Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Apr 15, 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.

Before I met and married my husband 11 years ago I felt I might be bisexual. I fantasized (and still do) about being with women and men alike, however, the opportunity to be with a woman never presented itself and I never pursued it. I've made jokes about being with a girl, but my husband says it "does nothing" for him. Fast forward through the years and I still feel like I am missing out on something sexually and am kicking myself for not doing this before I settled down. Our sex life has run hot and cold -- my drive is much higher and I like more variety than he does. I have a good female friend who recently shared with me that she is bisexual and we have briefly discussed experimenting together. We are both secure in our marriages and are not looking for a relationship outside of friendship and fooling around together. Plus, I feel this may actually help me get what I need sexually while taking some pressure off my husband . I've thought about going for it without telling my husband just to see if it is something I like. However, I don't like the thought of doing this behind his back and I am equally nervous about telling him. I don't want him to question everything in our marriage over this. Am I crazy for even considering this?

I can't tell if you've been truly been honest with your husband about your sexuality. Joking that you'd like to go on tour with Beyonce is not exactly explaining that you think you are bisexual. Since you're seriously considering finally acting on your desires, I think it's time to explicitly own up to them to your husband. I acknowledge that sneaking around with the other womay may actually heighten the thrill of that romance.  But you will really be putting your marriage in jeopardy if you get caught. So talk to your husband. This will be a complicated conversation that will arouse many emotions in both of you. He may be devasted. Alternately he may surprise you and say he sanctions your exploration. You, of course, have to be prepared that he may express some so far unspoken desires of his own that he'd like to act on himself.

Dear Prudence, I have three children, my oldest ("Ryan") is incredibly bright and graduating college in a month. My youngest ("Amy") has physical and mental disabilities with the mental age of about four. When Ryan was home for Easter he talked to my husband and me and requested we get somebody to watch Amy at his college graduation. We said we would think about it and have been unable to make a decision. On one hand, Amy can be very difficult to handle in crowds and has a hard time empathizing with others and giving them the attention they might want or need. There are also only two ickets for handicap accessible seating, which means my family would not be able to sit together during the ceremony. Ryan was six when Amy was born and he has always been loving and compassionate towards her, so I think this stems from a desire to have this event be about him, not about all the logistics that surround a handicapped person. On the other hand, I am afraid that this will set a terrible precedent. What other events will Amy be excluded from, weddings, funerals, our 50th wedding anniversary party? How would we explain this to Amy, who is very sensitive? My husband and I would appreciate any guidance you have. Thanks.

It sounds as if no matter what you do someone will have to sit separately from your group with Amy. Presumably that would be either you or your husband. Even if you two can't sit together, Ryan will still have both his parents watching and applauding as he walks across the stage.  But as I understand it, what Ryan is asking for is that a friend or caretaker watch over Amy, who has trouble with crowds, so that both you and your husband can attend his big day without distractions.  That doesn't seem like such a terrible request or precedent. Amy needs special attention and a patient  caretaker could be just the right person to help her through experiences that make her agitated. This would let Amy to be there for milestone events while also allowing the rest of you to fully participate in them.  You say Ryan has been a loving and compassionate brother. Sometimes the needs of the typical kids in a family with a special needs child can be subsumed by the amount of attention the special child requires.  Ryan is not trying to exclude his sister, but he telling you what he would like on this unique day in his life and it's worth talking this out with him. If you take his suggestion,  it seems you would be able to explain to Amy that there aren't enough tickets for everyone to sit together. So she and whomever you choose will have seats with the best view  so that she can cheer on her big brother.

Dear Prudence, Just over two years ago, close friends dating back to college days lost a child suddenly. They have been devastated as have we, his godparents. We know that grieving and mourning take many forms, and in this case, the mother has decided to cut my husband and me out of her life. I'm not sure why except that we celebrated many holidays and milestones at our home, and perhaps those memories are too painful for her to revisit. Her sister said she may never be able to return to our house. Nearly all efforts to meet with her for lunch or coffee have been rebuffed with a few exceptions involving group events to memorialize her son. Invitations have been via email and responses are simply "I'm busy" with no mention of an alternate date. She has maintained some contact with our two adult children, especially one of them who provides her with an expensive service at no cost. He is increasingly uncomfortable with his parents being systematically ignored.  Having been pushed away so many times these past two years, I need advice. This comes across as anger toward me. Should I ask what I have done and offer an apology? Should I continue to make occasional overtures? Or should I accept the fact, as my husband suggests, that she may no longer want us in her life? I'm at the end of my rope, yet I don't want to give up on someone who has been a friend for so many years.

