Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Oct 28, 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!

I recently opened up Google Chrome on my boyfriend's iPad and it was on private browsing. So I hit back a few times, I found 'Find A Shemale Lover' which was attached to a fake Gmail account. I tried logging in using his password to get into his computer and BINGO. I went to user history in Gmail and found incest porn. I don't know what to say or think. I confronted him and his reply was, "it's not like I want to be with my mom!" "And I am bored with regular porn" So my question(s) are why do people watch incest porn? I have small nieces, should I be worried? Fine, he's bored, what happens when he runs out of porn genres?

And my question is: Why aren't you focusing on the fact that your boyfriend is perusing "Find a Shemale Lover" websites? It's true your boyfriend must be very bored with porn if he needs "incest porn" to get aroused. I think the average person would start envisioning their family members and screaming, "No, no incest porn, I beg you!"  Since you mention your nieces, I wonder if this incest porn is actually not about mothers, but actually another name for child pornography. If so, since your boyfriend is downloading and possibly exchanging it, he potentially could find himself in major legal trouble. But your are glossing over the fact potentially more germane to you hat he's possibly using the internet to find sexual partners. That could have serious consequences for your health.  This whole episode indicates that while your boyfriend needs a new password, you likely need a new boyfriend.

I'm about to get married and caught in an argument between my fiancee and parents. This will be the first time in over five years that our whole family will be together. My parents want to take a picture of just them, me, and my siblings, and a family photo obviously means a lot to them. My fiancee heard this and became immediately offended. She says it's rude to exclude her on the day she "joins the family" and any family photo should therefore include her in it. We're not talking about taking an hour for a separate family photo shoot, my parents simply want one photograph of themselves and their children. I don't understand why my fiancee is so annoyed and now she's even more angry because I'm not supporting "her side." Should I back up my fiancee on principle, even if I disagree with her?

Apparently your fiancee wants to be the "Where's Waldo" of her wedding album. When the photographer calls for a shot of all the groomsmen, she plans to puts herself in the middle. Photographs take only a short time to compose and an instant to snap. Presumably, both of you want a variety of pictures of groups of people to commemorate this event. Since your family is apparently far-flung, there is nothing wrong with your side wanting to piggy-back on the big event and get a couple of family photos added to the mix. This is one of those silly, little fights every couple has.  Calmly tell her you understand how she may have misperceived your family's request, but it  has nothing to do with excluding her. Your parents just want to take advantage of all of being together for this happy day to have a long overdue photo of your imediate family. Explain to her that of course all the many and traditional wedding photos will take place. If she won't back off, then it's important that you two figure out how to resolve an issue -- trivial as this is  -- that has you each in opposite corners, certain you are right.

I am a 50-something woman preparing to move in with my boyfriend next March. I have a miniature schnauzer who is 8 years old and has always slept in my room on the floor next to the bed. My boyfriend wants me to banish my dog from our bedroom when we move. I don't think it's a good idea, especially with moving to a strange house, and I think the dog will do better with the transition if he can sleep in our room. Am I wrong on this?

Oh, your boyfriend has come to the wrong place. Some nights my husband and I can barely turn over in bed due to the arrangement of the dog and two cats around us. You've got me laughing at the idea of banishing my cavalier from the bedroom. No one would get a minute of sleep due to the whining and howling. You have a beloved pet who sleep peacefully on the floor. Unless your boyfriend frequently steps on your dog on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night (if so, just rearrange the dog bed) I do not understand his objection. More than that, if he understands what your dog means to you (and you to the dog), his demand is  rather cruel. I've had letters from people who have fallen in love with other humans who are seriously allergic to their pets. Those are very difficult situations, but -- much to the annoyance of animal lovers -- I come down on the side of human love taking precedence. But there is no good reason here to shut the door on a sleeping dog. You've got a lot of time before the move to hash this out. But I think you're entitled to say, "Love me, love my schnauzer."

My mother in law threw me a sort of family baby shower, giving us lots of stuff we don't need even though I specifically requested not to have one because we have such a small NY apartment and I was already given practically everything from my sister who just had a baby. My question is: Do I have to send a thank you note to her for the stuff she bought me even though I specifically requested that she NOT buy anything? - Smothered

Nasty, nasty mother-in-law, wanting to shower you with stuff for her impending grandchild.  I hope you understand that now that you're having a child your mother-in-law is likely to be more in your life than ever. Maybe apart from ignoring your express orders about gifts, she's a lovely person who will be an important presence in your baby's life.  Although your pen may be dripping poison, write the thank you note and make it sound as sincere as possible. Since you are having a child, surely many of your friends will be too, so a closet of new baby items will be perfect regifting material.

