Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Jan 06, 2014

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.

Happy New Year! And so far I've remembered to write 2014 on all my checks.

Dear Prudence, A few months ago, I discovered I was pregnant. I'm only 20 and my husband is as well, we lived with his parents at the time. They were adamant that we shouldn't abort the fetus. We were sure we didn't want to be parents, after all that's why we had been using birth control! We decided on adoption, but his family would not accept that option and began to blame me for "making my husband reject his child". We've been pretending we're keeping the baby to keep the peace and moved out of state to get away from everything. We've continued with the adoption in secret and found an amazing family. The baby is due soon and my husband insists on telling his parents that the baby was a still born or died during delivery. I'm not sure what the right thing to do is. I know his family will interfere with the adoption, guilt my husband and possible make things difficult for the adoptive family, but saying the baby died seems so harsh. To add some context: his family is also Hispanic and babies and family is very important to them along with their religion. He's afraid they'll disown him or he'll break his mother's heart since she's had four miscarriages and was really attached to the thought of her son being a father. What should we do?

You are two adults and young though you may be, you have made a very considered decision about where you are in life, your capabilities, and what is best for your child. That you have to move out of state says just how oppressive is the pressure your husband's family is putting on you. It is one thing to talk to the potential grandparents about your situation, tell them your thoughts, and listen to advice and counsel. It is another to feel hounded and shamed. I am against hiding the existence of a person. That means married men who father children don't keep them a secret. That means people who have placed a baby for adoption should tell their future spouses and their subsequent children about the child.  And that means you don't pretend a healthy baby died. I don't think that lie will hold, and in the long run will likely make things worse. You are working with an adoption group and they should have social workers and other trained counselors to help you through this process. You should tell them what's going on so that you can figure out strategies to deal with your in-laws now and particularly after the baby is born. Here's a list of support groups that help birth mothers -- you need to check out which ones might be most appropriate for helping you.  It's fair to acknowledge your decision will bring pain to the grandparents, what's not fair is that they won't back off.

Hi Prudie, My best friend and I had been close since college. I outlasted girlfriends and even other friends in his life. Some of his girlfriends didn't like me, so I was really happy when he married someone who seemed like she was just my kind of girl. My now-fiance and I stayed close to them over the years, although I noticed that my friend's wife was a perfect polite hostess but much cooler to me. About a month ago, my friend suddenly became sick and died. His wife never let me know. She had called his other friends but didn't call me or my fiance. We would have missed the funeral if a family member had not told me when it was. We flew in for the service and found we were excluded from the graveside service and gathering afterward. I was told, "Family and close friends only, dear" by an older lady I can only guess was his wife's relative. I had to watch all of our other friends troop off to be together and my fiance and I went back to our hotel. I'm so hurt. I don't understand what I did. What's worse is that none of the guys except my fiance seem to get why I am hurt at being shut out. If his wife had a problem with me, shouldn't she have talked to me instead of punishing me at a time like this? What should I say to her? Grieving Alone

You have lost a a dear friend and his wife has suddenly become a young widow.  It's a gut-wrenching situation all around. How sad that in the midst of your friend's illness and sudden death, your friend's wife instead of being magnanimous about all the people in his life who he loved, took this opportunity to exclude you.  She sounds threatened that her husband had a female friend, despite the fact that you had your own boyfriend. Now he is gone and his widow must deal with her loss and rebuild her life.  As rightfully hurt as you are, as much loss as you feel, recognize that her life has changed in profound ways. It is too late now for you to have the conversation with her that you might have had when he was alive about your friendship with her husband. She wanted out, and now he's gone.  There is nothing to say to her. But why don't you organize your own casual memorial service -- maybe a dinner at your house -- at which those of you closest to your friend share your memories, your tears, and raise a glass to a wonderful, too short life.

