Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Mar 25, 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.

I was so glad this morning that I hadn't gotten around to putting away the snow shovel. 

My boyfriend of three years is a smart, funny, caring guy and we love each other very much. The problem is that during the past year and a half he has lost an extreme amount of weight that he really didn't need to lose. He's super super skinny and unhealthy looking. Friends and family are concerned he's seriously ill. He insists he is fine and his most recent check-up didn't reveal any physical problems. My problem? His weight loss (done without exercise btw) has left him a very different person...unable to exercise without being exhausted quickly, unable to engage in sex fully because anything but "girl on top" is too tiring, and so very moody. I've tried for the last two years for him to get help and I'm frustrated he can't or won't seek it. In addition, I'm a curvy girl who has always had body image issues. He loves my body but it's been a long road to feeling attractive. Having my boyfriend weigh less than me, wear a smaller size than me, eat less (sometimes only a meal a day) etc.. is bringing back all those feelings of being "big" and unattractive. Issues I've worked hard to get past. Am I a horrible person that I'm considering breaking up with him because he won't talk to doctor seriously about this and it is having a negative impact on most every part of our lives together?

Something alarming is going on with your boyfriend, so please don't make this an issue about how he's "fat shaming" you because he's gotten so thin. Leave your size issues out of this, don't compare your waist measurements, just tell him you're profoundly concerned that he is in a health crisis. Point out that he is exhausted and moody all the time, doesn't even have the energy for sex, and his refusal to eat more than one meal a day is having a negative impact on his health and your relationship. Ask as a favor to you if he will make a follow-up appointment with his doctor and allow you to come. If he does, you can point out to the doctor the changes over the last 18 months and its effects on your boyfriend. If he won't let you do it, say that your relationship is on the line. Explain this is not because you don't love him, but because something is dangerously wrong and you don't know what to do anymore if he won't acknowlege it or let you help.

Dear Prudence. In sixteen years of marriage my wife and I are usually in very good agreement about raising our four children with one major exception. My wife is a fairly devout Catholic. I was raised Presbyterian, but began to question the faith seriously as I became a teen. Today I think I could best be described as a Deist, with many very significant differences from mainstream Christian beliefs. Before we married, my wife extracted a promise that our children would be raised in her faith and that I would support her in this.  For the last decade I have sat passively next to my wife as she attends mass, a boring task that I loathe. Our older two children have reached the age where they also dislike attending church and are starting to rebel. My wife thinks that I need to step up and support her better. She's accepting when I counter the Catholic beliefs that we do not share like intolerance for gays and narrow roles for women, but she expects me to positively discuss the core tenets of the faith. The kids are perceptive enough to know that I hate attending church as much as they do.  I'm happy to continue with the promise that the kids be raised in her faith, but I'm increasingly uncertain how to support her in a way that preserves my integrity. We both agree we need to change our approach, and we need advice to rethink this. Need an Epiphany

If your children have inherited your skeptic's gene there's ultimately not going to be a lot your wife can do to keep them in the  fold.  Religious observance is based on moral suasion, so simply forcing your wife's views on them is probably going to be counterproductive. You can point out to your wife that you've been supportive, you have reliably attended mass, but it's up to her to do the heavy duty explaining about her beliefs, and why it's possible to disagree with some of your church's tenets while embracing their essential world view.  You have by your own admission been dutiful, but unhappy, and you know the kids have picked that up. So I think more honesty all around would be helpful here. As a family, you can talk about the place religion has in your lives, what you get out of it, and what you disagree with. Just allowing the children to voice their thoughts and have them answered respectfully might make them feel less coerced to go. Your kids are presumably young teens and starting to really flex their independence. But if family attendance at church is something mom and dad consider mandatory, then you have to explain there are a lot of things one has to do in life with mixed feelings, but one does them anyway. Maybe it's also possible to have a compromise here  -- that is, you allow the kids a specific number of passes on going.  Your wife has to recognize that the more punitive religion becomes, the more likely the kids are eventually to flee.

