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Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Jul 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.  Let's get to it.

Dear Prudie, I am a widow in her early sixties in a very serious, hopefully permanent, relationship with a kind, caring successful mid-sixties widower who would be ideal except that he is clueless about the female anatomy and how to please it. That his late wife never went down on him in thirty plus years of marriage suggests there was a lack of communication that explains his problem. Although he is unselfish, enthusiastic and believes he drives me wild , he never finds the target. I am very sexual, orgasmic and quite experienced so this lack of knowledge frustrates. To complicate matters, after my husband died, I met two lovers extraordinaire, contemporaries who rock my boat, but have few other redeeming qualities. How do I tell a sincere man that he needs remedial sex school without offending or deflating him? Also, since, in my sixties, I know I will never find the perfect man, is an occasional tryst with an expert solely for therapeutic purposes justifiable? Thanks, Unpressed Buttons

There is a serious disconnection in your description of your lovemaking (or perhaps we should call it stumblebumming) with your beau. If even after 30 plus years of marriage this guy's inacquaintance with the female anatomy means he can't "find the target," then you are seriously misleading him if he thinks this shooting and missing is leading to your ecstasy. Leaving the impression that someone is a great lover when in reality he is utterly inept, makes suggesting remedial action all the more difficult. But if you intend to make him your intended you must address these deficits. It sounds as if you have enlightened him about the interesting things that happen when genital meets mouth, so at the very least you can be assured of his attentiveness. Yes, you have to approach this delicately. But address it you must or else all his other wonderful qualities will seem like a tease because you'll primarily think of him as a dud in the sack.

Since you've established your sexual bona fides, tell him you want to keep adding to your repetoire.  Find some  instructional videos that are erotic but not hardcore (you don't want to have defibrillate the guy) and watch them together. Note while you watch the things that turn you on. Then afterward, don't be afraid to guide his hand, and other parts, as you show him what you like. Clearly what his wife liked was three minutes in the dark, so anything beyond that is a mind-blower for him. If things never get better, you have some decisions to make. But I'm not going to be the one to give you carte blanche to cheat if you've voluntarily signed up to be under sexual duress.

I've been involved with a married man (don't judge) who decided to move out and get a divorce. It came unexpectedly to his wife. He said that after nine years of marriage, he owes it to his wife to continue significant financial support until she completes her two year course (which she hasn't even started) and finds a job. As a result, nearly most of his income continue to go to his wife and children as though they were still living together. I understand his sympathy towards her but this is taking a toll on our lives, as well. I feel like the breadwinner in this relationship as I now support myself and my boyfriend with my income alone. He gets touchy and defensive when I ask him to agree on a more realistic amount and time frame for alimony with his wife. Is this a sign that our relationship won't work out in the long term?

That wife sounds so awful I'd be wishing along with you that she just drops dead, except for the fact that then you'd be responsible for helping your guy with his dreadful rug rats.  Here's some news, when you tell your story you can say, "Don't judge" but you're going to be judged anyway.  Yes, people cheat and marriages end. But when this happens there should be some recognition on the part of the cheaters that they have caused great pain to innocent parties. If there are children involved, the adults must focus on putting them first and ameliorating their pain. That includes the father's obligation to support them financially.  I think you should do everyone a favor and kick this guy out. Tell him that now that you have him you realize what a leech he is and you're done. Maybe he will see what a horrible mistake he made and crawl back to his family begging his wife's forgiveness. Maybe if he's very lucky, and totally sincere, his wife will take him in.

Prudie, My 20-year-old son "Ted" has a 19-year-old girlfriend named "Dahlia." Dahlia is very well-endowed and rarely wears a bra. However, she does wear lowcut clothing and often looks like she's about to fall out. The dress she was wearing last night was so small on her that it she couldn't zip it up all the way and she was very close to a nip slip. When she walked in the door she looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and said "I know this is a low cut dress" like she knew she was coming to my house, knew what my expectations are but came looking like that anyway.  Here's my problem: She's going on vacation with us in a week. I don't want to seem prudish but I do want to get through to her that this type of dress isn't appropriate for the places we'll be going and the people we'll be seeing. I'll be asking her before we leave if she's got bras in her suitcase and I am ready to leave her behind if she doesn't or make her go out and buy a few or buy them for her. What do I do? How do I handle this without alienating her but helping her to understand that something that is fine when you're out clubbing is not fine when you're trying to make a good impression with your boyfriend's family. Not an Old Fogey

You have time to have a friendly and helpful chat with Dahlia before you all go bouncing off on holiday. Take a supportive, not punitive approach. You can say something like, "Dahlia, dear, you're young and beautiful, but the clothes you wear to go out in the evening aren't going to be appropriate for family outings. I wanted to make sure you have things to wear, including bras, that will work for the trip. If not, let's go to the department store and get you a few items." If you have to put the underwire, nipple-concealing bra on your credit card, consider it an excellent investment. 

I love my mom and her parents, but I'll be the first person to tell you they can be elitist. My sister, who lives across the country, didn't tell them about her boyfriend for almost a year because he is a teacher, and she knew they'd disapprove of his low paying occupation. My sister and her boyfriend have been discussing marriage. My mom surmised as much, and she hired a private investigator to follow my sister's boyfriend. The PI didn't find anything, but my mom continues to employ him. I want to tell my sister about the PI, but I know telling her will cause a lot of family drama. My mom will also know I told my sister and will be angry with me. I think my mom's wrong, but I'm young enough that I have to live with her for another year. It'd be nice if we didn't argue all of the time. Should I tell my sister or not?

Sorry to tell you that your mother and grandparents sound rather despicable. Disapproving of the teaching profession is bad enough, but hiring a private detective without cause to dig up dirt on her daughter's boyfriend makes your mother the dirtbag.  She was hoping she'd get evidence he was a pedophile, instead she learned he grades on a curve. It's probably not a coincidence that as soon as she could move away, your sister choose the opposite coast. That she has hidden her marital intentions from your mother also indicates your sister knows what a headcase mom is. I think eventually your sister should know about the investigator, but because you would be the clear source, I'm going to tell you to keep it to yourself for the next year. This is simply to reduce the "living hell" factor for you.  Soon you will make your own escape. I understand you love your relatives, flaws and all, but life will likely be much better once you are able to put some distance between yourself and their judgments.

I'm in my 30s, but have the same problem - a guy who lacks a basic understanding of how to please a woman. I agree that this needs to be approached delicately (regardless of age), but what's your advice on how to actually bring it up without totally deflating a guy's ego? I've tried in the past, but no matter my level of kindness and understanding, it inevitably leads to insecurity issues that then snowball and manifest in other parts of the relationship. The male ego is so fragile, especially in the bedroom!

If it's that fragile, I think you need to look for a stronger vessel. No one wants to be told, "Wow, you are the worst sex partner, ever!" But most people also know that there is always more to learn sexually and that what pleased one partner might not please another. It sounds as if you have tried addressing this and have been throughly rebuffed. This problem with this guy likely isn't fixable so either you grit your teeth or move on.

Dear Prudence, I live with my husband and son in a different state than my parents. We are scheduled to go back for a visit next month and I am very anxious about this trip. Both of my parents, who are divorced, have recently asked me to either a) loan them large sums of cash or b) to invest in their get rich quick scheme (There is a reason I live out of state). Like good worker ants, my husband and I have fairly successful careers and have always lived within our means and not extravagantly. I am pretty annoyed by these requests and logically do not feel bad about denying them, although honestly I do feel somewhat guilty. The grandparents have not seen their grandson in over a year (they do not come visit us) and I would like to have the visit go as smoothly as possible and I am sure I will be subject to guilt trips and/or the silence treatment. Any advice for dealing with aging con artist grasshoppers? - worker ant

This is a refreshing change from the usual letter I get on this theme. In those cases the worker ants have bailed out the grasshopper parents so many times that their own financial statement looks like it's been beset by locusts.  You just keep doing what you're doing, except for the guilt. Your parents have made their own mistakes, and given that they want you to finance more get rich quick schemes they haven't even profited from learning from their errors.  Be prepared to say, "I'm sorry things are tough. Unfortunately, we just don't have a cent of disposable income." Because any income that you give them might as well go down the DisposAll.  If doing that means the visit turns stony and silent, cut the day short and say you're sorry they the don't seem to be in the mood for company. Comfort yourself that you haven't repeated this pattern and that your son will never feel this way about you.

My husband had an affair with a very good friend of mine. Her husband found out and told me. My husband and I decided if we wanted to save our marriage, we needed to end our relationship with the other family. The decision has been painful, not just because I miss the friendship I thought I had with his affair partner but also because the couple (themselves childless) were close with our kids. Our young children miss our friends and ask when they can see them again. My former friend has also sent me several letters begging me to allow her to see my kids or to at least communicate with them or send them presents on birthdays. I tear up the letters. Without telling my kids about their dad's affair, how can I explain to them why they can no longer see their "auntie" and their "uncle?"

How sad that your children are collateral damage in all this. And how presumptuous that your former friend doesn't understand the need to disappear from all of your lives. Of course this is painful and confusing for your children, but when you start to feel bad about this, think about how much more painful and confusing it would be if you and your husband split up and if he suddenly was living with "Aunt Grisela." You can be honest with your kids in an age-appropriate way. The next time they bring up their aunt and uncle you can say of course you understand that they miss them, you miss them, too. But unfortunately, there was a big fight over some grown up stuff and it was a bad enough one that it turns out you and dad don't want to see Auntie and Uncle.  This made everyone sad, especially since it affects you kids, and you're all sorry about that.  If they want to know what the fight was about, you can say that Aunt Griselda told some lies and it was very hurtful. Try to find some family members or other friends to fill this void, which your children will likely soon get over.

Prudie, I am getting married in the fall and we are inviting a fair number of gay couples and single people. Enough to fill a few tables. Some of these guests know each other and some of them don't. Would it be inappropriate to have a few gay tables? I don't want to create small gay ghetto but genuinely think that they would like to meet each other and will get along really well. Should I distribute the gay guests throughout the wedding just to avoid having gay tables? Seating Chart Challenged

If you have friends of any sexual orientation, religious persusion, etc. who you think would like getting to know each other, make sure that while you are circulating you introduce these people during the festivities.  But don't play, "What do we all have in common?" with your seating chart.

My brother and I are the product of a long term affair. Our dad's wife found out about us when I was six, and he disappeared from our lives after that. My mom worked overtime to make sure my brother and I felt loved and had everything we needed. My fiance's mom recently learned about my "origins" from him, and now she has concerns about our relationship. His mom has been cheated on by her ex-husband and by my fiance's dad, and she now believes my mom is a train wreck. She also told my fiance that I grew up in a home with a permissive attitude towards affairs and that my judgement about them might be skewed. I am hurt and offended by my future mother in law's judgement, but I want to have a good relationship with my in-laws. I'm not sure where to go from here.

I hope your mother got your disappearing rat of a father to at least send checks to help support you. If not, she got screwed then screwed over by your father. And now you're reaping the resentment of the woman on the other side of the equation. I hope your future mother-in-law is adult enough to be able to separate her own personal hurts from her knowledge that you are an individual her son loves who has absolutely nothing to do with the unfaithful men in her life. I don't know if you've learned of her reaction first hand, of if your fiance has told you. But in any case, he's the one who should address this with his mother. He needs to tell her that now she's had her say about your upbringing, she needs to put that aside. He can say he's sympathetic to the pain affairs cause and can add that you yourself have suffered being abandoned because of infidelity. But now she's got to get over her reaction and makes sure she treats you -- and your mother on the occasions you're together -- with respect.

I am 58 years old and in excellent health. I understand that good health is a gift for which one should be very grateful. My doctor wants to do blood tests. I was able to have blood drawn 2 years ago, but failed terribly last week. Unfortunately, I have an extreme fear of hypodermic needles. I would like your advice about methods to overcome this fear. As a child, my parents were in an occupation that allowed them to have veterinary equipment. They had hypodermic syringes suitable for treating cattle. Several times, my father used one them to traumatize me for the sole pleasure of seeing my terror. My mother never spoke out against this or other stuff. Sometimes she seemed amused as well. For the most part, I've sorted things out. Other than this one issue, I don't think that I have any psychological baggage. It is 2013. Things that happened in the 60s really have no importance now. Giving them importance returns power to one's assailant. I've come to the point where I can receive an injection without trouble as long as I don't see the needle. But, bring those blood vials out, and it is 1964 and I am a terrified 8 year old boy again. Do I just tough it out until I am successful?

I'm hoping that your father was only sadistic enough to make you watch him use this scary equipment, not that he was psychopathic enough to use it on you. I shudder at what went on during your childhood. Of course you have a good reason to be phobic about needles, but you have a clear understanding of the cause. I think you should explain to your doctor that you have a problem with blood draws and that you need to be able to lie down, close your eyes, and listen to music while the procedure is being done. Believe me, they will have dealt with other patients like you and they should be very sympathetic about making this procedure are painless as possible.

