Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Nov 25, 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 dated my wife for three years before we married. We were both in our 30s and had had all of the important discussions before we decided to marry (kids, religion, etc.). At the time, she told me she was agnostic, and not really into "the whole religion thing". Now, less than six months into our marriage, she tells me she's joined a church and expects me to join her for Sunday services. It's only now that I learn that she has extremely right-wing, religious views. After talking with some of her friends, they couldn't believe I didn't know this about her. I asked them why they wouldn't have mentioned this when they found out we weren't having a church wedding and they told me that was probably done for my benefit. Now, instead of us not wanting any kids, she wants at least five and maybe more. Instead of no religion, she wants strict adherence to her religion. I feel I've been duped and that she's lied to me about herself. Is there any way out of this short of divorce?

This sounds like the idea for a follow-up to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, because you've got a wife who rivals Flynn's in the unreliable narrator department. In your case either you wife is completely crazy or you've decided to concoct a crazy letter.  I hate to think I'm being duped, but if this is an accurate rendering of the first months of your marriage, I don't understand why you're writing to me on how to avoid divorce. Your question should be something along the lines of whether you should go directly to a lawyer or trying making a stab at therapy first.  I get a lot of letters about couples with differing religious views. Almost always if there is deception, it's on the part of the person who is having doubts about their faith but who doesn't want to upset the believers around them.  I haven't heard of the devout  who want to keep that under wraps in hopes of snagging an atheist to convert. Marriages can be annuled when entered into fraudulently -- I think you've got better grounds for this than did Henry VIII.

I've been a single father for the last seven years. All this time I've raised my daughter and her mom moved away and never paid child support. Last year, I finally sued to get child support. My ex-wife claimed she was broke and this month started paying only minimum wage child support. This Christmas she will fly into town to see our daughter. She'll in in town a week. She informed me that she'd be staying with MY mother and using my mom's car! I called my mother and she says that she just can't say no. I'm pretty peeved because my mother knows how hard it's been for me before and during the child support case. She told me if it upsets me, she would tell my ex no. But I feel like I'm in a no-win situation. My daughter's excited to see her mom. And my mom says if I'm unhappy then I need to tell my ex-wife she can't stay with her. I feel betrayed, especially since my mom doesn't even like my ex-wife! Should I just suck it up for the holidays or risk my ex-wife telling our daughter how I won't let her visit for Christmas.

I agree that your mother should have discussed this with you before opening her home to her prodigal former daughter-in-law. But far more important than where your troubled ex stays, is what happens when she sees your little girl. This is going to be a very emotionally volatile Christmas for her, and you need to prepare her, and yourself, for the roiling emotions that follow. Please talk to the school counselor about this and get some suggestions for a professional you and your daughter can talk to to guide your through this reunion.  Privately with the therapist you can air your frustration with your mother. If this represents a long-standing pattern with her, you need to be able to address it. If it is more of a singular event, you need to make clear that what hurt you is the subterfuge. But you can also say you understand your mother feeling torn about wanting to make it possible for your daughter to see her mother.  It doesn't sound as if your mother is trying to undercut you -- she doesn't even like your ex -- but she probably felt torn and pressured and ended up not being forthright with you.  Your mother handled this poorly, but don't let your anger at her deflect you from the central task of helping your daughter deal with a mother who abandoned her and likely will continue to do so.

Dear Prudence, I am a senior female associate at a small law firm in a major city. I try to act as a mentor to the more junior female attorneys when possible, but I am at a loss as to how to deal with one particular issue. One of the younger female associates has an unfortunate habit of dressing a little too risque for the office, often wearing very body-conscious dresses and too-short skirts. I don't think it is by design, as she is otherwise quite reserved. Many people at the office have taken notice that her outfits are inappropriate, including several of our male superiors who have commented to me that her clothing choices are out of line. The way she looks certainly makes her seem less than professional, and I feel like I owe it to her to say something, but I have no idea how to address the issue without completely mortifying her. Do you have any suggestions?

I get the impression your male bosses are mentioning this to you as a way of saying, "Melissa, take care of this for us, none of us want to talk to Kate about her clothes." You need to clarify with them whether this impression is correct. If it it, the word would be better coming from a female partner -- if there is one. Or if your company has an HR person, this is something that office can handle. But if they want you to do it, you should ask that the company draw up a dress code for men and women so that associates can know what's expected.  So if you have the "What Not To Wear" talk with Kate, get out of your head that this is horribly embarrassing and will mortify her. You are doing her a favor by letting her know what the culture of your office is and that she will advance further if she doesn't distract from her good work with clothes not appropriate to your firm. Keep it direct and professional, and even if it's somewhat awkward, Kate should be grateful.

Though you haven't heard of it, there are some fundamentalist churches that encourage dating and marrying non-believers and trying to convert them. It's called "missionary dating" and it's a real thing. Sounds like this guy was a victim of that.

I know about the missionary position, but missionary dating this is a new one for me. Thanks for the enlightenment about a malicous and un-Christian practice. It sounds like ample grounds for withdrawing from a marriage.

Dear Prudence, I am a 23 year old female. Since the day my friend introduced me to her current boyfriend, I have been totally and completely in love with him. They have been together for about two years now and my feelings are still very strong. I have told myself over and over that I need to stop and move on but I can't let it go. I am constantly comparing every guy I meet to him and they don't come close. He and I share more interests than he and his girlfriend do so we get along really well. But what makes it really difficult is the fact that I cant get away from it since he is dating my friend and we see each other often. I feel like I need to tell him how I feel but I don't want to risk losing my friend over it. Any advice?

As Cher famously said to Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck (accompanied by a slap to the face), "Snap out of it."  Sorry, honey, you don't fall "totally and completely in love" at first introduction. You may have been wildly attracted to this guy, but since then you have concocted a self-indulgent fantasy life around coveting the boyfriend of your friend. You don't tell him, you just stop hanging around them. If you have to put a damper on the friendship because you can't control your emotions, so be it. Since you have been unable to conduct a love life of your own because your friend is involved with the man of your dreams, you should talk to a therapist about getting unstuck.

I wanted to ask a no nonsense women about that age old question that all men have. "Does size really matter?" I have asked this question to my wife several times, and her answer every time is "you're fine". I'm just over six inches. The only problem is that the inflection in her voice tells me different. She is constently reading romance novels and I can't help but think that she secretly wishes "for more".

I'm going to guess that your wife is not reading romance novels for the descriptions of gigantic members, but for the confidence with which the heroes wield them. Imagine how you would feel if your wife was constantly asking you for reassurance that her breast were big enough and her thighs thin enough. I think you would feel she'd be a lot sexier if she thought of herself as being sexy. The romance novels may be fulfilling your wife's longing for someone who is more assertive in bed. So read a couple of the books and try taking a page from them. I think you will note, none of the main characters bring out a ruler and whines, "See, I'm definitely bigger than average!"

Prudie, One of my childhood friends is expecting her first baby right before Christmas. I am very excited for her. I live in another state, a few hours' drive from her. However, I have my future in-laws coming to visit for the holidays for the very first time, which I am also very excited to host (they live across the country; and we only get to see them once a year). I mentioned to my friend that I am not sure if I can make it to see her until after the holidays (and after the baby's born) due to the upcoming in-law visit, and she seemed upset and expectant that I am there right when the baby is born. Prudie, I do work full-time and live a few hours away in another state, and my friends and family from back home seem to forget this quite a bit. Both are important events to me, but what is the proper etiquette here?

The holidays will end and the in-laws will leave. But the baby is a permanent addition to your friend's life, and in general it's more helpful to come after the baby is born and run some errands, fill the freezer, and admire the new addition.  You didn't  say your friend has no partner or family to support her.  If you friend lacks support, she's going to need more than having you around for a few days leading up to the birth. But let's assume she's not on her own, she would just like you around. If you had promised to visit but have to cancel because of the in-laws, you should apologize profusely, but your friend should understand that a once-yearly visit from the in-laws is a command performance. So get on the phone with your friend, hear out her worries and concerns -- she probably mostly needs a supportive sounding board. Then tell her your schedule, pick some dates, and get your visit on the calendar.

I get what you're saying here, but it may not actually be the best quote to use for this LW, since in the end of the movie Cher & Nic get engaged after falling in love almost at first sight! ;)

Ha, great point! You're right, under no circumstances should the letter writer see Moonstruck. She should just definitely snap out of it.

I can see why this rankles, but really, it's the best case scenario! I presume that Grandma's is a safe place for this child. If/when mom suggests a sleepover, then at least you know they'll be under Grandma's roof (and supervision). Your mom is doing you a favor here, so reframe the issue.

Nicely put.  The mother should have had the wherewithal to tell  her son that the ex asked to stay and why she thought this would be a good solution for everyone. But you've laid it out beautifully and the son should let this go and focus on his daughter's emotional health.

If the husband does decide to leave, there may be resistance from his wife. They may be glad to know there's a Biblical basis for this in 1 Corinthians 7. "If the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband?"

Maybe he can just pack up his stuff and leave this as a note on her pillow!

Dear Prudie, My husband's e-addiction is taking a toll on our otherwise happy marriage . He has a demanding job and even when off the clock , must respond to a near constant stream of emails and texts. The problem has multipled over the past few months as he's started playing a few different online games. He can't ever focus on just me and our kids. At mealtimes, in bed, while coloring with our toddler, or waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store, he must have one of his devices in hand to work or play his games. It makes me both sad for him and mad at him that he can't simply be happy being with our family. Prudie , is there a way to get my husband to break up with his e-mistresses?

