Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Jan 21, 2013

Need help getting along with partners, relatives, coworkers... and people in general? Ask Prudence! Emily Yoffe -- a.k.a. Slate's advice columnist Dear Prudence takes your questions on manners, morals and more.

Happy Inaugural Day! So let's put aside the country's problems for a while and let's deal with more personal ones.

Dear Prudence, I have been happily married for 22 years and we have two children. Almost every day (barring sickness and/or camping trips) I have risen, showered, shaved my legs and spent nearly an hour putting on make-up and fixing my hair. I'm tired of it, so I recently stopped doing it on Sundays. Mind you, I don't look like a total slob, I just put on moisturizer, put my hair up in a pony tail and wear track suits or other casual clothing. I still think I look better than half the women I encounter out and about in public, but my husband is having a fit about my grooming-free Sundays. He is worried that this is the beginning of a "downward spiral" for me into a messy, slobby woman with permanent razor stubble. He points out that he still showers every day (true -- and it takes him 15 minutes from start to finish) and that, while he doesn't shave on weekends, I've told him that his stubble is sexy (it is) but he finds nothing sexy about my new look. I have no intention of stopping doing all of the stuff I've usually done the other six days a week, I'm just tired of wasting all that time on it when we historically do nothing more than a little yard work or possibly a trip to the grocery store. I think he's being ridiculous and his nagging about it is really getting on my nerves. He says it's not fair of me to change things in the middle of the game like this. I say it's not fair of him to expect me to tart myself all up Who is right here? Sincerely, Fed up of being made up

Thanks for this reminder that it's time for me to do my seasonal winter leg shave.  Your husband is being a jerk, but I am baffled by your morning toilette. If you're washing and styling your hair every day, then stop. Unless your head is an oil derrick, you should be able to go several days between shampoos and you need a hairstyle that only requires brushing in the morning. As for your make up routine, you need to have a casual look that takes you 10 minutes, max. If you don't know how to do that, go to a department store make up counter and get a lesson.  And as far as your husband is concerned, I love the notion that it's not fair for people to "change in the middle of the game." Buddy, change is what the game is all about. I assume you take off your make up when you go to bed so he's not in shock at seeing your bare-faced. I also assume that you are an autonomous person who can decide how gussied up she wants to get to rake leaves. Tell him you have noted his concern but make up-free Sundays are not the slippery slope to bag lady, as he can see when you do your entire beauty routine every Monday. Say that if he finds your unadorned appearance so disturbing, you will accept that there will be no connubial bliss on Sunday night because of his difficulty coping with what you actually look like.

My girlfriend's husband cheated on her throughout their entire relationship, and he tried to gaslight her and make her feel crazy whenever she confronted him. Point is, she has reason to take her time getting to know and trusting people. We have been together for almost a year, and she still feels uncomfortable that one of my best friends is a woman. I have been best friends with Grace since we were kids, and she's like my sister. I have no romantic feelings for her. I share most of my hopes, dreams, and fears with Grace - but I don't tell her personal information about my relationship, and we rarely discuss sex together. I think we have good boundaries. My girlfriend thinks Grace is in love with me and that it is weird that most of Grace's close friends are guys. She says it's suspicious when a woman doesn't have female friends, although Grace does. I feel torn. My girlfriend is an amazing woman, but she is so insecure about Grace, even though Grave has been welcoming and kind to her.

I love the Freudian slip of the fingers that turned "Grace" to "Grave" because unless your girlfriend can let go of her past, your current relationship is going to end up in the grave.  I often hear of people mistreated in previous relationships bringing that baggage into a current one. Yes, we can't escape being  affected by our experiences. But  if someone's going to let her psyche be permanently twisted because of a previous bad relationship, then she's the one causing the heartache now.  You have to tell your girlfriend that you're not her husband, you and Grace are not gaslighting her, and you will not give up a long-time, important friendship over her insecurities. If this "amazing" woman can't accept that, then move on because her lousy marriage will write the script for your future.

