Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Apr 08, 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.

Hi, Prudie. I am 29 and have been with my new guy for about two months. It started out great -- he's attentive, considerate and funny. Last month, when things were getting serious, he told me that his ex-wife is six months pregnant with this child - conceived when they "celebrated" their divorce becoming legal. She chose to keep the child, and he's supportive (tension about infertility was one of the reasons they split in the first place.) I've met his ex a few times when she's picked him up at my place for dr's appts - and she seems very nice and open. My question: I've been having nightmares about my boyfriend's future child calling me a "homewrecker" for not letting his parents be together. I'm not worried they are going to get together again, but I certainly don't want to come between them if they want to pursue that option. Thoughts?

Maybe divorce lawyers need to write at the bottom of the bill, "If you're of childbearing years, please don't celebrate your divorce by having unprotected sex."  This is an O.Henry ending to a marriage, but you're getting way ahead of yourself by worrying about how your boyfriend's child is going to think about you.  You've been with this guy for two months, and I understand that people can click so thoroughly that in a short time it can turn serious. But realistically, you hardly know this guy. During the time you've been together his ex has been gestating his child.  That does not sound like the ideal start for a relationship. Sure, maybe you'll end up as one happy modern family.  But in a single  sentence you say that you're both not worried they'll get back together and that you think they might.  Who knows, because it's impossible to predict how the arrival of a child they both dearly wanted during the marriage will make them feel about having ended it. You're at a point in life that you're probably looking for a permanent partner, so you need to think very clearly about investing time with a guy who in three months is going to be pulled away emotionally from you because of the arrival of his child.

Dear Prudence, Four years ago my mother committed suicide leaving my younger brother in the care of my elder brother. At the time I was in law school, and my brother was a recently married doctor with no kids. The poor boy suffered quite a lot of abuse during my mother's depression so he really benefitted from the attention they were able to give him. Now I am a married lawyer with no kids and my E.B. is a busy surgeon with three very young children and one more on the way! His wife is constantly stressed out and often snaps at Y.B for no reason, visibly upsetting him. E.B. is constantly exhausted and recently admitted to using drugs to keep him going during the day. All the while Y.B.'s grades and behavior are slipping. I want to take Y.B. in myself, but the first time I mentioned it E.B. said I didn't understand "the impact rising a child would have on my life" and he didn't want to burden me. I asked him again and he sternly said no. On top of this, E.B. refused to accept my offer of money to send the boy to a good school because he wouldn't be able to afford it for his daughters and he doesn't want to treat them differently. My Brother is a great father, and my little brother just adores him, but I feel like it's my turn now! I am just a little bit irked by being relegated to the position of "Uncle,"  while my older brother calls the shots. I just can't work out why he would't want my help. What should I do? Middle Child

Your family is so accomplished one, yet struggles with a dark strain running through it.  How much suffering your youngest brother has endured. I agree with you that it's time he got the love and attention you would be able to lavish on him. I know you're a lawyer, and eventually you might have to turn to the legal system to resolve this. But right now, if conversation continually reaches a dead end, suggest to your brother that you two hire a mediator, or social worker, or counselor to help you two work out the best way to continue to raise your youngest brother. Please don't  back down in your quest.  Your sister-in-law  is so overwhelmed with child-rearing duties that she can't give your brother the kind of nurturing he needs, and  because of his work duties, your brother is gone all day. There is additionally, an extremely alarming message in your letter: your surgeon brother uses drugs to keep him going.  Now that he's confessed to you,  you must do everything in your power to see that he addressed this. His drug use is a calamity waiting to happen for his patients, himself, and his family.

For several years, I worked as a nanny for three young children and had a great relationship with the family. I recently left to start my own family and helped them fill the position when a casual friend was interested. She has been working for them for a year now. I'm friends with her on Facebook and see her statuses, which include negative comments about the family and even comments saying she has gone to work "hungover/still drunk." She has called out last minute saying she was sick leaving the family in a huge bind, when in reality she was out drinking all night. I keep in touch with the mother of the children, and she seems pretty happy with the new nanny. I don't want to be a trouble maker, but part of me thinks I should say something because she's so involved with the care of these young children. Should I let my former boss know what's going on or just mind my own business?

How rarely I say this, but thank goodness for Facebook.  You don't have to report rumors or private conversations to your former boss. If your casual friend has not put privacy protections on her page, simply contact your former employers and let them know there's some interesting reading material on the internet and where to find it. If she has been sober enough at some point to figure out Facebook's privacy rules, then take a screenshot of her proclamations about her work ethic.  You obviously are concerned about the well-being of these children. You know they should not be in the care of a self-professed drunk.

I've read you for years and have always admired how you handled marrying a young widower. I am now in the same boat and having a bit of a problem these days. Early on in our relationship, my now fiance called me by his first wife's name twice. When I talked to him about how it upset me he took it in stride and has been very aware of not doing it again. Now, as we are quickly approaching our wedding next month, his mother constantly calls me by the first wife's name whenever we talk about wedding details. I love my future in-laws and they love me. They tell me all the time how they are so happy my fiance found me after a few years of a fiasco with another woman after the first wife's death, but this is really starting to hit my self-esteem. I haven't said anything to her or my fiance about it, but he knows something's up when he comes into the room after I've gotten of the phone with his mom and I'm stifling tears. I'm afraid the wrong name calling is going to happen on my wedding day and that I'll completely lose it when it does. Is there anyway I can gently broach this subject with my mother-in-law?

No one wants to be called by the wrong name, but please try to look at these slips not as insults. Grandmothers often call grandchildren by each other's names not because they can't remember who their grandchildren are, but because there's a module in grandmother's head for, "Small person I adore."  It's not that your fiance is playing out a version of Vertigo, or that your future in-law's truly are confusing you with their late daughter-in-law. It's you are now filling the place in their minds for a beloved young woman who is making each of them happy. Have a sense of lightness about this. If your fiance uses the wrong name again say something like, "I wish I could ask Courtney what she said to you when you called her by your previous girlfriend's name." With your in-laws simply say, "I'm Isabelle. But I know you sometimes call me Courtney because of how much you loved her." 

Dear Prudie, Seven years ago I had an abortion. I got pregnant with someone I was in love with, but discovered after getting pregnant that he didn't want anything to do with being a father and I knew I would be doing it all alone, not something I was willing to do. Shortly after he ended things with me and within the year was engaged to a woman and had a child. Fast forward seven years, it was hard but I got over that heartbreak and moved to a great city and moved on. Two nights ago out of the blue I received an email from him basically saying sorry, and now that he's a father he realizes that going through with the abortion broke my and his heart. Getting that email has really rocked my world, and I was shocked because I was sure I was over it . Now I realize that I never really dealt with my feelings about the abortion and now it's all I can think about. My question for you is, is it okay for me to contact him and ask him some questions I have that I think might help me work through this? Or is this something I need to handle and work through on my own ? 

I often hear from people who years later want to clear their conscience by contacting the person they feel they've wronged. Your letter is something important to ponder when considering bringing up old, possibly healed wounds. I generally think even a belated apology for a terrible act is worthwhile. But your situation was not quite that, and there is something rather smug about your ex now musing about his own realization at what the abortion must have cost you. I do think you need to work through this, but I'm doubtful your boyfriend is the best place to start.  First contact Exhale ( a support group for women who have had abortions and want to find others who have been there and can share what are sometimes complicated emotional consequences It may be that this can help you resolve your feelings on your own. I do worry that further rehashing events with your ex will leave you more roiled.

My fiance and I are getting married in a year, and most of our family members are out of town. We're sending information to them soon so they can make travel arrangements well in advance. My conundrum involves my side of the family. One of my aunts is conniving and manipulative, and has caused my immediate family (and the police and our attorneys) great pain in the past. I've tried to make amends with her, but have had to limit contact because of her manipulation. Naturally, I don't want to invite her to the wedding. If I could send her a courtesy invite (with no gift expectation, just to be nice) with the guarantee she wouldn't come, I would. However, I know she would travel halfway across the country, play nice, then get drunk and insult my immediate family. She's close with several other family members whom I want to invite (including her adult daughter), and they live near each other. Should I go on the "offensive" and send her a polite email explaining that I don't feel comfortable inviting her? Or should I relay the message through my grandparents? I'm worried my "snub" will alienate other family members.

When law enforcement has to be called has to resolve a family dispute, that's a decent reason to cull someone from a guest list.  If you don't want auntie there, you don't send her an invitation stamped, "Void Because You're Prohibited." You don't send her any invitation at all. But if everyone else is going to get invited and they all live near each other, then yes, something has to be said. If you have a truly trusted family member who can explain to your aunt that because of unpleasant past encounters it's in everyone's interest that she and your family not be in the same room, let that person do it. If no one's right for that task, then call your aunt and explain your sorry to have to leave her off the list but because of the extreme tension between her and members of your immediate family, this just isn't the occasion for a full family reunion.

Take it from a divorce lawyer-find someone else!

I have to agree this one just doesn't seem worth it.

Recently my mother was diagnosed with a rare untreatable disease that will lead to her going blind. My mother and I are the only family we have, so it reasonable to see that my mom pours all her hope and dreams onto me. I'm in my last year of college, and have been dating a wonderful guy for a year and a half. Recently she admitted that she wants to see me graduate and married before she goes blind (though we do not know when that will be). I gently brought this up with my boyfriend, and he honestly said he was not quite ready to get married just yet, though he loves me and would like to get married some day. I respect his side and my mother's, but it leaves me feeling stressed and unsure what to do next. Should I press the issue with my boyfriend? How do I talk to my mother about my boyfriend's point of view?

What a heartbreak. Of course you want to be there for your mother as she makes this difficult transition. Every mother has hopes and dreams for her offspring, but it is unfair to expect your child to carry out a life plan because of your own exigencies.  It's good that your boyfriend was able to handle this conversation with such maturity. Now you must put this pressure aside and live your own life as you would be without the burden of your mother's disability. Please find a support group for you mother for those with vision problems. It's crucial she has a community she can turn to of people who understand what she's experiencing.  She should also get a therapist who specializes in disability issues. Despite your mother's disease, it's crucial that you  have for yourselves and each other the goal of remaining self-sufficient and independent people.

