Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Jul 01, 2013

Need help getting along with partners, relatives, coworkers... and people in general? Ask Prudence! Emily Yoffe -- a.k.a. Slate's advice columnist Dear Prudence takes your questions on manners, morals and more.

Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.

My brother is a recovering addict; after eight years of fighting his addiction, he has been clean for fourteen months. My husband has only recently met my brother as a clean, sober person. I am eight months pregnant with our first child. My husband told me, a week ago, that he is not comfortable with my brother being in our child's life until he has been sober for at least another year, maybe two. He also confessed that he will never be comfortable allowing my brother to watch our child. My brother did some awful things to my family and me during his addiction, so I can understand my husband's concerns. What bothers me is that he talked about his concerns to his own family before bringing them to me, that he has waited so long to tell me, and that he might never trust my brother. My brother's sobriety has transformed him into a new man, while I know sobriety is ongoing, my family and I have forgiven him and are focused on supporting him, not continuing to treat him as an addict. I want to respect my husband's concerns, but having my child not meet my brother for more than a year really upsets me. I don't know how to tell my brother how my husband feels, either.

There is a compromise here. Since your brother has had more than a year of being clean, that should entitle him to visit the baby. For your husband's sake -- since he is probably always going to have a rocky relationship with your brother -- those visits should be with a family group. That way your husband can relax because there will be many eyes on your brother.  As for the rest, I think you need to back off. Your husband is entitled to talk out difficult things concerning your family with his closest confidants. It's fair for him to get a read from others on his inclinations and hear theirs out before he presents his hoped-for restrictions  regarding your brother.  You have come to me, after all, to figure out how to come back at your husband with a counterproposal! As for your brother watching your child, you and your husband  are getting way ahead of where you need to be on this. Your child isn't even born yet, so you just don't need to worry about parceling out the babysitting duties at this moment. It may be that the violations done by your brother were so disturbing that while your husband is happy to see your brother remaking himself, he just can't go so far as to trust your brother to be alone with your child. That might be a fair assessment until there is a long history of your brother staying clean. In another example, it could be that a beloved parent is just too infirm or dingy to care for a grandchild solo, but that doesn't mean that person is cut out of the grandchild's life. I'm hoping that if you can concede to  your husband on the babysitting issue, he will understand that part of your brother's recovery is being welcomed back to the family and society, and he will give ground on the visiting question. And here's hoping your brother is able to stay on this new path, which will be full of profound rewards for himself and those who love him.

While we were fighting last week, my ex-boyfriend slapped me twice. He immediately apologized and was horrified by his behavior. Slapping me was very out of character with him. Nonetheless, I broke up with him. Now I'm not sure what to tell friends to explain our very sudden breakup. My ex-boyfriend works in a field where rumors of domestic violence could ruin his career. I don't want to talk to others about the slaps, but feel like I pique more curiosity when I give vague answers.

Your relationship broke when your boyfriend laid his hand on you. You could have called the police when he slapped you, but decided to keep this private.  I think that's a fair enough calculation for a one-time event for which the perpetrator is deeply remorseful. But I agree with your decision to end the relationship. You of course are free to tell your own story to whomever, but since you don't wish to make this public, you simply don't make it public. Some people will say I'm advocating the enabling of domestic abuse by agreeing to your decision to stay silent.  But not every situation that could end up in the legal justice system should go there. Losing you is a very severe punishment, and let's hope this lesson lasts your ex a lifetime. Sure people may be curious, but you have no obligation to feed their snooping. "We just realized our relationship has run its course" is all you need to say. If there are follow-ups, reply, "This has been a difficult time. Thanks for understanding."

Dear Prudence, My fiance comes from the home of an alcoholic parent and an absentee parent. As a result, he is incredibly uncomfortable around alcohol. I come from a family where wine is drunk nightly and alcohol isn't a big deal. When we first started dating, he would also drink wine or beer with me. However, now he very rarely drinks (maybe once a month and only if we are going out) and dislikes when I do. I like to have wine usually on a nightly basis, but these days, it always becomes a big deal between us. He says that it is wrong for me to drink every night (2-3 glasses of wine over a five-six hour period) and that I have a problem with alcohol. I do not feel this is the case, but sometimes won't enjoy a glass of wine just to avoid an argument with him. I also now think about alcohol much more than I ever have before, but is it because I have a drinking problem or just because of the issues it causes between us? I am getting sick of it being a huge issue but donâ't know how to defuse the situation besides giving into his demands and not drinking at all.

