Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Apr 29, 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.

About nine years ago my husband found out about an affair I had been having with a co worker. My stupid mistake almost cost me and my husband our marriage, but thankfully many counseling sessions and one branch change later I was finally able to regain his trust and we held our marriage together for us and our two kids. Fast forward to now, my oldest daughter is pregnant with her first child and just told me that she and her husband have picked out a name for him, the same name as the guy with whom I had the affair. I am immensely worried that when my husband finds out his future grandson's name it will rip open an old wound and he'll start resenting me again or worse being reminded of that painful time in our marriage every time he sees his grandson may cause him to love the baby less. Prudie, how do I get my daughter to reconsider her baby name without revealing my affair, which I know would crush her?

Unless your lover was named Crispin or Zebulon,  there are many other people with XY genes with the same name, some of whom your husband surely knows and may even work with. He can't go nuts every time he meets someone who shares the same first name as your paramour, so your worries may be strictly  in your own head.  Your affair ended nine years ago and your marriage was put back together. If it would be ripped about, or your husband would not love his grandson (!), because the child shares the name of your erstwhile lover, then your marriage is built on quicksand. What you do is say nothing. If your husband privately complains to you when he hears the baby's proposed name, you tell him that you understand it may sting, but once he sees darling baby Romulus, he will surely forget the world contains another one.

Hi Prudence, My husband and I have been married for five years and have totally separate finances -- bank accounts, credit cards, nothing is shared. He makes significantly more money than I do and pays all of the bills with the exception of the mortgage, which I pay. He "gives" me money weekly for groceries and incidentals. Regardless, I am pretty much broke all of the time. We don't have a joint credit card or bank account and I get really resentful when he spends lots of money on something and I am relegated to the local discount store, a place he wouldn't consider gracing. He refuses to join our finances or have a joint credit card. This isn't a partnership. As he would say, what's mine is mine and what's yours is yours. Is he on a power trip or paranoid? I know I blew it by not discussing how we would handle our money before getting married but I didn't and now this is a serious issue for me. Whadayathink? Bitter Bad

Since you don't mention other more pleasant aspects of life that you do share, I'm wondering if there is any part of your union that does feel like a partnership. (I hope your weekly stipend isn't for services rendered.) If not, what are you doing in it? There is  something you two need to do together and for which your husband should pay: marriage counseling. Tell him that you thought you married the handsome prince, but you feel like Cinderella before the ball.  Explain that you have become so resentful of your disparate financial conditions that your marriage is at stake.  Do keep in mind that  since you are chronically broke,  if you two do split, you're going to have to learn to live within your own means.

My wife and I have been together for 15 years including courtship and 11 years of happy marriage. Our mothers have never gotten along. They simply have different outlooks on life, parent responsibilities (my mom was a single parent, her parents fought a lot but were together), boundaries, pretty much everything. For most of the past five years, they have refused to be in the same room with each other. This has caused yearly stress come the holiday season to ensure we see them evenly and no one gets preferential treatment, most particuarly we refuse to allow anyone to be with us on Christmas morning. My father-in-law passed away suddenly a month ago. We are already feeling that we are going to have to have her mother with us for the first Christmas without him. We also think this puts us in a position where we have to insist on a bridge being built between these two women. Any advice on how to carry that out effectively is appreciated. 

Stop trying to referee this wrestling match.  Your mothers don't have to like each other, they just have to behave like adults.  I don't know the geography here, but if in order for your mother-in-law not to be alone this Christmas you feel an obligation to invite her to stay at your home Christmas Eve, then do so. Then you can announce that you are having a Christmas brunch to which both mothers are invited. If they want to play a game of chicken and refuse to attend unless the other mother is uninvited, you say the invitation stands, both are welcome, and you will be happy to see whoever comes. If each mother wants to enumerate the reasons the other is unacceptable, refuse to listen. Surely each mother when raising her children told you both about the need to get along with people you don't particularly like. Quote that back to the moms and say it was excellent advice. And think about how much of a hold these bickering women have on you if you are sweating in April over what's going to happen in December.

My 24-year-old cousin was recently abused by her boyfriend. He broke her rib and wrist. She moved out of the house she shared with him and her two young children and moved in with her parents, but did not report him to the police because he told her if she didn't report him, he would buy her a car (which he did). She also didn't go the hospital, I'm assuming because the doctors would recognize the signs of physical abuse and report him, so she's dealing with a broken wrist without medical attention. I feel as though I should make an anonymous call to the police and report him. The only problem is that I live 500 miles away and only occasionally talk to this cousin via Facebook and I heard this news from my mother, so the details could be muddled. I only know the man's name; I don't know his address or where he works or anything of the sort. My mother told me it was best to not get involved, but I feel terrible that this guy hurt someone so badly and has basically gotten off scot-free.

I totally agree he needs to be reported immediately, and my only additional suggestion is to first call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) to get their advice on your best course of action given the second-hand nature of your information and your cousin's reluctance to get help.  This man needs to be prosecuted and your cousin needs to see a doctor, she could be setting herself up for problems down the road if her bones don't heal properly. She also needs mental health care. If she's willing to risk her life for a car, she's got some deep-seated problems and I'm concerned about her competence as a mother. There's no easy answer here, sadly. But you've got to take action before your cousin gets back together with her boyfriend and endangers the lives of her and her children. 

My mother is a person who always puts her own needs second and it's driving me and my siblings crazy. She secretly/silently sacrifices her own desires in order to accommodate what she thinks we want, then breaks down in tears when we fail to appreciate it. Oftentimes, the "sacrifices" are things nobody wants and just make our lives harder - for instance, she wants to talk to us often, but refuses to initiate phone calls because, quote, "I don't want to bother you", but then becomes miserably unhappy if we don't call her. We kids are all late 20s/early 30s and trying to live our own lives, and it's creating enormous amounts of drama and tension having to be responsible for mom's feelings like this. Begging her to please just do what she wants hasn't worked. Do you have any advice? We're losing our minds here.

No, you're mother is not putting others' needs first.  As you're experiencing, her primary needs is to be the center of attention and her method is to play the martyr. So, to reiterate my usual advice about impossible family members, refuse to engage.  Since you want to improve your relationship with her, set up a weekly phone call schedule and agree to talk to her for 10 to 15 minutes every Sunday night, for example.  If the conversations turn maudlin and accusatory, say you're sorry to hear she sounds so unhappy, you hope her week improves, and you'll talk to her next Sunday. If she makes some dramatic sacrifice none of you are interested in, just shrug and say, "Oh, you didn't need to do that, Mom," and move on.  Your begging and pleading just plays into her world of melodrama. If you limit contact when it's unpleasant and increase it when she's being normal, that might have an excellent effect on her outlook and interactions with her loved ones.

I used to work with a couple who did the same thing. He was a class A jerk. We used to joke that at least the financial ties would be easy to cut when they got a divorce. Then, they had a baby, and they still tried to do the financial half-and-half. It was ridiculous, and the wife resented the heck out of it. I think these people should get into counseling immediately - if he is not willing to see marriage as a partnership when it comes to money, when does he see it that way?

Just think about adding a kid to this mix: "You pay for the diapers, I'll pay for the crib." I agree this is no partnership and if he's not willing to address this problem, she should get out. Another reader pointed out that since he pays the bills and she pays the mortgage, she may be getting shafted!

Dear Prudence, I am very close to my younger sister, who is 18. For years, my sister has been wondering about her sexual identity, but has hidden her doubts from our mother, who we know for certain would  not approve. Now she is tentatively entering into a relationship with a woman. It wouldn't be a problem, except this girl is 25. They are members of the same ballet group, which includes a wide range of ages, so there is no doubt that their friendship began in an appropriate context. They seem quite happy together and this girl, as far as I can see, is a very balanced person who is not pressuring my sister in any way, but the age gap worries me. I do not know what to do! I don't want to pressure my sister to break a relationship that seems to make her happy, but I am not at all sure this is appropriate. I want to make it clear that the age gap concern is something I would have in the case of a heterosexual relationship, too, but in that case of course I could ask my mother's advice. I study abroad and carrying the secret of this relationship, while having my doubts and being unable to supervise it, feels like a burden. Thank you. -- Act Your Age

Your sister is an adult who is entering of her own volition into a relationship with a young woman who you say is lovely. Yes, she's a few years older, but many young people have benefitted from the experience of an older partner. In the larger scheme, a seven year age difference isn't that remarkable, but it is more significant the younger the participants. Beyond the facts of birthdates, though, everything else you've said about this relationship seems just fine. So what you do is say to your sister that you're happy she's found someone she feels so compatible with and that you want to know how her relationship is progressing.

The injuries could be more serious than she realizes. An untreated wrist fracture can lead to a devastating condition called "avascular necrosis" and fractured ribs can mean internal injuries. You cannot be forced to report abuse (although I hope the cousin would) so seeing a doctor is in no way connected with reporting the incident.

Lots of people are saying the cousin should not worry that the doctor will report abuse. So even letting the cousin know this might prompt her to get treatment so that she doesn't suffer from the kind of disaster you describe.

Dear Prudence, my only daughter recently came out to me as a stripper. For years she had said she worked in a standard office job. I feel as if I've been slapped in the face for all the years she lied to her father and me. I love her so much and this revelation has turned my world upside down. I had to tell my husband and he is furious and refuses to talk to her. Not only am I unsure as how to take this, but I don't know how to handle my husband. I don't want my family torn apart by this and I do not support her career choice. Help?

I understand that hearing that your daughter makes her living by taking off her clothes for leering men is a shock, but think of what it took for your daughter to finally reveal the truth. You and her father need to talk out your hurt and pain together, so that you can then go to your daughter and jointly say how hard you know it must have been for her to tell you this and that you appreciate her honesty.  Then you can start a conversaton about her life. The point you want to make -- and which surely she knows -- is that her job is not a long-term sustainable one. Say that you two want to support her in helping to figure out how to integrate back into the more traditional workplace so that she can find a more satifying career.  So put aside the judgment and the outrage. Slapping down your daughter will only make her regret coming clean.

A few months ago, I had a miscarriage at about 10 weeks. I woke up in labor and obviously it couldn't be stopped. I returned to work the day after after asking for a few people to work half days for me two to four days after the miscarriage - emotionally I was a wreck it was my first expected baby. I had smoked during my pregnancy - and I was slowly cutting down more. I went from one pack a day to maybe 2-3 cigarettes a day. Fast forward to present - while still fielding the "Are you pregnant yet" questions, still feeling a little emptiness because I am upset about the miscarriage - my boss and his wife are expecting! At first I was happy for them, but then I started hearing, "My wife is further than you were right? We don't want to hear your comments as you caused your miscarriage by smoking. You weren't going to be a good mother because you were still damaging yourself." I know in about five months these comments will stop, but how do I listen to this from my boss (who also owns the company) and keep myself from punching him!

Your boss' comments make me want to punch him, too.  What a thoroughgoing creep that he is blaming you for your miscarriage as a way to relieve his anxieties about his wife's pregnancy. Yes, this guy has power of you, but that doesn't mean you have to just take this.  You should go into his office and say you want to have a talk about his recent remarks. Say that you are very happy for him and hope the pregnancy goes well, but you have to make clear that you cannot listen to him blaming you for the loss of your child.  Let's hope that is the end of it. If it's not, you can consider discussing this with an employment attorney. And your painful experience is a good reminder that since miscarriage is so common, it's generally a good idea not to announce a pregnancy to a wider circle until you're into the third month,  to avoid having to discuss your loss with people you don't want to deal with.

OP here. My cousin doesn't know that I know anything about this. The only reason I do know is that my grandmother lives on the same property as my parents and my aunt told my grandmother, who in turn told my mother, who in turn told me. But I get the idea that this is a 'secret' among other family members and if I sent my cousin a Facebook message saying, "Maybe you should see a doctor about what your ex-boyfriend did to you..." it would not go over well AT ALL. My family is fairly dysfunctional and has always been of the Mind Your Own Business mentality. That's why I feel like an anonymous phone call to the police is my only course of action. I can't directly deal with my cousin.

I agree, a Facebook message is not the way to go in dealing with an assault. No surprises that the dysfunction is family-wide. I agree the police should be called in. But I also reiterate my suggestion to you to call the hotline first because they have experience dealing with victims who don't want to report, etc. They should be able to advise you on  possible ways  to deal with your cousin and what other agencies (Child Protective Services, maybe)  should be alerted.

My husband and I have been married for 18 years and have a good relationship overall. We are good friends and rarely fight. But over the past year or so, we haven't been intimate very often. I tried talking with him about it recently, and he admitted that he isn't as turned on by me anymore because I don't shave. I'm not like a beast, I trim some, but apparently he wants it all gone. I don't really want to, I like the way I look. I don't understand why so many men want it all gone. He is insisting. I really want to be intimate again. Any advice?

Using my incredible psychic powers, I am able to see your your husband and it turns out that when he tells you he's going to the home office to look up ways to refinance your mortgage, he's actually mesmerized by porn. It's true that there's a new grooming standard which dictates that no one of either sex displays a single strand of body hair.  Maybe economists need to investigate whether part of our high unemployment rate is due to the fact a large percentage of our population is spending most of their time depilating.  When I started writing this column I had a very laissez-faire attitude toward porn, but it's irrefutable that excess consumption can interfere with normal sexual expectations.  It's one thing if you husband made a reasonable request that you trim more enthusiastically. He could have come to you long ago and suggested you both play around with this together -- because if he's still sporting body hair, what's his excuse?  It's another thing if he's withdrawn from you sexually, has refused to address this, then announces he can't get turned on by you if you don't look like the people on YouPorn. Before you pick up the razor, you two need to talk about how hurtful his behavior has been over the past year, and that you hope he understands that putting his demands in such a demeaning way is not likely to turn you on.

I was the one with the miscarriage - Unfortunately he knew early because of medical appointments and figured it out when I had morning sickness. We didn't spread it around to others. I have talked to him repeatedly and said "My doctor has assured me I have not caused the miscarriage." I will try again to talk to him and let him know that these comments are very upsetting and I will not hear them again, or else I may have to look harder into different employment options.

If you weren't volunteering the reason for your doctor's appointment and upset stomach, he should not have inquired as to whether you were pregnant. This guy is full of owner hubris and needs to establish better work boundaries. Don't you verbally put the onus on yourself to find another job if he won't stop.  When you go to discuss this with him do your best to stay calm and reasonable. Explain that his comments are not only medically incorrect but outside the bounds of reasonable workplace conversation.  Let's hope that sinks in and you don't have to deal with this again.

The daughter never said she wanted to transition back to a traditional, "satisfying career." By telling her that, the parents ARE continuing to judge her. So what if this isn't a job she will be in for 30 years? Perhaps she is putting enough in savings to travel the world later in life?? Not judging her means accepting her TODAY, JUST as she is, without trying to change her - even if they don't approve.

I think it's reasonable for parents not to say, "Oh, honey, you must be in such great shape! And what's your favorite color g-string?" Supporting your daughter and not being harsh doesn't mean you can't express your concern that about her long-term career prospects and helping her think of ways to make that transition.

Dear Prudence, For the last few years we have had our AC unit serviced right before the beginning of summer by a technician that we know, trust, and that charges reasonable rates. However, he and his family suffered a tragic loss last month when his young grandson passed away unexpectedly. Now that summer is approaching, I would normally be scheduling a service appointment, but I feel uncomfortable asking him about a business matter during such a painful time. At the same time, I can't imagine anyone else working on our AC unit. We haven't spoken to him and his family except to convey our deepest sympathies; is there any way to bring up this topic without sounding like a heartless jerk? Or should we simply leave him in peace and find a new technician? Signed (and thanks from), Not sure what to say or how to say it.

Firing him as your technician because he suffered a terrible loss is not the way to be kind. It's good that you've already conveyed your sympathies. So now, schedule the appointment. When he comes you say, "Fred, I'm so sorry for you loss. We are heartbroken over it." Then he'll either talk to you for a few minutes about his grandson it or maybe not. Do be prepared to be patient if he has to compose himself. 

check out the Vagina Monologues, there's an incredible piece in there. I'd suggest both parties watch this brilliant show. It's on DVD.

Thanks for the recommendation -- I've never seen it. I'm guessing that monologue does not conclude, "So ladies, start waxing!"

Our 17-year-old daughter seems totally uninterested in doing well in school. She's in her first year of nursing studies, and has failed most of her courses. She spends most of her time on the internet (we've now started to limit her access), and on her cell phone, texting. She pays for the phone (she works every Saturday at a laundry place), so we can't take it away from her. We've tried discussing rationally, expressing our worry for her, and disappointment that she's not living up to her potential. Each time she promises to do more, but then just doesn't. We are at a loss. Please help!

I'm not understanding whether your daughter is still in high school and in a special program, or graduated from high school young and is at a nursing school. I'm going to assume the former.  Of course this is very frustrating for you, but as you've discovered you simply can't act as a superego for an unmotivated 17 year-old. You need to sit down with the right people at your daughter's school and talk about a plan of action. You need to get everyone on board that flunking out is not an option. It just might be that she is not ready to commit to a career, particularly nursing, and she needs to just follow a standard course of study. If you're not satisfied with the school's counseling, engage an independent person to evaluate and talk with your daughter. She might be more willing to hear from this person about the short and long term consequences of not getting a high school diploma. But for your own mental health and the sake of your relationship with your daughter you two need to do some backing off. You want to strike the balance of letting her know you want to help her get herself out of this mess and make good choices, but that she's at the point in life where she is going to have to experience the consequences of her actions. I know some readers will say that you're the parents and if you want to take away the phone, you should. But unless she's in lockdown, she will obtain one on her own and continue to text in defiance.

I am an elderly woman who needs to use a cane to walk. I found a beautifully handmade cane on eBay, carved with flowers and a cross, which remarkably, I won with a bid I could afford. I love it, but, my Christian sister strongly objects to me using it, because I am an atheist, and she says "a person so hostile to religion should not advertise herself as being a Christian." Now, I am in it bit of a quandary. I am not a Christian, and don't want people to think of me as one, but living in the bible belt, with a large majority Christian population, most people assume I am anyway. And the cane is a beautiful work of art, and I so hate having to use a cane, it gives me some solace to carry such a beautiful one. Do you think it is false representation for me to use it?

I always enjoy it when people use their religion to beat each other about the head to demonstrate their moral superiority.  You can say to your sister you find it odd that she would so object to your getting solace and help from a beautiful object celebrating her faith.  Then tell her if she needs to continue to vent about this, she should do so to her pastor.

For the woman whose husband wants her to shave. He won't find her much of a turn-on when she's in the hospital with a Staph A. infection either. We have hair for a reason and shaving it puts you at risk for all kinds of bad stuff like this. And the LW needs to find out if this is just an excuse, excess porn, or a new girlfriend on the side. "insisting," indeed!

No way I'm clicking "this"! Millions of people do remove body hair without getting infected, and I've even read that this trend has apparently reduced the incidence of crabs. However, good point about the possibility of a very smooth girlfriend. The wife needs to investigate this.

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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