Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Dec 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 know ice storms wreck havoc and I hope everyone is safe. A small compensation is that ice covered trees are so beautiful.

I have never been a man who enjoys casual sex. It's always been more enjoyable to me when I'm with a woman with whom I have an emotional connection. For some time, I have been in love with my best friend Chelsea. Recently we went on a road trip for my birthday, and one thing led to another, and we spent a weekend in bed together. The sex was thrilling, amazing, and even better, we've decided to start dating. I know we've had sex, but until we're more serious, I'd like to stay out of bed. Chelsea has a high libido and I'm worried about offending her or weirding her out. It's stupid, but I feel like I'm emasculating myself. I feel ridiculous turning down sex with the woman I love, but this would make me more comfortable. How should I start this dialogue?

Obviously, you could tell Chelsea what you told me -- except I'm concerned what you told me doesn't make a lot of sense.  Chelsea isn't a woman you've met lately, you know her well enough to consider her your best friend. You like each other well enought to celebrate your birthday with a road trip together. I surely don't believe in pressuring people to have sex, but by mutual agreement you two decided to turn your friendship into a romance. You crossed the sex barrier and instead of waking up appalled, you delightedly smashed it again and again. So explaining to Chelsea you want to return to being platonic while you explore whether or not you love each other  is going to be very confusing.  It hardly seems you could know each other better. Your task is to figure out if you work as  romantic partners. In that case, continuing to take the plunge seems a requirement. If you tell Chelsea you want to stay out of bed, that will be sending the message that you're putting her back in the friend zone.  Rent "When Harry Met Sally." And when Harry gets to his big New Year's revelation about who he loves, I hope you two  celebrate your similar good fortune in bed.

Dear Prudence, I have an adorable nephew who is just learning how to talk, and his attempts at pronouncing names have resulted in the usual "baby words." His family (parents and grandparents) have proudly taken on those "words" as their new nicknames and use them when talking to him and to each other. Recently, my husband and I were informed of our nicknames and the family has begun using them almost exclusively in family conversations, when addressing us in written correspondence, etc. We would prefer that our nephew eventually learn our real names; however, no one is using our real names in front of him anymore and everyone seems thrilled about this new symbol of our collective bond. We only use our real names with him (and everyone else) but no one else seems to pick up on this. I can put up with a goofy nickname for a few months without feeling slightly irritated, but it seems like this is becoming a more permanent thing. Is it appropriate for us to tell everyone what we would like to be called, or should we just go with it and hope that our nephew will start correcting everyone at his high school graduation? - Formerly Known as Auntie

Here's an area just ripe for academic study: What make some silly childhood pronunciations of names stick forever, while others fall way. There are families in which grandma is always pronounced Beebah, because a now middle-aged person once mispronounced it that way and it has gotten passed on as a family legend.  I can understand that while it's darling to have your nephew call you Dante Doon instead of Auntie June, you do not want to be known at Dante to the rest of your family for the rest of your life.  But don't have a tantrum, instead just explain to everyone that you want the nickname to be used only by your nephew, since you know he will eventually get the hang of your real name. If they continue to call you Dante, you can with increasingly exasperated sighs say you need to be left out of this developing tradition. Then continue to refer to everyone else by their actual names, too. If they correct you, say, "I'm just too old to start calling you Beebo and Deedah." It sounds as if nephew may be your family's first entrant in the latest generation. Surely, when the next kid comes along, everyone is not going to adopt a whole new set of baby names.

I'm getting married in August 2014 in a small, private ceremony and having an intimate reception with about 50 people. My problem is what to do about my father. He and my mother split up three years ago because he was having an emotional and physical affair with a married coworker. I have not met this woman and have no desire to, especially whereas my mother is still so hurt by the affair and can't even bring herself to refer to my father by anything other than 'him' or 'he.' I don't see my father frequently. Maybe once every couple of months or so. Would it be acceptable to invite him to the small ceremony at city hall being attended by JUST family? Or do I have to invite him to the reception as well, where he'd likely have no one to talk to, and would upset my mother?

Usually the question I get on this theme is from the child who wants to include both parents, but the mother is demanding the father be struck from the guest list and saying if he's there, she won't be. Your situation is different in that you're going along with your mother's belief that your father's behavior puts him outside the circle of people who are included in normal social intercourse. Your father cheated on your mother. I am not offering a defense of him, nor do I know anything about your parents' marriage. You probably wouldn't want to know, but would it make a difference to you if your father explained that about 10 years ago your mother decided she was no longer interested in sex? I'm not saying that's what happened here, but it happens. Your father's behavior caused the painful break up of your parents' marriage. But he is not a pedophile or a murderer. He's a guy who had an affair and his marriage ended. Your mother may forever refer to your father as "he," but I don't see any reason for you to go along with this. Your mother lost a husband, but you didn't lose a father. However, you are on your way to virtually severing a relationship with him. You don't explain the reasons for your semi-estrangement. It could be that following the affair he decided to cut you off. If so, shame on him. I'm guessing you sided with your mother and have decided to have minimum contact with him. It could be you would find yourself punished by your mother if she know you were having a normal relationship with him. 

