Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Mar 31, 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. And tell me that yesterday was the last day I'll have to scrape snow off the windshield until next winter.

My identical twin brother had a drunken one night stand with a woman two years ago. When asked for his name and contact the next morning, he gave my details - his idea of a joke. I looked her up on Facebook out of curiosity when she texted me, and realized she and I had a lot in common. I met up with her and eventually we became an item. I always had a nagging feeling that I should confess how we actually met. I keep putting it off, fearing her response. I want to propose to her, but feel like maybe I should come clean before we take the next giant step. I'm a fan of your column and I know you often advise people to keep mum about irrelevant sexual details that would only hurt the other partner. Does this come under such category?

I don't think you can say, "Will you marry me?"  without also having said, "Remember that drunken one night stand that started this romance? It turns out you were sleeping with my evil twin."  I have to assume your girlfriend knows you have a twin and that you have "introduced" her to him. So the situation you're presenting is not a matter of keeping the details of one's previous sexual escapades private. Instead, you and your brother are conducting a long-running farce and both of you have engaged in a level of deceit that singletons find impossible to imagine.  Your girlfriend and your brother got it on one drunken evening. I don't see how you ever feel comfortable with you and your girlfriend being around your brother if the drinks are flowing and his tongue gets loosened. Although if he gives the best man's toast at your wedding after having too many champagne cocktails, he could tell the crowd quite a memorable cock tale.  You have to tell your girlfriend now with the knowledge that it could torpedo your relationship. But surely you've seen enough  entertainment to know the twins rarely get away with their nasty tricks.

Dear Prudence, My boyfriend and I are in a loving, dedicated relationship. He is such an amazing guy and all of my friends and family say he is one of a kind. The other day, though, I discovered some bizarre videos on his cellphone. He catches the subway for work and he has been surreptitiously recording women's legs. There are no faces or other intimate body parts - just legs. At first I thought it was an accidental recording but there are five or more videos. I don't know what to do. Is this illegal, recording women's legs? Is this a deal breaker? I love him so much I wonder if I should just pretend I haven't seen it.

If only he lived in Massachusetts for that brief period before the legislature closed the loophole in the law that allowed Massachusetts perverts to take upskirt photos. Your beloved apparently is skirting illegality by limiting himself to leg videos. I'm no lawyer (please chime in defense or criminal experts), but my understanding is that there is no expectation of privacy about one's exposed limbs. However, your boyfriend is exposing himself to being declared a creep because anyone who realizes he's filming her is going to be appalled.  Sure, there's nothing wrong with a man enjoying a woman's lovely legs. And maybe  your boyfriend has what's on the whole a basically harmless fetish. But he's not limiting himself to looking at legs on the street and on-line, he's gathering his own cache, which is worrisome.  (And I'm betting he's got more than five of these videos stashed away.) I don't see how you can pretend to ignore what you've discovered. Let's face it, neither do you -- you know you'll never think of your boyfriend the same way  and that you need to find out what's going on. So tell him you saw the videos and ask what's up with that. His response will help you sort out just how one of a kind he is.

Dear Prudence, I am a soon to be bride who has planned her dream wedding on a transatlantic liner. The wedding is very small (twenty people all told) and my fiance and I have worked hard to be able to pay for the tickets for everyone. Everything is now booked and almost entirely non-refundable, and the voyage is supposed to be in three months. Recently, my fiance's uncle has died in a boating accident. Now my prospective in-laws are baulking at the idea of the transatlantic wedding, and demand we cancel, losing several thousands of dollars, because 'they now feel uncomfortable near the sea'. Prudie, we booked the wedding about six months ago, when my fiance's uncle was alive and well, and everyone was ok with it. We have no money left because what we did not spend on the ceremony is going into our new flat. My in-laws' economic situation is not great, and they have made clear that they want us to cancel this ceremony without expectation of contributing, My fiance is very unhappy at the thought of losing the money but also very unhappy at his parents threatening not to come to the wedding. What do we do? Abandon Ship

How ludicrous that your future in-laws would want to capsize your wedding because of a totally unrelated tragedy. I assume if they had to fly to witness your marriage, they wouldn't be canceling if they had lost a loved one in the Malaysia Airlines disaster.  You two have picked up the tab for this event, which is remarkable and unnecessary, but it's outrageous that now your fiance's parents want you to lose all this money so they can stay on shore.  Your fiance has to tell his parents that you both understand and share their distress at your uncle's death.  But then he has to say that you two can't let this terrible accident scuttle your plans. He has to tell them their not being there for his marriage would cast a pall on this happy event, but the event is going on whether or not they come. Then let it go and focus on having a bon voyage.

