Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Jan 28, 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.

Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.

I have a friend who is 26 and has been married for 23 months.  She and her husband started trying to get pregnant right after they bought their house 20 months ago and did get pregnant but had an ectopic pregnancy and she lost the baby 8 months ago. Now she has decided to take the step to do IVF because the stress of not getting pregnant is to much for her to stand. My issue is that she does not have the funds to pursue IVF so she has fund raising parties. She sells home party items and all of the proceeds are going to her treatments. The first one she hosted herself and I went out of obligation. When you checked out and paid she gave you an item total then asked how much extra you would like to put directly toward her baby fund saying the standard was 20% of your item total. She then asked each person who would host a party for her fund raising efforts. When I informed her that I would not be hosting a party for her she got very upset and said I was not a good friend because I would not host and I only gave the minimum 20% additional to help her have a baby. Am I being selfish or is an IVF fund raising party as outrageous as it seems to me to be?

I wonder if at 26 she's explored all her medical alternatives to getting pregnant.  But of course here we are  speculating on your friend's medical decisions because she's made this profoundly personal question a matter of public obligation.  I love her notion that the "standard" IVF tip for an item you didn't want in the first place is 20 percent. The woman's got chutzpah, I'll give her that. What she doesn't have, however, is the standing to insist that all her friends fund her fertility treatments.  Wish her the best but continue to demur about hosting the petri dish party.  At the rate she's going, she should soon find herself fuming all her selfish, former friends.

Hi Prudence/Emily: I broke up with my boyfriend three weeks ago after I found out that he had been cheating on me. We had been together about a year, but did not live together. I knew he was not right for me and we were not going to end up married, but still, the infidelity and accompanying lies really stung. In the weeks leading up to the split, I suspected I was pregnant (I was) but didn't say anything to him because things were so difficult between us. A few days after we broke up, I miscarried. It was devastating. Even though I know he would not have been an ideal father, and I definitely didn't set out to get pregnant, I still wanted the baby and now feel a sense of loss mixed with relief and guilt. My question is, should I tell my ex about the miscarriage? Some of my friends say he has the right to know.

You had a troubled relationship with a compulsive liar, so I don't think you owe him any information about your miscarriage. In a way, telling him could be interpreted as an attempt if not to get back together, to at least see each other in a state of high emotion. I understand you're mourning  this loss, but I hope your feelings eventually shift so that you do start recognizing more of the accompanying relief that you will not be yoked to someone so unsuitable as a romantic partner and father.  As you go out and look for someone new, first discuss with your gynecologist some of the safe and extremely reliable forms of birth control now available, so you don't end up in this situation again.  I hear from too many woman who are raising children utterly alone, their kids abandoned emotionally and financially by jerk fathers.

I am a team leader in a medium sized arts organization. I recently discovered via Google that someone I work with closely, though only occasionally (several days a month), appears to have been convicted in the past several years for possessing an extensive quantity of truly disturbing child pornography. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was placed on probation. He was hired at a time when the organization needed someone to fill his role (which is a part-time substitute position) very urgently, and I am not sure due diligence was done as it would have been in a more formal hiring process. In any case, his ability to do the job, which he does well, is not related to his criminal past. He has little to no contact with minors at work. However, as the parent of three young children, I am revolted by the idea of working closely with this man, who is pleasant and chatty. Adding to the complexity, while his fairly uncommon name, age, and locale match that of the person in the Google search, I am aware that I have no evidence this is the same man. What do I do? Acting coldly toward him is not only potentially unfair, but jeopardizes my team's ability to do our job well, and will raise questions among other team members. Treating him warmly (if he is the same person) repels me. Do I bring this up with my supervisor? HR? On what grounds? And if they are aware of his (possible) past and chose to hire him anyway, how do I manage my own behavior going forward? Signed, Pandora

I'm left wondering what you mean when you say he has "little to no" contact with minors at work. That indicates there is some contact, and your company needs to know if the terms of his probation, if he is still on it, covers being around minors.  I also don't know if your organization's policies would prevent having someone on the payroll who was convicted of a felony.  It's also true that you haven't been able to confirmyour suspicions. All this is sufficient grounds to go to your supervisor and say you stumbled upon this information, it is not substantiated, but you felt the organization should at the least know what you discovered.  If they were aware of his past, or if they look into it and conclude his occasional work should continue (taking into account this issue of minors in the workplace), you put aside your personal feelings and act professionally. It should help if you can accept that he was caught and the criminal justice system rendered its judgment.