Hello Prudie, My parents and I are huge animal lovers and have been feeding a feral cat colony for a few years now (they are all spayed and nurtured). Our neighbor however cannot stand them and has been very vocal about it to us. He trapped them for a while whenever they would come into his yard and take them to animal control. However since they were mirochipped to our address, animal control would call us and we would pick them up. Upon their return, the organization that got them spayed\nurtured has tried working with our neighbor to no avail. However a last month two of the cats started acting funny. We took them to the emergency vet only to learn they had antifreeze poisoning and there was nothing we could do, but end their suffering. We thought of our neighbor but wanting to give him the benefit of doubt, dismissed it as an accident. However two weeks ago a third cat acted the same exact way and another vet visit confirmed antifreeze poisoning. We now no longer think it's a freak accident. Several friends and family are telling us to call animal control and report our neighbor. However we have no proof that it is actually him putting the antifreeze out, only a hunch based on past interactions and experiences. What should we do? -Cat Lover

There's a key piece of information missing here: How big is your "colony"? If you're talking about more than a few cats, then your neighbor has a legitimate beef that his yard has become playground and litter box for your brood.   No, I'm not defending kitty murder, but it doesn't sound as if you have at all been sensitive to his desire to not be part of the territory of a feral cat colony. Obviously,  he does not have the right to kill them, and what you describe is gruesome and awful.  You could call the police if you suspect that he's poisoning your cats, but you know they are unlikely to do a forensic analysis of anti-freeze traces around his property. In some communities, there are restrictions on how many animals one can have, so you should look into whether you are violating this restriction before you take this further.  Your neighbor has not been amenable to lectures from cat fanatics about why he should put up with your cats in his yard. But it doesn't sound as if you have tried to mitigate the annoyance to him.  I suggest before your entire brood sickens and dies, you reduce the number of cats trolling the neighborhood. Your organization should help you rehome these cats. You also should see if you can keep some of the remaining ones inside most of the time.  Then go to the neighbor and tell him that you've heard his complaints and there are going to be far fewer cats wandering the neighborhood. That might be enough to check his feline-cidal impulses.

Hi. Our daughter is getting married this summer in a lovely outdoor setting, there will be a rehearsal and rehearsal mid-afternoon lunch/dinner the day before with just close family and bridal party, about 20 people. When I was married in the 70s I sewed my own dress, an Yves Saint Laurent peasant dress pattern in a cotton/poly blend, embroidered with white violets. I loved it then and I love it now. I have never worn it again though I have thought about doing it many, many times. The only clue that it was a wedding dress is that it is white. It would fit in perfectly in a summer tea-party at some old/vintage hotel setting. Before I ask the kids if they would approve, what do you think of my asking them if I could wear it to the rehearsal and dinner the day before the wedding? I don't want to be accused of upstaging the bride, on the other hand, there is a tradition of something old/something new and many brides wearing their mother's and grandmother's dresses. But the MOB wearing her own old (un-)wedding dress? An outside perspective would be most appreciated. Madeleine

Forget the Miss Havisham look. For more than 30 years you've never found the right occasion to reuse your frock, and I think you should stick with the decision to keep it in the closet. I'm betting it would produce fewer reactions of "How lovely" and more "I didn't know Lindsey's mother was so eccentric." Keep your dress preserved and maybe someday you will have granddaughters who will delight in playing dress up in it.

Prudence, Often I read that you advise people to attend physicians appointments with the person who has a health issue. Outside of a minor child or a medical power of attorney, is this encouraged by the doctor? Aren't there some issues involved with letting a third party into a doctor's appointment? Isn't couples counseling a more appropriate avenue for group discussion, instead of a physician?

I've done it when the issue has been a serious one and I've never had a doctor object.  A person with cancer, or myriad other distressing illnesses may not be in the best position to process the doctor's information. That's why it can be very helpful to have a loved one there, taking notes, asking for clarification, and conveying information to the doctor the patient may not even be fully aware of.  Of course this has to be with the full agreement of the patient and the  family member has to be appropriately restrained and respectful. But something's wrong if a young man has lost such an alarming amount of weight and can't function and he says his doctor declares him fine.

Dear Prudence, I am a second wife to my husband who for years was married to a very difficult woman. A couple of years ago, he finally divorced her and married me soon after. Much to our mutual delight, we are expecting a baby soon, and I am so excited to be giving my husband a new, happier start on married life. At the same time, his adult children, a son and daughter, both in their 20s, have been a bit withdrawn around me, and I very much want them to be as close to their new younger sibling as possible. I would like them to be listed as guardians in the event that my husband and I were to die. As this was very important to me, I was saddened when they said no, and they seemed put off by the whole thing. Since then, they have been even more distant when I see them, and it is awkward when they come over. So to help with family unity, I guess my question is, what else can I do to bring them closer to us?

