Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Apr 01, 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.

Dear Prudie, My grandmother passed away recently, and as my mother and I were cleaning out her house I came across a box of photos, letters, and other momentos. I haven't shown my discovery to anyone because it's a shocking revelation that would forever change the way my (very conservative) mom, aunts and uncles remember their mom. It turns out that "Maude" who also passed on a few years ago, was much more to grandma than a close friend. Although everyone in the family knew that they were childhood friends, we had no idea that they were lovers. It seems they both got married to conceal their true sexuality and lived their secret double life together for over fifty years. It makes me so sad that grandma felt she had to live that way pretty muchher entire life. And it also hurts that much more whenever I hear my mom, aunts and uncles using homophobic slurs at family gatherings. Should I ever let them know what I found?

Your grandmother's name wasn't Pandora, was it? What would novelists and filmmakers do without the box of mementos left behind by the buttoned up relative? Since your grandmother got to be an old woman, she had plenty of opportunity to discard the evidence of this life-long love. Though it's understandable she couldn't bear to toss these memories. But she must have known that leaving such a box behind would almost surely lead to the revelation you have now stumbled upon. Consider that that may have been your grandmother's intention, conscious or not.  I think that without commentary you should tell your mother you found something interesting of your grandmother's and you'd like to go through it with her.  It will be something to watch her face as she comes to understand the story in the box.   There's a possibility  your mother will want to discard the contents, so tell her since you discovered the box you feel obligated to make sure it is preserved. I think it would be fine at the next family gathering, when a disaparaging comment is made about homosexuals,  that you explain there's a dear, departed family member who knew too well the high cost of spending a life in the closet.

I wrote 3 weeks ago about discovering my husband's 2-year affair via Facebook. He exchanged graphic messages and evidence of hook-ups with the wife of a friend and you chastised me for sharing the detail with the wife's husband before confronting mine. Skip to three-weeks-later - I've confronted him, he came clean, his girlfriend/skank has also apologized, other husband is aware and he and wife/skank are dealing with things in their own way. Now, I'm trying to figure out what to do and how to feel. Husband wants me to forgive now that he has apologized and swears he wants me/us more than anything else. Says they just gave each other something that was missing in their lives, but it's out of his system and he'll be good. I don't really believe one can deny or turn away from something so intensely personal and phyical as what he had with her for two years. She's totally opposite from the type of person I am. Their messages were so XXX and disgusting. The voice in my head is telling me to walk away, but it's hard.  We've been married for almost 30 years and I still feel a loyalty to our marriage. The ironic thing is we were in counseling for a while a few months ago before I discovered the affair so I'm really angry that he was so dishonest all along. Should I cut my losses? I'm so exhausted and humiliated and feel like an idiot.

I think I am to draw the conclusion that whatever you are, it is not a skank. Your husband had a lengthy, sexually thrilling affair which he apparently did little to hide. Sexually explicit messages on Facebook are poor clandestine technique. Your husband was a full participant in this, so it would be better for you not to deflect your anger onto the "skank." Your husband lied to you during counseling, which is a poor sign. You have nothing redemptive to say about him, your only interest seems in preserving the marriage, which you make sound as if it exists separately from the two people in it.  Last we heard you were on your way to the laywer's office. I don't see any reason you shouldn't keep that appointment.

My (second) husband and I have been together for 14 years now. He has struggled with alcoholism and mental health issues this whole time. I have supported him in his quest to get healthy. In February, he had a complete meltdown, stopped his pills one day (you have to taper off these meds, not stop cold turkey) and during this episode he threatened to commit suicide, and I had to call 911 (he had a rifle and it was confiscated). First and only time he has ever threatened to hurt himself, I was in no danger, he never threatened me, nor did I ever feel in fear of my own safety. Since then he has been working very hard and getting counseling to get healthy and not have this type of episode occur again, I left him briefly after that and after a lot of counseling myself, talks with our Rabbi, I have decided to stay in the marriage and honor my vows. My problem is my 28 yr old daughter. I made the mistake of telling her about this episode, and now I have her saying "I never liked him, and don't want him back in my life"...he has never been anything but kind and supportive to her, At this point, she is refusing him to come to her wedding (in October), and I am at a loss on how to reconcile this part of our family. I am thinking I need to get her and me together with a family counselor? She did mention she is angry that I am working on this marriage yet, divorced her dad, etc. Your input would be appreciated.

