Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Feb 11, 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 hope you're all ready for Valentine's Day. (And darling husband, I've already gotten your gift. So you better get those subway flowers early on Thursday.)

Dear Prudence, I recently applied for a job as the assistant director at a well-regarded art gallery. In a pre-interview phone call with the director, she told me that my credentials were an excellent match with the position and set up an interview. The minute I walked in the gallery and introduced myself at the reception desk, I started getting weird vibes and worse. Employees, including the director, stepped back when they saw me, or gasped, or fled. I checked my appearance in the bathroom and found nothing amiss. Except for this, the interview itself went fine, from my perspective, but I didn't get the job. I asked a friend at another gallery if she knew who did get it, and it turned out to be a guy fresh out of college. Because of the gap between his credentials and mine, I decided to write to the director and ask her if she could shed some light on the situation. Surprisingly, she said she'd meet me for coffee to discuss it. She told me that the person who previously held the job looked just like me, was a dead ringer for me, in fact, and in fact was dead. The other employees had pleaded with her not to hire me. I looked him up online and saw pictures that shocked me as well as my younger sister. From his obituary I learned he had died in a car accident three months ago, and he was my age. At first I thought I could make some sort of hiring complaint, but obviously I would never fit in there, to say the least. My concern now is that I think I had a twin. Should I bring this up with my mother? Or find some friends of the dead guy and ask them more about his history? As you can imagine, I've been in a real state for the past few weeks.

This was a subplot on the last season of Eastbound and Down -- Jason Sudeikis played a twin that no one knew was a twin, and after his character died, he showed up as the other other one and scared the hell out of everyone who knew the first twin. What  you describe sounds like the pitch meeting for a Lifetime movie -- I can't tell if it would be good or bad. I will take you at your word that this is a real experience, and from what you say, it sounds as if the people at the gallery -- and you -- were seeing more than just a strong resemblance. It's something else altogether if you are  suspicious there was someone out there you didn't know about who shared your DNA.  If this  young man, now sadly deceased, was your identical twin, it wouldn't have been all that strange that you both shared a  love of art, would it?  There is nothing to do about the gallery job; employers are allowed to make such subjective judgments about candidates. But it sounds as if you need to gather the information you've found, take it to you mother and say, "Mom, is there something you want to tell me?"

Dear Prudie, My sister and I were both raised in the Catholic church. As we grew up, I found religion to be a huge part of my life, married a Catholic man, and plan to send our two young children to Catholic school when they are school aged. My sister attends church with our family on important occasions, but has often expressed opposing views to the Catholic church. We have agreed to disagree on these issues and have a nice relationship. Over the Christmas holidays, my sister became engaged to a wonderful man -- and want to get married in the Catholic church. She asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding and I am struggling with agreeing. I strongly suspect the only reason my sister wants to get married in our church is because it makes for beautiful photographs and can seat a lot of people. The point of getting married in a church is to seal a covenant between you, your spouse, and God. Not to take pretty pictures. I am not sure I can stand up in a wedding of two people who are getting married in a church but feel they way the do about the religion. Am I being unreasonable? If I decide to bow out of the wedding, what is the best way to explain this to my sister?

What a timely letter since the Pope today announced that he is bowing out.  Please, don't annoint yourself the next Torquemada. It is not your job to judge anyone else's fidelity to doctrine.  If only people who totally agreed with every aspect of their religion's tenets were allowed in the pews, they'd be far more empty than they are. Surely  you don't believe that a religion is above criticism or the need to re-evaluate its policies.  What you do is express your joy at your sister's news. Then rejoice that you two will become even closer as you help her plan this wonderful occasion.

The mother of my child and I have never gotten along really well (the child was a result of a short-term fling which never panned out, and both of us have not made things the easiest admittedly). Recently, however, things took a turn for the even-worse when I agreed to sign a legal document for the state. It was only then, two years after her birth, that I learned that the mother had given our daughter my last name. I had always assumed that she had given our daughter her last name, but what makes me really upset is that she never asked me, and when naming her, went out of her way to tell me that she was making the choice and that I had no say in it. This is not the first time she's betrayed my trust either (she once tried to kick me out of her life in ), and I'm sick of her conveniently not telling me things. How much should I try and repair the damage, or should I simply just look for more time alone with my daughter and keep the mother out of my life as much as possible?