You understand that agony of your friend's grief, but I agree that two years out her behavior toward you seems inexplicable. Except if from her perspective there is a reason, whether fair or not. It could be you unintentionally said one of those things that send grieving people around the bend. It could be she feels you didn't do enough. And yes, it could also just be that you represent the time when her beloved son was alive and she can't bear the sight of you anymore. It sounds as if you have a connection to her sister, so please use that. Tell the sister you understand your friend's pain, and you wish you could provide solace to her, however she has without explanation cut you out of her life.  Ask if the sister knows if there's something you did or didn't do as regards the death of your godson that has caused this breach. If there is no real reason, then write your friend a letter. Tell her how much you miss your godson and that you know his loss is something she must bear every day. Say that you miss her and the closeness you used to have, and you're hoping that she can let you back in her life. If she can't, then your husband is right and you just have to accept this. As for your grown children, they are adults and can make their own decisions about their relationship with your (former) friend. But it is not cruel for your child to explain to your friend that at a given point in the near future he or she is going to be unable to continue providing services.

My boyfriend of 3 years and I decided to try new things in bed to spice things up. He told he had a fantasy and I went along with it even though I felt a bit weirded out about it. It was awful and left me feeling disgusted of myself. My boyfriend on the other hand was very happy with the experience and wants to do it again. How can I tell him it's not going to happen? I don't want to make him feel judged or like he can't tell me things.

He was able to tell you what he wanted and you were open enough to call him master, or handcuff him, or dress up as Dora the Explorer. Now he has to be open enough to hear your honest reaction, which was "Blech!" Sure, you  don't have to put it that way, but he has to accept that this particular experiment had the  effect of making you want to flee from the bedroom.  It's not a put down for you to explain your reaction to his particual desire. It may be that you two are ultimately incompatible in the bedroom. It may be that he has a whole range of fantasies and one of those would jibe better with yours. And maybe there's something in your personal spice rack that would shake things up.

Hi Prudence, I would like to comment on this letter, as I am also a typical child in a family with a special needs sibling. What Ryan is expressing is a totally normal feeling and thank you for not making him feel guilty. Another alternative here is to have a celebratory dinner afterwards that includes Amy, but keep the ceremony for the rest of the family. This is what my family did at my law school graduation because there were similar concerns with behavior, seating, and logistics.

Thank so much for this perspective. Yes, another important thing to consider is that graduations, while wonderful, are also among the world's most tedious events and it may be a kindness not to make Amy sit through one.

Hi Prudie! I love my Dad but have always felt he has singled me out my entire life as the good child. He's always singing my praises which of course I am thankful for, but it makes me uncomfortable, especially around my other siblings and when we are in public. During my cousin's wedding, he was making a very informal speech at brunch and even said I was his favorite daughter, right in front of my sister (and my bro, and our significant others). He felt awful and immediately apologized, and then I felt awful too. I still do. I am very nervous about what he is planning to say at my upcoming wedding, but don't want to hurt his feelings on how to bring up this topic to him. Any advice on how best to approach my dad about this?

How refreshing to hear from a favored child who sees how destructive this special attention is.  When it comes to the feelings of his children your father has apparently spent a lifetime trampling on them.  You, golden child, are in the best position  to point this out to him. Use your special status to have a bracing conversation with your father. Say that after the embarrassment at the brunch, you want to make sure nothing like that happens again. You can say his favoritism is not a favor to you -- it has only complicated your relationship with your own siblings. Tell him you love him and look forward to him toasting you at your wedding, but you want him to make sure at your wedding, and always, that he remembers he has three children whom he should love equally.

My mother has always favored my sibling. I was always aware of the unbalanced generosity and I moved past it in later years. Ten years ago my father passed away and left a generous life insurance, she has bought my sibling a car, paid for my niece and nephews college, cars, clothes etc; carried my sibling/spouse when they ran short of money. I had an accident that left me off work for two years and nothing was offered me except best wishes. Fast forward to the last year and a half -- she has spent most of her money on sibling and herself. My sibling is now about to lose their house and she is asking me to help them. I said no, when I was down nothing was offered me. She then asked me if I would assist her if the need arose, I said yes but thought to myself just bare bones assistance. Am I being selfish? I feel much guilt because I never really went without and I have a good income and retirement set aside. Do you think there is something I should do for my sibling? I am in my first house they are in their third, a McMansion and totally upside down. They have bought Corvettes, 4 X4's, campers, boats while we buy Toyotas we drive for 10 years.