What is wrong with his kids? Dad finally dumps their shrew of a mother, finds someone younger, hotter, nicer (and fertile to boot!), and they're not celebrating. What ungrateful little beasts. Okay, I'll give you points for actually wanting your husband's previous family in your lives, but please, try to see these events from their perspective. Consider that they likely they love their mother and feel loyalty to her, and that they even prefer her to you, even though she is by your own description a dreadful person.  You may not understand this, but it not the dream of every 20-something to have a new sibling young enough to be their own child.  And it's their prerogative to answer in the negative to the request that if you and your husband make an early departure that they raise the kid.  So back off. Encourage your husband to see his exisiting children separately. Invite them over occasionally for an adult evening -- they are adults after all and are not going to ever think of you in motherly terms. Be open to their having a relationship with their new sibling, but don't force one on them.  Not trying to grab them by the scruff of their necks and make them love their new family will be more effective in eventually allowing them to like all of you.

This could have been my dad writing in. Please please please have an OPEN discussion with your children and DO NOT force them to go to church. I went through that age of questioning why I should attend mass and by not talking about it it drove a very large rift between my parents and me. It took years to finally be able to speak about it. Religion and faith are two different things. Please have these talks and let your children be free to come to you!

Thanks for this.  I agree letting the kids respectfully have their say, hearing them out, and explaining your own perspective is a lot more powerful than, "You're going to church, or else!"

Dear Prudie, I'm a young female who happens to have a semi secret job. I happen to do live sex shows online for pay. I work a few different websites and my income for an average week is in the four figure range. I have a few friends who know and a loving boyfriend who is supportive (and even joins in on occasion). My problem is that on these web sites I'm usually on the first page.My family has no idea that I perform online porn but it's bound to come out sometime. Do I tell them what I do or wait for the cat to come out the bag?

I don't think people should consider their privacy-protected Facebook maunderings to be truly private. Anything that's on-line has the potential to be seen by anyone with an Internet connection. So the idea that you can perform sex on-line and expect to keep that pussy cat in the box is ridiculous.  Though your question is whether you tell your family you are a porn star, I think your concern about this coming out should give you pause about your line of work, no matter how lucrative. Someday you'll age out of this career, and you have to be aware what you've done can follow you for the rest of your life.  But if you're okay with that, then I don't think you have to preemtively give everyone you love conniptions.  If they find out, then calmly confirm that it's true, say you know they may not be approve, but you've entered into this work fully aware of its consequences.

In cases of serious illness, most doctors encourage patients to bring a companion. Patients are often too unwell to take in what is being said or to remember issues they wanted to discuss. A recent WashPo story told how a man's extremely serious illness was only diagnosed after his wife mentioned to his back surgeon that in addition to back pain, he was having episodes of extreme confusion.

Thanks. And that story was so chilling and a good reminder that if you think something is really wrong with a loved one to keep pushing if the treatment appears to be failing.

I suggest plastering your neighborhood with signs warning ALL pet owners about the recent spate of antifreeze poisoning in your area. I'm sure she's not the only cat or dog owner in a 10-block radius, and other people's pets can suffer and die just as horribly. If nothing else, you will have warned your pet-friendly neighbors, and, hopefully, scare the poisoner away.

This is a good suggestion, thanks. Another reader pointed out that any car leaking anti-freeze can attract pets because the ethylene glycol entices with its sweetness and aroma. So the deaths may not be due to malice, and the flyers should ask that people make sure their cars aren't leaking. 

I've also been slapped down for the insane idea of bringing feral cats into the house. But I still maintain that maintaining a colony of ferals that roam the neighborhood is not being neighborly.

Dear Prudie: I have been married to a wonderful, brilliant, funny woman for about a year. I love her so much and can't imagine life without her. Lately, she's had a string of unfortunate incidents in life. She had to move away for a few months on assignment for her job. We see each other once a month. She absolutely hates the job and hates the city she's based, in but can't leave because it would be "unprofessional." And the money is good. On top of all of this, a member of her immediate family has become extremely ill and has lost the will to fight for their health. As a result, whenever we speak on the phone, my wife only complains and all we talk about is how miserable she is. I am doing my best to be understanding, but it's really damaging our marriage. She pays no attention to me and lashes out when I try to suggest that she stay positive. I know she feels safe venting to me, but I don't know how much longer I can stay supportive. She's become mean-spirited and hostile. It worries me because I wonder if she will always handle unfortunate situations this way. I am a very positive, optimistic person, and her refusal to stay on the bright side is really troubling. I'd appreciate your advice on how to stay loving despite all of this.