Usually a father having his child share his last name is not considered a breach of trust.  It's actually pretty standard naming procedure, even if, as in your case, the parents aren't married and can't stand each other.  It sounds to me as if you two could use mediation. Look into mediators who help with these kinds of domestic disputes, then suggest to your ex that for the sake of your daughter you two need better guidelines for dealing with each other.  Even if you wish your life had gone another way and the two of you had  no reason to ever be in touch, the fact is that you are raising a daughter together. Finding a way to get along with each other will benefit this little girl in countless ways.  Stop looking for  illustrations of the perfidy of your ex. Think what a difference it would make in the tenor of your relationship if you said, "I was very touched that Isabella has my last name.  Thank you."

Dear Prudence, My fiance and I just got engaged and are to be married as soon as he graduates from law school. My dad, who has a sense of humor most (but not all) people appreciate took him on a weekend hunting trip, and according to my intended, made a number of veiled threats of violent acts should he fail to take care of me properly. Of course he tells me he was only joking and it was all in good fun, but that's not the way my boyfriend sees it. He tells me he has grounds for a case against my father, and although he's definitely not taking any action, he might in the future if dad doen't control himself. I love my fiance, but I'm starting to rethink our engagement. Should I just tell him to lighten up, or hope that my dad understands and is more accomodating of his sensitivities?

Jokes about how one person plans to kill another are less funny when the jokester is holding a gun. However, I see this situation as quite different from last week's letter in which a husband said he would kill his wife if she ever cheated on him.  I'm assuming your fiance and your father have spent some time together and at the least you've told your betrothed about your father's style of humor. He may not have found the joshing funny, but threatening to report someone to the authorities for a joke fallen flat is generally a poor idea.  I think you should get together as a threesome -- having prepped each guy about the misunderstanding -- and have a lunch or a dinner in which you try to get them to see that while they may clash stylistically, they agree on one thing: They both adore you. You tell them it would mean so much if your favorite men got along. But if you are concluding your husband is a humorless, litigious, literal-minded drag, then you need to consider why you want to sign a legal contract that binds you to him.

My brother has always been in the realm of "sexually fluid" and only recently begun dressing more openly feminine after a period of cross-dressing as a teen. He hasn't come "out" in an official capacity and I want to be respectful of him and his pace if he should. We are in a bit of a pickle about the questions my 4-year-old has begun to ask.." Why is Uncle Jarod wearing that hat?" "Is Uncle Jarod a girl?" I've been discussing privacy and personal inclinations with my son, but am terrified he may end up putting my brother in an uncomfortable position. Should I just ask my brother? Or keep coaching my 4-year-old to be more demure? He is most definitely not.

This is a great opportunity for both these guys in your life.  You answer your son's questions honestly. And you also instruct him while it's fine for him to take his questions to you -- or to ask his uncle -- it's  not polite to point to people you don't know and comment on unusual things about them. You tell your son the truth: Uncle Jarod likes that hat and thinks it look good on him.  No, Uncle Jarod is not a girl --  girls who wear pants and boyish clothes aren't boys --  it's just that there are some men who like to wear girlish stuff. You can tell your brother that his fashion sense has gotten your son's interest, explain how you've answered, and say to be ready for his nephew's questions on style. 

I've dated a guy four months and realized recently that he's fallen far more in love with me than I have with him. So much so, in fact, that it's a huge turnoff. Being pressured to tell him I love him, talk about "our future" together ... and he's been telling me for weeks that he's "making" me something for Valentine's Day. I'm closing in on 40, divorced (13 years, but hey) and am in no hurry to settle down. To be kind, I tried to break off the relationship. He's acting like he's got to fight to win me back and doesn't realize that I'm serious. I don't want to be with him. Texts at 9 a.m. that are a mile long, random posts to his Facebook page with "passive - aggressive" messages about how true love is worth fighting for. It's actually starting to scare me. Tips on how to make this as painless for ME as possible? All I can be with him is consistently and frequently honest. Over and over and over. Please help.

Ah, Happy Valentine's Day from your stalker. You tell this guy it's over, and unfortunately because of the way things have gone you two will not be able to be in touch and he needs to cease all contact with you immediately. You block him and unfriend him -- but you keep copies of everything he's sent.  If he won't go away, you go to the police.

