Several friends have seen Fred in action and all agree with me that his behavior is not just annoying, but also disturbing. 1) How should I approach Fred's girlfriend. She is very sweet and doesn't stand up for herself. I've tried to befriend her, but she's very shy. 2) I am actually having doubts about my relationship with my boyfriend for actually being friends with Fred. I grew up in a household where my father was verbally abusive toward my mother and I am very sensitive to these interactions. My boyfriend is aware of my history but gets angry when I refuse to hang out with Fred even though I've explained to him why I have trouble doing so. Am I being unreasonable?

You don't need a family history of verbal abuse to find it repugnant.  There's something off with your boyfriend that he thinks his pal's behavior is just fine. Tell him that you find Fred's treatment of his girlfriend appalling and you won't hang out with him anymore. If that means you won't be hanging out with your boyfriend, it's better to learn his character after a year than after tying the knot.

Dear Prudece I am due to give birth to my first child in six weeks. My husband is already an excellent parent to his child from a previous marriage. He told me that he wanted to hire a videographer to take a video of our baby's birth. I am a private person and I can't imagine anything worse than a stranger putting a camera in between my legs. My husband said if I feel embarrassed he could take the video. He says that child birth is a beautiful thing and he wants a record of it. While I agree it's a special event I don't want to have a video record of such an intimate situation. Who should win this argument?

I wonder about these birth videos. I hope the people who took them don't haul them out every birthday and make the poor kid annually relive the journey down the shoot.  It's one thing to have a video camera of the cleaned up bundle of joy being placed in his or her mother's arms, but it is your choice whether to have the camera aimed up your private parts.  Since every moment of our lives is now recorded, I'm increasingly of the school of thought that it's better to just experience most things and use the recording equipment sparingly.  There shouldn't be an argument once you say you don't want paparazzi between your legs.

LW1's predicament sounds like it could be extortion, depending on the state. She should remind her parents' "friend" what he's doing is illegal and if he doesn't leave her alone, she's going to the cops. In addition to banishment from the club and/or a "conference" with the bouncers, Mutually Assured Destruction should be enough to rein him in.

Good point. She should tell this dirty old man the cops will be alerted to his demands if he ever bothers her again. 

Imagine my surprise when my little sister's fiance turned out to be a man who taught us both high school math. He's twenty-three years older than she is, and he only recently obtained a divorce from his ex-wife. My husband and I correctly ascertained that my ex-teacher and my little sister were dating prior to his divorce. I try not to be a stick in the mud, but I'm having trouble adjusting to my soon-to-be-brother-in-law. He still treats me like a student, not like an equal, and a perhaps petty part of me wonders exactly when he began seeing my little sister. How can I work to accept this? He does seem to make my little sister happy.

I hope your future brother-in-law is not asking you to solve quadratic equations or saying, "If you got on a bus in Boston going 67 miles and hour and your friend got on a bus..." He's divorced, they're engaged, and your sister is happy. So be happy for them. My guess is that in the long run your sister is going to need your support because unless he leaves the profession there may be other lovely young things who catch his eye.

My son is in second grade and a classmate of his has "two daddies." My son wants to go over to his friend's house to play, but we are nervous about this. I know my opinion is probably unpopular, but it is still my opinion: I do not know if this is a good environment for my son at his age. We do not talk about topics like homosexuality in our home. We do not want to field questions yet about these kinds of topics; we want him to be able to just be a kid instead of dealing with complex sexual issues. His friend plays at our house and he is a very nice boy, but eventually his "daddies" will to know if my son can go to their house. How do we tactfully tell this couple that we would prefer if their son plays at our house? My sister thinks that I will just have to "get over it" and send my son over there. But isn't it my right to monitor environments and control influences for my children? I fear that children in modern society are exposed to far too much far too soon -- what happened to letting kids just be kids?