I recently got engaged to my boyfriend of two years. He is from a northern European country where engagement rings are usually simple gold band, worn by both the man and the woman. The big diamonds that American women expect are very rare, and considered rather vulgar by most. My engagement ring is a cultural compromise: A gold band set with a very small (1/6 of a carat) diamond. I love my ring, but back home in the US, many people seem personally offended by it. My mother is urging me to have my ring "upgraded" because a respectable American middle class woman needs a bigger diamond. Other people have made comment along the lines of "That looks like a promise ring that a high schooler would give to his girlfriend" and "you should have held out for something nicer." To many American women, the size of the diamond engagement ring seems to be a symbol of their success and worth as women, and the message that I have failed at this goal comes across loud and clear. It stings a bit when they wave their giant rings in my face while making their little comments. What can I do to get them to stop?

I have written previously about my dislike of the engagement ring industry. This is not to say that if your fiance can afford a nice ring (and I mean write a check for the whole thing without a sweat) and you like jewelry, go for it. I mean the notion that it's not an engagement unless a rock is proffered, and the value of the relationship is tied up in the size of that rock. As far as your mother is concerned, in the nicest possible way tell her to butt out and go blow. I am fond of the non sequiter in the case of the type of rude comments you're getting from others:  "Oh, thanks, I really like my ring, too." And as far as people flapping their diamonds in your face close enough to take your eye out, duck your head and say, "My, that's a lovely big ring."

Dear Prude, About 15 years ago, when I was a young teenager, I told a lie that seemed harmless at the time but as an adult, I now realize that my lie could have cost total strangers their jobs. I was visiting the mall with my father and we stopped at a pretzel chain - the workers were hispanic, and I was taking spanish classes at the time. They were speaking to each other in Spanish (I truthfully had no idea what they were saying), and I told my father they were making lewd remarks about me in Spanish. I have no idea why I did it, but he called the company and complained about their behavior. I don't know what happened, but I realize there's a chance two totally innocent mall workers could have lost their jobs. I am appalled by my behavior, but I can't come up with any way to make restitution since it happened so long ago and I have no clue who the pretzel shop workers were. Do you have any suggestions for me?

At least you recognize how deplorable your behavior was and you have remorse for the terrible thing you did. And you're right, there is no way to find out what happened to those innocent people. So whatever damage you did has been done and can't be undone. What you can do is try to make some kind of larger, societal restitution in the form of community service. So find an organization that helps immigrants and make a significant donation or do volunteer work, or both. All that's left for you at this point is try to balance your awful act with something good.

I don't think my problem is unique, but the particular details may be. I recently found out that my best friend's wife has been cheating on him, not with one, but two different guys. Here's the tricky part: his wife happens to be my boss. If I let him know, due to certain other details, she'll know it was me who told him. She is the owner's favorite employee, so I'd have no chance to argue that I shouldn't be fired for a personal issue. My friend is completely cluess that she's cheating on him (even though she cheated on him once during his engagement). Is there any way I can tell him without getting fired. I've made my mind up to do so, regardless of the consequences.

You should stay way out of the way of this one.  Your best friend married a woman who cheated on him during the engagement -- you seem to be saying this wasn't a secret, but that he knew about it. That means he was willing to sign up for life with someone with a very loose definition of fidelity.  Perhaps you haven't heard, but when you get fired from a job these days, it can be hard to find another one before the unemployment checks run out. Yes, your friend is being played for a fool, but this is not your business. If his wife is so sloppy that you know of her two lovers, surely he could be aware of this evidence if he choose to examine his marriage. Keep your job and leave your  boss's affairs alone.

