Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Sep 24, 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.

Hi Prudie, I have an odd question today. For a few years I was a professional sugar baby. I had at least four sugar daddies at one time (I did NOT sleep with them or do anything of a sexual nature). I was simply a companion, a travel and dinner date and someone to confide in. Through this I was able to get through school and purchase my own house with the money I made. My problem is do I tell my fiancé about my past or should I tell him I just dated a wealthy man? I don't want him to think of me as a gold digger!

You must be a hell of a conversationalist. Are there that many rich men who complain, "All my wife wants to do is have sex with me,  but she doesn't listen when I take her out to dinner?"  I believe that when entering a new relationship one doesn't have to disclose all past sexual encounters, but that you do owe your new love information that's relevant. That includes such things as STD status, or having slept with your boyfriend's brother. Your question is not about sex, but money. But if you've  engaged in professional activities that you would be too embarrassed to tell your beloved, then you probably should tell because you surely don't want someone else to tell.  I'm assuming some friends of yours must have known how you managed to avoid student debt. Since you engaged, you've waited a rather long time to reveal how you put yourself through college.  I think you should tell your fiance that for several years you went out with a series of rich men who helped support you but with whom you didn't have sex.  If he asks you direct questions, answer them honestly. He may find this hard to believe, he may be repulsed, he may admire your entrepreneurial spirit. But you don't want to be worried that someone else will mention to him the real reason you could afford that down payment.

Last year one of our neighbors was really ticked off about our Halloween decorations being too scary. We really do go for the more ghoulish decorating and have a lot of fun with it! What's Halloween without the fog machines, scary music (not loud), ghosts, and gruesome decor? The neighbors on either side of us have joined the fun and put up quite a display themselves. None of the decorations are over-the-top blood and guts, but the standard Halloween fare. The angry neighbors across the street have a 5-year-old daughter. They said she wouldn't sleep with the light off for a month after our "horrifying" decorations "scared the daylights" out of their little girl. They also said they hoped that we would refrain from the frightening decorations since we now knew they upset their daughter. They still will barely speak to any of us that decorated with anything "scary" to a 5-year-old. Prudie, the kids on our street are a wide variety of ages, with the vast majority of the kids being 8 or older. I have three boys ages 8, 10, and 12 who have a great time with the scary stuff. Is it insensitive for us to decorate with tombstones, scary witches, and skeletons? My boys and their friends next door are already planning new ideas for the Halloween display. Should I pull the plug on the fog machine and plan a super-duper Happy Halloween?

My daughter was still in her high chair having dinner when our first trick or treater -- wearing a wolfman mask -- came to the door, and my husband thought it would be great to bring him into the house and show our toddler.  Naturally, hysterics ensued. Nonetheless she recovered and went on to be dressed as a witch and a skeleton during her elementary school years and even asked to go  back twice to the house of the people with the twitching plastic rat.  Sure your neighbor's  daugther was scared, but being a parent means not expecting the world  to bend to your child, but guiding your child through the world.  If the parents have carried out this grudge for a year, I feel sorry that their little girl is missing lessons in humor and resilience.  My suggestion is that before you start the decorating you go over and speak to the parents and say that you'd enjoy it if their daughter (and her parents) came over to help your sons decorate the house. Say that you think if she helps  the big boys, and can see all this scary stuff is just things in boxes and not so scary after all, that she will really enjoy the festivities. If they shut the door in your face, tell your sons to skip their house when they go out for candy.

In a few weeks, I'll be undergoing breast augmentation surgery. I'm very excited about the operation, and can't wait to see the results. I am a bit unsure, however, if I should offer any sort of explanation about the major change in the size of my chest to my friends and coworkers. I'm currently a size A, and I'll be getting size D implants, so they are going to notice a difference. Do I just ignore it and pretend like nothing's different, or do I address the "elephant" in the room? If so, how on earth do I make that announcement?