Dear Prudence, My boyfriend (we are both around 50 years old) has a habit of ogling women, sometimes rather obviously and often when we are together. I find it rude and annoying, but not a huge issue in and of itself. However, I recently discovered that he sometimes takes pictures surreptitiously of women, often of their rear ends and legs. I am very bothered by this, find it creepy, and also wonder if he could get in trouble for it. I know that if I bent over at a bus stop to pick up a quarter, and some stranger took a picture, I would be really furious, and feel violated. If someone did that to my daughter, I would be murderous. He knows I am aware of the obvious staring, but I don't think he realizes that I have actually seen him snap a picture, and I am quite sure that if I bring it up, it will not be an easy conversation. I can't decide if I am over-reacting, or if I should talk to him about it, or I should just get the hell put of Dodge. I have tried to just ignore it, but it does bother me a lot.

I assume you don't want to stand by him when he's hauled into court for taking an "up-skirt" photo. Often when I get letters such as yours they start with with an averral of the wonderfulness of the (awful) partner. But all you've given me is a description of a creep.  I think you should have a talk with him and it should consist of one word:"Goodbye."

Dear Prudie, My father is turning 70 at the end of February and my mom has organized a party go get all of my siblings to attend. With everyone scattered across the country, this is a rare occurence and we have decided to get a professional photographer to take some family pictures. I am the youngest in the family and the only one who is unmarried, although I am in a long term relationship with a great guy. My dad and the family love the boyfriend and he has been included in the festivities. He's met a few of my sibs before, they all approve and I'm really happy that he has been welcomed so fully into my family's plans. Here's my problem: I love my boyfriend and I plan on being with him for the long haul, but if we do break up in the future, I don't want our family picture to include my future ex. All of my high school graduation pictures are marred by an ex that, at the time, I was clearly going to spend the rest of my life with whom I have since fallen out of touch with and they're awkard to look at now. How do I navigate having my boyfriend attend this happy event, but not include him in the pictures? Is there a delicate way to tell him I feel it would be inappropriate? I don't want it to seem like I'm planning to skip town, but these pictures are one of the few cases where my whole family will be together and I don't want everyone to look back on them in a few years and go "oh yea, whatever happened to that guy little sis was seeing?" Any advice greatly appreciated, thanks!

If you don't want to end your long-term relationship with the great guy at your father's part, when the photographer is gathering everyone for group shots, you do not say, "Honey, please stay in your seat. I know we've been together awhile. But  you may not be around for the long haul, and I don't want you face to haunt me for years to come."  You're hiring the photographer for the event, so there should be plenty of photos of various groupings: immediate family, siblings, everyone and their spouses, good friends, etc.  That means your boyfriend will be in some photos and not others.  If you two get married,  it would be odd that there weren't any photos of him at this 70th birthday, even though he was there.  It may turn out that down the road some of the happy couples captured on film will be set asunder.  Fortunately, no one's going to remove them from the photographic record, Soviet-style.

My husband and I have known each other more than four years, and have been married for almost one year. We are going through a rough patch, and have sought the help of a marriage counselor in addition to his personal therapist for anger management issues. While the frequency of our fights has diminished, I don't think we're yet at a comfortable place in the marriage to think about having any children (I brought my 5 year old daughter into the marriage, so I'm honestly in no hurry right now). My husband, on the other hand, is desperate for children in the immediate future, and thinks that our relationship issues have no impact, because he grew up in a household where fighting was the norm, and thinks that it wouldn't impact our children at all. How do I get through to him that children won't make anything better, and could in fact make things worse?