Dear Prudie, I am a thirty-something married woman with one child. My husband and I celebrated our 10-year- anniversary this past year. I consider myself happy with my current life status. With this being said, since the age of thirteen, I have wanted to get rhinoplasty. My husband strongly disagrees with my long-lived desire and says he married me, even though I have a big nose. Prudie, if I were to get rhinoplasty, it would be with my own, hard-earned money. As a married person, am I to back down on my own desire for a nose job becasue my husband doesn't want me to get one? He says if I do this, I'll want to keep getting plastic surgury and turn into a freak. I say, this is a tweak to my nose that will not be dramatic, but will help my self confidence when I look in the mirror. Call me superficial. Tell me to love my insides. Tell me to accept myself as is. But this is something I've always wanted. Back down or proceed? Schnoz

I like real noses and I understand your husband's concern. And keep in mind that the tweak the plastic surgeon shows you in the software is no guarantee that  that's what your new nose will look like. However,  it's also a little silly to think that remodeling your nose will lead to your becoming the next Joan Rivers.  You're an adult and you can make this decision without your husband's permission. But before you make a change that can't be undone, explore new hairstyles and make up routines that make you feel prettier.  Keep in mind that you may see nothing but nose when you look in the mirror, but that is not what other people see. Then if you do go ahead, research your surgeon very carefully so that you end up with something you like better instead of something you regret.

My ex-husband and I have been divorced for 8 years. We have two sons together, the younger of whom is 10 years old. He gets frequent migraines, which are worsened by not eating or drinking enough throughout the day. A couple years ago, my son became ill after eating pasta, and since then even the thought of pasta makes him nauseous. This past weekend, my ex took him and his brother to a family get-together for his mother-in-law's birthday where pasta was being served. My son refused to eat the pasta, which led to his step-mother informing him that he was not permitted to have bread or even a drink the rest of the day. As a result, my son went approximately 20 hours with nothing to eat or drink, and his father referred to him as an "embarrassment to the family." This is not the first time this has happened. What do I do?

See your lawyer. This is child abuse and a judge may consider changing the terms of custody. You need to protect your son(s) from these crazy people. As far as your son's medical condition is concerned, you need a serious consult with a doctor. It could be that some cognitive behavior therapy will help him cope better. It could also be that he's old enough to take one of the drugs that stops migraines in its tracks. But right now what has to be stopped in its tracks is the appalling treatment of your boy.

When I got engaged, I insisted on no ring. I knew my fiance probably couldn't afford it anyway, and I'd rather have a down payment to a house. Well he did a 180 and bailed on me in the middle of wedding planning. My family and I lost money, and he was able to walk away with no consequences. (Interestingly enough he decided to bail when a financial commitment was required of his family.) If I had asked for an engagement ring, he would have bailed a lot faster minus the embarrassing announcement/renege and without the loss of money. I cannot tell you HOW MANY people said this is why I needed a damn ring. I felt like an idiot. As valiant as you may think it is, the ring IS a symbol of a guy's commitment. As I learned the hard way by being naive, what a guy puts into the engagement IS a reflection of his dedication.

You are lucky this jerk left before the wedding. Stop fixating on the idea that you would have been saved this heartache because you got a ring. I assure you the absence of an engagement ring is not the sign of lack of committment. I say this as someone married to a great guy for 18 years, and all I've got to show in the jewelry department is a gold band.

I married my late husband, Mark, in 2008. When I was six months pregnant in 2009, he was killed by a drunk driver. I had just lost my job. Mark and I knew we should have had life insurance - but wedidn't. A long-time family friend, John, gave me a place to stay and helped me out. When my daughter was a year old, we decided to start dating. We've now been together 2 1/2 years, and John is the only father (and a wonderful one at that) my daughter has ever known. I always tell her about Mark. Mark's family loves John, and we are getting married next month - but they were not happy at a recent family get-together when my daughter called John "Daddy." My mother-in-law asked us to leave. I do my best to explain to my daughter who each man is, but she doesn't yet fully understand. I told my MIL that I will always love Mark and my daughter will always learn about him, but she now refuses to speak to me. Am I wrong?

How tragic to lose your son, then drive off your granddaughter because of your grief. You have done nothing wrong; you sound  exemplary. You are keeping the knowledge of your daughter's biological father alive, while also providing her with a loving father.  I wish your  mother-in-law could accept the hard truth that John is her granddaughter's father now, and that this is a good thing for her. Of course she will always mourn for her son, but surely she knows he would have wanted his little girl to be surrounded by love.  You could try sending her a letter saying you understand how painful it is for her to see another man step into the role of father. But that John is a wonderful man who will always want your daughter to know about Mark.  You can say that you want your girl to have the love of her grandmother, and you hope she can find it in her heart to embrace all of you.