So you think this little boy's home should be shunned in the name of letting kids be kids.  You don't have to do a lot of explaining to second-graders. When my daughter was even younger than that we had a gay couple and a lesbian couple in our neighborhood who each had kids. We casually explained to my daughter -- after she asked, which wasn't immediately -- that usually kids have a mommy and daddy but sometimes kids have two mommies or two daddies.  It was no big deal to her.  I assume treating everyone with respect is a value you want to inculcate in your son. Letting him play at his friend's house will be a good way to put that in action.

My son and daughter-in-law are expecting a girl in the next 10 weeks. They announced their baby name and I find it rather distasteful. My daughter-in-law has been an avid Gone With the Wind fan and is using Scarlet as the middle name. The first name is a traditional girls name. I told my son, privately, that I think it is wrong to use a name like Scarlet as a middle name because her character in the book was not something a little girl should know about or aspire to be. My son told me that a middle name is hardly even used, usually just an initial is fine, and their daughter will be known by her traditional first name. Should I talk to my daughter-in-law about this?

Maybe you can hand your daughter-in-law  a copy of The Scarlet Letter when she goes into labor.  Apparently you also think Scarlett Johansson should hide her head in shame because of her "distasteful" name. Grandma, if you want to have a decent relationship with your daughter-in-law and your grandchild you will zip your trap and never, ever say anything except that this beautiful new baby has a lovely name that suits her.

Many years ago my daughter had a best friend, Maria, and the two girls were practically joined at the hip. One afternoon I found an envelope containing nearly $1,000 missing and I had very good reasons to believe Maria took it. When I quietly confronted her, she became hysterical and said things that made no sense and contradicted each other. That evening I received an angry call from her mother who called me nasty names for accusing her daughter of being a thief, and I called her nasty names for raising one. Needless to say, the girls stopped being friends. My daughter also felt betrayed that her best friend would steal from her mom. Recently I discovered the envelope with cash stuck between the pages of an old book. I have no idea how it got there, but it's clear that Maria couldn't have been the person responsible. It has been almost 8 years since the incident, but I feel a tremendous amount of guilt. Should I contact Maria and offer her and her mother an apology? Or is the apology way overdue now?

Apologize to your daughter, Maria, and her mother. The people falsely accused in this awful incident should know the truth. It will be painful and embarrassing for you to do this, but even if Maria and her mother react badly, ultimately you should be proud of yourself for bearing up and doing the right thing.  This is a good cautionary tale for people ready to accuse others of household theft.

Dear Prudie, I recently took some boudoir photos (classy but also sexy) of myself for my fiance as part of his grooms gift. I went to a reputable photographer. I wanted to enjoy this part of my live when I have a great body so some day I can look back and remember what my mid-20's were like. We will have plenty of stuffy photos from our traditional ceremony. Yesterday my fiance started talking about how much he hates boudoir photos because a friend of his just got some as a grooms gift. Mine are already done! Should I hang onto them myself and keep them or toss them out? Or still give them to him? I thought this would be a great gift, but apparently I was wrong.

This is something that two people should be able to laugh about for many years to come.  Instead of giving them as a groom's gift, I think you should make the big reveal now and say something like, "I agree that Lacey's boudoir photos are probably junk.  But if you wanted to see some that are both erotic and tasteful, take a look at these."

Dear Prudence, I live with stage IV cancer and have done so for almost five years, knock on wood. Friends and colleagues know of my situation and they can see I live a great life--full-time job, great friends, great dog, etc. No one asks if I''ve "beaten it" because I've educated them that some metastatic cancers can be managed as a chronic, rather than terminal illness. And they're thrilled for me. I'm heavily monitored and do a monthly treatment. At my last treatment, my oncologist told me that my cancer may be slowly gaining strength again and I will have to go on a more rigorous cycle of treatment. In addition to being fearful, I am anxious for anyone to know about this, other than my sister and a close friend. What do I say to my friends who ask me how things are going? I may be more fatigued and not as cheery as I normally am. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

I hope your new treatment is effective and quick. You can tell people the truth, "I'm hanging in, but my doctors have me on a new drug that unfortunately is rather fatiguing." You mention your great friends, so please know that if you need rides, food delivered, your dog walked, they want to help. You don't have to go into detail about your cancer, but you can let them know that the new drugs are knocking you out and that their assistance is appreciated. Your sister could set up a website (Lotsa Helping Hands is one) for people to sign up to do tasks for you and she can mention on it that since you need to preserve your energy, now is not a good time for socializing.