Just as you can't control your husband, you can't control your daughter's reactions to this news about him. From your perspective he may have been kind and supportive to her, but presumably she has picked up that he also an alcoholic with mental health issues. Yes, it's juvenile that she resents your staying with him while divorcing her father. But independent of that she could have had difficulties and concerns about him over the years. Once you tell a loved one that your husband went crazy, threatened violence, and had a gun, you should be prepared for a lack of support for continuing the marriage. You also sound naive in the extreme if you think someone waving a weapon while in the grip of a suicidal mania could never be of danger to you. However, if you daughter refuses to include your husband at her wedding, it is your decision whether to take the stand that you and he are a couple and if he's not invited, you won't go. You can suggest to your daughter you'd like a neutral party to help you two hear each other out on the  subject of your husband and her wedding. But don't go into it with the idea that the point of the discussions will be to get her to come around.

Dear Prudence, I am a man in my 40's who found himself unexpectedly single after my ex left me for somebody else. We had no children (she had fertility issues) and after much thought and prayer, I decided to peruse single fatherhood with an egg donor and a surrogate mother. I'm happy to say I have a son on the way!  I knew that this was an unusual choice for a man in my position and that I'd get lots of questions. What I didn't anticipate is that many people now assume I'm gay. It shouldn't bother me, but it does, and they don't ask me directly. I only find out when they ask someone close to me. Is there some way I can say 'Oh, and I'm still straight' when talking about this to people or does it sound too defensive?

Saying to people "Yes, I'm thrilled that I'm going to be a father, a straight one -- please pass the word on that" will be so bizarrely defensive that everyone will think you're a gay man who can't deal with that fact. If people don't bring this issue up to you, you don't bring it up to them. If friends indicate others are asking or they are wondering, you just say, "No, my sexual orientation hasn't changed. I'm just lucky there are  ways to make it easier for single people to become parents."

If she hadn't married, she wouldn't have had children or grandchildren either. That's also something to think about..

It is an irony that the suppression of grandmother's true nature was good news for her homophobic descendants.

A couple years ago one of my friends began dating one of my wife's friends. Things got serious fast. Then things got seriously bad and they broke up in a spectacular fashion. My wife's friend cut off all contact with my friend, banning him from seeing her Facebook page and other various social-media accounts. Cut off from keeping tabs on her electronically, my friend often asked me for updates on her life, gossip that I always found a way to dodge (I didn't want to be involved). The one thing he asked, though, was to tell him if she ever started seeing someone new so he could have "closure." Well, she's recently engaged, and my wife and I are invited to the wedding. Prudie, it's been more than two years now, and though he appears over her, I'm afraid he'll go into a funk if I mention her pending nuptials. I'm going to have to mention it at some point, but how do I tell him?

Your friend sounds somewhat wacko on this subject and you should not give him any information about your wife's friend. I'd be afraid the "closure" would involved something along the lines of, "If I can't have you, no one else can." So don't volunteer anything. If he hears something through the grapevine and comes to you, just tell him, "You two broke up years ago, so I'm not having conversations about her anymore."

Dear Prudence, I have been dating Gina, a beautiful, smart, accomplished woman for the past three months. We agreed to get to know each other before getting sexually involved and I have developed strong feelings for her. However, I have a feeling Gina and I may not be too compatible in the bedroom. She has lately been alluding to her sexual interests, and frankly, I doubt I share them. She makes comments that lead me to believe that she is very interested in domination and prefers her partners to be submissive and take orders. Prudie, I have never thought of myself this way, so I am unsure how to bring this up with her - I'm crazy about her, but not enough to be her whipping boy. How do I tell her I don't want this?