Hi Prudie, What are your thoughts on this often debated topic? I work at a company that is fairly small, around 40 employees, the potential suitor is at the same level as I am and the company does not have a policy against it. There has been a lot of heavy flirting going on, and the attraction is there we are both single. I am not wedded to my job, meaning if I had to leave I would. I dated coworkers in my early 20s and it always ended in someone being really hurt. So I am concerned, I am now mid 30s and hope I have matured. I have not been even attracted to a man for three years now, and had totally given up on dating, until I met this coworker who seems to have revived something in me that I thought had died. I am starting to get to the point where I think love, family and friends is a lot more important than any job, and I am really considering going for it. What do you think? How should I approach the subject with him?

What you don't do is say that should your love blossom, revive your dead heart, and lead to marriage, you would be willing to leave the company to avoid awkwardness at work.  You say something more along the lines of, "Hey, why don't we go out for coffee sometime." Then you see how he responds.  I understand companies not wanting subordinate-boss relationships, but what you have in mind breaks no rules and sounds promising. I hope it works out.

I have been seeing a man for over a year now. We have had a very up and down relationship and have broke up more times than I can count. He is the type that gets under my skin and I have a hard time letting go. So does he. Whenever I tell him to not text me, call me, he always finds a way to get in contact and the cycle starts all over. He has lied and cheated but he can charm the skin off a snake and trys to keep me close. How do I get over the withdrawl of him and keep strong with my no contact? His wife commited suicide and he has kids so I dont want to file a no contact order. He has been through a lot already. I just want some peace and want to be able to move on.

It's not his charm that's stripping your skin, that's you shedding it yourself.  Your excuses boil down to: I'm digging this sick drama. So stop. Tell him it's over, you wish him the best, but you two need to have no contact -- convey this in writing so you have a record. Then don't respond when the cycle starts. If he keeps escalating, send a final email saying that if he doesn't cease immediately, you will be forced to take action with the authorities. Stop making excuses for your snake charmer and slither away.

Your son also needs to have a small bag with him at all times containing granola bars (or some non-perishable snack he likes) and a folding water bottle. I was told by my doctor that I need to eat every 2-3 hours, and having something in a pinch is invaluable.

Great point. Your son needs to be more in control of his triggers, and if an empty stomach and dehydration are among them, he needs to be prepared to keep himself from getting thirsty and hungry.

I know this is a bit of a trivial question. Throughout the last 10 years, I have helped throw bridal showers, engagement parties, baby showers, attended weddings, gave gifts, helped pay for bachlorette parties, etc. I am the last single one of my girlfriends. I'm getting married this summer, and I'm finding myself, well, alone. All my friends seem preoccupied with kids, moves, family drama, etc. I don't mind that, but it appears the effort I exerted during their single, engaged, married days is not being met. Everyone else seems pretty busy right now. I'm not asking for much since the wedding is small, and it's not even about the wedding. I'm beginning to feel taken advantage of. Should I just go ahead and drop these friends? We're doing our wedding list now. I guess this is what I get when I get married late in life!

Thank goodness your friends have moved on and are deep in the guts of real life and not "My Day." How great that you've found someone you want to spend your life with. I assure you 10 years from now the memory of your shower, your toasts, the font on the mongram on your cocktail napkins will all be a fuzzy memory. Since you will be entering the world your friends are now in, it would be better for you to hang on to these friendship instead of blowing them up because everyone has moved on. You recognize your pique is trivial. So get some perspective, plan a lovely day, and be happy.

Dear Prudence, I have been going with a man for two years. We seem to get along sharing cultural backgrounds and interest in the arts, politics etc. Our intimate life is absolutely wonderful. But there is absolutely no talk of the future or of moving in or moving forwards in our relationship. I love him and the only times we have not seen eye to eye is when I bring up my dissatisfaction with his no commitment attitude towards me/us. Yes I am always ready and willing when he calls or makes any plans but I have been feeling unhappy in this situatiion because I feel he doesn't want to get married or move in together.

