Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Jan 13, 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.

Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.

Dear Prudence, Our toddler has been in a wonderful day care center since September, and she has grown particularly attached to her primary care-giver, a young single woman in her late 20s. She and I recently shared a casual conversation about dating, and she emailed me with a sweet video of our daughter and offered to babysit if needed. I looked her up on Facebook, and one 10-month old post -- registering gleeful delight after a weekend shooting various guns, and declaring her interest in getting a gun permit -- caught my attention. While we realize her adventure, and wish, are entirely legal, this makes both my husband and me very uncomfortable since we have absolutely no interest in having guns anywhere near our child, our family, or our home. Prudie, what should we do? Tell the director of the day care? Just avoid hiring her to babysit our child? Simply chalk this up to the Second Amendment? - Nanny's Got a Gun

Let's say you had somewhat differing views on social issues and you wrote in about your discovery that your child's delightful caregiver is a lesbian. If you were asking me whether you should report this to the day care owner and if you should reconsider your plan to let her babysit for your daughter in the face of your discoveries,  I would tell you to mind your own business.  As you note, guns are legal. This young woman apparently used them  in a sporting context, and became interested in pursuing this through legal channels. She sounds like the kind of responsible gun owner that we want. You do not report that on her Facebook page she said anything alarming about, for example, the need to have firearms on her person at all times. If you go ahead and have her babysit for your child, presumably she does this at your home, where there are no guns. Sure, you could say to her that a couple of rules of your home are that babysitters don't bring in any other people to keep them company, nor have any firearms on them. But think about how weird that last remark will sound in the absence of any reason to think the babysitter is packing. Your letter is not just about the Second Amendment, but about the consequences of posting for the world to see every adventure in one's social life. If I were considering her as a babysitter, nothing you've found would concern me. But if you don't want her to babysit for your child, then don't ask her. As for her place of employment, keep your Facebook explorations to yourself.

My wife and I are both complainers by nature. We dump most of it on each other, for the sanity of our friends and family, and it's been a comforting aspect of our relationship. She's several years younger than me and has been at the same job since finishing university. She hates it, and has been talking about changing fields for years without actually doing anything about it. The things she complains about, though, are sort of part-and-parcel of any job. Recently, I was in a bad mood and I interrupted her complaining tirade by snapping, "I think you'd hate any job. It's not your job, it's you." I felt bad right away, but her reaction surprised me: she agreed. She said, very seriously, "You're right. I'm a negative, hateful person. What should I do about it?" It made me realize that I'm a negative, hateful whiner too. Do you have any ideas how we could improve this aspect of ourselves? She's seen a psychiatrist in a past  and she found it very helpful, but she stopped because even with our insurance covering part of it, it was far too much for our budget.

Oh, sure, dump your problems on me. Did you ever think I have my own issues to deal with? You think you've got headaches -- well, pull up a chair and let me unload. Okay, maybe the three of us should start the Whiners Anonymous support group. Just imagine what our fellow haters would have to say about the temperature of the room, the snacks, and our lousy leadership.  Good for you for both for wanting to address deficiencies in yourselves.  It's rather sweet you two Debbie Downers want to do some joint reforming of your personalities. Start with a book club, reading together on cognitive-behavioral based therapy. The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns is one place to start. Both of you should have the good humor and acceptance to acknowledge you are never going to turn into Drs. Pangloss, nor would you want to. I agree one of the pleasures of marriage is that it's the place where you can blow off steam about all the annoyances (and more) of life. Bu not feeding each other's negative spirals will likely allow you both to get more pleasure out of life.  If you feel you could use the help of an outsider, social workers charge much less than psychiatrists, so look into  using the services of one. Consider that a good investment in a happier life together.

Dear Prudence, I'm a woman in my late twenties who's been married to a wonderful man that I'm very sexually attracted to for a few years. We don't have children - yet - but we do have careers, a house, pets, and lots of great friends and fulfilling activities that fill our days. However, our sexual life seems to be somewhat lacking. I enjoy sex when we have it, which is probably around once every two weeks. I tend not to be the instigator and often use the "I'm tired" excuse. I worry that I'm not fulfilling him sexually, even though we've talked about it and we both understand the realities of working full time and try to set aside time when we can. Other than this, we're very happy together. Do you have any tips on how I can feel more gung-ho about sex? How much sex should two happy, healthy people in love be having? Sincerely, Wannabe Sexual Goddess

Normally, two twentysomethings who are attracted to each find they have to carve out some time from their sex life to attend to work, pets, and other obligations, not the other way around. If your "fulfilling activities" make you too tired to have a more robust sex life with your husband, then cut back on the luge classes.  The good news is that you like sex when you have it, the bad news is that you have it about 24 times a year, which is quite wan for childless people your age. It would be one thing if your Sex Point Average was exactly where you two wanted to be, but you acknowledge you're pushing your huband away with the lamest of excuses. So bring this up with him. Tell him you want to be more connected and adventuresome sexually. Say that initiating is not your style, but that maybe you two need to have appointment sex. Sure, that doesn't sound sexy, but having sex is sexy, so note it in your calendars. You make time for friends and animals, so set aside one night during the work week and one day on the weekend for just the two of you. You like it when you do it, so that should be a good incentive to do it more.

My husband is entering his mid-30s, and had enjoyed binge drinking at most one weekend a month. Over the past couple of years, paramedics have been called three times for alcohol intoxication. After the latest occurrence a month ago, he said he would continue to drink, but would no longer binge drink. He also apologized for putting me under the stress of these situations. Now he's planning two annual vacations with friends to party destinations. The thought of him going is stressing me out, and I know I'll be worried the entire time that he is away. He says that I need to trust that he will not drink past the state of a buzz. Should I continue to protest these trips? Also after struggling with infertility, I am now pregnant.

The issue is not whether you protest, it's whether your husband continues to put in jeopardy of being a young widow. You don't say whether he abstains during his non-binges (I'm guessing not). But having to call the paramedics repeatedly because of one's hobby is extremely alarming. I'm not convinced that your husband is capable of controlling his drinking. Once he starts bingeing, he can drink to the point where medical intervention if required. That's highly dangerous. You two need to get to a counselor with a specialty in alcohol and face this problem. It would also be a good idea for your husband to get a check up to assess the state of his liver. Imagine that you are away some weekend and your husband is caring for your child, and after the baby goes to bed he thinks, "Now that the kid is asleep, I'm going to have a few beers."

I'm a mom of two young children, and I enjoy shooting (and I've probably posted on Facebook about it). But that doesn't mean I keep guns around my kids. For Pete's sake, the childcare worker didn't say she planned to carry at all times! If you like to shoot (at a range, or any other legal spot), you need a permit to carry your gun to it, unless you choose to rent which many places don't offer. As you said, Prudie, this sounds like a responsible gun owner being penalized for her hobby.

Let's hope this mother doesn't do anything to penalize her. And I can't imagine a day care owner being concerned that an employee is engaging in legal activities on her own time. Other readers have said it's perfectly fine to state forthrightly that the rules of one's home include no guns being allowed. But I agree that there's no evidence this should be a point of concern.

I am very excited to be due in just over a month and a half with my second child. With my first child, I had the entire family out to see me right after giving birth. Big mistake! It was incredibly difficult to bond and figure everything out while hosting a crowd of people. This time around, I have requested a few days before any family members come and visit. That has caused quite the commotion. Both my family and my husband's family have expressed dissatisfaction with having to wait a few days to see the new baby and have said that it hurts their feelings and makes them feel like they are being excluded. I certainly do not mean to exclude them for more than a few days, and I don't want any hurt feelings to be associated with such a joyous occasion. I only want both sides of family to give us some time to get ourselves together before they visit. Any advice? Any way to stand firm while easing their hurt feelings?

So apparently both sides of both your families are going to collectively throw themselves on the floor, get red in the face, and scream. Your baby is going to be around for the long haul, so giving your immediate family -- and especially you, the mother! -- a few days to recover and adjust is a perfectly normal and reasonable request. Explain you will forward plenty of photos those first few days. Then, when you've all had a little sleep and chance for the three of you to make your acquaintance with your newest member, you will schedule some visits. Have your husband run interference on this -- he can be the heavy who dictates the time and length of visit. It would also be nice if you were able to ask these eager relatives to bring some food, take your first child out of the house for some attention and fun, or run some errands. But if everyone just wants to be pouty and demanding, have no qualms about putting them in time out.

I was a negative, whiny, frequently-complaining kind of person too, and when I finally had that moment of clarity I decided to change. Like any other skill, you must practice optimism! Force yourself to focus on the positive and be committed to building this skill. "Fake it 'til you make it" if you must, search high and low for the silver lining in things, and eventually this frame of mind can become the New You. Worked for me and it's a happier place to be! :0)

Thanks for this. Speaking of silver linings, the grouchy couple should also have a movie club and rent Silver Linings Playbook. Maybe they can take up ballroom dancing! 

Prudie My mom passed away on Christmas Eve of this year at the young age of 60. Yes, I cried when my dad called me, I cried at her funeral and a day or two after but it's been three weeks and I'm completely fine. A friend of mine keeps telling me that my time is still yet to come but I'm not so sure. Aside from not being able to sleep and constantly wanting unhealthy food it's almost like nothing happened. Is it possible that I've gone through all the stages of the loss so quickly? We are a close family so I was used to talking to my parents several times a week.

Being unable to sleep and radically changing your diet are pretty big asides to push aside. Everyone processes their grief in their own way, and no, people do not have to be utterly disabled by the death of a loved one. But given the circumstances you describe and your closeness to your parents, it sounds as if you might still be in a state of numb shock over your mother's death. Numbness could be what you need right now. But I agree with your friend that I'm not buying you can short-circuit your mourning and go on as if nothing happened. But be prepared that one day, when you don't have enough quarters for the parking meter, you find yourself breaking down into sobs.  Given the symptoms you describe, I think you're suffering now more than you acknowledge. Too much sleeplessness and too much out of control eating is going to catch up with you. I hope you have close family members you can talk out your feelings with. If not, and the sleeplessnes and compulsive eating don't abate, look into a grief counselor who can assess what's going on and help you deal with your loss.

The author of the sex-lite marriage may want to talk to her OBGYN. Hormonal imbalance (especially from different birth controls) can lead to a waning libido.

Good point. Some birth control pills can be libido killers (which makes them doubly effective!). This is definitely worth talking about with her gynecologist.

Hi Prudence, My boyfriend "Ted" and I have been together for nine months, and we've been living together for the last six (yes, I realized that we moved in together very fast). We support each other, share responsibilities well, and have an active and engaging sex life. I see myself spending the rest of my life with Ted. Ted has a sexual bucket list, and #1 is a threesome. He mentions wanting to have a threesome at least a few times a week, and points out various women in my life, like my coworkers, as potentially the third participant. At this point, I'm incredibly uncomfortable engaging in a threesome, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Ted says that a threesome is something he would do only before we're married, because after that it would be weird. What do I do? Do I cave and have a threesome because it's something that's really important to him? Do I give him his freedom to have a threesome with two other girls, knowing I probably won't be ok with it after it happens? Thanks, Stick to two, please

I wonder how Ted would feel if you started pointing out his more adorable male co-workers and said constantly that you felt it would enhance your relationship -- and his standing in the office! -- if you two invited one of them to have sex with you. I always suggest that before a couple move in together that they be very clear about what they see for the future. That is, if living together goes well, whether this is a prelude to marriage and discuss the specifics of a time line. I guess I will have to add the bucket list discussion, too. It's one thing to have a partner who wants to climb Machu Pichu with you. It's another to have a partner who wants Marcia from accounting to climb into the sack with you.  You're not interested in a threesome, but Ted has a Ted talk about this multiple times a week. If I were in your situation, it's the relationship that I'd have kick the bucket.

I have friends who've had great success with A Complaint-free World( which includes some behavioral exercises. It doesn't mean one becomes Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, it's more of a way to adjust attitude/behavior.

In my world, that would be a conversation-free world. What do these non-complainers talk about? But thanks for the suggestion.