You certainly don't act meek and mealy-mouthed. I keep advocating that people with sexual fetishes reveal these proclivities early in the relationship, so good for Gina for letting you know that she likes you so much she's feeling you need to be punished.  She's dropped some heavy hints, be assertive in picking up on this. Tell her you want to understand exactly what she's saying, then have an open discussion about what role domination has in her life. From there you two can figure out if the relationship can progress or she needs to find someone who feels he's been very naughty.

My husband and I have been together for eight years, and we've been married for four. We have one daughter, about to turn 4, we both have stable jobs and a small, but nice house that we can afford. We live paycheck to paycheck, but through budgeting and a little outside help, we are relatively stable financially, barring any unforeseen circumstances. Well, I was just handed an unforeseen circumstance - I'm pregnant. I'm on the pill, but my period is one week late, which is exactly what happened four years ago when I got pregnant with my daughter. I don't want to have another baby. I had a difficult pregnancy, and while sometimes I feel bad for my daughter growing up as an only child, I was an only child and turned out fine. If I were single and this happened, I would have no problem going to Planned Parenthood to end the pregnancy. We might be able to afford another child, but things will become more difficult, both financially for our family but also emotionally for me. Even though my husband says he doesn't mind having no more kids, if I tell him I'm pregnant I'm afraid he may never forgive me if I have an abortion. My question is, should I tell him that I'm pregnant? Or should I simply go to Planned Parenthood and keep it to myself?

Think of what it says about the quality of your marriage that you would consider keeping something so profound from your husband. I hope on second thought, you will be able to conclude that your husband is the kind of partner who can talk this out fully with you and that you two can mutually arrive at decision.  That doesn't mean that if you  have an abortion there may not be regret and sadness for each you. But it would seem crucial that your emotional intimacy requires you to be able to support each other through this. Whatever you decide, tell your gynecologist it's time for a different form of birth control.

Hi Prudence, I recently had my first baby. It is a magical time for me and my husband. My parents, who live relatively close by, were elated by my son's arrival and are very doting grandparents. My mother and I have had a very rocky history, and I was hopeful that my son could have a relationship with his grandmother, separate from my own issues with her. As she is with everything in my life, my mother is extremely overbearing. She never gives me a compliment and constantly questions and criticizes every decision I make. She is very concerned about appearances, and tries to constantly push her wishes for how to dress and  feed my child, etc. on me. I accept and welcome suggestions--but my mother will force her will. She nags, belittles, and insults my decisions until I replace them with her own. She constantly interferes in our decisions. Ignoring her is impossible, as she will nag until you agree to adopt her decision. My father tells me that she is my mother, and although she is very difficult, she will not change, so I must. This has been the song and dance of my whole life. I am tired of having to be the one to roll over just because she won't change or accept my decisions. I feel an obligation to my son to let him have a relationship with his grandmother. How do I draw boundaries with her when she refuses to accept any decision but her own?

Your father is partially right when he says your mother is the way she is, she's not changing, and you must. I agree that you must change the way you deal with her.  But if you do, it's just possible she will modify her own behavior.  I've said many times to new parents dealing with an impossible parent that this will be good practice for childrearing.  Start now by explaining to your mother that a few helpful suggestions are fine, but that verbal battery is not and if she can't be pleasant, your visits will be brief. Then strictly enforce this.  Instead of letting her come to your house, go over to hers. If she starts getting abusive, pick up your baby,  take your things and say, "Bye, Mom. I've heard enough." Keep doing this without fail.  Either she learns to tone it down, or if she doesn't, you hardly see her.  If her horrible behavior means she's not much of a presence in her grandchild's life, that's the price she pays for being a miserable person. If your mother will not stop berating you, you wouldn't want your son to learn that it's okay for people to treat each other that way, anyway.