Dear Prudie, I recently returned to work from maternity leave. I am breastfeeding my son, so while at work, I am pumping three times a day. There is a "lactation lounge" that is available for use, but it is a 10-minute walk from my office. To go there and back three times a day results in an hour of lost time, not to mention the time spent pumping (although I do bring my ipad and can catch up on email while I am pumping). Beyond that, there is often a line in the lactation lounge, and so I have to wait for up to 15 minutes before I can take my turn. I share my office with a female coworker who is often out of the office for meetings. My question is this: would it be appropriate for me to ask my coworker to let me know in advance when she will be out of our office so that I can time my pumping with her meetings and pump in our office instead of having to make the trek to the lactation lounge? Or is that too personal/strange of a request? Sincerely, Trying to be productive mom and employee

This is a variation of the scarf on the door of the college dorm room indicating to the roommate, "Don't enter." What you want to suggest is perfectly fine, as long as you offer the caveat upfront that if she has any discomfort at all about this, you will drop the idea. As for the Lactation Lounge with the line around the door, surely there's a sitcom here waiting to be born.

Good morning, My husband and I have a one-year-old baby and we both work full time. Except that one of us is a teacher who has several weeks of vacation throughout the year and summers off. Our finances are tight, but we manage. Our baby goes to daycare full time ( a huge expense) and we cannot pull her out for the summer to save some money because we'll lose her spot. The non-teacher has raised the idea of the teacher finding a summer job (like many teachers do), but the teacher is 100% against that idea. The teacher has never worked over the summers and this would be the first year. The non-teacher thinks it's unfair for the teacher to sit around all day hanging out while there are bills that need to be paid, chores to be done, etc. Any advice on how we can work through this?

You magnanimously don't say who's the teacher and who isn't, but then present a totally lopsided version of the pros and cons of the teacher getting off his duff for the summer and contributing to the family instead of being a bum. So let's assume the teacher is your husband and for him one of the great attractions of his profession is the long summer break. So is just isn't going to work for you to say, "Hey, buddy, I've got news: You're working for that tutoring company this summer." However, it is fair that a partner with no obligations for a couple of months steps up and gets to those delayed chores, does the bulk of the grocery shopping and cooking, etc.  But all this should be discussed not in a punitive way, but with a generous spirit. Sure you can acknowledge that he has a stressful job during the year and earns a well-deserved break. You can even say you feel a little jealous. But it is  not unfair that someone who has a job with a built in hiatus gets to enjoy it.

If the LW hasn't already, I suggest they purchase travel insurance. That way if something (else) happens where they really have to cancel, they're not out all that money.

Anyone who is sinking thousands of dollars into a vacation should have travel insurance. But if you read the fine print, while it covers many unforseen circumstances, I don't think it will pony up for "My parents are acting like jerks."

Hi Pru! A few days ago my 10-year-old son asked me to watch a YouTube video. It was a girl putting makeup on her brother. He asked "can we do that?" I said "not right now; maybe later" because I didn't know what else to say. I don't mind if he'd like to see how he looks, but I feel like I'd be doing something wrong.

You were caught unawares and were uncomfortable, so your response was just fine in the moment. Given that you remained calm and didn't express disapproval, I think letting this lie and waiting to see if your son brings it up again is also fine. I have a daughter, and while she practiced with my lipstick a few times when she was that age, I also would have been uncomfortable doing a full make up on such a young child. If he does bring it up again, I think it's fair to have a calm, honest conversation. Ask him what makes this interesting to him and listen open-mindedly. You can tell him doing make up on him does make you feel a little uncomfortable, but it's a fair request, and you'll try it. Then make sure the make up you use is clean -- you don't want him to get an eye infection because of this exploration.

Most travel insurance policies allow you to buy (at a higher cost) "cancel at any time for any reason" riders to the standard policy. For a trip of this cost, it would be essential.

True, but that kind of rider comes at considerable expense. And if they haven't already got the insurance it's likely too late now -- especially since they would be buying it in order to exercise the cancelation clause.  But the point is they don't want to cancel and I don't think they should.

Wow, Pru, the question clearly wasn't about how to use makeup.... or even the age of the child. It's a BOY asking about makeup and this clearly is what freaked the Mom out. This is about gender, not how to use make up remover.

Yes, I totally understood it's a boy, and I totally understood that this made her uncomfortable.  I assume your response means the mother's answer should be, "Boys don't wear make up!" But a generation ago a parent might well have freaked out and said, "Boys don't wear earrings!" I think staying calm and finding out what makes this interesting to him is the way to go.

Two weeks ago I left on a short vacation to visit a friend across the country. I said goodbye to my amazing fiance with tears in my eyes even though I was only going to be gone for six days. We're in our late twenties, have been together for four years and have always had a strong, loving relationship. When I reached my friend's apartment, I met her roommate "Josh" who turned my world upside-down. I have never given another man a second look during my relationship, but Josh and I had such an instant connection, it was unsettling. We spent hours talking, sharing stories, and getting to know each other's backgrounds. While my fiance and I have lots in common, there are issues that we have compromised on (# of children, religion, saving vs. spending). Josh and I, however, seemed to be in sync on every issue we addressed. Nothing physical happened, but I left the trip feeling sad that I was leaving Josh! I am absolutely dumbfounded by these feelings. I obviously don't know Josh well enough to know that we would work out as a couple, but he introduced a doubt in my relationship that I can't seem to shake. I still love my fiance, but now I'm questioning if our foundation is strong enough for a marriage...which is supposed to happen in six months! What should I do?

I don't know you or Josh, but I can assure you that if you two became a couple you would also find issues on which you would have to compromise. The alluring stranger you've only known for a few days is the with whom you've never had to fight over credit card debt, or  messiness, or how many kids you want.  I, however, can't tell if Josh helped put in relief some deep, fundamental problems in your relationship. Or if Josh just reminded you that you're still young and settled on a life partner awfully early in the game. Or if Josh is it and you'll regret forever not pursuing a possible relationship.  You need to accept that every so often even for the happiest couples a Josh comes along to make one wonder, "What if." So you have some deep thinking to do. Maybe after a few more weeks at home the thoughts of Josh will fade away and you'll have your answer. Maybe this encounter will have made you realize you've been fooling yourself. What you do is not do anything rash, and instead use both your rational and emotional minds to explore what is the best decision about your future.

Prudie, you went really easy on the teaching spouse. Too easy. Sure, it is great that the teacher has a built in hiatus. But it would be nice if at least some of that hiatus is used for either doing things around the house or picking up part time work. This does not have to be 40 hours per week. But I fail to see how it is an imposition to ask a teacher with a three month break to pick up some slack at home.

I said the teacher should get to the undone chores and step up the running of the household. But I don't see how the non-teacher follows through with a demand the teacher get a summer job. Now that they have kids, maybe the teacher will come to see that working at least part of the summer is going to be financially necessary. But it will go much better if this is a realization on the teacher's part, not a punishment from his spouse.

I am divorced from a man who was was abusive to me for the majority of our marriage. We have two children together -- the oldest, a girl, is 11 years old. I left my husband when she was old enough to know about the horrible way he was treating us, so she has many strong, negative opinions about him. I never badmouth my ex-husband to the kids at all, but I also do not tell her to stop saying negative things about her father when she expresses them. I have had people tell me how horrible it is that I let her speak so poorly of him and that I shouldn't encourage it. I don't encourage it, but I don't dissuade it either. Am I wrong for this? My ex-husband physically abused me for years and the last time it happened I ended up in the hospital (which my daughter saw). Should I be forcing her to speak to her father on the phone when she doesn't want to and stop calling him a "jerk"?

Your daughter knows the truth, so it would be much worse for her if you were to paper this over and encourage her to think and say, "Oh, Daddy is a good man who just sometimes got a little too angry." Sadly, he is more than a jerk, he's a criminal. I hope that if you ended up in the hospital because he assaulted you, that he was arrested and did time.  In any case, kids who have been through this kind of trauma would benefit from seeing a therapist to help them air their feelings and come to terms with what it means to have such a father. If she doesn't want to speak to him, that should be her choice, but again, a neutral third party will help her sort this out so that she doesn't feel so torn over loyalty to you, etc. She also needs a way to talk to other people about why her father is not in her life. This can be anything from, "We don't see our Dad," to telling some form of the truth to those she is closest with. Good for you for getting out of this marriage and stopping the abuse. But this is something that will echo through the years for all of you, and having outside support should make a big difference.

Dear Prudie, Six years ago I was sexually assaulted. It did not lead to rape because I screamed loudly enough that I was heard by others, which gave me time to run away - but the assault itself was traumatic enough that it took some good therapy before sex could be fun, not painful and terrifying. I was still in college and the man who eventually became my boyfriend after that incident was, thankfully, understanding of my slow healing process. But I always felt that a part of our relationship was built on his "taking care of me" at that time. We broke up amicably post-college and I am now, at 25, seeing someone with whom I am deeply in love and can see building a life with. We've been together just under a year and I am wondering if I should tell him about the assault. It is a permanent part of my past and informed who I became, but I am totally over the trauma and I enjoy sex with my current partner more than I ever thought possible. On the one hand, perhaps this is something one should share with one's potential life partner? On the other hand, I don't want him to start seeing me as a victim, or for this knowledge to somehow change his willingness to experiment sexually with me (ie I don't want this to cloud what he is comfortable trying - I'm so proud of how far I've come sexually). Should I tell him? If so, how?

Good for you for getting help and healing. It's really important for other victims to hear this. What you just told me, you should tell him.  He knows you as a sexually confident, expressive woman, so there's no reason that should change. You are presenting this story as something significant that happened to you, but not as the central thing to have happened to you. There will be no lack of opportunities for this to come up,  a story in the news, for example, that prompts you to say, "When I was in college, I was sexually assaulted..." You will be telling your boyfriend something a partner should know about you, but you will also be doing it after having established a free and open sexual relationship. I think letting him know will lift off you a burden of secrecy you shouldn't have to carry.

PLEASE don't force a relationship with her father if she doesn't want one! My father is a criminal, but I was raised by my mom who not only wanted me to keep up a relationship with him, she rationalized that he was "caught up" in bad things and portrayed him as a victim (which I think she needed to do to justify why she married such a bad guy, even though she had the good sense to divorce him). I spent years being made to spend time with someone who not only didn't love me, but who I didn't love back. It wasn't until my mid-20s that I finally sought out therapy for the first time and realized forcing this relationship did more harm than good. I wish my mom had had the insight you did. Be strong! Your daughter is lucky to have you.

Thanks for this. Too often I get letters about one parent demonizing another. But when a parent really is a toxic, dangerous person, it is no favor to pretend he's just a misunderstood guy.

My almost 9-year-old daughter wants to have a slumber party for her birthday party in two weeks. She is quite the tomboy with both boy and girl BFFs. We would like to invite all her friends to spend the night, regardless of gender. All of her previous birthday parties had both genders invited. My question is should I say anything on the initiation about it being boy/girl? And what should I say?

Even if your daughter has lots of friends it's not too many for you to pass the word to the parents of the girls that there will be boys there. (That it's a mixed gender sleep over will be apparent to the parents with sons.)  You just say to the girls parents you want them to know boys will be sleeping over, too. For any parents who have questions, you explain your plans for supervising the celebration.

My now husband and I met several years ago during similar circumstances to your encounter with Josh. He was engaged but couldn't deny the instant, strong connection we had that he had honestly never felt before. Leaving that weekend, neither one of us knew whether a relationship between us would work out long term, but he had a big decision to make; he could stay in a relationship that was safe but that he knew was not hitting on all cylinders, or he could take a chance that someone (me or another woman) out there would be a better fit for him. He made his decision not based on the idea that the two of us would be perfect for each other, but because he knew that it would be wrong to cheat himself and his fiance out of the chance to marry someone without any doubts as they walked down the aisle. Best of luck - it's a scary and tough decision!

Thanks for your story. And I wish I could also offer one -- because there are many --  from someone who was tempted, stayed with the original partner, and is forever grateful about that decision.

Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next 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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