I got married and moved to the USA. I love my husband. I used to be independent, and used to always believe in equality. I believed that husbands and wives have equal rights. But my husband becomes abusive occasionaly. I told his family and my family about it, and they keep telling me that I should find ways to avoid situations which cause him to get that way. The problem is I have to be careful giving my opinion now, because anything could lead to an argument and then could get physical. I dont want to leave him, because most of the time he is a good person. But I'm torn between my principles, self-respect and dignity, and letting myself down to avoid him getting mad at me. What is the right way to tackle this?

It's the rare abuser who's noxious all the time -- then there's no incentive for the victim to stay.  Your family's advice is terrible. No one should tiptoe through life to avoid getting hit or harangued.  If you want to try to save the marriage, tell your husband you need counseling because this is not the marriage you signed up for. If he refuses, your situation is complicated by the fact that you are not a citizen.  So find a lawyer who can talk you through the steps you need to take to get free.  And if your husband hits you again, call the police.

I was falsely accused of stealing (shop-lifting at a local store) when I was 10. My mom stood by me, but twenty years later it still stings because I was innocent. I would love an apology from that person because its nice to be vindicated. Send a note of apology. It costs you nothing and will likely make her feel better.

It's an awful thing to be falsely accused -- I agree the mother needs to step up and clear this child.

My father died unexpectedly in April, and it's been a tough year for my mother, sister and me. My mom seems to have handled things about as well as could be expected, and after I recently mentioned that I was considering joining a dating site she told me that she had considered making a profile as well. I was surprised, but not upset -- I had been secretly worrying that maybe she would choose to be alone the rest of her life . I told her I would be okay with it because I wanted her to have companionship. My sister, however, called me and flipped out. Sis thinks that Mom is trying to "replace" Dad. She says she can't believe Mom would consider this, since it hasn't even been a year. When I cautiously said I wasn't that upset about it, my sister got mad and hung up the phone. Should I be more upset/concerned that my mom is thinking about trying to date again? Should I also be worried that it's too soon? My sister has always been a drama queen, but she made me feel guilty for not being as riled up as she was. Or am I being too cavalier about the whole thing?

Your mother doesn't need her daughters' permission to seek companionship. You might tell your sister her reaction has you concerned that she hasn't completely dealt with your father's death and maybe she should see a grief counselor. Reassure her that your mother is not seeking to, and never could, replace your father. But it is a good sign that she feels ready to date.  Tell your mother you're pleased she is coming out of her mourning and that it's unfortunate your sister is reacting so badly to these positive steps.

I have a work friend who, over the last several years, has spilled over into personal friend. She is a VERY high maintenance person; plus I always have to watch my tone and what I say/or how I say something as she will jump down your throat at the drop of a pin. Today, I came in with a haircut that was much shorter than it has been in a year. Last time I cut my hair this way she constantly referred to me at fuzz head and told me I looked like her dog. First thing this morning when she walked into my office I got the fuzz head/dog remark. In the past I had just let it roll off my shoulders, but it being Monday and me being tired, I told her - did not snap- that it hurt my feelings when she called me that and please to not do it anymore. She started crying and said she did not mean it that way and has now stopped talking to me. Question: count my blessings or apologize?

Blessings! Now that you know a cross word will send her into a silent snit, be ready to say, "Bad dog!" every day at the coffee machine.