Hi Prudie, My boyfriend and I have been dating for two-and-a-half years and we're likely getting married someday. I have been welcomed into his family as one of their own and my family is also happy for me. There's just one problem. Recognizing that both of our families are pretty traditional and old-school, my boyfriend and I lied and told our parents that we met through friends. In reality, we met online. We aren't ashamed about meeting online, it has become a norm with our peers and in urban communities. While the story of how we met isn't a recurring topic that comes up, we realize that if we tie the knot someday, this is likely to come up again. Our friends know we met online and our families don't. How should we break the truth? -Online Success Story

By telling them the truth. When you are each with your own families, either separately or together,  and the topic of marriage, etc. comes up, you  say, "We need to correct a misimpression. We didn't get fixed up by friends. We got fixed up by an algorithm that had excellent judgment. We met on an on-line dating site." Let's give your families enough credit to assume that they won't get the vapors about this. And if they are  all so traditional, then tradition would dictate they say something like, "We appreciate your telling us the real story.  We will now be grateful to those little computer elves for doing such good work!"

I've been married for eight years and struggle with infertility (I'm 33). My parents keep asking about grandkids and of my circle of friends, all of them are pregnant. I'm literally left out of all discussions and it hurts. We've been trying for a baby for the past seven years but always come up "empty". None of my friends can  understand the emotional toll this is taking and I don't want to be the "debbie downer" so I often find myself making excuses as to why I don't want to go over for a group dinner or a game night. I've managed to alienate everyone and am soon going to find myself not getting invited for anything. My husband knows how hard this is for me and there's nothing he can do, he keeps saying go to the doctor but it doesn't matter - we don't have the money for the infertility treatments (he's not working) and insurance doesn't cover it. I find myself getting more and more depressed when I think about it. I'm trying to be a strong person and act like this doesn't bother me but it's just not working, I'm starting to crumble. Everyone is always asking when we are going to have kids. I just don't even know how to respond anymore and I'm 'finding I'm starting to become bitter and resentful. Any suggestions on how I can get out of this funk? 

First of all contact Resolve, an infertility suppport organization. They may have advice on treatment options for you. They certainly will have advice on coping and not retreating from everyone you love. If you've never even tried fertility treatments because of the cost, this seems like a time to go to both your parents and see if they can help you out. I also wonder if you've really explored your options with your own insurance company. It never hurts to press your case. Take action now because the sooner you address this medically the better the potential outcome.

Perhaps the LW should show copies to her mother, not the originals. That seems like the sort of secret her mother might want to keep hidden-possibly to the point of destroying the evidence on Grandma's behalf.

That's a good idea.  Showing the mother a sheaf of copies will ensure grandmother's story does not end up in the fireplace.

My 20-year-old daughter recently got back together with a boyfriend she had broken up with about 3 months ago. Her father and I were happy when they broke up because we didn't approve of him - he lies, doesn't work, and they have gotten physical in their fights. Now that she's supporting herself, we fear that she'll let him move in and basically live off her. How can we support her when all we see is a disaster brewing?

You tell her you are concerned about this reconciliation because someone who is capable of the behaviors he engaged in is highly likely to repeat them.  Then you keep tabs are much as possible without being overbearing, which will likely only push her closer to him.  I wish there was a magic formula to keep women from attaching themselves to violent losers.

A little more than seven years ago my mom passed away from cancer. Since then I have had recurring dreams that she is alive and then just disappears from my dreams. Since my mom passed, my dad has remarried a lovely lady. Sometimes what also happenes in these recurring dreams is that mom is alive but dad chooses his new wife over my mom and then my mom runs off and disappears. Each time I have these dreams I just wake up broken-hearted. Yes, I've mourned my mom, but I still miss her very much. Is this a "normal" thing for people to have with these kinds of dreams or is this something that I'm just unlucky to have? I don't want to wish these dreams of her completely away because sometimes these dreams are happy ones with my mom and I just enjoying doing something like we used to when she was still alive.

This is totally normal and I'm glad you find some comfort in these dreams. Many people who have experienced loss look forward to this kind of nightly visitation. I think you should appreciate the way your unconscious is dealing with the fact that because your mother no longer exists in the earthly realm your father has to choose his new wife.  Keep a dream journal and write down as many details of the dreams as you can. Capturing them will make you feel more in control and also make you appreciate how creative your sleeping mind is.