Whenever I'm asked to mediate alcohol questions I end up being denounced as a bluenose prohibitionist, so here goes! Of course you understand your fiance's reaction to alcohol -- it ruined his childhood. But he should understand that integrating wine as part of an enjoyable meal, as it sounds as if your family does, can be a barrier to alcoholism. If you are describing this convivial attitude toward alcohol, that is the opposite of the solo drunk drinking until blacking out. You are absolutely entitled to enjoy your wine as long as it's not interfering with your life or functioning,  and his decision to abstain is his own. However, you've brought it up, and I think your drinking habits are at least worth thinking about. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines moderate drinking for a woman as no more than three drinks on a single day and no more than seven drinks a week. That is, there may be a day you have three glasses of wine, but that's not every day. You drink 14 to 21 glasses of wine a week.  That may be fine, but I'm wondering if your boyfriend's move toward not drinking at all is in response to the place alcohol has in your evening. That is the discussion you two should be having, and it should be one you both conduct openly and without acrimony.  The question is not  whether your fiance should be micromanging your intake of microbrew -- he shouldn't be -- but whether he has a legitimate concern about your behavior regarding alcohol. Because you're checking in on yourself, I think you should skip the alcohol on one or two nights a week. Then on others, decide to have a glass or two, but not a third. Or cut yourself off after dinner. (When you start this, keep a notepad in a kitchen drawer and jot down each time you have a glass. This will help you track this.) If you realize any of this restriction makes you uncomfortable, then you need to to some self-examination. But that doesn't mean the answer is for your boyfriend to be your monitor. He needs to know that being hypervigilant about your alcohol intake just means he's recapitulating the worst aspects of his childhood.

Dear prudie, My sister-in-law recently had her second baby. (Her first, sadly, was stillborn.) After losing the first, she would cuss anyone, such as my husband and me, that had kids. We didn't deserve them in her opinion as she didn't have hers. Now that she has a child, she seems to expect us all to revolve our lives around her. My husband and I have gotten to the point where we have stopped going to his parents (his sister lives there with her boyfriend) because of how she acts. If we go over there, our two year old is basically ignored because if either grandparent picks her up or pays attention to her, his sister will bring her baby in and say something like " but the baby wants you to hold her."  Worse, his sister told my husband that she gave their parents their first "biological" grandchild as my husband is adopted. She expects her mother to take care of her child whenever she wants, to the point where plans mom had made with my husband had to be canceled because sis in law wanted to go do something. This is really hurting and angering my husband to the point where he refuses to see them unless they come to our home. Is there a way of putting a stop to all this nonsense or does my husband have the right of it? Should we just stop going over completely?

Poor, poor baby.  I hear such awful accounts from people who have grown up with whacked out, selfish, cruel mothers.  This niece or nephew of yours is going to have a hard time making friends or having other family members in his or her life because of Mom. Having a stillborn child is a terrible blow, but that doesn't allow someone to behave monstrously to others. As for the "biological grandchild" comments, well, that makes me shudder. How sad that your in-laws are enabling this beastly woman. I like your solution of saying that the in-laws need to come to your house to see their grandchild. When they're there, your husband can calmly explain that his sister's insults and behavior make it impossible to visit their home. He can add that such behavior is going to hurt the child and he hopes his parents can begin to address this. Don't hold your breaths. But do hold firm to the fact that you won't be party to her ugliness.

My husband is getting treatment for a very serious illness. His family members want to come and visit and stay with us. I've told him that short visits are fine, but that I can't handle overnights, or visits that require me to 'entertain' them. It takes so much of my energy to make sure he has what he needs. I've left it to him to give them the message, but I'm not convinced he has been firm enough. How do I make this clear to them without becoming the bad guy?

I hope your husband makes a swift recovery. But I'm wondering if you're properly reading the behavior of your in-laws or whether you can't get yourself out of  your automatic entertaining mode.  If all your husband's family members are a bunch of entitled ninnies who expect you to cook and clean for them, then yes, they should stay somewhere else. But I'm wondering if you're prematurely not giving them a chance to be wonderful. It could be these people want to know what they can do to make both of you more comfortable. You also need to get a clear reading of what your husband wants. It could be that he would like to have his parents around for a few days.  If you're willing to let people stay, before they come make clear what you need. You get on the phone and say caretaking is extremely demanding, and you would be so appreciative if when they come they could do some grocery shopping and laundry, take your husband for treatments so you can catch up on your other duties, and sometimes  pick up meals at nearby restaurants. Listen to what kind of reaction you get. If it's resistant, then you are free to say that because of the need for quiet and rest, it's best if visitors stay nearby, but not in the house, and you will give them a list of  motels. See how the visits go, and don't be afraid to speak up on behalf of your husband and yourself. But unless you know these are people who never rise to the occasion, first give them a chance to do so.