 Unless you work at Hooters, or a strip club, breast size is one of those things that is not on the approved list of water cooler conversation.  There will be some people who can't help themselves, "Jeez, Louise, you almost knocked me over with your new knockers." But while there is sure to be plenty of chatter about this behind your back, if not in front of your chest, you should just slap on one of those Mona Lisa smiles and change the subject.  To fend off comments such as, "I wish every woman went on vacation the same place you did!" in advance of your departure you could also confide in the office gossip. You could tell her that you're finally getting the breast augmentation surgery you've always wanted, but you're worried about what will happen when you return because you really, really don't want to talk about it.  Before you go ahead, I'm going to urge you to rethink your plans. I get that you're unhappy being small-breasted and that there's a fix for that. But it just doesn't make sense to overreact to the tune of a D cup. Before you make this change permanent, get some gigantic falsies and spend a few weekends wearing them. Maybe you'll see that the attention they engender is not something you want to experience every day and that you'd be happier with a more modest expansion.

Dear Prudence, After my newborn and I were discharged from hospital, she had to be re-hospitalized due to some minor health concerns. Due to circumstances my husband couldn't care for our older daughter, so we asked a close, trusted family friend to look after her for three days. After our baby came back home my older child became completely disruptive, jealous, and demanding. She was fine before so I had no idea why she suddenly disliked the new baby. After some gentle probing we discovered our friend thought it would be hilarious to tell our child that mommy and daddy didn't want her anymore. And that's why we had a new baby - to replace her. It sounds as though the friend drummed the story into her over and over judging by my daughter's reaction. My daughter has a lower cognitive ability than mainstream children. So for her to be this upset, our friend would have had to repeat the story several times. My friend likes to kid around and tease my daughter which was always within the limits of good natured fun. But this really crossed the line. I am livid that she thought it was funny to cause my child distress. I've refrained myself from speaking to her about this because I don't trust what might come out of my mouth. What should I say to her?

I'm assuming your young child to the best of her ability is reporting what your friend actually said. If so, then your friend has rocks for a brain and a heart.  But first of all, you've got to get your friend's version. Bear in mind, even the most seeingly loving and mature older brother or sister has been known to become a snarling dog once realizing that this adorable new baby is here for keeps. So sit down with your friend and say you appreciate her stepping up during your emergency. Then explain that  Marissa's adjustment to her new sister has recenlty been particularly difficult and you'd like to know what the friend said to her about the new baby.  If your friend says she gave Marissa the standard pablum about how exciting it is to be a big sister, then you have to say Marissa must really have misunderstood. Say she reported that you that you told her she was being replaced. You understand this would have been teasingly, but that  for the sake of your daughter's psychological health it's really important you know what was said.  If she owns up then say to her you'd like her  to apologize to  Marissa and explain  what she said wasn't true, it was just a very bad joke.  When that's done you can privately say to her that you are deeply wounded that she would tell a vulnerable girl something so terrible and you hope she sees the distress she's caused all of you.  I don't see how you go on with a friendship with someone so lacking in judgment.

About a year ago, my wife told me that she had been a "sugar baby" in college. FWIW, it was painful for me to hear but everyone has done things that are not proud of. And after a few months of counseling, everything is back to normal. I would recommend that everyone be upfront and honest about these things.

Thank you. It's always so helpful to hear from someone else who has been there.

I am dating a former high school student and have been for some time. I love her and did not become involved with her until she was in her mid-twenties. We didn't even see each other for five years after her graduation. I know we did everything morally and have nothing about which we should be ashamed. That said, I still hesitate to introduce her to my colleagues, who also taught her, as my girlfriend. I worry I will come off as a pervert or that they will judge me for dating a former student. My girlfriend has introduced me to many of her friends and her family, and I have not done the same, because many of my good friends are teachers, and I'm a little embarressed to admit I fell for a former student. If I want to keep my girlfriend, and I really want to keep her, I need to get over my ridiculous embarrassment. Do you have any suggestions about how I could introduce my girlfriend without making our former relationship the center of the introduction?