August is a long way away, and instead of worrying about the invitation list to your wedding, I think you should decide to have a more normal relationship with your father -- unless of course, he's the problem. You don't have to ask your mother's permission about this; you are engaged to be married, that means you're an adult. As far as the wedding is concerned, I don't see any reason you don't invite your father to the ceremony and reception. You need to start working now on letting your mother know that there are going to be events over the years that will require them to cordially be in the same room together.  And your wedding is a good place to start.

My husband and I are happy newlyweds but something has been putting a damper on our celebrating. People keep asking us if we are brother and sister. What's even weirder, is that these comments usually come AFTER we have told people that we are married. People seem to enjoy bringing it up and having a laugh over it, sometimes even mentioning it multiple times. In all honesty, we do look very similar.. tall and thin, similar color hair/cut. I know I'm not going to bed with my brother every night, but it's starting to kill the mood. Besides drastic plastic surgery (kidding), what are my options here?

You two need to adopt similar deadpan looks and reply, "No, we're not siblings," then change the subject. If the person brings it up again you can say, "Yes, you already mentioned that. We're still husband and wife, not brother and sister." After that, you can say, "Excuse me," while you walk away.  Of course, you don't have to do anything at all in response to this social faux pas. But as it is starting to kill the mood for you two, I promise you that if you grow your hair out and put on some make up, and one of you starts wearing glasses, you will drastically reduce these jokes.

I am about to go on a trip with my husband - our first one in years to mark our 10th wedding anniversary. I was telling a friend about how lucky we were to find excellent accomodation for cheap price online, which gave us two double bedrooms with a sea view. She must have interpreted this as an invitation, because she jumped in and said she was keen to join the trip with her husband, too. She recently lost her mother after a long illness and began talking excitedly about how she now had something to look forward to. I know I should have told her no on the spot, but I lost my nerve and made a noncommittal reply. Now she thinks she's welcome to come to our anniversary trip and stay with us. How do I tell her not to come?

"Rhonda, I might have left a misinterpretation about something that needs to be cleared up immediately before you incur any costs. The trip I mentioned was a romantic get-away for my husband and me -- alone. We don't want to be accompanied by anyone else. I'm sorry if you got the wrong idea about it, but I was just telling you about our trip, not inviting you." The worst that happens is that she gets so offended that it ruins your friendship. (Actually, the worst that happens is that she goes ahead and books the trip.) If someone is so obtuse that she doesn't understand what an anniversary get-away is, then she's not much of a friend.

I have been with my boyfriend for 4 years. We live together and things are currently going great. We are talking about marriage and future children. The problem is when we met I was single and extremely promiscuous. Mostly because of my low self esteem and need to feel loved. Unfortunaty I had a hard time going from that lifestyle to an exclusive relationship and I ended up cheating on my boyfriend with three of my "friends with benefits" within the first couple of months. It hasn't happened again and I completely cut off contact with all of my previous lovers. My question is, when my boyfriend proposes and I accept, should I tell him about my infidelity so our marriage isn't based on a lie, or is it acceptable to not tell him since it was four years ago and hasn't happened again?

I think you should consider those first couple of months a trial run for your real relationship. Your committed relationship began almost four years ago, after you cut off your previous lovers. Three plus years is plenty of time to prove to yourself that you've changed. There's no point in undermining your happy relationship now with revelations about behavior that's far in the past and hasn't been repeated.  Living with knowing what you almost lost should help keep you faithful. Accept the proposal equanimity and joy.

What is the etiquette for going to a wake or funeral of someone you knew but didn't especially like? I would like to go to my friend's mother's funeral just to show support for my friend, but I don't know if my presence is appropriate or welcome since I didn't especially get along with the person in the casket.

Fortunately a funeral is not like an episode of American Idol. The people in attendance do not voice their opinion of the life of the person in the casket. Tell your friend you are sorry for his or her loss and are planning on coming to the funeral. If your friend says, "I know you hated my mother, so please do not feel obligated to come," then you can make your decision. Otherwise, put on black, give your friend your condolences, and keep your opinions to yourself.