Are we really meant to be monogamous? I guess I'm wondering how to stem the tide of attraction to someone who is in a marriage. It's a mutual attraction and I guess maybe I'm trying to justify it. But what happens when you meet someone who is a great match, but is already involved?

Oh, "in a marriage" is such a temporary state, and if you glance at evolutionary psychology literature, that's a clear mandate that we're not meant to be mongamous, so of course you have to go for it.  It's good to keep in mind when you try to bust up this marriage that you already know that tons of people can be great matches. That means when this one burns out, there always another attractive married person who's going to come along.

Dear Prudence, a few nights ago I went out for a night on the town with a close friend, her sister, and her sister's boyfriend. By the end of the night, after several drinks too many (not an excuse, and I know you don't approve), the boyfriend and I found ourselves alone. He came on to me, and even though I know it was wrong, I ended up making out with him. Later that night. he came to my room, I'm guessing to take things a bit further, but I immediately sent him away. I'm wracked with guilt over this betrayal, but I am also worried for my friend's sister, who I'm pretty sure is planning on marrying this guy. Part of me would just like to forget and pretend nothing ever happened, but another part feels that she should know what type of guy this is. Since we're not really close, I have thought about confiding in my friend, and letting her decide what is the best course of action. Of course that would mean coming clean and admitting to something that I am really ashamed of. Do I need to make this confession, or is this one indiscretion best left swept under the rug?

Thanks for conceding the alcohol is not an excuse. I think this young woman should know what kind of man she is hoping to marry. But then you're enlightening her would also mean your close friend would have a different understanding of your character. You're right that if you were to tell, since you don't know the sister that well, your go-between should be your close friend. Because if you were to tell the sister directly, she'd immediately tell your friend, who would be hearing an ugly story second-hand. But telling what a creep the boyfriend is, reveals what a creep you were. Bad as this all was, in the end, it didn't go beyond the locking of lips.  It's likely that if you were to tell,  the boyfriend's alternate version would be that you got drunk,  came on to him,  and he pushed you away. You are ashamed of yourself; let's hope the boyfriend is, too. If this is a pattern for him, that should become quite apparent over time. So I say zip your lips. And that goes for the moment when you're tempted to order that third martini.

You go away and look for someone who's a great match but is available.


My GF and I recently started having sex. I'm not sure the best way to explain it, so I'm going to just give you some examples of things she says during sex. "You're doing great!" "You're technique and fundamentals are really good." (while going down on her) "Yes! Keep going! You can do it!"  "Wow! That's good. You must have been practicing!" " Mind you, let me reiterate, these are things she is saying WHILE we are having sex. Yes, in the middle of the act, she keeps saying all these words of encouragement. What is she, my coach? I'm just so flabbergasted by this, I don't even know what to say to her. She doesn't even really talk dirty, she just will shout all these words of encouragement. I really have to dig deep in my mind for really dirty thoughts to stay in the mood because to me it is so ridiculous that I just want to burst out laughing sometimes. What is this all about?

At least she hasn't said, "And you stuck your landing!"  I'm wondering if your girlfriend is an aficiando of the show Girls, because one of the most cringe-worthy scenes was when Marnie and Charlie got back together, and upon having sex again Marnie discovered Charlie's being with other women had improved his technique, and she shouted out commentary almost identical to what you're describing.  Your problem is one that the rule-book of how to have a good relationship says you should bring up gently when you're not in bed. You tell your girlfriend how happy you are with her,  how wonderful it is that you've become intimate, blah, blah, blah. But  that her commentary during sex, while meant to be encouraging,  is really distracting and you'd appreciate if she'd stop.  But what I really would hope is that you simply flop away, laugh hysterically, and say, "Marnie, there no way I can score unless you stop coaching from the sidelines."

Dear Prudie- A close family friend and I have kids that are around the same age, and we both always buy birthday gifts for the other's children. Recently, I gave my friend's daughter a gift for her birthday. The gift came from a store that only has a website --- there is no brick and mortar store to return a gift to. About a week later, my friend contacted me to tell me that her daughter didn't like the gift, so she sent it back, and she was upset that the company that I bought it from wouldn't pay for the return postage. She told me that, the next time she sees me, I can give her a check for the return postage, and also mentioned that, since her child is extremely hard to buy for, she doesn't know what else I can give her. Is it my responsibility to pay for the return postage and also do I need to replace this gift for her child? If not, what can I say to her?