Dear Prudie: My daughter is in second grade and is good friends with a girl whose mother writes a blog that has extensive readership. I read her blog and she is very careful to never mention any of her daughter's friends by name or post their photo. However, she posts her daughter's photo and writes blog posts about her frequently. In the past few weeks, my daughter and some of their other friends have started wanting their parents to write about them, too. I think these girls are at the age where female competition rears its ugly head and they are jealous that their friend is broadcasted on the Internet for lots of people to see when they are not. Is this something I should bring up with this girls mother? If I were her, I would want to know that my actions were causing some friction between young girls.

Does the blogging mom have a video link to her daughter's birth? I'm going to guess that in just a few years the other girls will be very glad their mother is not telling the world about about how their puberty is going.  Let the blogging mother do as she wishes, but it would be fun if you and your daughter created a scrapbook together of your child's adventures.

Hi Prudence, I have been reading you for ages. My daughter is a very successful businesswoman, a senior vice president at a company you would recognize. She is also 37 and single, sacrificing a personal life for a professional one. Lately she has been exploring the option of adopting a foreign baby and being a single mother. I tried to explain to her that celebrities make this look far more glamorous than it actually is. I told her that she chose a career of a family quite some time ago and trying to have both now is going to be extremely difficult. She got upset and told me that what she is doing is perfectly normal. My husband and I are divorced and I know how hard being a single mom can be. How can I explain this to her differently?

You can stop projecting your life on hers and support her if she decides to take this step. If you live nearby,  I hope you would be part of a support system -- that you would want to be -- for her grandchild. Of course being a single mother is hard, but a competent professional like your daughter will have the financial means and the organizational skills to make this work as well as it can. It is rather cruel of you to say to your child that her dedication to her career means she must forgo motherhood.

Dear Prudie: This is a problem I am sure a lot of people would love to have. My boyfriend and I are in our late 20's and we both have good salaries. We talked about moving in together and we are fairly compatible. But here is the thing: he has a housekeeper. (That sound you hear is all my girlfriends rolling their eyes). I do not think we need a housekeeper. Two people keeping a two bedroom apartment clean should be manageable. He thinks that if he hates to clean and can afford to pay somebody else he should. While I can't see anything outright wrong with that, part of me feels like he is indulgent and immature. I don't like to do a lot of things but I do them anyway. He told me that if we let the housekeeper go then I will be totally responsible for all the cleaning. I think that is also unreasonable. Why can't he just pick up after himself? What if we can't afford a housekeeper in the future? Will he have any idea how to be self-reliant? Is it so wrong that I think we should be responsible for keeping such a small space clean?

Please dump this guy so he can find someone who will appreciate that a man who wants to pay someone a fair wage to keep his apartment clean is a keeper.

My neighbor has chickens that she keeps in a coop in her fenced backyard. As her immediate neighbor, sometimes when the wind blows a scent into our yard that is noticeable, but not terrible. My dogs are very interested in the smell of the chickens and spend a great deal of time scratching at our shared fence. This irritates my husband because he thinks that the whole purpose of a fence is to let the dogs out without constant supervision and now there are unsightly scratch marks. My husband checked the zoning in our neighborhood and the subdivision policy and both of them forbid owning chickens. My husband wants to report her and to get the chickens removed. I am not sure if this is necessary. I am sure owning chickens in a residential neighborhood is a fad that will go away soon and it does not bother us enough to justify reporting a neighbor and potentially sticking her with a fine. We decided to go to Prudie (and her readers!) with help on this issue. Is it worth it to potentially upset a neighbor and stick her with a fine for a mild inconvenience on our part?

A neighbor with an illegal chicken coup should be smart enough to give those living nearby an occasional clutch of fresh eggs as an incentive to keep quiet.  Even in the absence of chickens my dog barks loudly at every bird, squirrel, and leaf.  I agree with you that making an enemy of your neighbor because your dogs are interested in their chicken coop seems scrambled.

Here's an article from the Post that explains a bit about the options for women who are victims of domestic abuse: To summarize: this is one area of immigration law that we've gotten right, finally!

Thanks for the link.

Thanks, everyone.  Have a great week, talk to you next Monday.

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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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