Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Jun 03, 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, everyone. I look forward to your questions.

Dear Prudence, I have been mostly happily married for 13 years. My husband and I get along really well, and I love him very much. That being said, he is not the most affectionate  person anymore. We used to cuddle a lot when we were first married and I have told him how much I miss it. He says he doesn't enjoy it because it's too hot. He'll make an effort to snuggle while watching TV sometimes if I ask, but I can tell while we're doing it that he is counting the minutes until he can stop. About a month ago, I was having a very bad day at work and a male co-worker/friend told me I looked like I could use a hug. Prudie, I did need a hug and he gave me one and I started crying because I couldn't remember the last time I had received non-sexual affection from someone without begging. My co-worker asked why I was crying and when I told him he said he loved his wife very much, but she wasn't affectionate either and he knew exactly how I was feeling. Since that day we've been meeting in his or my office after work a couple of times a week to hug each other. And that's all we do -- there is no groping or kissing or even talking going on, we just hold each other for 5-10 minutes and then we go home. I like having a hug buddy and I've found my relationship with my husband is actually getting stronger because I am not so needy for affection from him. Of course, I have not told him about hugging my co-worker and I'm sure if I did he'd be upset, but I don't feel like what I'm doing is cheating. Is it?

Ah, Hug Buddies! Forget whether this is cheating, I see the possibility for a  fantastic franchise opportunity ahead.  Unless you are married to someone who is insanely jealous over totally normal interactions with members of the opposite sex, a good rule of thumb about cheating is that if you wonder about the propriety of what you're doing it, and if you know your spouse would object, then you've entered dangerous territory. Additionally, your after-hours body contact at the office may be therapeutic for the two of you, but you have the makings of a Feydeau farce when someone walks in to discuss the quarterly sales figures.  Of course, if you decide to take the hugs off- premises, you know it won't be long before you realize neither of you get kissed very often by your spouses, and you'll add that to the repetoire.  Then it will be short trip to horizontal affection and you two can be buddies of a more vernacular sort. The fact that you have found such release and comfort from your colleague's hug tells you what a trough your marriage has fallen into . Your husband's excuse for not touching you is that it's too hot. Unless you live in a tropical climate and the air-conditioner is broken, this explanation is absurd.  You don't need to tell your husband about your hug buddy, although I think you need to let go of said buddy. You need to address something that's become a crisis in your marriage. Tell your husband you are withering from a lack of affection. It would be one thing if you married someone who couldn't stand touching you, but when you got together there was plenty of non-sexual touching.  Say that if he won't go to a counselor with you, you'll go alone, because while you love him very much, you feel he's set you adrift.

I'm a single dad raising four girls. My oldest is turning 12 and she wants to have a sleepover party at our home. My concern is, would other parents think it's inappropriate for a single dad to supervise all the kids? I haven't had the opportunity to know other parents very well but most know I'm a single dad. Should I have a female friend stay the night and help me supervise to put other parents at ease? I just want my daughter to have a great birthday and I'm worried her friends' parents will say no because they feel uncomfortable about a man looking after the kids by himself.

Unfortunately, I have heard from people who refuse to let their daughters stay the night at the home of a child being raised by a father, not because the father makes them uncomfortable in any way, but solely because he's a man. This is ugly and pernicious, and I'm hoping the other parents in your circle are not like that. I don't think you should mention your single status  at all nor should you bring in a surrogate "wife" to ease the concerns of the other parents. If a single dad explained to me that he was doing this, that information itself would actually make me uneasy.  Just come up with a guest list and send the invites, and with a houseful of 12 year-olds, in addition to your other three excited daughters, expect to get very little sleep, Dad.

I developed a crush on a married coworker "Jason" shortly after I was hired one year ago. Since he is married, I have been very careful to hide my feelings and not stir up any trouble. To my knowledge, I have been 100 percent successful. But Jason and I have a lot in common and lately he has been inviting me out after work. As much as I would enjoy his friendship and company I do not want to go. I am worried that if we end up alone together I am going to jump him. So far I have excused myself by saying "Sorry, I agreed to help a friend <insert whatever> that night." But if he keeps asking me, eventually I am going to run out of excuses. He is of the rare breed--mature, gentle and honorable--and if I told him the truth I am sure he would be discreet and politely respect my wishes. However I suspect he is unhappy with his marriage and the thought of a beautiful young woman pining over him is bound to stir fantasies, doubts and crack any rifts further open. If I told him I am just not comfortable one-on-one with any man, don't take it personally he wouldn't believe me since I have several other platonic friendships. How do I handle this situation without it blowing up in my face?

Stop coming up with excues about helping a friend  "insert whatever" and let Jason bluntly know that he's not going insert his whatever. I can tell you that you haven't been 100 percent successful in hiding your desire.  Jason has picked up the vibe emanating from you, Ms. Beautiful, and despite his being "mature, gentle,  honorable" and married, he's been incessantly asking you out on dates. Next time say, "Jason, I'm  uncomfortable with your asking me out after work, so that has to stop." Then find someone more appropriate to be an object of your desire.

HI Prudie, I've been dating a wonderful woman for three and a half years (we're both 27) and am strongly considering marriage. We're both committed Christians, which has been a deep source of our compatibility. However, I'm concerned about our sex life after marriage, since we've decided to wait to go all the way until then. My current girlfriend isn't nearly as physical as I am, and I don't want to take the plunge and have a major aspect of our relationship potentially lacking. I suggested we may want to go to couples counseling to talk through her feelings and our issues as a couple, but am not sure what to do. Sincerely, Needing (extra) love in NOVA

If you're a reader of this column you must know you've come to the wrong place for support of virginity until marriage. I get that there is a religious underpining to this,  but seriously, won't God give you a pass if you take the plunge before taking the plunge?  Of course, no matter how well you know each other, all marriages are a bit of a gamble -- the mystery of another person is part of what makes marriage fun. But even factoring in the stumbling-around-virgin factor,  finding out on  your wedding day that you seem to be incompatible in bed has to but a damper on how you view the rest of your life. You're already getting the sense that your girlfriend is happy to keep her virginity because sexuality is troubling to her. That should be troubling to you, and I think you not only need to talk about this, but take this issue to its logical conclusion.

About six months ago, a family moved into the house next door. I became good friends with the mother, as we both have boys the same age and got to know each other as the kids played together. We were talking one afternoon about our pre-husband days, and I let slip I had dated girls in the past. She shrugged it off as no big deal, but her husband overheard and now apparently thinks I'm after his wife. He will make snide remarks to her implying that she is cheating on him with me, he gets defensive when she and I do normal friend things for each other, and I'm afraid of losing my friend to the pressure he's putting on her. Nothing untoward has ever happened, nor will it, and frankly we are both getting offended at his implications, but he brushes her off when she tries to explain or tell him how much it bothers her. I know he's the one with the problem, but is there some way I could seem less threatening without cutting all contact? Friendly Neighborhood Mom

Let's see, to convince this guy that you're not going to steal away his wife, you could come on to him! It is amazing how when insecure people see a threat to their marriage they manage to turn themselves into the most unappealing partners possible. I wish that instead of trying to mollify him, that you and your friend would start slowly rubbing sunblock on each other or tenderly painting each other's toenails.  But you're right, that your friend is married to this guy is her problem and there's nothing you can do. So just be your friendly, normal self. But do prepared that your friend starts getting busy with activities or arranging other playdates for her son to which your is not invited. It may be that distancing herself from you will be a concession she feels it is necessary to make in order to mollify the jerk she married.

Dear Prudie, I'm concerned about my husband of nearly six years. Recently, his hygiene has taken a hit. He's showering maybe every three days, has let his hair become unkempt, has infected toenails he won't treat, etc. I don't think that he's depressed, but he is (and always has been) very sensitive about any comments regarding his appearance. When I try to kindly mention that fungal infections are easily treatable or invite him along to get a haircut with me, he says that I'm being critical of him and he becomes very defensive. I'm honestly not trying to be critical, but I find myself becoming less attracted to his grungy appearance. Is there a way I can help him clean up without causing offense or do you think he's simply "given up" after being married for a few years? Sincerely, Wife of a smelly husband

Letting standard hygiene go is a signal warning sign of mental illness. If your husband has fallen into a clinical depression or has some other kind of mental troubles, defensiveness would be part of the problem. Shift the conversation away from his appearance and to your concern about his health.  Gently say it's not like him to not be clean or to let an infection fester. Say you're worriedand you would like to make an appointment for him with his physician and go with him to talk to the doctor. (I have suggested many times a concerned loved one accompany people to doctor's appointments and gotten feedback that this is inappropriate or violates HIPAA privacy rules. But as long as the patient agrees to let a loved one sit on, no privacy is being violated. And there can be  occasions at which it is helpful for doctor,  and patient, to get the feedback of another perspective.) If he utterly refuses, then you have to tell him that he may not understand the seriousness of your concern, but this turn in his behavior has you worried about the foundations of your marriage.

I agree that the dad doesn't have to say anything to the parents of the daughter's friends other than "drop them off at 6 and pick them up at noon" or whatever. But if I were in his shoes I might consider inviting another adult as backup at the party. Not to deflect parental anxiety but in case they run out of chips or whatever. I wouldn't want to host a bunch of 12-year- olds plus my own kids without help. Maybe another parent might be willing to join the party?