This is part of the problem with the work day never ending. Not only does it intrude into one's family life, there is something utterly seductive about being alerted  that a tiny bit of potentially rewarding information is coming your way.  Your husband is hooked and it's going to be hard to get him to focus on your family. He can reply his job demands he be connected and he can point out that everyone around him is staring at their phones. (Why real people are not as interesting as disembodied messages is a separate question.) You must talk to him, so first ask him to turn off his phone and leave it in the other room. Without sounding put-upon or rancorous, tell him that a  toll is being taken on your family and the quality of his relationship with his children because he's constantly living virtually. Say your family need some basic rules on electronics. One should be that none are allowed at the dining table, because that's just good manners your children need to learn. Another is making some places phone-free. Bed, for example. No matter how demanding your husband's job, he's entitled to some time off the clock so he can get to know his wife and children. If he gets too agitated being away from his phone to even have this conversation, say there's another place you'd like him to go with you where phones aren't allowed: a marriage counselor.

Oh, goodness, put that idea right away. Your wife married you, right? Which means she married all of you, having found that you "measured up" to whatever her standards were. And take it from someone with a wide "range" of experience: size, except in extreme circumstances, is completely irrelevant.

Agreed. He should stop bugging her for reassurance that he's big enough and start showing her he knows what to do with what he's got.

So I am 25 and have struggled with completing school (the first few years of college I just kept failing out semester after semester due to lack of drive). The last two years I have dedicated to getting my Associates Degree before transfering to a four year to finish my degree. My younger sister is not only graduating this December from nursing school, but also has managed to graduate earlier than her peers and has a full-time job already lined up. My question to you is how do I deal with family members and their comments about why my younger sister (21) is graduating ahead of me? My dad has already made a few snide remarks about how at least someone is graduating college and early to boot. I still live at home, but pay for everything by myself (as does my sister). I am truly happy to be there for her graduaton and party, but it's giving me anxiety and I am thinking of planning a trip out of town for the graduation ceremony and party. Please help me figure out how to graciously deal with inquisitons about my younger sister. Thanks.

You are getting yourself on track, so continue to build on your success. I'm wondering if you may have some underlying learning or concentration issues. Please consider getting an evaluation and seeing f there are problems that have been making school work hard for you.  Don't leave town.  You will be a role model for others if you can join in the celebration of your younger sister. Practice making a toast to her celebrating her dedication to her career and saying how lucky the patients she treats will be. If you can carry off being proud of her, that will defuse a lot of your anxiety about the judgment of others. If they ask what you're up to, inform them that you're happily moving toward getting your B.A.  You want to have a separate conversation with your father and tell him it's true you've had more of a struggle than your sister, but his making comparisons only makes you feel bad and you'd appreciate it if he wouldn't. But do check into the counseling offices at your school and see if there's something you can address to make your path easier.

I have a bit of a problem coming up with Thanksgiving. I have a elderly aunt diagnosed with Alzheimer's who will likely not be able to stay in her home for much longer. My father has had to move in with her for the time being while we sort out the various legal issues since she has no one to rely on and is not capable of properly caring for herself. My family is holding up as well as can be expected and we're planning on having a dinner at her house so that she can have a nice Thanksgiving at home while she still can. My family of four and a family friend are currently the only ones coming. The issue we have is she has been saying that she's invited everyone in the family! We know that's not true because there are family members that literally can't come (some that are deceased). But how do we break it to our beloved aunt when these people don't show up? We're fairly new to this and this is our first Thanksgiving dealing with her illness.

You answer her honestly and compassionately. "Aunt Sadie, Grandpa Bill died five years ago." "I miss cousin Louise, too, but she couldn't come from California. I think she will visit in January." Accept that you may to say some things repeatedly. Change the subject and point out that you made her favorite stuffing, or that there are two kinds of pie for dessert. Be patient and kind. Take a look at the advice for dealing with loved one's with this terrible disease at the Alzheimer's Association website.

What do you think of declaring Hanukkah a "no gifts" holiday? We are attempting to figure out our family traditions (due to a new baby) and see it as a time to do special things with family and for others but would rather avoid consumerism. Are you terrible for denying grandparents the opportunity to give gifts to their grandchild?

You don't have to worry about turning your baby into a gift-grubbing consumer on his or her first Hanukkah. Instead of making any declarations, see what the grandparents do. If it's one nice gift, or eight token ones, then good. If you're inundated with an over-the-top celebration, after it's done you can say you appreciate their generosity, and know how excited they are to have a grandchild to buy stuff for, but because the holiday runs for eight days, in the future you want to do something more scaled back. And remember, if the grandparents insist on going over the top, you can always donate their largesse to families in need.

Excellent advice. My daughters are similar in that my oldest took 5 years to graduate from college with a degree in History, but it took her two years to see if there was a problem...diagnosed with ADA at 19. Medication helped her tremendously. My younger daughter is graduating from high school this year...gifted program AP courses, and a future in the sciences. I never compare them...they are individuals. It's important the older child get tested. Even if theres not an official diagnosis, they can help with time management, etc. LW, please continue on your path and don't let anyone tell you you don't measure up. You're doing great!!

Thanks from a parent whose been there and knows how destructive it is to compare children. That's great that your older daughter got diagnosed. It's never too late to address underlying problems or get help creating new patterns.

Thanks, everyone. Have a great Thanksgiving! Talk to you next week.

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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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