My husband and I have been together for 11 years and share four gorgeous children. M husband also has a history of "problems," which I am proud to say he is celebrating several years of sobriety. Since getting clean and sober he has a problem keeping strong during the act -- he has no issue getting there, as a matter of fact often I catch him there but, once we start (within two minutes) he loses it and it is really starting to affect me on many more levels than I thought. My self esteem is low, I find my self taking all compliments and wolf whistles to heart, and Prudie I'm so frustrated in the bedroom I can't see straight! The other day I found XXX video links on his Smart phone by accident, and that bothered me so I asked him whats up? he said that I never want to be with him so he has to satisfy himself somehow. This made me angry and I lashed out at him... not harshly but told him what was on my mind. I told him that his lack of staying power has me frustrated and when it happens and it happens often, I hate seeing him get so upset and mad at himself. he got a little upset understandably, and then I asked is it me? Remember I've had 4 kids... I don't know what do do Prudie. I absolutely LOVE and adore my husband but if I don't get some relief soon I'm afraid I'll step out and find the answers on my own... Sincerely, Is it me or Him?

First of all, your husband needs a check up. If everything checks out, he needs to have a discussion with his doctor about the uses of a little blue pill, or that pill people take then get in separate bathtubs.  This kind of thing can be a downward spiral for a man. His worries about maintaining an erection almost guarantee that he won't.  Look on the vast self of sex advice literature for techniques to help with this, of maybe you two could benefit from a few visits with a sex therapist. You need tenderness and understanding with each other. The worst thing you two can do is harden your hearts against each other.

I work as a dispatcher for a TV provider. I am in constant contact with the field mangers. Flirting and flattery is not uncommon in my office between the female dispatchers and the men in the field. One of the field mangers has been taking the flirting too far and had been saying some very explicit things to me...he wants to take me to a hotel room, he asks if I'm loud in bed, he tells me I am sexy (our contact is 100% over the phone and through email). I can't help it, but I like it! Everyone else would say this is inappropriate and sexual harassment. But I can't help but be turned on by all this. Even worse, we are both married, and he and his wife have a child. I feel like I am cheating on my husband by participating in these raunchy conversations. I honestly don't know what to do. I am addicted to this man's sexual comments, but I am also addicted to my husband. Please help me!

You two might get addicted to unemployment if your work emails fall into the wrong hands -- and oh, how often that kind of thing has happened.  Since you are a willing participant in this, don't think you could hide behind sexual harrassment if you both end up getting fired.  You each have jobs, and as far as I can ascertain, they're not with a phone sex service. So your X-rated communications are a ticking time bomb for both marriages and and paychecks.  Stop with the "addicted" garbage.  Next time your raunchy co-conspirator calls you say, "We've got to stop this immediately. Starting now." If you need a 12-Step program to keep it professional, go find one.

My in-laws were hard drinkers growing up, and although my husband says they were never alcoholics, he did learn at an early age how to care for hungover people. Now my in-laws want to watch our young children more often, and I'm uncomfortable leaving our kids (1, 3) in their care, because I know they will not curtail their drinking. I understand that my in-laws raised my husband and his brothers while drinking the same amount that they do now, but leaving my babies in the care of tipsy adults puts me on edge. Last year my father-in-law got a DUI, and I also worry my in-laws would try to drive in a compromised state with our kids in the car. Right now my parents do the bulk of childcare, because they do not drink while watching any of their grandchildren. I want our children to know my in-laws as well as they do my parents, because I don't want to become one of those daughter-in-laws who allows her family to monopolize the grandkids. At the same time, I think it's reasonable to expect our kids' caretakers to be sober. My husband agrees with me but is also, I believe, beginning to resent how much my parents see our kids. He loves his parents, and so do I. Am I overreacting?

It's amazing how many times I've gotten a variation of this letter.  Mom, no one who's drunk watches your kids. Period.  Your father-in-law's DUI tells you that he's not in control of his drinking, and if you're aware both of them regularly drink and drive, you should report them to the DMV. God forbid they harm  someone else's family.  Your kids can spend plenty of them with their father's parents. You can go see them and stay during the visit. Or they can come see you -- but take away their keys if they arrive impaired.  As for your husband's resentment of your family, let him ponder the resentment he'd feel against his if in his parents' care one of your children got hurt.

He should see if he can find out this person's exact date of birth. That could either dispel the idea of a twin or come close to confirming it.

The same date is not absolute confirmation, but you're right, a different birth date pretty abruptly ends this movie.