Ah, the revenge of the disfavored child! I love this mash up of Aesop and Grimm. It's the  ant and the grasshopper with a Cinderella twist.  You have nothing whatsoever to feel guilty about. You have always taken care of yourself -- even through an extended recovery -- while you sister was indulged. It doesn't sound as if your sister had any qualms about this disparity, not even when you were flat on your back. Sure, I think there's something you can do for sis. Express your sympathy, then explain to her some of the rules of frugal living that have allowed you to get to this point in life so comfortably.

Poor her, she is married to the one straight guy in the universe who wouldn't find that hot :-(

Ha! Others are asking how is this different from someone saying, "I tried to let you know early on, but maybe I should have been clearer about monogamy not really being for me." That's a good point, but if one partner is on the verge of an affair -- for whatever reason -- better to address this in the marriage first.

Prudie, is it wrong for Guy to ask Girl, an ex-girlfriend who is now married to someone else, to be his date to a family wedding? Guy says it's not -that- kind of date and shouldn't be a big deal to just go as friends. Girl says it's completely inappropriate and not respectful of her marriage, plus gives off the wrong impression. For background, Guy and Girl broke up years ago and now live in cities on opposite coasts. The wedding is taking place in their hometown, and Girl would know a couple family members but does not know the couple getting married.

I don't know if you're Guy, Girl, bride, or groom in this scenario. What I do know is that one benefit of marriage is that you get to stop dating. In fact, it's a generally accepted as a requirement. (Not that this chat, or any other chat, would confirm that assertion.)

My husband's fantasy involves me dressing up in ways that I find ridiculous and somewhat uncomfortable - complete turnoffs for me. Over the years, I have seen how happy it makes him. It also makes him unbelievably generous in bed. I resisted for a long time and felt disrespected by him because he really wanted me to do these things. I more willingly participate in these fantasies with him because they have helped us communicate better, they make him happy, and I get a lot more positive, engaged attention from him than I have ever gotten from anyone else sexually. It has taken a lot for me to do this, but I'm very glad I have.

Thanks for this perspective. It does make me very grateful my husband doesn't suggest I get into something more interesting than my usual Jockey for gals.

My niece and her partner got married at the first legal LBGT wedding ceremony in Seattle (yay!). I posted pictures of the wedding on facebook and luckily saw that my aunt had posted the following comment about the album: "Ugh, yuck, barf". I immediately deleted the comment. My question is, how do I deal with my aunt? I want her to know that those remarks were unacceptable and yet I still would like to retain a good relationship with her. She's elderly and entitled to her opinion but I don't want my niece hurt by her great-aunt's attitude. I was stunned by my aunt's response to the photos (which are beautiful). She must know that I'm LBGT friendly, there have been previous posts had said that I supported gay marriage, I'd shared items from PFLAG, etc. and she had not posted anything similar for those.

There are two ways to go here. One is to accept that the majority of people with your aunt's reaction are not in the vanguard of life, let this go, but block your aunt's abilty to see or comment on your wall. The other one is to reach out to her and explain that you know she was raised in a world that had different attitudes about homosexuality, but back then it meant that gay and lesbian people had to hide and pretend. Say you know she loves her niece and you're hoping that even through her discomfort she can support her niece's personal choices.  You know your aunt, so can decide which approach would be most productive.

My wife and I have a 7-year-old son who goes to after-school daycare every weekday. It's staffed by people in their late teens/early 20s, all of whom seem perfectly nice. The other day, one of them, "Miss Diane," asked if she could drop by next weekend to pick up our son and take him to the park, and/or to get a snow cone, or something along those lines. Here's the thing: Neither my wife nor I can think of a single reason to say no to this request, but we both kind of have the creeps about it. I guess my question is twofold: 1) Are we being unreasonable? Everybody always says "Follow your gut" in situations like this, but my gut isn't making a reasoned argument. And 2) If we go with our guts, is there a polite way to turn "Miss Diane" down? Thanks so much, Hackles Raised for No Reason

I agree that's weird.  It would be one thing if Miss Diane wanted to earn more money babysitting and explained  to parents she was available on weekends. But this suggested outing leaves me uneasy. You simply tell Miss Diane that you've got plans for the weekend, thanks. I hope there is an adult somewhere managing this day care operation. You should go to this person and tell about Diane's request,  hat you think it's not appropriate, and that the supervisor and Diane need to have a talk.

If we're excusing the aunt for being elderly and growing up in a different generation, then we've also got to remember that she almost certainly grew up in an era when manners were more emphasized than they are now. There is NO excuse for posting things like "yuck" or "barf" to someone's wedding photos. There is room for polite disagreement, but that is just rude and uncalled for. Sheesh, whatever happened to "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all?"

Great point.  Yes, auntie's remarks certainly soundcontemporary, even juvenile.  My point is not to excuse her, but to weigh whether getting into it with an elderly bigot is worth it.

My husband had an affair with a coworker a while back. We're separated, but in marriage counseling. The marriage counselor has stressed the importance of us caring about each other's feelings. Today my husband told me that he's not sorry that the had the affair, or that he remains friends with the coworker. Our marriage had problems prior to the affair, and we've made tremendous progress in healing from those problems. The affair, however, has been the elephant in the room throughout counseling. He doesn't seem inclined to cheat again, but is there a point to trying to continue a relationship where I can't get an apology for such a transgression? The closest he's gotten has been "I'm sorry that you got upset" or "I'm sorry that you're jealous."

Sure, it's more expected that he would be wearing sackcloth and ashes and flogging himself for his violation of your vows. But if under the sackcloth he's spelled out, "Ready to  Party!" with the ashes, you're better off knowing his true feelings.  What he's said is very painful, but the therapist's office is a safe place to air difficult truths. He's not sorry he cheated, he's just sorry you found out. That seems to me clear evidence that he's not committed to your admittedly troubled marriage.  Since he's been willing to be so blunt, you should be too. In your next session you need to raise the question you've asked here for both of you to ponder: "Why should I stay in this marriage when my husband isn't even sorry that he cheated on me?"

I have a co-worker that recently lost about 50 lbs. I am very happy for her, and I applaud her efforts and results. Earlier this week she offered up some of her "big girl" clothes to me. I was taken aback at first, and then was gracious and just said "ok". She said she had shorts that were too big for her now, but she thought I would like them. This is a working relationship; we talk about some personal family stuff, but we have no friendship outside of the office. This woman can also be a bit passive-aggressive regarding her weight loss, in that she brings food in and makes up plates for the rest us to eat. The food she brings in is hardly low-fat, so she enjoys trying to sabotage our own weight-loss efforts. Needless to say, if she offers food, I turn it down or throw it away. So, what should I do with these clothes? The message to me is: "Hi.. I've lost weight, so here are my 'fat' clothes to wear." Am I overreacting? 

Your co-worker should hang on to her big girl shorts. It certainly sounds as if she hasn't resolved her relationship to food if she's bringing in fattening platters for the office. She might soon be finding her "small girl" shorts are too snug.  Unless you were truly interested in her hand-me-downs you should have simply declined the offer. If she comes in with bags of her cast-offs tell her your wardrobe is taken care of and she should feel free to donate her old clothes to charity.

Dear Prudie, I am at a complete loss over how to help my father. He's been overweight my entire life, and I'm reaching a point of feeling like I have to do something about it. I found out when I went home that he's broken 300 pounds. My mother has tried countless ways to get him to start being healthy and losing weight, but it isn't working. I've been overweight pretty much my entire life to some degree, though I never went as far as obese. I'm proud to say lost weight as soon as I went to college (I'm 20 now) and have successfully maintained it. But because of that, I understand what feelings my dad has if my mother or I try to comment on his weight. But it's terrifying to see my dad like this. I fear for their marriage and for his life. I'm afraid he wont be around to walk me down the aisle, or meet his grandchildren. He has also been a daily drinker my entire life -- Nothing more than a couple glasses a wine a night, but obviously a problem. In the past few years, he's tried on and off to stop, but my mother recently divulged she thinks he's gone back to drinking, started hiding it from her, and even gone to hard liquor. The reprimand he gets from the occasional doctor's visit only leaves an impact for a few weeks. Prudie, I am so lost and confused about how to help.

Let's deal with the alcohol question first.  If  a 300 pound man has a couple of glasses of wine in the evening, I don't see how that makes him an alcoholic unless he pours his libations into vases.  You want to do something about your father's weight, but as you've discovered, there's really nothing anyone can do about someone's else's weight.  Indeed, he may be significantly shortening his life. That would be sad, but if you make the time you two have together revolve around how big his coffin will be, then you'll all  be miserable.  You can make a final stab at helping. Say you'd love to have him join you at Weight Watchers, or whatever, because you love him and want him to be around. If he won't go then let him know that despite your worries, you're going to stop cajoling and commenting on his choices. 

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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