I recently found out that one of my closest friends slept with another dear friend's ex-boyfriend. While they had been broken up for over a year, I see this as a clear breach of trust. I haven't confronted or told, but it's definitely weighing on me. I wish I didn't know.

Then pretend you don't know. Because what two adults who are both single do consensually to each other in bed is none of your business. You say the boyfriend had been an ex for more than a year when he slept with his former girlfriend's friend. Guess what, people don't get to scent mark others for life. Once a relationship is over, they can pursue other interests. Some of these might be awkward, yes. But this case sounds very run-of-the-mill. So don't worry about not passing on the news; you don't have any obligation to be a gossip.

Dear Prudie, I have been with my wonderful boyfriend for a year now, and in the past few weeks we started discussing and planning the idea of going away for a long weekend to go skiing. While shopping around for flights, he suddenly dropped a bomb on me - he invited two friends of his to come along with us! Without even running it by me first. I was livid and we had a big fight about it. He doesn't see the problem with inviting people without asking me, and not to mention I thought it was a given that first vacations were reserved for the couple alone. Am I being unreasonable? Any advice on how to handle this? Thank you

What he did was rude and it's kind of extraordinary he doesn't understand why unilaterally making your romantic get-away a group event would upset you.  You are the one who knows whether  your "wonderful" boyfriend is sending you a message that the idea of a weekend away with you makes him uneasy, or whether he's oblivious to the nuances of being a couple. My advice is not to escalate the blow-up, but to use this as an opportunity to assess where you're both at in this relationship, especially now that you've been together a year.

I'm 47. My dad sexually abused me when I was young. It stopped when I was 12, and I've gotten therapy for it. The only lingering problem for me is what to do about my cousin. When we were younger, I remember playing with her and I'm pretty sure that it was inappropriate. She is three years younger than me, and I couldn't have been more than eight, and it didn't happen with anyone else that I can remember. I've wanted to talk to her about this, but it's been almost 40 years. I know from counseling that I was acting out from what my dad was doing to me, and I didn't have the understanding of it that I do now. It's still painful to talk about, and there are some other family issues that I am dealing with that are connected with my dad's incest, but not relevant to my cousin. We haven't been in contact for more than 20 years because of the family issues. When I found my cousin this summer, she and her parents were delighted to see me, so there doesn't seem to be any longterm hard feelings. My cousin has a good life, with good relationships with her brother, husband, and parents, and she has a master's degree and is successful. I don't know how to approach this topic with her. I want to apologize. Does this seem like a good thing to open this can of worms?

I'm so glad you've gotten therapy, but if you've stopped, this issue is a good reason to go in for a tune up and explore what's been stirred up by reconnecting with part of your family.  As you know, the horrific violation you experienced can echo through your life -- although it is heartening to hear that you've taken steps to deal with  your abuse.  As you know,  small children often act out terrible things being done to them, and you have memories of doing inappropriate things to your cousin when she was 5 years-old or less. But from your recent  welcoming encounter with her, it doesn't sound as if she remembers remembers anything or feels anything but warmth for you. Based on what you've described, it may be the best thing not to introduce this painful and difficult subject into your cousin's life. But you need to sort out these issues and their potential ramifications with someone who knows you and the entirety of your story.

Hi, Prudie. My fiance and I are drawing up the invitation list for our wedding. The problem is that I have a large number of bigots in my family who have been outright nasty to my fiance on several occasions. They also launched an intense, very hurtful campaign to try to get me to break up with him. I only want the cousins who have treated us well at the wedding. My parents insist that family loyalty, good manners and even numbers dictate that I include everyone. My fiance doesn't want them there but sees a tactical advantage in inviting them and letting them be the bad guys. What's the right thing to do?

My understanding is that good manners do not include trying to ruin the relationship of other people or spouting ugly bigotry about them. Yes, excluding family members is best done judiciously and only because of serious  violations. But it sounds as if you have pretty good grounds. However, I love your fiance's attitude. No wonder you want to marry the guy! Since he's all right with inviting the jerks and leaving it up to them to decide whether to behalf graciously or make complete fools of themselves, I think you should have everyone there to celebrate your happy day.

"You've got me laughing at the idea of banishing my cavalier from the bedroom. No one would get a minute of sleep due to the whining and howling. " The dog might fuss a little, too.

Truer words... Thanks for the laugh.

Hi Prudie- I'm a young man who works late as a bartender in an urban area. I walk home usually at 2AM. I often find myself half a block behind women (either alone or in pairs) going home the same route. How do I act so that they don't fear me as a potential predator? Cross the street? Slow down (looks like stalking) or greet them (equally creepy)? Help!