You don't need to replace the gift, but you might want to replace the friend. If she has the audacity to ask for reimbursement for postage for the gift, just say you're sorry her daughter didn't like the gift you picked out, but you forgot your checkbook, so you'll just have to run a tab.

I also came from a wine every night family, and carried that habit with enthusiasm into my adult life. Until I realized I couldn't remember the last day I hadn't had wine at night. So I gave it up for a month, and realized my dependence/habit when it was hard for me not to drink it. Now I try to only drink one or two nights a week, and not to carry it into drinks while watching TV after dinner, etc. Prudie didn't say it, but three glasses a night is a lot of wine, and it's worth cutting back for a lot of reasons, not least because your drinking is hurting your relationship with someone you care about. And, when you do cut down, you will likely lose weight because you're dropping a ton of empty calories. I'm happy every day for breaking the habit before it was more than a habit.

Exactly. Thanks for the words of wisdom.

My husband of 30 years was an alcoholic in his younger days and early in our marriage. He quit over 25 years ago and I believe if he hadn't, we wouldn't have stayed married. About a year ago, he tried non-alcholic beer and seems to enjoy that. Now he's talking about trying real beer, just at home, to see if he can just have one or two. He drives for a living and is adamant he wouldn't jeopardize his job (he would be fired if he got an DUI even when not on the job). He feels he's older and wiser now and would be able to drink responsibly. Well, it scares the daylights out of me that I would have to live through again what we went through back then. He was one of those that never knew when to quit for the night. He'd buy a case of beer when the bar closed in order to continue. He also would be as sick as a dog the next day. I've told him how I feel, so he hasn't taken that step, but I know if I said, sure, give it a try, he would.

Today's theme: The Days of Wine and Roses. Your husband is in real danger of losing his sobriety, his livelihood, and you.  He's older, but no wiser. One beer is going to turn into 12, and down the drain goes his life. However he got sober, AA or some other program, he needs to return pronto, for a tune up. You cannot be your husband's superego. He has to recognize the delusions he's engaging in and the potential consequences. Tell him you'll accompany him to an AA meeting if that's what it takes for him to recognize that he's one beer away from disaster -- and if he starts drinking, you're leaving.

I share the sole office at work with my married boss. He loves to make jokes about me looking at porn (I don't), he frequently comments on my FB posts and talks about the affair he had while he and his wife were separated. There've been numerous other flirtatious incidents that combine to make me squirm in discomfort on a regular basis at work. It took months to find this job and the market is dismal at best, so finding another job isn't a solution that'll happen anytime soon. I'm unsure how to handle it in a diplomatic manner that won't pollute my generally easy-going work environment.

Start looking because this guy is a creep.  The next time he mentions porn or his affair you firmly say, "Fred, this kind of discussion is not office appropriate. I cannot do my work in such an atmosphere, so please let's stick to normal office banter." You block him on Facebook. You stay polite and professional, and you get your resume out there because creeps tends to stay creeps.

I take my mother-in-law who is suffering from dementia out for errands and coffee about once a week. She enjoys these outings and usually they go well. She is unable to answer most of the question we are asked from servers and clerks, so usually I jump in with the answer when she stumbles. But sometimes she has to answer a question "Do these shoes hurt your toes?" and sometimes she says something really inappropriate out of the blue. She might comment on a person's weight or other body characteristic. Occasionally she will just blurt out something really mean to someone halfway across the room. The other day she yelled "Will you just shut up?" to some kids and parents playing near by in the park. She knows she has dementia and repeatedly calls herself stupid, dumb and occasionally mentions she should just die. I hate to explain her condition in front of her, but I really feel I need to for the sake of the person trying to help us or to just plain apologize when she's really hurtful. How do I handle these scenarios?

You are a really good daughter-in-law and I hope your husband appreciates what you're doing. I think you should bring your mother-in-law in on the conversation. You should tell her she's not dumb and you don't want her to die, but sometimes her illness makes her say impolite things to people, so you're going to explain to them that she suffers from a disease. It's true she probably won't remember this conversation, but the next time she has an outburst you just say to the object of her derision, "I'm so sorry, my mother-in-law has Alzheimer's and that's  the disease speaking."

This might be the opening you need to suggest an end to the gift exchange altogether. Gift giving like that can tend to become a burden, might as well end it now.

Good point! Although a book of stamps might be an appropriate gift.

Thanks, everyone. Time for a cocktail.  Talk to you next week and have a good July 4th.

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: