Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Sep 09, 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'm looking forward to your questions.

Dear Prudence, I am one of four siblings, all in their late 50's/early 60's. I am a gay man who legally married my partner of 28 years earlier this year. Two of my sisters are lesbians with one married to her long time partner as well. The remaining sister, the youngest, is married with five children and is a devout Catholic. Her daughter is getting married soon and the invitation arrived the other day, addressed only to me. My other married sister's invitation was addressed only to her. I don't know what to do. I emailed the niece's mother and asked if my husband was invited and if my niece was registered anywhere. I did not get a response. I'm pretty sure he and my sister-in-law are not invited as my sister does not approve of the relationships due to religious teachings. Now I'm hurt and unsure how to proceed. My husband has known my niece since she was born. My sister has always treated my husband respectfully, though she has dropped a few hints about how she feels. In the past I have even paid my sister's mortgage when her husband was unemployed to keep her and her children in their house. I don't plan to attend without my husband and am not sure if I should just decline the invitation and leave it at that or if I should let them know how hurtful their actions are. What would you do?

If there is anyone who grew up knowing that there's nothing wrong with being gay, it should be this young bride. So go directly to her. She is an adult and is responsible for her invitations.  Tell her, "Maureen, I'm thrilled you're getting married. However, I just got the invitation and saw that it was addressed only to me. I hope that was an oversight and that my husband, your other uncle, is invited. Your Aunt Cynthia also mentioned that her wife was left of her invitation.  So we need to clarify whether our spouses are included."  Then hear what she has to say. If she says she left the spouses off because of her mother's feelings, you should tell her that she is old enough now to make her own decisions. If her decision is to not invite the spouses of her uncle and aunt, then you need to explain basic etiquette to her. You say that wedding invitations are one of those things that are extended to both parties in a couple.  Tell her that if she isn't including your husband, than you wish her all the best, but you will not be able to attend. And if that's the case, I wouldn't worry about where this couple is registered.

Hi Prudie, I'm a 28-year-old man who recently started seeing a woman. We have an understanding that what we have is casual, but she has a 6-year-old child, who I've seen a couple of times a week since we started seeing each other a couple of months ago. I don't do relationships, but work with kids, so I'm good with them. The other day, he told me he loved me. Now I haven't even said this to his mother and don't intend to. We have great passion and affection, but it's just physical for me. But I feel horrible as I don't feel that those words should be used unless meant, but that resulted in him saying "I love you" and it not being returned. What do I do? And if the child says it again, how should I respond? Regards, Not your daddy

You work with kids, so I wish it had occured to you that showing up as a regular presence in the life of a vulnerable 6 year-old and "being good" with him was going to give this child a powerful sense of connection and longing. Your letter should also be a warning for single parents of young children. Those kids should be protected from the adults' social lives until the parent is in a relationship that is serious and established and it's clear that everyone getting to know each other makes sense.  If you're going to continue to see this woman for uncommitted sex, then you two need to figure out a way to do this without passing through the life of  her little boy. But don't just disappear.  The next time you see him, you should have a private talk with him. You can tell him that you appreciate how strong his feelings are for you and that he could tell you. Explain that love is a really powerful emotion -- and word -- and that some people only say it when they know someone really, really well. You're one of those people. So tell him  that you feel lucky you've gotten to know him, that you've enjoyed talking to him and hearing his stories [or whatever it is you've done together], and you like him so very, very much.

Dear Prudence, my 13 year old daughter has not eaten lunch since school started three weeks ago. I found out when I went to add money to her lunch account. When I asked her why, she said she isn't hungry, which I know isn't true because she rarely eats breakfast because we are usually running late in the mornings. When she gets home in the afternoon, she eats everything in sight and promptly falls asleep. As far as I can tell, she loves school and looks forward to going every day. She has tons of friends and never complains about school.  She is very pretty and she knows this because people tell her all the time how pretty her face is and I have even caught her gazing at herself in the mirror.  However, she is 5'6 and about 50 pounds overweight. Last year she started wearing a hoodie to school every day even in 100 degree weather. She says it because the classrooms are cold, but she keeps it on during the bus ride home and the walk home from the bus stop which is at 10 minute walk. I think she wears it to cover up the extra weight she has around her waist. I have encouraged her to exercise and offered to put her in physical activities but she declines the offers. I sent her to school today with a packed healthy lunch and threatened to come up to the school and sit with her and all her friends if she didn't eat it. If it matters, I am about 100 pounds overweight myself. How worried should I be?

Mom, you were a 13 year-old girl once.  Imagine how thrilled you'd have been if your mother showed up in the cafeteria, sat down next to you, and forcefed you until you had a clean plate.  Worrying isn't the point, taking action is. Your daughter is significantly overweight and has a mother who is morbidly obese, so both of you need to address your eating issues. Instead of nagging your daughter about each meal tell her that it's obvious you have struggled with your weight all your life, and you don't want her to go through the same thing. Say you're obviously no expert in good eating habits and nutrition, so you're going to find one -- for each of you. Talk to your daughter's pediatrician and get a referral to someone who specializes in teenager girls. You need your own nutritionist. It's possible you could both see the same person, although you each need private sessions. But it also would be helpful to have some joint counseling so that you and your daughter can talk about setting guidelines for how she can make the best choices about what she eats without it becoming a power struggle with you. Being 13 years-old can be hard even for the most slender and confident kids.  It can be miserable for kids who feel ashamed about their bodies. Stop nagging and micromanaging, Mom, and take steps to lay a healthy foundation for your daughter's life.

I recently moved in with my girlfriend of two years and things are going swimmingly. She is a beautiful, caring, and devoted partner, and I am thankful for having her in my life every day. As I consider our future together, her past continues to haunt me. Early on in our relationship she shared with me that she spent a summer working as a professional dominatrix. I was shocked and disgusted by the things she did, and by the seemingly unemotional and detached way in which she talked about them. She was also involved with one of her "slaves" outside of the workplace. We have come a long way since then and I am deeply in love with the woman that I know now. We have even experimented with some kinky stuff of our own and are very comfortable with each other. However, every once and a while this comes back to haunt me. When it does, I feel like I lose control of my thoughts and focus only on negative graphic images, whereas we have such a wonderful and charmed life together, I should really just be picking up my head and taking a look around. I recognize how unfair this for her and I have finally admitted to myself that I need help working through this with counseling, but am afraid that it will ruin us. How do I let go? 

Maybe your girlfriend should slap a pair of handcuffs on you and walk on your back in stilettos until you agree to stop dwelling on her past.  Your girlfriend freely confessed to you her interesting summer job,  so you get points for not being the one to pry into her past sex life.  Good for her for recognizing that having spent some time as a professional sex worker is something that one's partner is entitled to know.  But it's been two years since you got the news that she is good at punishing people. You had the opportunity then to say, "I appreciate your telling me you have expertise in clipping electrodes to nipples, but I'm pretty vanilla, so I need someone with a less stimulating past." But you stayed and even experimented with her. You're right that if this haunts you and you have something worth saving, you should talk this out with a counselor. I don't see how that ruins you. Counseling shouldn't be drawn-out torture, instead it should pretty quickly clarify whether you're able to put this  into perspective and enjoy your love, or whether you'll never stop the unwanted video loop running in your head.

Dear Prudence, My spouse and I tragically lost our beloved baby to SIDS. The vast majority of our family and friends are beyond wonderful and supportive, but there continue to be a few outliers who keep asking us very direct and probing questions about what happened. We've also been dealing with certain folks who keep assuring us that this is all part of God's plan (which I find quite offensive for a number of reasons). In my current state of mind, I can't trust myself to come up with a measured, appropriate way to deal with these issues, but they are very upsetting to me and I wish there was some way I could ask these people (who no doubt mean well) to stop. Do you have any suggestions?

I'm so sorry for your loss. You're generous to make allowances for people who make things worse for the grief-stricken, but they have to be dealt with firmly. To the nosy just say, "I don't care to discuss the details of our child's death. Now please excuse me." For those speaking for God you can try, "This isn't comforting to us and I'd rather not discuss religion, thanks." 