There is nothing that gets a woman's sympathetic nervous system on high alert like hearing footfalls behind her at 2:00 a.m. Thanks for being sensitive to this. Since you see the woman looming  ahead of you, it would be a nice thing to do to cross the street before you're close enough so that she starts glancing behind her, clutching her purse.

If you don't need an extra high-chair, bouncy-seat, pack & play, or what not, at your house, why not tell your MIL that you want to keep some of the stuff at her house (assuming she lives in area) so that when you come to visit, you will have some baby stuff all set up

Great idea. Even if she doesn't live that close, you can tell her than not having to schlep all the equipment with you will make your visits so much easier (and more frequent!).

A friend of mine has, through no fault of her own, has some money problems. I could make these go away by loaning her some money. The amount she needs would be trifling to my bottom line. I am not being purely altruistic here. I have to have surgery in the near future and friend has offered to help me. Well, if she gets her phone cut off, or can't put gas in her car, how much help is she going to be? I told her, if it would make her feel better we would write it up like a formal loan with a repayment plan. What is the best way to make a friend take your money?

The perfect answer would be that you hire your friend to be your caretaker. It's awkward to want to force money on your broke friend so that she can then volunteer to nurse you back to health. Instead, tell her that her offer of help makes facing the surgery less daunting. Say it would mean a great deal to be able to rely on her to get your through your recovery, but since you otherwise would have to pay for such services, you insist that she be financially compensated for her time. Tell her that because you want to reserve it in advance, you'd like to give her an advance, so that she is in the financial position to clear her calendar.

We had the same battle. My view was that after we are married, all photos must involve both of us. However, before the wedding, each family got 30 minutes to get whatever photos they wanted done. After the wedding was my photos on my schedule. I got great photos with my family, my in laws chose to get great photos of their grandkids, family portraits, and a siblings photo. The photo in their house is their immediate family and my parents display the one of our new family. It was an easy compromise.

After the vows, if the photographer snapped a photo that didn't include you, did you take the camera and smash it like Sonny Corleone in The Godfather?  It's good everyone was able to complete their photo assignments in the 30 minutes allotted.

Prudie, it's terrible that you would advise this woman to leave her boyfriend because of his taste in pornography. Don't you know that there is not even a gap but an ABYSS between our real-life desires and our fantasies? I'm a female in her mid-thirties who enjoys a very normal, monogamous, vanilla sex life. But, for as long as I can remember, regular porn's never turned me on. What does it for me is weird stuff that I myself can't even believe turns me on: fat black lesbians, incest stories (not with children!) and even beastiality. None of these things would ever appeal to me in real life (YUCK!) and there's a good chance that's what's going on with her boyfriend too - please change your answer and let her know there's plenty of us out there who just have an active imagination but no desire to bring it into the real world...

I totally agree that indulging in one's private fantasies is great. I think a lot of sexually frustrated people would find their actual sexual encounters were more satisfying if they could  mentally access  the strange things that might arouse them. What's not great is looking at child porn. Although I think our laws on this are insanely draconian and do not distinguish between people who act and people who look, since the letter writer expressed concern for her nieces, I raised the possibility that she discovered her boyfriend was downloading child porn. It also could be that it's simply a fantasy indulgence for her boyfriend to log onto the "Meeting Shemales" site. But this needs to be clarified, because if he's actually meeting them, and more, then that's her business, too.

Dear Prudence,  My SIL and I are very close and share a lot with each other. Six months ago my husband and I decided to stop using birth control and "see what happens" for a year. I was excited to tell her and our other close friend that we were ready to start trying for a baby. Both of them became my cheerleaders, and although we're not actively trying yet, if I get my period my SIL takes me out on a date to treat me to sushi and wine as a "consolation" date. Having her support has meant so much to me, because each month that passes I do find myself disappointed and hoping that this time was THE time. Two months ago SIL was told that unfortunately, due to health issues, kids are not in her future. She and my BIL grieved for a few weeks, and I tried to be supportive of her. At first she was nervous to tell me because she said she was afraid it would bring me down. Now, she's trying to be positive and move on, but she keeps making comments about how even though she doesn't get to be a mother, she at least gets to be an aunt and that she plans to"steal my kids" for weekend trips then give them back totally spoiled.I'm not even pregnant yet, and she has designs on my kid! How can I tell her I understand she's still upset she can't have kids, but I'm not even pregnant yet and I feel like she's trying to"steal the show" (and the kid!) away from me? 

Support is one thing. Menstruation consolation dates is another. You and sister-in-law are way too intertwined and you must start creating some boundaries, especially as concerns your reproductive status. You sister-in-law has just received a grievous blow and she needs understanding and help. But someone who is actively seeking to get pregnant may not be the best person to give it. You should suggest that she find a support group for women dealing with infertility, Resolve is one, so that she can discuss all aspects of this with people who know more than you do. Then stop announcing your periods to her. You've got to step back and reestablish a more normal relationship, one that respects the privacy of the most intimate details of your life.

My boyfriend and I recently stayed with a friend (perhaps better described as an acquaintance) and her boyfriend, who recently moved into a new, pre-furnished apartment in a new town. We were there for a weekend, and we had a lovely time with them. The problem, however, is that we suspect that there may have been bed bugs in the guest room where we were staying --- when we stripped the bed before leaving, we noticed that the mattress was extremely old and dirty (we saw at least one non-bed bug insect crawling between the mattress and the box spring), and I have developed a few small red spots that may or may not be bug related. This couple just moved into their apartment, and as I said, it came fully furnished, so they presumably have no idea about this yet. I know for a fact that they plan on having other guests come to visit them in the coming weeks. Prudie, is it our ethical responsibility to make them aware of this situatio, or does it just make us seem like ungrateful and suspicious guests? How would you go about telling them? Bear in mind that these are not super close friends of ours, where it would be comparatively easy to say something. Thank you!

Yes, it's difficult to say, "Thank you so much for your hospitality, and by the way, your home is infested" but that's unpleasant news any host would want to know. You have explained the situation very well here sans hysterics, so just give them a call. Say you don't even have definitive evidence, but since many cities have found themselves plagued with this old scourge, you wanted to let them know it's possible they need an exterminator so that subsequent guests can sleep tight without worrying if the bedbugs will bite.

Dear Prudence, I am about to get married in a few months. Our families are very religious Orthodox Jews, and though we are not observant anymore, we have agreed to have a traditional ceremony to satisfy our families, despite my own reservations about some elements of the Orthodox ceremony. However, my fiance's sister is very, very religious, and I'm getting worried about boundaries! I found a band that I think is perfect - they are great musicians and really unique. However, the band has a female lead singer, and my fiance's sister told me that under Jewish law, her husband would feel uncomfortable attending, as a woman's singing is considered "too sensual." I'm a committed feminist (and I love to sing myself), and I'm beginning to feel burdened with having to totally rethink my special day in order to accommodate these considerations! How do I make everyone happy - without feeling railroaded at my own wedding? Signed, Siren Song

You have the wedding you want. If people don't want to come, you tell them you are sorry to miss them. There's a line between being gracous enough to respect the religious beliefs of others, and having to bend to an offensive level of gender apartheid. You simply don't have to get your choices approved by your entire mishpocheh. If the traditional wedding you have embarked on is not working for you, you find a rabbi who will have the kind of ceremony you want. You certainly don't need to have the band approved by your future in-laws. If the sound of the female voice offends your brother-in-law, then he's free to leave the party.

Dear Prudence, my husband of one year and I are in our late 20s and live near a popular city. Most of our family originates from another part of the country, and we have been getting visitors from his side. I get along with them fine, but I dread their visits. Any time someone visits, we end up being the family members who take them out and entertain. This would be ok, but we end up paying for everything. We never explicity say we'll pay, but they twiddle thumbs when it's time to pay. My husband thinks it's fine since it's family and we are hosts. Prudie, though we aren't exactly struggling to get by, we're trying to buy a home and start a family. These are adults who are financially stable and vacationing on us. We always give his parents gas and grocery money when we visit. Even his very capable sister once stayed with us six months room and board free. My family has been extremely generous with us. I don't expect the same from his family (who is equally well off) but at least not to take so much. I've tried to talk it out, but he doesn't think it's a big deal. Help!

If you husband didn't think it was a big deal that his sister moved in with you for six months, the problem is not just with your in-laws, but with your husband.  If your husband doesn't understand that running a hotel for his family, in which there are no check-out times and the bills are never paid, is an emotional and financial drain, then you've got issues.  You need to tell him you're going to unilaterally start making some rules about how long people can stay, and how much entertaining you're going to do while they're there. Stop playing active host, and instead give people a key, show them where the refrigerator is, and tell them to enjoy themselves -- you two are busy and just need to carry on with your normal lives. If your husband won't agree, then maybe hashing this out with a counselor for a few sessions will keep this from blowing up.

Thanks everyone. Have a great week.

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.

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