Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Feb 04, 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. And Yay Ravens!

Hi Prudence. My 6 year old daughter has started... um... "playing with herself" rather frequently. She's our only child, and we often commend her for amusing herself, but this isn't what we had in mind. It started maybe a year ago, and at first we told her that that's not something you do in the living room or in front of other people. So she started doing it when she thought we wouldn't see her, but she's not very discrete. Recently it seems have gotten more frequent, almost daily.. Any suggestions for how to handle this? She's a really happy kid with boundless enthusiasm for life and for learning, and in general we're very conscious of not breaking her spirit by discouraging her, but this just seems age-inappropriate. Thanks for any suggestions.

If you'd just discovered that you could rip off oh, 20 orgasms in a row, you'd probably find that more entertaining than Play-Doh.  This revelation has got to come under the category of "boundless enthusiasm for life and learning."  What's she's doing is perfectly age-appropriate, and your response so far has also been appropriate, so keep it that way.  You tell her what she's doing is fine, but it's really important to know this is something people do in private.  You could say that it's okay for her to do it in the house, but only when just the three of you are there. You explain that even if she thinks other people can't tell, they can.  (The panting and sweating in the absence of physical exertion is a good give-away.) If she slips (her hand in her panties) and does it at inappropriate times, you give her a look and a shake of the head.  She likely won't outgrow this desire, but in a few years she will take it to her room and out of your sight. In the meantime, you and your husband can laugh about what a honeymoon night your daughter will have.

I am dating a widower who is still very close to his late wife's parents and her brother's family. I respect his relationship with them and would love to get to know them, too. My boyfriend and I have been dating for over a year and are in love, so it's not too pushy that I want to know them. They have no interest in knowing me, though. They have told my boyfriend multiple times that I am not welcome at the gatherings to which they invite him - birthdays, parties, memorials. When my boyfriend had his birthday and invited his in-laws, his late wife's mom burst into tears when she saw me and said she would leave unless I left. My boyfriend is bewildered by their behavior and apologizes profusely when they have a reaction to me. I know how difficult it would be for him to not have a relationship with his in-laws. But their behavior really hurts me. Am I unreasonable for asking them to at least be pleasent to me? Their daughter passed five years ago.

This is an interesting variation of the letter I usually get about women dating widowers. I most often hear that the new girlfriend wants to banish the memory of the late wife and doesn't like that the widower still is close to his late wife's family.  But you, generously, are glad he has kept this connection and would like to get to know these people. Their behavior is indefensible. The death of child is not something you get over, you just get on. But only the most stuck or cold-hearted don't want the widower or widow to find new love. You leave out the most important piece of information -- does your boyfriend have children? If so, then he is going to want his children to have a close, continuing relationship to their grandparents. But even if there are children, the in-laws' are being horrible. Your boyfriend's wife died five years ago. You have been seeing him for a year. It's way past time everyone accepted these facts, and if the in-laws want to have a relationship with their former son-in-law, then they need to wrap their minds around the new reality. You need to have a talk with your boyfriend in which you explain there doesn't seem to be any way forward for you with his late wife's family, and you hope he can talk to them about this. You need to tell your boyfriend you can't subject yourself to such treatment, that you understand he wants to continue to see these people, but you can't see them with him.  They need to see the light, or your boyfriend needs to tell them their interaction is going to dwindle.

My wife isn't speaking to me because I'm not outraged over the Calvin Klein Super Bowl ad. Apparently I was supposed to mimic her (scathingly sincere) anger over the use of women in ads (the DirecTV genie has actually incited the demise of one of our TVs) when one featuring mostly naked guys appeared. But I just don't care (about CK torsos or the genie, to be honest). Oh, and apparently I was supposed to be appalled by the Beyonce halftime show, even though we didn't watch it (I encouraged a "time-out" if for no other reason than to save our remaining set). Should I lie and say that I think all of this objectification is AWFUL! APPALLING! DISGRACEFUL! Or do I try and figure out another way to chill her out?