Hi Prudie, This makes my blood boil; I have a sister-in-law who has two children with my brother. The children are aged 10 and eight years old and have thus far received none of the childhood vaccinations made available to all children in our area. This is due to my sister-in-law's misguided belief that vaccination risks harm to children", preferring instead, to inadvertently rely on herd immunity and some cock-and-bull belief in "natural immunity". My ten-year-old niece suffered from chicken pox last year. While she has recovered from this illness, her sores became infected through incessant scratching, and now my niece has facial scars for life. My brother just won't weigh in on this one, preferring simply to keep the peace with his wife. This scenario makes me so mad on so many levels. How can a caring aunty (me), reinform her niece and nephew's understanding that vaccines in society are beneficial to individuals who are vaccinated against many common diseases, as well as supporting herd immunity philosophy, protecting prior who may be at risk from receiving a vaccination (such as immune suppressed, sick individuals)? Thanks - Angered and inflamed

I totally agree with you. The tragedy of the anti-vaccination movement is that it undermines the health of the entire society. Enough people have to be vaccinated for herd immunity to contain a disease so that even the unvaccinated can benefit. When that herd is thinned, diseases from the past start spreading. How tragic that your niece should bear lifetime scars for her mother's stupidity. You need to print out some articles, even give some books --  "Deadly Choices" and "The Panic Virus" are two good ones -- to your brother and urge him to educate himself about the danger he is putting his children in. Unvaccinated people are at great risk for contracting childhood illnesses later in life with devastating consequences. You could also ask how his children are allowed in school without the proper vaccines.  Don't hector, gently encourage him to see that keeping the peace with his wife over this issue is endangering the health of his kids.

Dear Prudence, My nephew passed away young and unexpectedly about a year ago. Shortly thereafter, my sister and BIL set up a Facebook memorial page for him, and at first it was extremely useful in getting information out regarding services, donations, and other logistics. Now, a year later, both my sister and BIL update the page daily with remembrances, photos, and solicitations from others to share. Throughout the course of time, people have been posting less and less. Even though I am on Facebook, I feel uncomfortable posting private memories and my own grief in a public forum. My children have also expressed that they feel pressure to post and share daily, but they don't know what to say. My sister has been sending a lot of text messages and even dropping in casual conversation about people who don't post on Facebook and how offended she is. I would like to tell my sister that we are all grieving in our own way. I am hesitant to bring this up directly, because she is obviously going through something very difficult. I would appreciate any advice from you or your readers on dealing with this issue.

You proceed gently. Grief is different for everyone, and you know your sister and brother-in-law will always be in mourning over their loss.  But you can have a conversation in which you say you know the Facebook page is therapeutic for them, but you want them to understand that not everyone is comfortable in such a forum and that you hope the memorial is something that can help them without them feeling as if others are neglecting them if they don't post. Then urge your sister and b-i-l to contact The Compassionate Friends. This is a wonderful, life-saving organization for parents who have lost children. Tell them that there they will find a community of people who truly understand what they are going through. And do remember on special days -- your nephew's birthday, Christmas, to write your sister a note, or post on the FB page, how much you miss this darling boy.

Not a question, just a comment: My in-laws were bitterly divorced when my DH was in grad school. When our first child was about to turn 1, we invited all the grandparents. When I asked my FIL if he was coming, he asked if MIL was coming, and proceeded to hem and haw... so I knew I had to nip it in the bud. I said to him, "look - 'Suzie' will be both of your granddaughter for the rest of your life. It would really be too bad if you skipped important milestones just because your ex might be there.' He came, and our daughter is now 20 and he's rarely missed a milestone. You just have to grow a backbone, or you'll be dealing with this issue as long as your parents are still alive.

Exactly. Good for you for telling the older generation to grow up and not punish the next generation because of their own unhappiness.

Dear Prudence My son is in the 3rd grade, last week they had a substitute teacher. My son comes home to tell me a girl in the class asked the teacher if Santa was real (keep in mind these are eight and nine yearr olds) and she said no! am I wrong to thinks she should have deflected this question to the child's parents? My son was sad to think that Santa might not be real. Should this be brought up with the school or will I then be overstepping? As far as my son goes, we cleared up that Santa is real if you believe, and he now understands not everyone believes, it worked out ok with us, but there were 15 other kids subjected to that same answer from an adult. Mommy who believes

I'm going to guess this substitute's name is Miss Viola Swamp. This is a substitute who really doesn't have a feel for 3rd graders if she doesn't know how to gracefully not answer that question.  But the news about Santa was not being to be able to be kept under wraps forever. You know you're at the outer limit of kids fervently believing he's real. You handled this beautifully for you son. If you want to talk to the school it should be in the spirit of informing them that this happened, not as a demand that Miss Swamp never be allowed in the school again.

After too many of these questions, I would probably just answer "yes" very dryly and move the conversation to another topic, just to see the reactions.