If your husband, who has back-to-back therapists, has concluded that since his parents were at each other's throats, and so are you two, and all that is hunky dory for childrearing,  he needs a lot more therapy or maybe a new set of therapists.  I know people can change and grow, but from what you're describing I can't understand why you married him. There's nothing you've written that give me any hope he has the slightest understanding of what it takes to raise a child in a healthy home -- which has me concerned about his effect on your little girl.  If you have a marriage counselor, yet you feel you have to write to me for advice on saying, "You're too emotionally out of control for me to consider having a child with you," then you need to take a hard look at your situation. It would also be a good idea to double up on the birth control.

How does one "stumble" across this, first off, and if (s)he's that damn curious, (s)he can access the relevant state's case search info and learn for sure before spouting off. ... and, btw, be prepared for it to backfire, horribly.

If she was Googling a co-worker's name, which millions of people have done out of curiosity or to refresh one's memory about someone's previous employment, etc., the letter writer might have found an article about the case.  I'm not sure that the letter writer, having seen this information is about someone whose unusual name, location, and age matches that of the employee should then herself go on to further investigate. It seems like enough information to say, "This may be nothing, it may be a different person, but I wanted to bring it to the attention of management to check out." If children are coming into the office, I don't see that this is going to backfire horribly on the person who in a low-key way alerts supervisors.

I am a mother of three children whose ages are 1, 3, and 5. I live in Texas where I have no family besides my husband and three children. Since we have had kids, my husband and I have not gone out by ourselves without the kids. I don't trust babysitters. When I was younger, I was sexually abused my by older sister who used to babysit us. Also, since then, I have learned of many other instances of abuse where an entrusted family member or friend who babysat my friends and other family members were also abused by the aforementioned people. The fact is, I am almost certain that sexual abuse happens more often than is thought to be believed. My husband thinks that I am overly paranoid. I don't have hang ups over my past abuse. I actually think I am being a realist in this situation. How do you trust someone with your kids and risk their safety for just a "dinner date "?

You know from your own horrible experience that sexual abuse happens more than is reported. But it is also true that blessedly the vast majority of people get through their childhoods without anything like this happening to them.  The further good news is that national statistics show that abuse is declining,  probably because of changing attitudes about the seriousness of it, and better awareness and reporting. Of course you want to take smart and sensible precautions. But I disagree about your reaction to your own abuse. Understandably, your trauma is informing your behavior now. But  you don't want your past to dictate your life, the ability of you and your husband to have time together, or your children's attitudes toward the adults in their lives.  The fact that you will never leave them alone with a babysitter or friend is sending subliminal but powerful messages that grown-ups are dangerous. Please seek some counseling to help you process what happened and find ways to comfortably move on. With your therapist you can explore steps to find babysitters you feel safe with, and start the process of liberating yourself from having to keep your children  in your sight at all times.

Dear Prudie,I am disabled. A paid helper comes every Monday to put out trash and recycling and do other small tasks. Last Monday she brought her 9-year-old daughter. While watching the Inaugural festivities, the child said she does not like President Obama "because he doesn't believe in God." When I pointed out that he often invokes God and he and his family regularly attend church, she said, "He doesn't mean it" -- she read that on the Internet. She also said he "doesn't look like a Christian" and Michelle Obama is "ugly." Her mother was listening and didn't say anything. Because this was a child, I simply said that you can't tell what a person is thinking by his or her appearance; Christians come in all shapes, sizes and colors; and you can find support for anything on the Internet. My helper is coming again this afternoon and I feel that I have to say something, if only 'I was concerned to hear X say that Obama doesn't look like a Christian." How would you handle this situation?

I wish people who had particular political beliefs, or even racist attitudes, would stop invoking religion as the reason or even justification.   That said, I think you should say nothing.  Your helper comes to do some discrete tasks for you one day a week.  As repugnant as you may find her views and that she's inculcating her child with them, it's just not your business.  Bring it up and you likely will have a lot of tension in your home on Mondays, or you will have to be looking for a new helper -- one whose views may turn out to be just as unpleasant.  You responded in a mature, instructive way with this child. Let's hope something you said will bubble around in this girl's brain in the years to come. But right now, just turn the other cheek.