Prudie, I was concerned that you focused your answer on the girl's being 50 pounds overweight. That is not really a health crisis. Not eating all day IS. Sure, I think that the advice might be the same, but it is so, so important to approach this girl not by saying "you're fat and need help to get healthy" but by saying "you're not eating all day, and that's extremely unhealthy and just won't work." counseling to discuss food issues (and other issues - maybe this isn't food-related at all) does sound like a good plan. More so than a nutritionist.

Let me clarify. I meant she needs to see a professional who specializes in young people and food issues globally -- including identifying eating disorders. The girl needs someone who can help her with body image, good food choices, the destructiveness of skipping meals then bingeing, etc. I didn't mean someone who's going to tell her eat kale as often as she can. The mother should start with the pediatrician and get some names of professionals who can take a broad overview of her child's issues, and who can recommend additional types of counseling if necessary.

I found out a few weeks ago that I'm expecting a child. My husband has two children from a previous marriage. About two years ago I got pregnant and my husband went into a violent depression. He didn't speak to me for weeks except to tell me how I had ruined his life. Then, when I miscarried he celebrated. I started bleeding in the grocery store, and he fell to his knees and "praised God" for this wonderful blessing. After months of therapy, we decided to try to make the marriage work, under the agreement that we would NEVER have a child together. However, I now find myself pregnant again. And, I want this baby as much as I wanted the last one. The trouble is, I decided back then that I would never want a child WITH my husband. There is a very good chance that my husband will divorce me and leave a man shaped hole in the front door as he grabs his two kids and RUNS as far away as he can. I am not ready for the end of the marriage I have put so many years and so much work into. But, I'm even more not ready to hear my husband try to talk me into an abortion--which is not an option. And, I think it would be traumatic for my stepchildren to watch me carry a baby to term and then put it up for adoption. They are well old enough to know what's happening. Plus, I could never part with my child. I have to tell him. But how?! Thanks.

The day your husband started praising God in the grocery store because you were miscarrying his child was the day the man-sized hole in your life should have opened up which you should have repaired with reinforced concrete. You say you put a lot of work into this marriage. But that's like saying you put a lot of work into building a house at the site of an annual mudslide and you're staying into the walls collapse around you.  Instead of fleeing this awful man, you stayed, then didn't take the kind of precautions (sterilization of both of you, for example) that would have prevented another pregnancy.  Unless you are fearful for your safety -- which is a significant concern -- you need to tell your husband you're pregnant.  I don't know how you do it except to say, "I'm pregnant." If he reacts as you expect, your next step is to contact a divorce lawyer.

Hi Prudie! I am in my late 20s and my fiance is in his early 30s. As you can imagine, the last year was chock full of weddings and next year will be the same, culminating with our own wedding. Finances are tight. VERY tight. It is already a struggle to get the funds together just to travel to close friends' weddings, and giving a gift on top of that is really tough. I opted to do the following: for good friends I go to the wedding and give a homemade gift: I have a glass etching kit and I etch the bride and groom's names and the wedding date along the edge of a round mirror and it can then be used under a centerpiece on a table or hung on a wall. For more distant friends or acquaintances I have sent my regrets, but no gift. How much of a faux pas am I making here? Thanks, Tight-fisted

I love your gift and wish you'd been invited to my wedding (except that I eloped).  If you're getting invites to weddings from people whom you have to look up in your contact list to clarify who they are, then a simple regret is fine. But if you actually do know them well enough to legitimately make the guest list, then sending along one of your lovely monogrammed mirrors would be a gracious thing to do.

Dear Prudence, My father very often tells inappropriate and sexist jokes. He often makes my mother the butt of these jokes in front of their friends and her family. (He never says these jokes in front of his family because they would disapprove). These jokes often involve calling her various sexist words such as "wench", or "broad",  or making it seem like she is always nagging him or refusing to let him do the things he wants to do (this is entirely untrue). I started noticing this a couple of years ago when I would come home from college, and now that I've graduated and have moved back home, he makes these types of jokes every day. I have tried to intervene on her behalf but he always tells me he's just joking and to "lighten up" or that I just don't understand his humour. My mother tells me not to get involved because it just eggs him on.  I don't know what else to do to get my dad to stop this offensive behaviour, especially since my mom refuses to stand up for herself and doesn't want me to intervene either. Any suggestions?