You introduce her and then the two of then tell your delightful story about reconnecting. She says something like, "I was getting popcorn at the movie theater last year when I saw Dan ordering Rasinettes. I even said, 'Hey Mr. Miller',  it's Courtney Simmons." Then you say at first you didn't recognize her, it had been years since  you'd seen her.  But you started talking and sparks flew.  By doing this you charmingly answer all the questions that are forming in the minds of your colleagues and you are reassuring everyone that this relationship didn't start until Courtney was long out of school and an adult.  Remember that if you act and feel guilty, that will send the subliminal message that there actually is a dirty little secret to this romance.  There isn't, so be glad Courtney's yearbook is gathering dust and that you have found each other.

Dear Prudie: My family and I just moved this summer and are really enjoying our new home. We've met some of our neighbors and have visited in passing. Between work and driving our kids to practices, there really hasn't been a lot of time to get to know anyone further. This weekend my husband and I were out working on the yard and my next door neighbor was also outside. We were visiting and pretty soon his spouse joined us. Our kids are similar in age and they ended up outside throwing the football around and having a good time. All this was very spontaneous and fun. We were having such a great time we invited them all over for dinner next weekend. Later in the conversation, Halloween came up. That's when everything went straight to hell, literally. Turns out, our neighbors view Halloween as worshiping the Devil and all who participate as Satan worshipers. Prudie, we love Halloween and throw ourselves into the fun. Before moving, we hosted a party every year and went all out decorating. But as the conversation progressed, it became clear that this would be a deal breaker on any new friendship with these neighbors. In fact, it would offend them. If it just involved my husband and I, we wouldn't hesitate to do as we please. But I hate to have my kids lose their new buddies. So, Prudie,  Witch way do we go? Do I leave all my skeletons in the closet, or tell them that the Devil made me do it? Signed -- A Cauldron of Conflict

What a treat, you've taken care of every Halloween pun and I don't have a ghost of a chance trying to compete.  As with the previous letter writer with the overly protective parents, you cannot find yourselves intimidated from enjoying your holiday because of who you live next to. Fortunately, you don't have to worry that if you offend these fundamentalist, they will come after you with pitchforks and torches. But it's likely things will get icy after the holiday.  It could be these are the kind of people who don't believe in Christmas decorations and Santa displays,  so bending to their will only take the fun out of life.  Since you have become friendly with them, before Satan takes over your house you could ring the bell and give them a heads up. Explain that all of you enjoy Halloween and you wanted them to know that you are are going to be decorating.  Then tell your kids not to ring the door bell of those neighbors.

Not a question, just a comment. If you weren't born with D cups, don't do this intentionally to yourself. I have worn a D cup since high school, and aside from looking ridiculous in a bikini (especially being relatively small everywhere else), it is nearly impossible to find decent clothes and bras to fit without spending a fortune, especially with two-piece sets. If the top fits, the bottom is huge! I would love to have a breast REDUCTION! In my opinion, nothing bigger than a "C" is necessary.

Many well-endowed women are writing in with similar warnings!

Hi Prudie, I'm enggaged to my amazing, funny, smart, sexy girlfriend. There are so many things I love about her, but there's one thing that worries me a little. She's a really sensitive person and so she doesn't ever want to hurt any living thing, for any reason. She's a vegan, (so am I, so that's not a problem) she belongs to a couple of animal rights organizations (which I think is great) and she won't harm even an insect. (I don't like trapping cockroaches and setting them free outside the apartment, but it makes her happy) This weekend, it rained overnight, and as a result the streets were covered with worms in the morning. She wanted to go out and save as many as she could before the sun warmed up the road and baked them to death. She also insisted that I go with her, and when I said I'd rather sleep in, she got tears in her eyes and told me she couldn't believe I would just sleep in knowing that hundreds of living creatures suffered a horrible death. After a short lecture on Karma, I gave in and helped save the worms. (which was totally gross) I love my fiancée, and want to support the causes that are important to her, but how can I tell her that I find some of her behavior bizare and over the top without causing a huge fight?