You're right that you are a safe place for her to vent. You should also recognize she doesn't really want your advice or cheerleading, she just wants to let off steam.  But a spouse's job is not to be a black hole for their partner's discontent. So tell her, preferably when you're actually together, that your conversations have become increasingly painful because you are left feeling the burden of her unhappiness without having any sense that you can help. Say while you want to be there for each other, you are partners, so that means you have to respect each other's limits.  Explain you can only hear so much of her frustration before it sends you spinning downward. Suggest she find a counselor so that she can vent to her heart's content and also get some neutral observer's perspective on dealing with her work unhappiness and a failing loved one.  Then try to make an agreement that you'll both put a time limit on complaints over the phone and be able to shift your conversation to other topics. And if she gets nasty to you, you have to be able to tell her that you need to talk some other time when she's feeling less hostile.

I have a thing for one of my good friends' boyfriends, and he appears to have a thing for me too. Of course I'm not going to act on it, and neither is he, but is there any way I can keep the friendship I have with him (which is fairly independent of my good friend)? Although it's certainly frustrating not being able to act on our desires, I'd be very sad to lose him as a friend. But is it betraying my friend to hang out with her boyfriend? I've certainly read things by you and others that say I should cut him out of my life, but I really don't want to do that. But this crush is also not going away.

I assume you all through your early life you had various crushes on boys in your class. I'm also assuming these crushes went away. Your assertion that this one won't sound more like a manifesto of, "Watch out, girlfriend, he's mine" then a legitimate desire to find out how to not cross the line. It doesn't sound as if you're actually friends with this guy, but that the supposed friendship is composed of heavy flirting.  I hope you're a person with many friends, so you're friendship with this guy will just have to go by the wayside. That means you don't see him one-on-one but only when you both happen to be at some social event. Shift your focus to finding someone who is delightful and available.

"I think your concern about this coming out should give you pause about your line of work, no matter how lucrative." It seems to me that concern about "coming out" about something that is legal and harms no one should only give pause about societal prejudice. This young woman is doing nothing wrong, so why should she be ashamed? It's awful that our society is full of people who watch porn behind closed doors then turn around and shame the women who act in it. It takes courage to come out as part of ANY group that is discriminated against and it may not be right for everyone to do. But the fact that people are prejudiced and hypocritical is their problem, NOT hers.

I said if she's thought through the implications of her career choice, then it is hers to make. That doesn't mean I or anyone else have to think it's a good idea without lifetime consequences.  To make a blanket statement that the people who would shame her are secret porn addicts is just silly.  I'm going to assume the young woman's mother would be stricken, yet the mother may also not be a consumer of porn.  I cannot imagine anyone would want their child to do live sex shows on the web. That doesn't make them hypocrites.

When I was 22, I was so anxious to get away from a bad home situation, I married a nice guy I'd been dating. He was really a sweetheart, and we had a daughter together. Things were great until he lost his job and started drinking; we subsequently split up while my daughter was still a toddler. Several years later, I met and married the man who adopted her and raised her as her own. We were together for 15 years until he started seeing someone on the side. Her adoptive father and I split shortly before she graduated from high school. She has always known her biological father (who subsequently cleaned up and got his act together), and is friendly with him and his wife. When I remarried a few years ago, I didn't tell my current husband about her bio dad; as far as I'm concerned, the man who raised her and adopted her is "Dad". Furthermore, since she was an adult and out of the house long before we met, I didn't think it was a big deal because we're well past the age of having kids ourselves. Am I being unreasonable about this? She refers to her adoptive father as "Dad", so while I haven't talked to her about it, she seems to feel the same way I do, but I have friends who insist I'm being deceitful.

A terrible upbringing can have consequences for the rest of your life. It sounds as if you've made it out, but not without a lot of bumps. But I fail to understand why you would hide the very important information that your daughter was the product of your first marriage. I'm guessing it's because you prefered not to disclose you'd had two previous marriages.  I don't know how long you've been with your courrent spouse,  but I agree with your friends that this is the kind of important biographical information one shares.  Before the information is sprung on your husband, I think you need to tell him you're embarrassed about something about your past you withheld.  He'll probably be so worried that you were a porn star in your youth, that he'll be relieved that your secret is that you had a brief, youthful marriage that produced your wonderful daughter. 

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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