Excuse me, but where was your wife during the Go Daddy ad? That was an insult to men, women, and all carbon-based life forms. My reaction to the Calvin Klein ad was to turn to my husband and say, "You didn't give them permission to use your body!" My 17 year-old daughter's reaction was -- well, a quick slap to the face revived her. If your wife thought the Beyonce show was appalling then she's beyond accepting  popular culture and maybe should live somewhere where it doesn't intrude.  You say your wife has actually broken a television in response to the broadcast of sexism. She sounds violent enough to be considered for a defensive position with the NFL.  The problem here is not the outside world, but that your wife has a rage problem. Joining her in denouncing her triggers is not a way to deal with this.  It sounds as if you need to insist she get some help or the lights on your marriage are going to permanently go out at half-time.

I met a celebrity through my volunteer work, and we have flirted ever since we met. I'm young, unattached, and enjoy the occasional one night stand. This man has made it clear he wants to wine and dine me and then take me back to his place, and I'd take up up on the offer - I'm wildly attracted to his intensity and his passion for this cause - except for his tumultuous past. You can't believe everything you read, but he has a pretty dodgy reputation, and his outbursts have sent him to jail before. He has always been kind to me and the people around me, but it's also difficult to ignore how poorly he's treated women in the past. Would I be a bad person if I threw caution to the wind and had a brief fling with this person? I'm not interested in his money, his fame, or having a future with him. 

Don't leave us hanging! Who is it? Charlie Sheen? Mel Gibson? Mike Tyson?? You hardly will be the first woman who wanted to throw caution, and her panties, to the wind in order to bed a sexy, bad boy celebrity.  But since you are hesitating, try to project yourself 10 years in the future and weigh whether you would see this fling as a fun memory, or a secret shame. If the former, go get wined and dined, and when it's time to cap off the evening, make sure your celebrity uses a condom.

My son died of cancer three years ago when his daughter was four and his son was two. Shortly before his death he discovered his wife was cheating on him. She refused to end the affair because her partner gave her the emotional support she needed to care for my dying son; as a result, my son was miserable for the last few months of his life, and his marriage was in limbo when he died. A year after his death, my son's widow introduced her affair partner to her family, her friends, and eventually my grandchildren as her "new" boyfriend. It is very painful to watch the man who cuckolded my son assume his position in my son's family, but I remain civil to my daughter-in-law because otherwise I won't see my grandchildren. My son's widow now plans to marry her affair partner, and she and her new husband want my son's children to take the other man's last name and to adopt him. I am struggling very hard to accept my son's widow's attempts to make my grandchildren her affair partner's. What can and should I do?

And here is another way people in pain can cause more. I'm sorry for you loss and the agony you have been put through. But you have a very clear-eyed understanding of what's important: Your relationship with your grandchildren. Unfortunately, you former daughter-in-law has essentially all the power here, and you've been exactly right to tread carefully and have thing be cordial.  Keep doing it. With this new marriage it will be more important that ever for you to keep a connection to your grandchildren. Especially as they get older, they will want to know about their biological father. You will be the person they can turn to for photos of him as a young man, for conversations about how much he adored them.  I hope you have some dear friends who are good listeners, or even a therapist, so that you can unload about this difficult situation.

Dear Prudie, I was in a 10-month relationship with a man I love very much. Never in my life have I ever felt loved by someone. I always imagined sharing my life with him. Being with him felt so right. However, I was getting frustrated about our situation - he is still married with kids but he and his wife are separated. I came from a conservative family where everyone expected that I would get married properly with someone who is single and stable. I love this man with all my heart and I know I would commit to myself to him for a lifetime. But I started getting anxious and I wanted to know if I am missing out on having that cookie cutter relationship. So about a month ago, I registered in a dating website and responded back to a man's invitation to chat. I didn't feel anything for the guy the way that I felt for my boyfriend. All the text message I sent were all platonic. and four days ago I stopped texting him. The problem was my boyfriend found the text messages and was so angry - he thinks that everything is a lie from the beginning. He thinks I have been talking to other guys. He told me that he was committed to me 100% but I didn't stay true to him. He also said that I made him a means to an end. And that I lied to him. I love him so much Prudie and I begged for him to take me back and forgive me. What do you think I should do?

Go back to the website and see if there's anyone else there who sounds interesting to you.  It's interesting that your boyfriend said he was your means to an end. That sounds like classic projection, since you sure sound like his means to have some fun while he's figuring what to do about his marriage. But your relationship with him sounds  so uncertain that without talking to him about seeing other people, you just decided to try it.  What you've got with this supposed love of your life is a mess.  Stop begging to be taken back and be glad you devoted less than a year to what's sure to be an endless  drama.

Dear Prudence, My husband and I have been together for seven years, married for three. We are very happy together with no problems in our relationship. We get along great with each other's families and we have a wonderful circle of friends. We meet one couple, Jack and Jill, every Friday evening for dinner and drinks. They are a lot of fun and our best friends. A little over a week ago, Jack came to our house to tell us that Jill had left him for another guy. They have a two-year-old daughter and always seemed to have a great relationship.  Jack was devastated and my husband stayed up talking to him until very late. When he finally came to bed, I asked him if Jack was going to be okay and he didn't say anything for a minute, then he said that if I ever cheat on him or leave him for another man, he will kill me. I was shocked. My husband has never been the jealous or possessive type. He's never been controlling or aggressive or abusive. I knew he was very upset for Jack so I didn't say anything at the time but it really bothered me. I brought it up to him a few days later and told him how hurt and scared I was when he said that. I thought he would apologize but he didn't. He just said for me to not "make" him do it, then. I started crying and he said that he was only joking but he sure didn't look or sound like he was joking when he said it.  We have even been talking about starting our family this year, but now I am full of doubts. Should I let this go as a bad joke, or should I take this threat seriously and insist on counseling? Sincerely, Worried Wife

It would have a hideous thing for your husband to say even after being upset by seeing his friend Jack falling apart. But to repeat it a few days later is really disturbing.  It is important that you've been together for a long time and he's not the jealous or possessive type. But I agree death threats are haunting things.  I think you should tell him you just can't get what he said out of your mind, he knows it wasn't a joke, and you'd like to hash this out with a neutral party on a short-term basis because it's left you shaken.

Instead of orgasm and honeymoon jokes, maybe you should have suggested the mother consider mentioning this behavior to her daughter's pediatrician. Pronounced sexual behavior in children is often a sign that a child is being molested. It's an awful thing to think, but it happens far too frequently, and it shouldn't be laughed off. As a survivor of sexual abuse as a child, I just cringed when I read your flippant answer.

Of course parents should be aware of signs of sexual abuse. But child masturbation in and of itself is simply not a clear sign of assault. I've dealt with this issue before and heard from a few girls who have memories of humping the furniture and being told by their parents not to do it when grandma was over.  I think this is something to mention to a pediatrician, who will have dealt with this before. But a happy, thriving child who has found a way to make life more fun should not be assumed to be a victim.

I'm really struggling to be happy for my good friend Ellie, who is dating my former fiance Joey. Joey and I were broken up for four years before he started dating Ellie, and I've moved on and am in a much better relationship. It still hurts to listen to Ellie talk about how great Joey is - our engagement ended because he cheated on me and tried to make me feel crazy when I confronted him. I love Ellie and want the best for her. Why does it hurt me, then, because her happy relationship is with my former fiance? What can I do to get over these feelings?

You can count your blessings every day that you didn't marry lying, cheating, manipulative Joey. Let's hope Joey truly has seen the error of his ways and will be a great husband to Ellie. He never would have been one to you. So hug your great boyfriend tight tonight. And on the wedding day smile as you toast the happy couple.

You provided him with a very convenient excuse to dump you and go on to some other sucker who thinks that a married man is "100% committed to him."