Happy Monday, Prudie! I'm in my late twenties and got engaged to my wonderful, live-in boyfriend (now fiance) last weekend. There is, per my request, no ring -- I never wanted an engagement ring because it always felt a little too much like a transaction, which I know is unromantic of me. As I'm telling my friends and coworkers, many people have asked about why there's no ring, even grabbing my hand to look for the ring or asking if I should be getting married if my fiance "can't afford a diamond" (he can, we're both fortunate to be employed). Prudie, what can I say to these people about what I know is an unusual decision? I don't want to come off as judgmental, but I also don't want to be manhandled! Happily Ringless

I suppose you could get a henna tattoo along the length of your finger that reads, "My fiance is a deadbeat." It is astounding that the De Beers monopoly has the country convinced that in the absence of a rock, two people cannot be bethrothed.  To most you can say, "I'm not much of a jewelry person." To those with the chutzpah to be interested in your fiance's bank account you can say, "Our love is priceless."

I too am a very critical person. So I got a job that involves pointing out the flaws in others' work. That way I can get my nitpicking out of my system at the office and be much more pleasant to my friends and family.

For obvious reasons I love this solution. But in my case, my family would tell you it's not been wholly effective.

Dear Prudie, My boss is a volatile man. One moment he can be charming, asking about my personal life, and make thoughtful small talk. The next he can be petty, abrasive, and foul. When he gets mad he will remind me how much he has done for me and that I owe him the same thoughtfulness back. Lately, his yelling even includes profanity. After he calms down, he will be extra nice to be for days or weeks. No apology or acknowledgement is ever given. One particular rant was about how he suspected I was applying to other jobs. Obviously, I am because the man behaves like this but his yelling forced me to lie and say that I wasn't looking. Is this behavior acceptable? I feel like if this were my bf, we would all agree that he was abusive and manipulate and you would be coaching me to get out. I should mention, this is a six-figure, white collar job.

You can't be the only person who wants to flee this abuse. It is amazing how many unbalanced people rise to where they essentially have carte blanche to work out their psychological troubles on others. You have brought up a really great point about how if your boss were your boyfriend, you would have been long gone, but that it can be harder to extract yourself from an abusive employer. Keep in mind that this punitive guy will might try to harm you when it comes to reference time. So I hope there are other superiors in the company you can use to vouch for you.

I am a pastor so confidentiality is important to me. Currently a couple in the church are divorcing. There have been issues for some time and I have spent time with each of them - keeping each conversation private. I feel like I've been walking a very thin tightrope. My question is that one member is now posting and spreading some rather nasty rumors suggesting a mental illness of the other. I know we can never know what is going on behind the closed doors of a marriage but these rumors seem completely unfounded and I fear that that could hurt that persons reputation even more than the divorce already has. I realize I have different standards due to my profession but I am really stumped with this one.

You are in the perfect place to counsel the blabber about how spreading damaging rumors will hurt him or herself as well as the estranged spouse. You can say you understand how under extreme stress it may feel good to strike out. But the person spreading rumors about a loved one (even one no longer loved) demeans him or herself. If there are children involved, this will do terrible damage to them. Surely, you can find the right Bible passages to back you up. You can say you are there to provide a safe space to unload, but that you urge that even when a marriage breaks down, that each party is  entitled to their privacy and dignity.

Shortly before finishing college, I was enjoying a whirlwind of a relationship with an absolutely charming classmate, "Nick. "After graduation, we went our separate ways, but had several sexually charged visits in the first year or two. We still speak from time to time. Seven years later, I'm engaged to a wonderful man whom I love dearly. I realize that I should probably stop talking to Nick, but when we speak occasionally, I don't tend to think about him as much. When I completely cut him off, I can't stop thinking about him. Is it ok to remember relationships like these fondly? Or how long will it take to forget about it? I'm excited about my marriage and would like to move forward.

You haven't had sex with Nick for years and you remain in sporadic, and chaste, touch. There's nothing wrong with that. Married people are entitled to their thoughts and fantasties, as long as these don't detract from the core relationship.  Having a hot fling with Nick has helped make you into the sexual partner you are today -- this is a clear benefit to the man you now love. You don't have to forget about Nick or cut off contact. As long as he remains just a friend in reality, his being a source of private erotic pleasure in your thoughts is strictly your own affair.

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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