I agree with your answer about getting a variety of shots with different groups of people, but --- geez, she can't look at high school graduation photos because of the guys that are in them? Why can't she just look at them, laugh, and say, "Boy, was I young and stupid." Something's wrong if those reminders from long ago bug her that much

I agree, they're just pictures! You can't get a guarantee from everyone who appears in personal photographs that they will forever remain warms presences in one's life or sweet memories.

Dear Prudence, My parents have supported me all through college and I'm very thankful for that. I am coming near to the end of my collegiate career, which means I'm starting to make plans for what happens after college. I lean strongly towards the Teach for America program, which would be great because I'm majoring in Education and that program would provide me with a lot of support through my first couple of years. My dad insists that I wouldn't be able to hack it and that I'm going to stay in my college town and live with my sister until she graduates. Worse, he continually brings up the fact that I'm gay as a reason I wouldn't be able to handle moving to a new city and working in urban schools. How much do I owe him with regard to what I do after college? Is there a way for me to argue this? Every time I bring it up he shuts me down and brings me to tears.

I hope you're planning to be financially independent from your parents. And if you make it into Teach for America, you will be earning a salary which will be a huge step toward that goal.   I don't see how you argue with someone who has such distorted views about you, your abilities, your independence, and your future.  Since you're still in college, look into resources on campus, or referrals, for organizations that support gay youth. Also check in with your college's counseling office. You need help negotiating your separation from your parents and how to handle your father's bullying. (And where's your mother in all this?) Sometimes  the best way to convince other people about how wrong they are is to refuse to engage in the discussion.

You are also giving your children the impression that it is perfectly acceptable to expect undivided attention from somebody else all the time. My ex's mother was similar and never allowed anybody to watch her children without her present. As an adult, my ex wanted the undivided attention of others quite often, when that simply was not a reality for us. It contributed to our divorce. Please consider what this decision might do for your child's ability to be functional adults who understand that people have more than one interest.

I agree this  kind of hovering parenting is not good for the children. The mother needs help separating her past from her children's present.

My husband and I are contemplating kids. We live near his parents because his father is ill. Perhaps due to this, his mother is a high-functioning alcoholic. While he's driving, she will open a bottle of wine in the car. She has driven drunk at least once, when she backed into his car and blamed it on him for "parking in her way." She drinks several drinks a day. She was not able to keep commitments to him over Christmas because she was too intoxicated to follow through. Despite all this, he still refuses to believe that she has a problem. I know it's a little early to be thinking about this, but once we have kids, I want to make it clear to her I do not want her drinking even a sip when she is caring for my child alone. To him, all her behavior is completely normal because all her friends do it and she manages to keep her job. He thinks the "just one drink" rule is absurd and harsh. My MIL is a very wonderful and sweet lady, but I simply do not trust her to stop at "just one drink." Is there anything I can say to my husband to keep him from enabling her? Or am I the one who's overreacting?

If she's driving drunk I think you should report her to the DMV. Yes, it likely won't do any good, but they are supposed to look into alerts about impaired drivers.  You do not have children, so there is no reason to fight this hypothetical fight with your husband. Instead you should be concentrating on opening his eyes to the fact that his mother is potentially endangering herself and others. When you do have kids, I disagree with your "no drinking on duty"  command. If you think a caregiver has an active  substance abuse problem, that person should never be entrusted with your child.

Dear Prudence, Because my husband grew up in a country with very different cuisine, he likes much spicier foods than I do. Until we got married, this was never a problem. Recently we've made an effort to cook more at home to save money. Naturally, there has been some give and take regarding what we'll eat. I have a real problem though, with almost anything he makes, as he spices his food at all stages of cooking, so I can't eat any of it without burning my mouth. Not one dish. Granted, I'm glad he's willing to help in the cooking duties, but I need blander food. But, when I tried talking to him about it, he got hurt. Until this, everything was OK, now I'm walking on eggshells around him. To be honest, I really don't think I was mean, I just told him his spice choices were too much for me. Tell me, am I being overly critical?