Stop being a doormat.  You've been together for two years and he refuses to even discuss moving the relationship forward, so you have a lot of information about how he sees the two of you. Since you want more out of life, tell him so. Say that you understand commitment may make him nervous, but lack of it does the same for you, so you two have a dilemma you need to work out. Then stop being so available and start pursuing your own interests. And do not consider moving in with him unless you two have an entirely different understanding of where this relationship is headed.

Dear Prudie, I was raised as a Christian, but have always struggled with my faith, partly because there are certain aspects to Christianity which I do not agree with, and partly because I feel like the way I have understood the rules and expectations placed on me have contributed to my current problems with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. I have been thinking about this for a long time and have decided to put aside my faith, something which has made me feel more comfortable in myself already. However, my whole family are Christians, and while some of them would probably be accepting of my decision, I suspect most of them would be deeply upset by it and would regard it as their responsibility to 'convert' me back again. I have no desire to make this into a big deal or to challenge them about their own faith, but equally I no longer feel comfortable attending church or praying with the family, and it feels very dishonest when they speak to me about their faith and assume I have the same thoughts and feelings. Should I keep quiet in order to keep the peace, or speak up and face the fallout? --Fallen

This is a private matter and you are perfectly entitled to keep it that way. I'm not sure how old you are or how entwined with your family you are, but if you're an adult, this really is your own decision. Yes, you may get family pressure. So you have to have to be able to say, "I appreciate your concern, but I'm dealing privately with matters of faith and I'd like to keep it that way." It may make your life easier to join your family at church for say Easter and Christmas, which won't mean you're being a hypocrite, it will mean you're making an effort for people you love.

I think that Glee's Lea Michele is a beautiful woman, and she has a large nose. In an episode of Glee, Rachel (her character) considered a nose job but in the end decided against it. All of her friends told her that her nose was part of her and they loved her with it.

I agree she is beautiful and would not be more so with an "off the rack" nose.

I don't know, I think the girlfriend has issues with Grace because the poster sounds like he's in love with her. "I share most of my hopes, dreams, and fears with Grace"? He has to maintain "good boundaries"? He can't stop gushing about how great Grace is and how special she is, but the girlfriend gets the boilerplate "amazing." (I'm not judging, just throwing out the idea that the girlfriend may have grounds for giving the poster the side-eye with respect to Grace.)

He says Grace has been a lifelong friend and there has never been any romance between them, but he is describing why this relationship is so important to him. You could turn this whole thing around and say how great it is that a man can have this kind of relationship with a woman -- fortunately it's becoming more common.  Either you believe the letter writer or you don't. If the girlfriend doesn't believe him, then she should depart instead of trying to destroy the friendship.

Ah, someone with straighter hair who notes that we should simply be able to comb our hair on "off" days... It's not that simple for other hair types, just so you know.

Billions of dollars worth of flat irons are sold just so people can end up with straight hair.  I maintain  that anyone should be have a basic haircut that enables them to do something easy with their hair so that it looks decent without having to do a major style job on it every single day.

My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost 6 months. Recently we have been taking the step of introducing each other to friends and possibly family. I've started including him in events with my friends and things have been going great, until this weekend. He called and told me that his brother and a friend from Texas (where he is from) would be in town so he would be busy with them all weekend and would see me later. There wasn't anything I could really say at the time other than ok, but it really hurt to be excluded. For what its worth, I have talked to his brother a few times, but since he lives in upstate NY, never face to face.  Before I bring it up, am I overreacting? 

After almost six months in an exclusive relationship, I think it's reasonable to have some kind of get-together when your boyfriend's brother comes to town. So call him back and say you don't want to intrude on their visit, but you'd love to host the group or brunch. Or suggest maybe all of you could meet for coffee because after talking to his brother on the phone, you'd enjoy meeting him in person. Then see how your boyfriend reacts and how it makes you feel.