The name problem happens to me at work. A well-beloved colleague changed jobs, which I assumed recently, and now I'm referred to using the previous colleague's name. They'll fix it in time. I consider it a compliment.

Thanks for this demonstration of graciousness. But I hope you are gently correcting your colleagues.

Prudie, Why doesn't the brother offer to take the YB over the summer break. YB can come live with him full time over the summer and Middle Child can offer to take the nieces for a weekend or two to keep things equitable between the kids. This will allow E.B and his wife some time to decompress and get used to the idea of Y.B staying elsewhere. Once Middle Child has had Y.B. for a couple of weeks he can then raise the question (to both brothers again) about Y.B. staying with him during the school year and maybe visiting E.B. during breaks.

I think taking younger brother for the summer is a great idea all around.  Thanks for the suggestion.

Dear Prudence, I am 32 and have been married to my husband, the love of my life and best friend for the past five years. A little over a year ago I was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and currently only have about 6-8 months left. This has been very hard, but I am starting to come to terms with the reality of the situation. My husband has been amazingly supportive of me during this time. We have no kids, and as my health has declined, he has sat with me through endless doctor appointments, hospital stays and sleepless nights. On bad days he even has to help me bathe, and I know this has taken a toll on him. A few weeks ago while using his ipad to watch a movie, an email came in and I discovered he has been having a affair (emotional and sexual) with a coworker for a few months now. For several days I cried, heartbroken at the betrayal, but now I feel like my husband deserves to have someone help him and support HIM through this emotional time. I have not confronted him about the affair, and were it not for the email and my subsequent snooping, I never would have known as I have not felt him pulling away from me. Do I confront my husband and tell him I understand? That although I am hurt, I forgive him and I don't want him to feel guilty? Or do I just keep quiet and let him continue? If our families find out after I'm gone, I'm worried they will think ill of him, and I don't want that either. Hurt But Understanding

I am so sorry about your prognosis and so moved by your insight and compassion. If you don't have a therapist, please consider getting one in order to have someone neutral who can help you fully work through this and everything you are facing. But you have written to me for a reaction, and mine is that you should tell your husband. Don't frame it as a confrontation, but as a conversation. I can see you taking his hand one night and telling him that it was by accident, but a few weeks ago you found an email to him from the woman he is seeing. Then you tell him what you told me. That of course it was painful to discover, but on further reflection you realize he needs some relief from this terrible sadness. You can assure him that he has been a rock for you.  This will be a hard, tearful discussion, but it will also probably be relief of a terrible, guilt-ridden burden for him.  As for your family, you are very thoughtful to consider that if after your death it ever comes out there was someone else in his life, he will turn from angel to devil.  You don't have to tell anyone else about this. But as you say your farewells to those closest to you you can allude to it. Perhaps you can tell your family that you want them to know that life can be so difficult and complicated and that through all of it your husband has been everything you wanted. You can say you were lucky that you two never had any secrets.  Thank you for this example of bravery and compassion.

Dear Prudence, I am a married woman in my 20s. About a year ago, I befriended a married colleague at work (she has since changed jobs for unrelated reasons). At first, our friendship was normal and consisted primarily of going out to lunch or coffee. However, lately, things have taken a turn for the strange. At a recent coffee meetup, I mentioned wanting to see a local concert, and hinted that I suspected my husband would be getting tickets for my upcoming birthday. Three days later, she presented me with tickets for herself and me to attend. Prudie, my husband was livid - he had purchased the tickets as I suspected! Things have gotten more strange since. She purchased us wine and flowers for our anniversary, and paid for lunch secretly when I was in the bathroom. How do I nicely tell her to back off?

If you've been friends for a year and this is an odd swerve in a relationship you enjoy, you can say something to the effect that you just enjoy getting together and you're uncomfortable with the sudden burst of generosity. Maybe things will get back to normal. But if they don't, and this is a rather casual friendship, then you need to just be busy. It's not uncommon for a friendship that started in the office to fade away once two people are no longer colleagues.

You already are in limited contact with her, so it seems like the best course of action is to simply not invite her and leave it at that. All these phone calls and elaborate justifications of why you're not inviting her sound bizarre and unnecessary. If anything they'll only fuel her crazy behavior.

Normally I agree the lack of an invitation speaks for itself. But when an aunt is pointedly the only relative left off the list, it's better to try to deal with it directly.  But yes, the bride has to be prepared for more craziness no matter what.

I agree, there is no reason to rush a wedding. But perhaps mom and daughter can go "shopping" at an understanding bridal salon so she can see her daughter in a wedding gown and have that image in her head when the real event arrives.

This leaves me uneasy unless the daughter herself thinks it's a great idea. There will be a future for this mother and daughter that will be different from the present, but I hope there will be joy at experiencing the actual events as they take place.

Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.

In This Chat
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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