Dear Prudence, I''ve beenwith my boyfriend for nearly five years now, and I love him dearly. Here's the problem: I'm an aspiring closet novelist, and I've been working on a book for about a year now. I've asked him to read what I have so far, but he refuses. He says he's not a reader, and what I'm writing about (a family drama) doesn't interest him. He compares it to his love of cars and my refusal to drive fast with him; he says this is unsupportive of me and hurts his feelings, and basically, why should he have to spend 5+ hours reading an unfinished manuscript if I can't drive with him? Prudie, I get motion sickness if I walk too quickly down a hill. I can't help that. He always comes up with an excuse not to read what I've written, and whenever he does mention it, he calls it a 'romance novel' (it's not). I can't help a bitter part of myself from thinking that he might suddenly get a lot more interested in my novel if I ever make it big, but if that ever happens, I'm not so sure how excited I'll be to share whatever success I have with him. Am I being demanding and unreasonable, or is it normal to want the feedback of a man I love and also know to be intelligent enough to struggle though one measly book? Best wishes for the new year. -Aspiring Writer

So we have a man who is hurt that his girlfriend won't puke in his car while he's driving fast, and a woman who resents that her boyfriend won't try to prop his eyes open as he attempts to turn the page of her family saga. I think you could at least get a short story out of this. I once read that Joyce Carol Oates said that her late, beloved husband never read her work and that that was one of the secrets of their happy married. This was probably a sanity-saving decision on his part, since Oates writes a novel a week. Consider that you insist on getting the opinion of your novel from someone hates to read. Hearing, "The parts I got through weren't as bad as I expected," is not going to thrill you. If you're already planning how you're going to lord over him the bounty of the sales receipts heading your way, then maybe you do have the kind of imagination required of a novelist. If you want someone to read your work, join a writer's group and engage in mutual feedback. Give your manuscript to a friend who you know devours novels. Accept that you and your boyfriend are one of those couples who have intense interests that you don't share with each other. Or look for partners more mutually inclined.

Since his family is very religious, have the minister/priest help the family understand this is best for the baby.

Good advice -- as long as the clergy member is totally on board with the decision.

Don't divulge the names of the adoptive parents. Your husband's parents shouldn't have access to them. Ask for help to make sure they're protected.

Also good advice. Thanks.

A couple months ago, I met a man in a bar who was visiting my city for the night. When I asked him about his relationship status, he said that he was currently single, but that he "was engaged once." After some more talking and flirting, we went back to his hotel room, engaged in (safe) mutual oral sex, and spent the night cuddling. The next morning, we exchanged numbers. He said he'd like to see me the next time he was in town. Later, a Google search confirmed everything he told me: his first and last names, where he lives, his job (he's a doctor), etc. Then I stubbled upon his engagement announcement. I had been published just one month prior to when we met! When I confronted him about this via text message, he said that he and his fiancee were "on a break"--which is quite different from being "engaged once." This made me angry and physically ill, and I told him not to contact me again. I assume that he wasn't on a break at all, and that he used me to cheat on her while he was out of town. Now I'm wondering if I should contact his fiancee and let her know what happened. According to the announcement, their wedding is scheduled for February. If I were in her shoes, I would want to know about this before tying the knot. What do you think I should do?

I think a woman would be interested in knowing that her fiance considers himself single any time he looks around the room and realizes she's not there. This guy lied to you, cheated with you, and wanted to do it again. I think you're more than entitled to contact his fiancee by way of an apology. You could say to her you never move in on other people's boyfriends, so you were extremely distressed the learn the man who picked you up in a bar and took you back to his room for sex was planning on getting married. And please consider that going to a stranger's hotel room for sex can end up with you have more than just your feelings hurt.

I'm a published novelist. My spouse reads my books once they are in print, never before. Not sure our marriage would have survived otherwise. If the budding writer need a reader, she should find a critique group.

Thank you J.K. Rowling for weighing in!  For some writers their spouse is their most important editor. For others, having the spouse stay away from the manuscript is essential to preserving the marriage. But no one benefits from a reluctant reader.

My husband comes from a culture where hospitality is a deeply ingrained value. As a result we've frequently hosted relatives, friends, friends of friends, and even strangers from his home country. Some of them have even stayed for months at a time, and it is unthinkable to ask for money. The issue is that I am getting tired of endlessly hosting. I want privacy and quiet in my own home, and we've had some bad experiences with house guests in the past. My husband insists he will get a permanently bad reputation if we turn away guests, and since we've been saying yes, it will be even more insulting to start saying no. I want to be culturally sensitive since this is something that is very important to him, but this is driving me insane.