Find a job, save your money like crazy, and get a place of your own as soon as possible. Some couples have a mutually teasing relationship that both enjoy. That  doesn't sound as if that's the case here, but your mother has made it clear she would prefer to ignore your father's remarks then deal with his behavior. By not responding to his bait, she's just letting people draw their own conclusions about your father. You say you just started noticing this in the past few years. It's possible this behavior isn't new, it's just that as you were becoming a young adult you took more interest in how the adults around you behave. You've expressed your distate to your father and your concern to your mother and it hasn't made any difference, so now you stay out of it. Sometimes parental marriage dynamics seep into one's unconscious, and without meaning to people find themselves repeating the same lousy patterns. So be aware in your choice of partner you don't pick someone who gets inordinate pleasure in picking on you.

Dear Prudie, When I was in the 8th grade, "Tammy" seemed determined to make my life a living hell. She spread rumors about me, alienated me and even had the boy I like ask me out as a prank! She left me alone in high school, but I still felt sick whenever I saw her. I am now 30-years-old and Tammy contacted me on Facebook. I ignored her first few requests but she was persistent and eventually I agreed to meet her for drinks. While we were out I brought up 8th grade and she said "did we even know each other in 8th grade??" I was floored that she didn't even remember me! The problem is, she says she had a great time with me and wants to continue hanging out. It seems like she is lonely and really needs a friend. But I don't know if I can just pretend everything is okay when, not only did she not apologize for her actions; she doesn't even remember them! Should I just get over it and become friends with my former tormentor?

Middle school is over, and so is Tammy's bullying of you -- including her harassing you now to be her friend.  Her story doesn't  hang together. The only time you two seriously interacted was in 8th grade. Otherwise you ignored each other through high school. So it's odd that she would want to renew an acquaintance with someone she claims not to have known. You let her badger you into getting together, perhaps expecting an overdue apology. Since none was forthcoming and you can't stand this woman, do not let her into your life. Sometimes children who are bullies are just nasty people. Sometimes they themselves are being mistreated and are acting out against a vulnerable target. If Tammy is the latter, you can have sympathy for her in an abstract way, while explaining that you're just so busy you don't have room in your life for former classmates you never really knew.

I am in my 20's and have never had a biological child. It is very hard to find a doctor that will do a tubal ligation for a woman with my stats. As for my husband, he had a vasectomy over a year ago--which I guess failed. Regardless, we DID take the precautions we thought were necessary. And now I'm stuck facing this horrible ordeal all over again. Worst of all, I can't celebrate my child!

I remain baffled how you could even contemplate having sex with this guy.  I know there are some post-vasectomy children walking around, but they're rare. How unfortunate your husband's vasectomy wasn't successful (if he even had one).  So now you're dealing with "the pregnancy thing." I also think you should deal with the therapist thing because you need to do some serious rethinking about your life before you become a mother. Keep in mind, just because you're married to a dreadful person does not mean you can't celebrate your own pregnancy. And  if you fear for your safety, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800 799 SAFE about what steps to take next.

Prudie!!! A dominatrix is NOT a sex worker!!!!! S&M clubs are specifically about dominance and control and it is a kink, yes, but the clubs aren't about the sex! This is why these clubs are legal around the country and not like brothels. She did not have sex with every customer that came into the club, she merely gave them the experience they paid for. Assuming these clubs are all about sex is actually ruining what they are trying to do for their community, by providing a safe place for people to be open about the control they want in their lives. I hope you can find some better information on dominatrix work so that you can learn about how much these people have to deal with when it comes to assumptions and negative talk!

I didn't mean she had intercourse with her clients, I was using the term broadly speaking.  I hope we can agree that strippers or phone sex workers are in the sex industry and don't have intercourse with their clients. I don't see how it's negative to include S&M in this category; people don't go to these venues for tax advice.

Thanks, everyone. I'm off next week and will be back at noon, Monday September 23.

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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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