I am almost 19 years old and I'm still living with my parents. Both of my parents are in their late forties and I've had a pretty good relationship with them my entire life. Starting about last year, my mom started going through menopause. I hate what it has made her become. Sometimes she'll ask if someone make her breakfast or grab her a cart and the grocery store and my brother or father and I will fight over who has to go make/do whatever she asks. She'll get fed up and scream at us, calling us names and if we had made plans to go out to eat/shop/whatever, she'll throw those plans away and lock herself in her bedroom. There were a couple of times when she and I went to restaurants (usually fast food) and because of the pressure of time, I told her I didn't want anything. She became very upset and threw insults at me and threatened to take away trips and privileges. Once she left me at a restaurant and said, "you can get your own ride home." I called a friend crying to come get me. I hate what menopause has made her, she whines and victimizes herself and can go from happy to angry at the drop of a hat. How do I deal with her for the next year until I leave for college?

Is it hot in here, or is it just me?  I think your mother sounds perfectly normal and the rest of you are horrible meanies who don't understand how hard she's working and everything is so awful and no one understands and -- excuse  me while I get a box of tissues.  Oh, your lucky father, a few years ago he had two kids going through puberty, and now this.  Believe me, no one is more miserable than your mother and you need to urge your father to gently tell her that things don't have to be so bad and she needs to see her gynecologist for relief.  She -- and the rest of you -- simply don't have to suffer this way.  As you know, changes of life involving hormone fluctuations are not easy, but there are good interventions that should help smooth things out for your mother, and the rest of you.

Prudie, I picked up the book: Joint Custody with a Jerk  because of the title but it was really helpful in dealing with my ex. It essentially redefines the parenting relationship as a business relationship. Much easier when you remove all those pesky emotions.

I obviously can't vouch for the book, but thanks for the suggestion. It sounds like a helpful way to reframe the relationship.

My husband is the joking Dad, and really, the fiance needs to get a humor gene. Typically, my husband would say to daughter "Tell (boyfriend) if he hurts you, that it is hard to eat corn on the cob without any teeth." No, my husband would not 'play dentist" on any one, and daughter took it (correctly) that Dad was there for her regardless. Now, it has become the in-joke between husband and son-in-law.

Dads have been making these jokes since Ogg, and I agree having a sense of humor (and treating Dad's daughter right) will go a long way.

Hi, I have a 12-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. Their biological father has been in prson for three years and will be for the next seven. My children have had no contact with him for eight years because he was very abusive to me and I left him and completely cut off contact. I have told them both as much about him as I felt was age-appropriate, so they are aware of where he is. I felt when he was released, assuming he served the full sentence, they would be of age to make the decision whether to have contact with him or not. Well, he just wrote me a letter stating how sorrry he is and asked if he could write to the kids. I don't believe his apology, and I could put my own isssues with him aside, if it was in their best interest, but he is in prison for statuatory sodomy of a 6-year-old girl. My daughter doesn't remember him at all, but my son has been starting to ask more questions and seems to be interested in hearing from him. I'm not sure how to handle this. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

I think you should talk to a lawyer about the possibility of termination of parental rights.  He sounds monstrous and I agree with you there's no reason for him to become penpals with his children.  You have done the right thing by not lying to your children about him, and by answering their questions honestly, and age appropriately.  As the kids are getting older and want to know more, you might want to check in with a therapist with expertise in incarceration and sexual offenders in the family about how to proceed. The sad truth is their father is a sick man who hurt a child, and you wisely decided you would never let him hurt them.

Over last weekend, I found out quite by accident that when my boyfriend of five years was overseas last year, he visited a brothel. He says he couldn't go through with it, and I actually believe him. But, I'm still icked out that he would even go down that road. I am trying to just forget about it but it is really bothering me. Is this something I should forgive because he didn't go through with it?

Bring this up  with him.  Tell him you believe him that he didn't do it -- and you're glad of that -- but you can't quite get out of your head that he considered it. Then as unemotionally as you can, talk it out. Say you're not only concerned about the infidelity, but the health risk he might have run for both of you. Maybe he was egged on by some cheating colleagues, got to the brothel door, and fled.  If you believe that he regrets  this and learned something postive from it, then if you're going to stay together, you have to forgive and trust again.

Dear Prudence, In my college years, I was sexually adventurous, to say the least. In my later 20s, I found my way back to my church, and decided to start fresh, and wait until marriage. I met my now husband in my church singles' group, and we have been married for just over a year now. He knows nothing of my sexual past, I didn't feel it was necessarily his business, and he never asked. However, he was a virgin when we married, and there is the problem. He is really lousy in bed. I've tried to suggest ideas to spice things up, but he looks confused when I do. Also, when I've made certain suggestions as to say, positions, he asks how I'd even think of something like that, so I told him I'd read about it online, and he got worried I'd seen porn! I don't want to tell him about my past, but I don't really want to spend the rest of my life in missionary, when there are so many other options. If I reveal too much knowledge about sexual acts we haven't done, I'm pretty sure he'll decide I was "used goods"and he shouldn't have married me --  are there other ways I could drop a hint, without revealing too much about my own past?

I'll never understand people who don't go for a test drive before purchasing the vehicle. When you say he knows nothing of your past, I don't know if  you mean he doesn't know the details or he thought like himself, you had no sexual past. If the latter then you married under false pretenses. This problem goes beyond him being inexperienced; he's not interested in becoming experienced. So you two may have a  fundamental mismatch. You need some honestly in this marriage. Without going into numbers or details (and don't be bullied into revealing them) you tell him you know about sex because you've had it. You say your experience could make your marriage much more exciting and you want to explore sexually with him. If he thinks you are damaged goods, then what a favor he'll be doing you by ending it now.

That mom was me a few months ago. I had a hysterectomy a few years ago, but had estrogen producing naturally. That production started to die kids and husband flat out told me to go to the doctor and get checked out. I was mean, nasty, quick to flare off, etc. Guess what ...low dosage meds and I have made a 180 degree turnaround. The LW needs to get everyone together and they need to make a case to mom and she needs to see a doctor. There are plenty of different things that can be done. NO one should be subjected to that kind of abuse. It can last for a few years.

Thanks. So letter writer, either have your father have the talk, or have a family meeting with mom. With help, your mother should be her old self soon.

Dear Prudence, I'm a woman in my early twenties in a very long-distance relationship. My partner has never been perfect, and I've never thought the relationship would end in marriage, but he is smart, funny, honest, and incredibly kind. My problem is that I've had a consuming crush on another man who lives in the same city as I do -- a man who would not be a great match for me, but who I'm incredibly attracted to and can't stop thinking about -- for quite a while now. I feel horrible and unfaithful, but to some degree I've welcomed these feelings because they distract me from missing my partner and feeling alone and very far away.  Should I be taking this as a sign that it's time to end my relationship, despite having few real complaints about my partner himself? I feel like a louse and wonder if it's time to spare him. Crushing.

I don't know if you have high standards for "perfection" or if you're just drawn to guys you acknowledge aren't quite right for you. But you're in your early twenties, so that's okay, as long as not-quite-right doesn't become a lifelong theme.  You are seeing a guy you don't want to marry and can't see. So stop (not) seeing him. Yes, it's hard to be on your own, but having a distant boyfriend sounds like more of a crutch than a match. It could be your boyfriend is himself experiencing the same feelings you are, and it would be a favor for both of you to be free.

After several years of knowing my wife, my parents and brother announced that they don't like her. She is, of course, wonderful and neither she and I had any clue they felt that way until suddenly they were shouting at her about things they'd apparently taken offense to but never said a word about. She and I left in a hurry and I have had minimal contact with my parents for the past several months. I cut my brother off completely after he continued to insult her. But now my PhD graduation is coming up. I'd quite like to invite my parents, but they haven't apologized to me or my wife, who has supported me both financially and emotionally throughout the project and who invested years into building what she thought was a good relationship with them only to have it blow up in her face. What is your advice? And if it's to not invite them to this life event, what about others? Would it ever be reasonable to re-establish full contact with them if they refuse to see their utter lack of charity?

There's got to be more back-story here.  It just makes no sense that out of the blue your wonderful, loving, supportive wife is suddenly is being denounced by your parents and brother and accused of years of offense. I'm not at all saying they're right -- it could be the three are in a folie a trois and have fed each other's  madness. It could be that your wife, like the hunting father, has a personality style that has rubbed them the wrong way for years, and instead of addressing any misunderstandings, they decided to have an explosive confrontation.  But you -- without your wife in tow -- need to get together with your family and try to figure out what is wrong.  A graduation is not the place to do this.  Meet with your parents and brother in a spirit of openness, but also make clear that their denunciation of your wife was hurtful, shocking, and unacceptable. Maybe you can broker some kind of peace, but it has to be on the basis of good will. If they want to stick to their guns that your wife is unacceptable to them, then they've just estranged themselves from you.

He's in denial. Learning how to take care of hangovers at an early age and the DUI are a big red flag for alcoholics.


Thanks everyone. I hope this Valentine's Day is full of love and good sex, preferably with the person you love.

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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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