Agreed. They could also add that at this time of year it's a great benefit to only have one set of parents they have to visit.

Hi Prudie, My girlfriend and I are getting married. She wants to have a father/daughter dance and I really don't want to. I don't mind if she dances with her father, but my feelings towards my father are rather complicated and I'd rather just skip the whole tradition, though my father will attend the wedding. I feel very awkward about this because if she dances and I skip, it WILL be noticed. I brought this up with her but I believe she feels like I'm pressuring her to skip the tradition for my sake, which is understandable from her point of view. I definitely don't want her to sacrifice her happiness just to make an awkward situation less awkward. I'm at a loss. Advice? Thanks.

Since you don't want to do it, she shouldn't force you to nor should you force her not to. When the dances start you two should get out on the floor for the first dance. Then have the m.c. open up the floor, and at that point, your girlfriend and her father should have the next dance. You can sit it out or dance with whomever you like.

What is the best way to deal with an ex-girlfriend that has resurfaced after over eight years of no contact? She was the girl immediately before me in the lineup. They lived together and their breakup was a bad one. She recently got in contact with him, through multiple phone calls and facebook messages, after his business card was given to her by a co-worker in a professional capacity. Her messages have been emotionally charged and she has requested that they try rekindling their "friendship". My husband's replies have been polite and dismissive, and he hasn't responded at all to the latest one in which she asked for his friendship and bared her soul about how much she loved him. What is the right way to address the situation without making things awkward? They work in the same industry and will likely run in the same professional circles because their places of business are only two miles apart. -I'm Dreaming of an Ex-Free X-mas

This is for your husband to handle, politely and decisively. He needs to say something like, "Danielle, I wish you the best but we are not going to be friends. The recent communication has been awkward and it needs to cease now."  Then if it doesn't, he needs to block her. She sounds rather unbalanced, so let's hope she just goes away. But if she escalates, he can get a lawyer to send her a cease and desist letter.  If he runs into her a polite but curt acknowledgement is all that's necessary.  You should not let this get to you. Obviously your husband wants nothing to do with her.

I have noticed a little bit of a double standard when it comes to men versus women cheating. I'm pretty certain that you would NOT have given a man a pass if he had admitted to cheating on his current girlfriend, not one but THREE times. What gives?

Nope. If the situation were reversed I would have said the same thing. I have written often that I believe in honesty, but there are some things that are just best lived with and not revealed. A contained infidelity that is regretted and not repeated (okay, let's put the three times under a collective umbrella) is one of those things. Coming clean as a way of seeking absolution can end up causing unnecessary pain and havoc for the innocent partner.

I recently discovered a good friend of mine is a compulsive liar. She has lied to me and our other friends about having a job, where she went to school, various tragedies that have happened to her (her dead mom is very much alive), and why she needs to borrow money (not from me, from others). This friend is charming and gregarious which is why I think so many of my friends and I ignored the warning signs. Now that I know, am I obligated to tell anyone? Right now I want to ease out of our friendship, but I know she and others will wonder why. What if anything do I tell them?

You can tell everyone the truth. To Lisa you can say, "I care about you, but you need help. You told me your mother had died, but Lisa, I learned she's alive. And that's not the only example. I just can't trust what you say, and trust is crucial to a friendship." If the others ask you can say,  "Unfortunately, I found out that Lisa told me many things that weren't true. I'm concerned about her." Surely, everyone would start discovering this in due time.

I have a 14 years old son and my fiance has a 12 year old son. We frequently argue over whether or not they need to include each other in activities with friends. We both feel that if it is an event that we host in our own home, they should include each other (for the most part) to avoid hurt feelings. However, he also expects that if my son is invited to his own friend's house that his son should be included. For countless reasons, I think it is rude to demand or even request that these other families should include his son. My son already works very hard to be considerate of his future step brother's feelings and doesn't begrudge letting him hang out with him and his friends. But shouldn't he be allowed to have his own time away and his own friends sometimes? Should siblings (step or not) be required to do everything together?

Please put off getting married until you get some counseling. You two are so far off the same page about your kids that you're going to start your marriage by getting into endless conflicts. No, siblings, step or not, are not required to include younger or older siblings when they're playing with their friends in their own home, and especially not when they are going to the home of another friend. That doesn't mean the (step)sibling gets excluded at home. It's lovely if the kids spontaneously start playing together, and at the least they should all share a snack, or if they're watching a movie, everyone is invited. But kids are also entitled to hang out in their rooms, take a walk, etc. with only their friend. Forcing togetherness on new stepsiblings is only going to drive them apart. 

Thanks everyone. Stay safe, more snow and ice ahead!

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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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