It doesn't sound like pique to me. It sounds like these friends have forgotten what she has done for them and she feels a bit sad and disappointed. And I think she has a right. Just because you're married and have children doesn't mean you get to ignore your friend's milestones because you've been there, done that. They don't sound much like friends to me. She never said anything to sound like a Bridezilla, never mentioned fonts anywhere. Just seemed justified in being hurt by her friends.

She has to take a hard look at this. She mentions her friends' life dramas. Are they really busy furnishing their second homes, or are they dealing with a child with autism and unemployment? Maybe she needs to take her bridal party out for lunch and say she knows they're all at a different point in their lives, but she would love their advice and counsel and she enters this exciting phase. Having a sense of lightness and perspective is more likely to get her what she wants.

I live in an apartment building. A neighbor (not sure who) owns a dog and has twice now let it poop on the rugs in the hallway--and then refused to clean it up. I've spoken to the landlord, and he's as disgusted as I am, and he wants me to figure out who it is and report back to him. I'm wondering what I might say to this person when I figure out who it is. What's the best way to handle this? I've so far left two notes urging the person to be both a more responsible pet owner AND a more courteous neighbor, and informing them that no one else will be cleaning up after their pooch, but the poo has been on the rug for three days now and the offender has certainly walked by the pile and the sign a few times by now without doing anything about it. Help!

Your landlord needs to address this with more than an expression of disgust. Surely there is a maintanence crew who works in the building -- so the landlord has to deploy the cleaning crew to get the poop off the floor. And frankly, I'd do it myself rather than walk by a hardening pile for three days.  Unless your apartment doubles as a kennel, how hard could it be for management to contact everyone on your floor who has a dog and explain this kind of behavior will get them removed from the building? Organize your fellow tenants and keep the pressure on management.

I have a sister in law that has struggled with infertility. Her eggs are viable, she just doesn't seem able to carry a pregnancy. I agreed to be a surrogate for her, and so went in with her to the doctor to discuss things. I was getting a weird vibe from some of the staff, also the doctor, which I finally understood when one of the staff told me that usually surrogates don't come into the picture until a woman has had 3 failed IVF procedures, unless something else proved IVF would not work -- and in fact, my SIL was still planning to do a 3rd IVF -- at the same time I would be implanted! I was shocked, and felt used. Granted, it seems very possible that it won't work for her, but if it did, we would both be pregnant and she may not be able to help me out with my two young children while I was carrying this child for her, as she had promised she would. When I expressed my concern, she just laughed me off and said I was being a worry wart, and that she would love to end up with "twins." At this point, I seriously don't think this surrogacy is a good idea, but now I'm afraid I'll start world war 3 when I back out. Any tips as to how I may soften the blow?

You don't want to be a surrogate, end of story. If she wants a surrogate, she needs to start looking for one outside her family.  Your sister-in-law can throw all sorts of fits, but she cannot make you carry a child for her if you don't want to. You've just said you don't want to. You're a mother, so you must know how to say, "No," even if the person hearing it throws a tantrum.

That was a put-down of an answer. She said she was finding herself "alone" - I would ask what that means, exactly. No showers, no bachelorette party at all? Or no one's interested (or has the time to discuss) the "font on the mongram on your cocktail napkins"? There's a difference. You seem to be implying how dare she expect her friends to be interested in her wedding festivities? They've moved on to Real Life!

There's obviously more to this story than a conspiracy by her presumably dear friends to pay no attention whatsoever to her happy event.  Has she not been close to these people in years? Is she sitting there expecting everyone to surprise her with the exciting plans they've put together? Maybe all her friends are a bunch of louses and she should cut her losses and not invite them to the wedding. Maybe there's some middle path that will make her not feel so alone.

Thanks, everyone.  Talk to you next week.

In This Chat
Emily Yoffe
Emily Yoffe -- a.k.a. Slate's advice columnist Dear Prudence, offers advice on manners, morals and more. She is also Slate's Human Guinea Pig, a contributor to the XX Factor blog, and the author of What the Dog Did: Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner.

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