Spicy or not spicy is not a negotiable. If you don't like cilantro, for example, it's not going to work for your cilantro lover to only mix a little of it into your food.  He has to understand that the burn that fills him with ecstasy has you looking for a fire extinguisher.  He  also need to realize he can spice to his palate's delight, he just can't do it with your portion of the meal. That requires some adjustment on his part: Either he prepares his dishes in two pans, or he portions yours out, then seasons his.  He's got to recognize this is not a commentary on him or his culture, it's a matter of accepting your more delicate taste buds.

I just got engaged recently. My ex-"fiance" --who abruptly left me some years ago-- now wants "to talk." I'm not sure about what. All of the sudden he decided he didn't want to be married to me anymore so we broke up weeks before the big day. I moved on with someone else. As far as I know he remained single. His friends tell me he is mopey, but I've done my best to ignore such comments. Now, after years of silence and no explanation, he wants to talk. Do I owe him anything? I thought about just not responding. There's literally nothing I can do for him. What do I owe my soon-to-be husband?

Lucky, lucky you that he left you at the virtual altar.  Oh, poor widdle mopey boy! Tell your fiance you've gotten this strange request from your ex that you plan to ignore -- surely its prompted by his hearing you are engaged. I agree that not responding, and blocking his email, is the way to deal with the man you hope falls silent again.

I have pretty good evidence that my teenage son is a crossdresser. I really don't care, and I've tried to hint that I don't, but I'm not sure how to proceed. I'd really like to ask point-blank but I think he'd be defensive out of surprise and deny it. I don't want to push him further into the closet (so to speak). Do I ignore it? Buy him a dress, makeup, and lingerie for his (upcoming) birthday? Just slip a dress in his size into his closet and see what he says? I'm really at a loss, but I think ignoring it is a bad idea.

I think the better approach is to make sure you son knows he can talk to you about anything and show him by word and deed that you are always on his side.  Then it is up to him to tell you. Your son is a teenager, and as you've pointed out, such a point blank question might send him scurrying in the opposite direction.  So you give him support, and space, and if this is part of his life you hope that in his own time he will tell you. You do not bring him a catalogue from Forever 21 and say, "Michael, I think this purple dress with the sweetheart neckline would look smashing on you."

I think your husband needs to compromise with you on the spicy food. But you could offer a compromise: if he chills out on the spices, you'll remain open to trying stuff with more spice - gradually. I grew up in kind of a bland food household and I have been able to increase my tolerance over time and actually really enjoy spicy food. You might never want things as spicy as he did, but keeping an open and willing mind will help both of you - as long as he does, too.

Good advice. But it's got to be a process of gradual acclimation, not incendiary punishment.

My husband had an affair a few years ago with a woman he worked with, and a child was the result. My husband and I stayed together, and are working through it, as difficult as it has been. However, Inever told my ultra-conservative dad about his tryst and resulting baby. I'm having a hard enough time coming to terms with the child myself, and I know telling my father would just complicate things, but everyone else in both families know, and it's just a matter of time before he finds out, and I'd rather he find out from me rather than through the grapevine. The child is now coming up on two years in just a few months--how do I break the news to my father?

"Dad, a few years ago Dick had an affair and the other woman had a child. The baby is now 2 years old, I've decided to stay with Dick, and I'm encouraging him to be a good father. This has obviously been very painful, and I know this news will be distressing to you, but keeping this child a secret is not a good idea."  Then you accept your father's response is really not that relevant to your life with your husband. And I hope it is true that you are doing everything possible to make sure your husband steps up to his duties as a father. If you can't, then you need to reevaluate your decision to stay in the marriage.  It's just not right to make an innocent child suffer because of the father's misdeeds.

Thanks, everyone. Have a great week.

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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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