Oh, bring on the bad reputation. It's going to be the only way to save your sanity. Whatever the culture of his country, you're not in it, and you've got your own culture ("Get out of my house!") to preserve. I sometimes think that one of the great engines of migration is people fleeing from societies with too much hospitality. Being on permanent hostess duty sounds like hell.  Particularly since you married someone who has many family members, friends, and acquaintances apparently without jobs or homes who feel free to crash at your place for months (!) at a time. Tell him that this is a new year with new rules. Visits have to be approved in advance and lengths of stays will be severely curtailed. Explain that most of the time, your house will be free of guests. Tell him if it's not, it will be free of you.

Ten years ago, I was engaged and planned a wedding, but we called it off at the last minute. At the time, my fiance and I wanted to have a simple engagement and ceremony with very little traditional pomp. Under pressure from family and friends, we eventually caved and accepted engagement parties, registries, showers, etc. While some of it was fun, I regret not standing up to my family more. I'm now engaged again, and I personally would like to take this opportunity to have the simple engagement and wedding I always wanted. My fiance, however, has never been engaged before. While obviously we've discussed some of our expectations, I'm worried that my position comes off as insensitive: I want to avoid all of the things I've already done. How do I make my stance clear to my fiance and our families without seeming like a hypocrite?

If this were a coronation it would be hard to say, "I hate all this pomp and ceremony. Please just FedEx the crown to me." How you do your wedding, is up to the two of you. This is probably the biggest joint enterprise you and your fiance have undertaken to date, so that makes it a good way for you two to negotiate your preferences and learn to compromise. You don't even say that your fiance has explained he wants to max out the celebration.  If you're old enough to have broken off an engagement 10 years ago, then you certainly should have sufficient life skills to be able to make your desires known to your nearest and dearest with both sensitivity and certainty.

Dear Prudence, My roommate and dear friend "Mary" met her boyfriend on an online dating site (Match) in August. The two have become serious quickly, and seem to be happy together. We are in graduate school and as we enter our final semester I can see that she is starting to change her post-graduation plans in order to stay near him. This wouldn't concern me as much if it were not for the fact that another friend of ours who is on, has noticed that Mary's boyfriend always pops up in her Match feed as "active within 24 hours". We are concerned that he may still be casually dating while she is changing her life plans to be with him. Our problem is that we can't be sure, and we don't know if we should tell Mary or not. If we tell her, how do we do it without causing a lot of problems? We love our friend and just want her to be happy, can you help?

Your friend who's on Match herself should say to Mary, "Hey, did you and Darren split?  Because his profile keeps popping up in my feed as currently active."

Dear Prudie, My mother in law was hospitalized a few weeks ago following a major heart episode. While her heart condition is potentially life-threatening, the doctors say her prognosis is very good, though she will remain hospitalized for quite some time. Since she was admitted, my husband, who is underemployed, has spent large chunks of time by her bedside every day. We're talking anywhere between three and seven hours every day. Meanwhile, I continue to try to run our household and care for our two small children. I've tried gently pointing out that his mother's outlook is good and that the kids really miss their dad when he's gone every evening and suggesting that he limit the hours spent at the hospital. He just calls me insensitive and callous for keeping him from his family while his mother is ill. Am I being an unfeeling jerk, Prudie, or am I right to insist that I and the kids need him too?

Your mother-in-law is very sick, so you're not going to win this battle by insisting that this illness probably won't kill her. But it also sounds like hanging out at the hospital is a convenient escape for your husband from family life.  Sitting by his mother's bedside (and maybe commandeering the TV remote during football season) also may make him feel useful since you indicate your husband's work life unrewarding. If there are other family members around, perhaps it's time to set up a more reasonable schedule so they can spell each other. It's also the rare patient who is up for having someone in the room for hours on end. But it sounds as if the problems in your marriage run deeper than just your mother-in-law's illness.  At the least, you two need to figure out how to acknowledge you've backed in other in a corner over this and more considerately and gently reopen the conversation.