I'm no vegan, but I'm gratified to know I'm not the only worm rescuer out there. I just can't stand to see them  sizzling as they try to navigate a hot sidewalk, so I often bend down and place them on the grass.   This deed is balanced out, however, by my smashing of the moths that make it into the house and the stomping on the ants in my kitchen.  It could be that your fiance would be happy being a Jain. These people are so non-violent they refuse to eat root vegetables because of the microorganisms they contain and sweep a broom in front of them as they walk to avoid stepping on insects.  In India such beliefs are a religion, but in the U.S. this behavior would be seen as madness. Being so equisitely attuned to suffering down to the earthworm level means your fiancee is going to go through life in a constant state of pain.  I'm afraid she needs to toughen up and focus her efforts on a few things she can change.   How you get her there will require some delicacy on your part. But first of all you need to draw your own boundaries.  Say that you support her worm rescue efforts, but next time it rains, you're sleeping in.  Explain you are a vegan for health and moral reasons, but in order to get through life you can't make everything a cause.  Before you get married think long and hard about spending your life with someone willing to fight for cockroach rights.

This is a real thing? Why didn't anybody tell me? I was a cute girl in my 20s. I could have done that. Instead I just worked. What a sucker I was.

Lots of women are writing in about how they wish they'd known there was an easier way to finance that law school education.  Sure, there must be rich men willing to pay for the  company of an attractive woman. But my impression is that rich men don't tend to have trouble finding such people without drawing up contracts.  Of course, one celebrity (can't remember who) who got caught up in a prostitution scandal explained there was a reason he paid when so many women would do t for free: "You aren't paying for the sex. You're paying for them to leave."

I do not have children of my own, so my pets have become my children. I love each and every one of them as much as my friends with children love their kids. Last week a neighbor's dog attacked and killed one of my beloved cats. My deceased cat was only four-years-old and was sweet and funny and feisty. I feel raw grief and emptiness over losing her, especially so violently. Four years ago my good friend Claire lost her daughter in a drunk driving accident; Claire's daughter was the drunk driver, btw. I told Claire I understood how she felt about losing her daughter so horrifically. Claire flew into a fury and raged at me, calling me crazy for equating the loss of her child to the loss of my pet. I know many people wouldn't agree that pets can be children, but I didn't mean any harm by my comment. I wanted Claire to know I was feeling pain like she had and that we could support each other. What should I do to repair our friendship?

Write her a letter apologizing. Say that out of your own sadness you made a horribly insensitive remark which you deeply regret. Say your heart breaks at the loss of Claire and you never meant to denigrate the pain your friend will always feel.  Say you hope she can forgive your blunder. 

Lisa, my girlfriend of 15 years, recently discovered that I have been having an affair with another woman for the past year. Lisa has stated that she doesn't want to leave me at this point, but needs a cooling off period of two months to assess her needs and expectations of me in the future. When she is ready, she will reach out to me and we will go to counseling, but I am not to contact her before the eight weeks are up. I am more than happy to comply: I love her and cannot imagine life without her. I cut off the relationship as soon as Lisa found out about it. I deeply regret my actions and hope to make them up to her in every way possible once she is ready to move forward with the relationship. The thing is that I have just found out that I have a life threatening condition that requires immediate surgery. I have been told that I must have somebody stay with me and help me convalesce for at least two weeks following the surgery. My parents died some time ago and I do not have children. I cannot afford a home health nurse. I could reach out to Lisa, but I know that contacting her before the end of the cooling off period would put our getting back together at risk. The only other person who would do this for me - and I know she would - is the other woman. I do not want to continue my relationship with this woman and would be clear about that with her. I am pretty sure that Lisa would never find out who nursed me during this time; she would just assume I hired a nurse. What should I do?

Finding out you're in danger of dying is an acceptable reason to override a previous agreement.  Send Lisa an email with a subject line to the effect: Immediate Health Crisis, Please Read, and  outline your situation. If you don't hear from her, perhaps she's blocking your email, so have a mutual friend contact her to tell her.   It could be that Lisa is still so mad that she doesn't care enough to see you through this.  I'm pretty sure that if you do then turn to  the other woman to care for you, Lisa will find out.  So if that's what you end up doing, once you recover all of you will have a lot of reassessing to do.

It sounds like this problem will solve itself with a few sleep-ins. She'll be so horrified at your cruelty that she'll leave you and you can find a normal vegan to marry.

Good solution!

Thanks, everyone.  Going out now to save some worms.

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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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