Hi Prudie, I developed my first real crush (the listen-to-sad-love-songs-at-night variety) when I was in middle school on an artsy and down-to-earth dreamboat a year ahead of me. Over the next couple years, I wrote him anonymous letters - maybe half a dozen total? - the content of which included "I like you"-language were sort of chatty. Typical middle school note kind of stuff. I don't remember them being especially over-the-top romantic in any way. And, I actually mailed him these letters. (Quaint, huh?) As the years went by, we had mutual friends but my crush faded as others blossomed. I harbor no feelings now (20 years later) - but my question is, should I ever tell him it was me? Not in a dedicated email or anything but if I run into him one day? We're from a small town so it's not inconceivable I'll see him sometime when everyone is in the area at holiday time. Have any chatters ever been the recipient of this kind of thing? Are you dying to know or do you like the mystery? FWIW, I'm not dying to tell. Just wondering your thoughts.

Let the mystery stand. Maybe hearing it was you will send his heart soaring. Maybe it will send it thudding because he'd long ago decided that Laura, the girl he could never work up the nerve to talk to, was actually in love with him.  I think this one is better left unsolved.

Hi Prudence, I am a zoftig woman of 40 yrs. I recently met a man who asked me out on a date. We went to dinner and had a nice time, but during dinner he said that he was attracted to me because of my weight (he likes big girls) he asked me what size I wore and how much I weighed. I was put off by that and told him so, he blew it off like it was nothing. Now I think he has a big girl fetish and is not really interested in me. We have not been out since...I am skittish. Is this my issue? Is it any different if a man says he likes big breast and only goes out with women with big breast? or am I wise to move on? Thanks

I understand that people have types, or even fixations, but I agree it's creepy to be reduced to a single attribute on someone's arousal list.  In any case, if he wasn't a creep he'd have been turned on by your body but want to get to know you better to see if you were compatible as people. All he wanted was some statistics to file away for his erotic purposes.  Yech!

I frequently get takeout and eat in at a local Chinese restaurant. Recently the waitresses began adding a 20% tip to my bill whenever I dine in. I always tip at least 15% when I dine in and reserve 20-30% tips for outstanding service, which the waitresses at this restaurant rarely provide. One day one of the waitresses told me that they added the 20% tip to my bill because I don't tip when I get takeout. I was mortified - my parents and most close friends don't tip when they got takeout, and I usually only tip on takeout if the waiters and I have a good conversation. What's the socially acceptable take on take on takeout tipping? I probably won't return to this restaurant - their egg rolls are so good! - but I would love to know for the future.

Even if you never tipped, the waitress is not allowed to add 20 percent of her own volition. But in previous tipping questions readers have let me know that 15 percent is no longer standard, it's cheapskate, and I agree that 20 percent is the new 15.  I normally add $5 to an average  carryout order to cover the packing materials.  But I'd be happy to hear what other people do. As for this restaurant, if you truly love the eggrolls just start adding 20 percent to the bill and roll with it.

My daughter does dance (cultural) and loves it. The problem is that the nature of the dance is so competitive that I find there is friction between me and other parents. My daughter is not the best dancer in the school, but loves to dance. However, the parents of some of the other chidlren go to the competitions and act like their kid if winning the superbowl every time they get a medal. My daughter is starting to feel quite sad about not being in the group who always wins and I am not sure how to help her handle it. The parents are oboxious with their competitive nature and need to win at any cost. One of them actually said rather loudly "go so and so, I hope you get a 1, 2nd or 3rd." My daughter heard this and was upset that the parent didn't also encourage her. I encourage all the children, but find that some of the parents do not do so to my child. Any suggestions?

You need to talk to the people who run this activity. There should be clear rules for parental behavior and it sounds as if this bunch is violating them.  You also need to tell your daughter you understand how these parents are making her feel bad, but they are in the wrong. Dance should be about love of creating something beautiful -- which is what she is doing! -- not a bunch of medals. Tell her you're proud of her for doing her best and loving what she does, and tell her you feel sorry for the parents who are ruining this activity for everyone. And if the whole organization's perspective is distorted, find another dance group that's about the skill and the joy.

My great-aunt had an affair with Tyrone Power when she was a sweet young thing. Do it! It will become a cool family legend.