I was Mary once... please, please tell her! I was so grateful when a friend of mine from high school messaged me "Hey, I believe your boyfriend is still active on Match. He just sent me an email trying to meet up and the picture on his profile is one you posted on Facebook. I just wanted to make sure you knew"

Painful as it is, oh how much better it is to know.

Surely the lady who had the one night fling with the doctor realizes that the nature of this encounter is ripe for subterfuge and lies. She willingly participated in behavior without any type of commitment from him (and before she took the time to Google him). To suggest she contact the fiancee is cruel and unnecessary and her credibility would be suspect. Based on your way of apology she is supposed to tell the fiance she would never move in on other's boyfriends yet she knew him for mere hours so how would she be giving assurances that she makes certain they are unattached?

I agree that given we're in the smartphone era, a quick trip to the ladies room to Google the particulars of the stranger you plan to bed is a good idea. However, I don't quite understand your assertion that in the absence of such due diligence, it's cruel to let a woman about to marry a man know that he is a person who has sex with strangers he meets in bars. It's true that not everyone is like the correspondent above who was grateful to be alerted to her beloved's perfidy. But I think the fiancee should be given the opportunity to decide what her reaction is to the deceit of her intended.

I have some old pictures of girlfriends that have been buried at the bottom of a box for the past 18 years. My wife continues to nag me that I should take them out and burn them. It's not like I look at them daily (as they have been at the bottom of a box for 18 years). I feel that just because my life began with her 18 years ago that does not mean that I should not have anything of my life prior to that. I don't think that is unreasonable but what is your take?

Everyone is entitled to their private box of memorabilia. It's none of your wife's business that an excavation of yours would reveal a photo cache of your exes.  I hope your wife has some redeeming qualities, because it sounds as if for two decades she's been holding a lighted match ready to make a conflagration of your past. You need to tell her the conversation about this is over -- 18 years of nagging is enough. She's the only one obsessed with the contents of the box, but you don't have to destroy it to assuage unreasonable jealousy.

I was out with a group of friends one evening. One of my friends had met a great guy through and she convinced me to pull up my profile, maybe to give me pointers. I said, "Oh, this guy emailed me AGAIN. He keeps asking me out even though I said I wasn't interested." So of course she has to read his profile, and guess who it was: the guy she'd been dating for a few months. We had a big laugh over that one, I can tell you. You had to feel sorry for the poor schmuck; what are the odds that on all of, he'd pick the woman who lived next door to his girlfriend?

Good for your friend for laughing. And obviously your profile was sufficiently alluring to attract such a "great guy".

I recently discovered that a friend of mine, who is a university student, has horribly controlling and abusive parents. They have been this way since she was young, but she "didn't realize it wasn't normal." They control every aspect of her life, including finances; they neglect and degrade her emotionally, have used physical force against her, and have kicked her out a few separate times. She is now an adult, but still lives with them (when she's not kicked out) and depends on their financial support for tuition and, most importantly, expensive medications. She is afraid that calling them out on their abusive behavior will make things worse. I want to help her in whatever way I can, but at the moment all I can offer is emotional support and try really hard not to confront her parents myself, because they will probably take it out on her. What can I (or she) do?

Since she is a student, she should go immediately to the student health office and explain her situation. You could offer to go with her and make the appointment --someone like your friend is so victimized that it's hard for her to even take the first steps toward freedom. You can also sit by her as she calls the National Domestic Violence Hotline. She needs to talk through her options and make plans to get out. Her parents physically assault her, so she needs to know  the police should be called if this happens. But permanently extracting herself from her abusers requires her to have a system of safety and support in place.

I ceremoniously ripped up photos of my one and only ex once we broke up because I couldn't stand looking at his face and had no good memories of our time together. When my husband and I moved in together, I found photos of his exes and asked why he was keeping them. He didn't have any bad times with his girlfriends, so he'd never had a reason to dispose of the photos. For him, they were just reminders of his past. I still thought he should get rid of the pictures, but he asked me one simple question that shut me up for good on the subject: "Who won?" I had won. These women were just pictures. I was the real thing.

Good for him and good for you!

Thanks everyone. Let's hope 2014 is a good year.

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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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