Been there, done that. It stinks. However, there are many options for fertility treatment that ARE covered by insurance. See: my oldest child. Most insurance does not cover IVF (although I'm not sure that's even true anymore), but most other options are covered. You owe it to yourself to at least talk to a fertility specialist.

Exactly. As another reader pointed out, insurance might cover the diagnostic tests to find out the reasons for the infertility and correcting the problem might also be covered. She's got to take action.

My mother can be exactly like you discussed, although luckily she does not live near by. Now that I have a child, it's actually a lot easier to stand up to her when she questions/nags etc. I just say my husband and I have decided this with regard to our child and that's final. And in a away, now that I have a child, it's made it a lot easier to blow of the other forceful comments from her because I tend to point out to myself that it doesn't matter. I've told her now several times that I will terminate conversations on certain topics, and I'm starting to actually do it.

Good to hear. Although it's crucial that if you say you're going to terminate conversations you then hang up the phone when the abuse starts. People like these mothers needs constant enforcement.  Better to be too strict than too lax.

I am a mother of three kids and my husband and I are now expecting number four. This was planned. I am still in the very early stages, so I won't be announcing for a while. Getting pregnant has come easily to me and we have been blessed with smooth pregnancies. My question stems from a possible situation. A dear friend has been trying to get pregnant for a while and has had multiple miscarriages. She has been working with her Dr. and with that, we are expecting an announcement pretty soon from her. If this happens we will be delivering children within weeks of each other. I have concerns as to when to tell her that I am pregnant. I don't want to rain on her parade, and what happens if she miscarries again? She has been very sweet and helpful through the other pregnancies and loves my children, but I don't want to be insensitive to her plight.

Good for your friend for being able to celebrate your good fortune in the midst of what must be terrible pain for her. What you do is continue to act like a normal person around her while being sensitive to what she's going through.  If you usually wait until at least the third month to announce your pregnancy, then do so again.  Whatever your friend's pregnancy status, you keep the news low key without acting as if you're sorry to be so lucky.  If she does have wonderful news herself and does deliver about the same time as you, do not worry about raining on her parade. Just delight that your baby and her will be playmates.

I am undergoing infertility treatments now and besides what Prudie advised, also urge you to confide in some friends. Pick those you trust to be sensitive and caring and open up. After not telling anyone about my own problems with this, I finally did and it's made such a difference. For example, you may find as I did that one of your pregnant friends needed some help to get there. And besides that, you'll be giving your friends the chance to support you and be there for you, which is something you need right now. Please don't isolate yourself, and hang in there. You're not alone!

Good advice, thanks.

How do I keep myself from feeling compared to the ex-wife of my fabulous boyfriend? I adore him, we have a wonderful time together, and I KNOW that he chooses to be with me, that their relationship was over before we met, etc However, he was with her for a decade, so all his stories are "we used to XXX" and it rubs me the wrong way sometimes. I'm not jealous, but sometimes I feel like I'm in a relationship with her too?

It depends how often the "We used to" comes up. If every time you go to an ethnic restaurant he has to mention that Karen loved that type of food, that's weird. But if you're planning a vacation to France and he says that he and his ex went to Provence annually,  that's germane. If the mention of the ex is a verbal tic and you're not being over-sensitive, then with as much humor and calmness as you can muster just say that you'd like to hear less about the ex.

Four years ago I lost my bipolar older sister to suicide. I too occasionally suffer from recurring dreams where I notice my sister is slipping backing into one of her extremely manic states and I wake up thinking I need to call my mom to tell her I think Sis has gone off her meds again and we need to intervene. The dreams can feel so real I forget that she has already passed. Yes, it's heartbreaking, but not abnormal. It doesn't matter how much time has passed, there are always time we missed loved ones that are gone. It's good to miss them! It's a reminder of how much we loved them while they were here. Moving on from a death doesn't mean you don't miss them, you just discover a new normal.

I'm sorry for your loss and thank you for this wise response.

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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