I bet that made you see auntie in a different light! Still, I think our letter writer should let us know who her bad boy is.

Dear Prudence, I recently attended a dinner party at the house of two friends from college who are in a long-term relationship. Fondue was on the menu but the chocolate did not melt properly and the peanut butter never made it in. Later, though, I discovered that the peanut butter had been recalled because it was suspected of containing salmonella and was grateful that the recipe was unsuccessful. I informed the couple of this terrible news, but to my shock and surprise, they continue to eat this peanut butter, reasoning that if it was going to kill them, it would have done so already! Should I turn down my next invitation to dinner?

Instead of bringing wine, bring a bag of Reese's Peanut Butter cups and munch on those at dessert time.  I agre it's odd to turn yourself into a test case for FDA investigators, but their experiment seems to have turned out fine. They ate the peanut butter and survived. I don't think this means at their next event they will serve undercooked chicken or contaminated berries. But it sounds as if the next invitation should be from you to them -- so you can break bread without worrying about ending up in the emergency room.

Why didn't you advise that the LW let a manager know? I would think this is against company policy and considered STEALING. A waitress cannot dictate what she receives in tips. I would never go to this establishment again unless she were fired. How rude!

I agree that a discussion with the manager would be appropriate, although given how the restaurant is run this likely will have little effect.  (Although as another letter writer suggests, it could get the waitress spitting into your lo mein.) This sounds like an inexpensive joint, the letter writer loves the food, and a 20 percent tip is only going to be a few dollars. 

I think I'll go for it! And he's not any of the men you've mentioned - I promise I have (slightly) better taste than Charlie Sheen or Mel Gibson.

Give us a report! And someone else suggested a complete STD status report is a good idea, which it is. (Does he have a history of injecting drugs?) Of course, asking for one might kill this one-nighter before it begins.

My husband and I have been together for about 12 years, married for about 8 and have a wonderful 2 year old daughter. We are currently trying for baby #2 despite some on-going marital issues. These issues, which include my decreased attraction to him, having little in common and me feeling basically unloved, are getting worse, not better, but I still plan to continue to try to concieve and here's why: he's a good father and if I'm going to have another child, I want it to be with him. Is this just completely wrong? I am still hopeful that we might be able to save our marriage, but even if I knew that that wasn't going to happen, I'd still go ahead and have another child with him. Am I being selfish? Short-sighted?

So the issue is that you see your husband as a sperm donor who will be involved in your child's life, not as a life partner. Yes, I consider that a serious issue, but thank you for enlightening me about how it is that people push ahead with having children with spouses they don't like.  I think you are being extremely blithe about the effects of divorce on children. While I understand your desire have another child, I do not understand your shrugging off  bringing more children into an unhappy home. I think you should put off the baby-making and work on the marriage.

Dear Prudence, I am married to a kind, generous, attractive, wonderful man. The problem? I am not attracted to him. Actually, I am sometimes turned-off by him. I have battled these feelings since before we even got married. I think I married him because he is such a wonderful person, and I thought I would be blowing it if I passed on the opportunity to spend my life with someone who treats me so well. He knows that I have issues with attraction to him. Right now, I consider us great roommates and friends, but not lovers. The turn-offs? First, in the time that I have known him, he has become increasingly involved with transcendental meditation, spending hours a day on it, and traveling all over the country for extended conferences.  He's so sensitive that he won't even kill a bug that's indoors - he picks it up and puts it outside. How can I even think about leaving someone who is so good to me? Who does that?  Help - I have a 90% perfect marriage, but that 10% that's missing is killing me. - Wanting 10% more.

You've got your percentages reversed. A marriage in which one partner is not attracted to the other and is actually contemptuous of the other's deeply held views sounds unsalvageable. Of course he treats you wonderfully -- he treats cockroaches like precious jewels.  But you're treating him like an ego boost not a husband.  I think you should let him find another gentle soul who after meditating with him and shooing out the bugs, wants to get him into bed for hours of tantric sex.

Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next 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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