Okay, that's a decent point about the circus that's descending. But I'm wondering if people would be so certain a single mother couldn't handle this.  If Dad does get an adult woman to help, it seems it would be better to be able to say, "This is my sister, Dana, who'll be helping me tonight," rather than a female friend whose presence might raise eyebrows with the other parents that Dad is having a sleep over, too.

I have a scar going across the right side of my face. It starts just beside my right eye and goes down to near the end of my nose. Now after some cosmetic work, it's not terribly ugly or gnarly at all, but it is there. I do not mind so much having people ask me where it came from, I'd much rather they ask than be stared at. Unfortunately, the nature of my scar is tragic... and it often causes a whole lot of awkwardness and even more probing questions, ones that I am less comfortable with. The scar came from my mother, who got drunk one night when I was seven years old, and broke a wine glass across my face. Usually I say something like "Oh, a childhood injury" but more often than not that leads to the question "Now that's got to be a great story! What happened!?" Is there an explanation that I can give that won't give away too much info, but will make it clear the topic isn't up for discussion any more?

Oh, my heart lurched when I read how this happened. I hope that your mother got the help she needed and spent the rest of her life trying to repair her relationship with you. This reminds me of Tina Fey's facial scar. She refused to talk about it for years, but finally the pressure got so great she explained that she was attacked by a stranger when she was a little girl.  I can totally understand that your story is one you simply do not want to tell, except to those closest to you.  You need be able to deflect people without going into details. I think this is one of those cases in which a little altering of the truth is perfectly justified. You can say something to the effect that when you were very little you were engaged in horse play and unfortunately a glass was nearby. Then if you're pressed you can close down the subject out by saying that the whole thing was a traumatic, bloody mess and you'd rather not relive it.

I love my girlfriend very much but there has been a topic that I find it hard to discuss and it always leaves me upset. When she was 11, she noticed a relative (in her 30s) in a sexual manner who then took advantage of that and engaged in sexual activities with her. My girlfriend insists that she was not molested and that she was never really a child and participated willingly. While I reluctantly believe that she is ok with that, I think that woman is a monster for taking advantage of someone so young. My girlfriend doesn't think that her relative is disgusting. She herself isn't a pedophile but her defense of that woman leaves me angry. I don't know what to think about any of this or how I should feel.

This is a deeply disturbing story because your girlfriend was molested. Even if what happened felt good to her, she was too young to participate willingly or give consent.  It just may be that your girlfriend's coping mechanism for dealing with this violation is to turn it into something more benign. But it's interesting she even confessed this to you -- surely, she must know no one else will see it the way she does. Also disturbing is your girlfriend's assertion that she was "never really a child." Of course she was a child, but her childhood may have been monstrous. You don't want to push your girlfriend too hard. But you love this woman, so you need to tell her that you can't shake your concern about the things that happened to her when she was a girl. Say an adult having sex with an 11 year-old is never okay, and you're worried that she thinks it is.

This situation sounds similar to mine a number of years ago; I was sexually active in college and my fiancee was not. I loved (and still love her) dearly, and we discussed it in the context of cultural and religious issues and I felt comfortable moving forward with the relationship. It turns out that there have been other underlying issues outside of cultural and relgious problems that have come to light over the years we have been married and intimacy has been a serious problem for her. This has been a struggle for me (yes, I am selfish), but I love her for so many reasons, and we have both worked hard at making this relationship work, and we both want it to work. If you choose to go down the same path, it may be a difficult one -- your partner had better be very well worth it ...

Really good point that for the girlfriend of the letter writer there may be underlying issues about sex that are being glossed over by religion. You are not selfish for wanting a fully participating partner! Your letter is a good warning about not hoping that love and the tying the knot will solve complex, fundamental problems that need addressing.

I married my high school sweetheart shortly after we graduated from college. Two years ago he asked for a divorce, and I subsequently discovered he had impregnated and wanted to marry another woman. It was awful. Now our high school reunion is coming up. I would like to go. But while many of my friends from high school knew my ex-husband and I married, I don't think many of them know we divorced. I'm not sure how to field questions about how he is or (God forbid) why we divorced. There is also a possibility I will see my ex-husband and his new wife at the reunion. I have no desire to cause a scene or confront him, but it would be painful to see them together. Part of me thinks I should forget about the reunion, but it seems foolish to not attend an event I want to because he might be there. Do you have any advice about how to navigate this situation?

You first go to the store and get a killer dress, then you RSVP that you're coming and commit yourself to having a great time. Maybe you get in touch with an old friend and arrange to travel together, just so you have a pal to lean on.  There is nothing you have to explain beyond the simple facts that yours was a high school romance that bit the dust and your ex is now remarried. It's such a common story that when you deliver it in a matter-of-fact way it shouldn't get anything more than a, "Sorry it didn't work out." As for running into this pair, all you have to do is nod to them, and silently be grateful you've got this cad out of  your life.