My sister-in-law wants to move to South America so she can be closer to her boyfriend. She does not want to take her two sons, fifteen-year-old Chris and six-year-old Matt, with her. She assumed my husband and I would take them in, as her parents are too infirm to be their caregivers. While my husband and I could afford to care for our nephews, we're hesitant to do so. Chris and Matt have serious anger management issues. Matt will throw tantrums, bite people, and lash out at pets when he's angry. Chris, who is much bigger, will punch holes in walls, scream at the top of his lungs, and break furniture. My sister-in-law has always made excuses for their angry outbursts, but because we have young children, my husband and I don't feel comfortable inviting Chris and Matt to live with us. My sister-in-law seems determined to move, though, and without us we're not sure where Chris and Matt will live. My sister-in-law tries to guilt us whenever we explain to her why we're not comfortable having her sons live with us; we're not sure what to do that's in the best interests of the children involves.

What a tragic situation all around. But you cannot be guilt-tripped into taking in two violent angry boys. Since their mother is determined to abandon them, and apparently there is no father,  you need to tell her you are calling in the authorities to take over the handling of her sons. I hope the state steps in and gets these two the therapeutic help they both desperately need.

Come on, Prudie, this girl is not going to start wearing bras because her boyfriend's annoying mother tells her to. The mother needs to learn that other people's personal style is not under her control.

And the girl doesn't need to learn to dress appropriately for being a guest on someone else's vacation? I disagree that no older woman can say something helpful to a younger one. Sure, the girlfriend's style  gets her a lot of attention, but as she makes her way in the world it's not going to be the helpful kind.

I moved into my dorm early because I am a student athlete; my roommate is also on my team. When I started putting up pictures, she deduced that my boyfriend is African American while I am Caucasian. Since the discovery, she has made comments like, "My dad would shoot me and then him if I dated a black guy." and "I bet if you had kids they would be models." I know she's from a very conservative part of our state, so at first I tried to ignore her comments. But she seems taken with the novelty of an interracial couple - she asks me if I have crushes on various black celebrities - and it's starting to get on my last nerve. What's a non-confrontational way to let her know she's crossed a line with me and, if we're going to live together peaceably for the next year, she needs to retreat back over it?

This is part of the out-of-classroom education that can make the college experience so valuable.  You can say something like:  "Jenna, you've made it clear that inter-racial romances are outside your comfort zone and exotic to you. But my boyfriend and I are just two people who love each other.  I'm uncomfortable myself with your constant questions and comments about race. So please, let's put a lid on it. Thanks."

As one part of a gay couple, no no no no no. We will notice it really quickly, it will be very awkward, and you'll be discussed for years as the woman who created a gay ghetto at your wedding.


My fiance and I have been together for three years. She comes from an abusive background and often acts out. Recently she has started hitting me and even spitting in my face when she is angry. I feel that because I didn't stop her the first time, that I have told her that this is acceptable behavior. I seriously considered calling the police after her last fit, which included removing my clothes from the closet and taking my house keys off my keyring. I want to leave BUT, she has a child. He was a few months old when we met and started dating. I'm the only other parent he has ever known. I feel like I need to stick it out for him. There is no chance of my getting custody, so he would be left with an explosive, unemployed and unbalanced mother. Should I stay or should I go?

You cannot stay and take it, especially not under the guise of protecting her son because you will both end up being abused. This is another terrible situation in which there is nothing to do but call in the authorities. You can report her behavior to you to the police and concurrently call CPS. Even if this mother keeps custody of her child, she needs to come under the attention of a social worker. 

Hi Prudie - At my job there is a person above me in rank, but not my immediate supervisor. He insists on being called a specific title, and everyone does it, from entry level people all the way up to the vice president of the company. I found out a few weeks ago that he never earned this title properly (to put it into context, it would be as if he had studied to be a paralegal but expected everyone to call him "Judge Smith"). After I found this out I immediately started calling him Mister Smith, which basically enraged him and I got lectured by him on what he "deserved" to be called. I dont have a lot of contact with him, and the time he asked me to do something for him (when he got so mad) I said "Of course Mister Smith" with a big smile and absolutely no sarcasm or malice in my tone. I have a lot of friends who have studied law, medicine, and even culinary arts, so I know what kind of time and effort it takes to have a title or a set of letters accompanying your name. I dont feel I should humor this guy just so he can have an ego trip. I dont want to start trouble in my company by whistleblowing what I know about him, but I also dont want to get IN trouble or lose my job by calling him this different name. Should I just go along with everyone else even though I know it is wrong? Or should I keep calling him Mister?

Just keep a straight face when you call him "The Right Honorable." He sounds pathetic, but  at any workplace you will have bigger issues to use your chits on than making an issue out of giving a verbal ego stroke to a silly co-worker.

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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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