I am considering having a child with my married ex-boyfriend. We recently reconnected and have spent time together, without things going too far. I still love him and he claims he never stopped loving me. After our breakup I cut all ties, but knew of the marriage through mutual friends. After 7 years, he sought me out. It was great catching up with him because I really missed our friendship. I don't want to cause issues in his current relationship. However, my clock is ticking and he is the only man I've ever considered being a parent with. I'm getting older and I'm in a great place with my career and finances. I date, but no one seriously. I want to start a family, and I know my ex will be a great dad. If he agrees to start a family with me, I am even willing to keep the baby's paternity a secret. I know this is inappropriate, but it doesn't necessarily feel "wrong." How out of line would it be to bring this up with him?

If this is your idea of a good idea, then you're not ready to be a parent.  Not only should you not be considering him as a sperm donor, you should stop seeing him.  Unless you're interested in opening a franchise of Hug Buddies, you know exactly where this reconnecting is going. If this guy is unhappy in his marriage, let him leave his wife, then you two can start actually dating.  If you want to become a single mother, then you need to do some serious planning and thinking. One of the things you have to think through is that it's simply not fair to a child to say, "Sorry, the identity of your Daddy is a secret."

Dear Prudence, My boyfriend and I attended a party a few weeks ago at a friend's house. Unbeknownst to me until after the fact, my boyfriend helped himself to a bottle of liquor from the fully stocked bar. Now our friend's dad has noticed something went missing and is understandably upset. All parties at the house are now off limits. Our friend asked everyone who was at the house if we knew anything and I haven't said anything except "that's too bad." I don't want our friend to be mad, but I'm also feeling pretty guilty since I know my boyfriend did take something (he feels bad too). What is the best thing to do here to make the situation right? As an aside, there has been another gathering at the house since then, which we did not attend, and dad did not notice until after that party. So it's possible the bottle in question isn't the one "Jeremy" took, still- we know it was wrong.

Since the parties are the houses of friends who live with parents, I'm assuming you're all teenagers. But no matter how old you are, Jeremy need to own up and return the bottle. I hope it's still full. If not, and he's not old enough to purchase a replacement, Jeremy needs to tell his parents what he did, explain he'll replace it at his expense (if he doesn't have the money he'll need to earn it), and ask for their help. If Jeremy won't take this basic steps, rethink your association with him.

Dear Prudie, My in-laws, with whom I have a generally decent relationship, are late to EVERYTHING, most recently by a good hour and 15 minutes to a small birthday gathering we had for my husband's birthday (they live 15 minutes away). They rarely apologize for being late, and seem to assume we'll just wait for them, which we do to my quickly growing resentment. They have always been like this, but I no longer feel like we should accommodate their behavior. Is it worth the potential kerfuffle to start going ahead with planned activities, latecomers be damned? I'm happy to give a 20-30 minute window, but otherwise I feel that decades more of this will put me in the loony bin. -Tired of Waiting

I grew up with parents like this (the Thanksgiving stuffing was cold and congealed by the time we showed up at my grandmother's for the meal) and I still struggle with tardiness. But at least I know I'm in the wrong. You need to get your husband on your side, where I hope he will be, and then you need to proceed with whatever the event is and let the in-laws show up whenever they like. If they come when everyone is eating  dessert, pleasantly ask if they would like a plate of dinner or if they'd rather just join everyone for cake. If they get offended, don't rise to the bait, just explain that you had to go ahead with the meal when it became clear they were tied up. Either they will improve, or they will miss everything. But you won't be forced to kowtow to their rudeness.

My 16-year-old daughter has a friend who was diagnosed with an eating disorder just over a year ago. Nancy spent several months in the hospital and more time out of town for treatment. She isn't any better. She's still stick thin, she's throwing away food at school and when she recently ended up in the ER she signed herself out again without being treated. My daughter was so concerned I contacted the school guidance counselor to see if they could help. The counselor told me Nancy has to want to get better and she doesn't. Nancy's parents say there's nothing that they can do, either. Nancy is very, very smart and she knows how to work the medical system. I feel like I'm watching this child die by inches. Is there really nothing else I can do?

This is horrifying. Yes, it's not your business, but because you care about this girl, do some research on in-patient facilities for girls with eating disorders, then present to to her parents. Nancy is a minor and she needs full-time care. The school guidance counselor sounds useless, and I understand the parents are frustrated and in despair, but their daughter is in danger of killing herself if she doesn't get into a treatment center that will monitor her on a 24 hour basis.

How can she simultaneously say he would be a great dad and then say she's willing to keep his identity a secret? You're right - people with thinking that is this messed up should not be parents.


Thanks, everyone. I will be off next Monday, so talk to you in two weeks.

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.

Read previous Prudie chats

Like Dear Prudence on Facebook
Recent Chats
  • Next: