Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Apr 28, 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, I am having a rather silly problem with my otherwise wonderful wife. She gets up early every morning before work to go to the gym, and then takes a shower when she gets back to our small, one-bedroom apartment. After her shower, she says she gets overheated easily while we're both getting ready for work. I can understand that -- I've already showered while she's gone, she's been exercising, and then she's showered, plus she needs to use a blowdryer to style her hair. But her way of dealing with this is to walk around almost naked (in just her bra and underwear) until she absolutely has to get dressed to leave for work. She eats breakfast like this, puts on her makeup this way -- she basically just goes about her morning routine with barely any clothes on and sometimes she skips the bra entirely. Under other circumstances, I would enjoy this. But when I'm trying to get myself ready for the day, this is kind of distracting. I find myself getting aroused, and since we're both trying to get out the door for work, it's a bad time for sex. But then I get to work and I'm frustrated all day long. I've tried raising this issue with her (delicately) and she gets offended that I can't control myself after we've been married for eight years, which I find offensive. She's the one walking around half-naked. How can I try to resolve this with her peacefully?

Ah, tempus fugit! At this stage in my life, the way I turn off my husband is to walk around naked.  This is a sweet dilemma, so it's too bad you both get so annoyed with each other over the fact that after eight years the sight of your undressed wife bouncing around the apartment is so arousing. I get letters from women wishing that their husbands weren't lounging around with the family jewels draped over the upholstery (they do not find it a turn-on).  But I think yours is the first from a guy who finds his wife's toilette so distracting he can't get out the door.  But surely, once you're at the office, you are able to focus on the marketing data and don't spend the whole day moaning over your morning testicular vasocongestion. If you're not able to move on and save it for later, you sound very juvenile. Instead of continuing to fight over this, try taking action  (not the kind of action that will make you late for work). Buy a pretty, short, sheer robe for your wife and give it to her as a gift. Explain that she's so damn attractive that if she were a little more covered in the morning it would help you focus on the day ahead. Tell her she of course doesn't have to wear it, but you know that color looks great on her, and you hope it's lightweight enough that she can put it on without getting overheated. Let's hope that she takes your gesture in good spirit and likes the robe. Of course, if it's silky and sexy, seeing her in it may have the unintended consequence of overheating you.

My wife comes from a large family. Her sister is a a big name in show business and as you can imagine she's not around too often. So when she is, we talk about family, kids, friends from her high school years and so on. Certainly not about her newest projects or celebrity gossip. While my side of the family for the most part has got used to the VIP among them, a few seem to forget all their manners. The requests for autographs, tickets and stuff like that we can handle, but not everybody is happy with that. My cousins daughter wanted me to inquire if she could have her 18th birthday party at my wife's sisters house, even the two of them have never met. An uncle asked me to find out if she really had an affair with that guy from the news. My father-in-law's 60th birthday is coming up. He'll have a big party -- all of his kids will attend and I'm afraid a big part of my family too. How can I make sure they'll behave like normal people and not like family papparazi ?

Who is she? Who! I'm dying to know! And is the affair with a newsman or just a man who's in the news? Hmm, I guess I'm getting myself struck from the guest list. I agree with you that your family is behaving appallingly, as if the celebrity amongst you is some kind of performing seal who can be rented out at their whim. But is it realistic to worry that at your father-in-law's 60th birthday party, people like your own cousin will be invited?  I assume your father-in-law is actually not close with your cousin, or your other relatives who don't know your celebrity but think she's a commodity who exists to  make them feel important. In this case, have your wife go over the guest list with her parents and advise them that if they want to include your family, the invitations should go out selectively. Then to the people who are invited, before the event give them a heads up that the celebrity is off duty and needs to be treated like any other family member.

Hi Prudence. I like to smoke marijuana. It's illegal in my state, but I buy mine from an old hippie lady who "imports" hers from a "friend" in Colorado. I only smoke on weekend nights, only at home, and all I do when I'm baked is munch on snacks and watch TV. Basically what I do on weeknights, except stoned. However, my pot habit gives my wife fits. She has told me in no uncertain terms that I need to stop until it's legal. She's also concerned about the amount of money I spend on it. I make about $50 per week doing work for a friend (besides my regular job) and spend half of it on a bag of bud each Friday. Prudie we both have jobs, and I'm not spending my job money on ganja- I'm spending extra money that I earn apart from my job. Do you think I need to give up the habit, for the sake of my wife's happiness?

I wonder if your wife would be having fits if every weekend you lay on the couch with a bottle of wine that you polished off while watching TV. If she would, then her issues are prehaps more about lassitude and substance intake. It's true that engaging in illegal activity carries a slight danger, but at this point, the decriminalization of marijuana is so far along, it's very hard to imagine how your buying enough weed for personal use is going to become a criminal justice matter. But since you're willing to work to get extra money for your leisure time, try mixing things up. Use your earnings to take your wife out to a movie, a restaurant, or to hear music. Instead of getting baked, just smoke enough to take the edge off but still be engaging company. You two need to have some conversations -- substance free -- to better understand each other's perspective and how to relax together in a mutually entertaining way.

Prudence-I have the same problem as the wife in the first post--I get a shower in the morning, and then as I get ready for the day (drying my hair, putting on my makeup etc) I get REALLY warm. (Even if the house is cool.) Wearing a sheer or silky robe is absolutely out of the question...they are all made of synthetic fabric, which is not breathable. Basically you would be marinating in your own sweat. A lightweight cotton robe is the way to go. (I went to Amazon and searched for "lightweight organic cotton robe"...I bought the first search result and have been very happy with it.)

Cotton it is! Another benefit, it will be light but not sheer.

Four years ago my mother-in-law had a stroke and lost use of her right arm. She felt that she couldn't use much of her jewelry anymore so she gave me a few of her pieces. Although the gesture was sweet, the jewelry was not my taste. I had kept it put away for many years, but finally this past winter, money was a little tight and I decided to sell some of my least favorite. I ended up using the money for groceries so we could have a little extra money for Christmas and a birthday for our youngest child.  Just a month or so ago my mother-in-law called me up to asked if she could borrow for the very hoop earrings I sold and my heart sank! I told her the clasp was broken from a one time use and were unusable, she left it at that. Then a couple of weeks ago she asked my husband if he remembered the heart necklace she gave me, he told her he did, she also asked for that back so she could wear it again. Well, I sold that one too!  My husband has no idea I sold these items and I don't think he would say anything about it if I told him. Now I'm hoping she doesn't ask for it again, but I know she will.  Do I fess up? 

I understand that such a gift could be considered handing down an heirloom, but unless the point is made explicitly that this is something that should be kept in the family, a gift is a gift and people are free to do with a gift as they like. There is also an informal statutue of limitations on such things. If your mother-in-law had realized a few months after she had given you the jewelry that she had acted too abruptly and wearing her beloved pieces made her feel better, then surely you would have understood and handed them back. But this is now four years later. So if your mother-in-law is enjoying wearing jewelry again, that's great, but it's not fair at this point to ask for things back. Especially since you don't have them.  What you do depends on the kind of relationship you have with her. If it is warm and friendly, you just need to tell her the truth. If it's not so warm and friendly, have your husband be the go-between. It might be easier to hear from him that things are a little tight financially, and you both thought it was fair to turn the jewelry, lovely as it was, into something more immediately useful for the grandchildren -- emphasize grandchildren.

Dear Prudence, I arrived at work a bit earlier than usual this morning and well before almost anyone else was in. On my way to my desk I saw a co-worker hit herself in the cheek with her fist several times when I walked by her cubicle. I don't think she noticed me and I was so shocked by what I saw that I didn't say anything to her and continued on to my desk. She has a red mark and a lump on her face and is saying she ran into a door when people ask her what happened. Of course, a lot of eyebrows are being raised because that seems to be a classic response in domestic abuse cases to explain away bruises and people are gossiping about it. I know this co-worker is married, but I don't know much else about her. We are not close and do not usually have occasions to speak to each other beyond saying good morning. I am concerned both by what she was doing and by what everyone seems to believe about how she got the lump on her face. I don't want to embarrass her by telling co-workers what I saw but I really don't feel comfortable asking her about it. Should I tell someone or is this a time to mind my own business? 

You would be perfectly justified staying out of this completely -- not saying anything to your bruised colleague or to the gossipers. (And gossipers, I hear from women who have balance problems, etc. who occasionally find themselves bruised then become the object of endless inquiries about their husband's fisticuffs.)  But you saw something so concerning, that if you feel comfortable, you might want to speak up.  You could pull this colleague aside someplace private and tell her you wanted to give her a heads up that people are speculating about her being hit. You can say that it's none of your business, but as you came in the other day, you saw her hurting herself. Tell her you're concerned about this, that there is help available for people who have a problem with self-harm, and you want to encourage her to seek it. Then you've done what you can do.

I'm a student at a small liberal arts college. Due to the small percentage of men at my school, I have turned to an online dating site to meet people. I have met some interesting people, but for safety reasons, I have not posted my full name or school, which I can then disclose at my discretion. Recently, a professor in my department sent me a long, desperate note on the site saying that he finds my profile "extremely intriguing" and asking me about various interests I listed. I am sure he did not recognize me since I have not taken a class with him yet. I know his wife recently left him and his confidence is shaken, so I feel guilty not responding, but I feel it would be more embarrassing if I explained why I was not interested. I will have him for a summer class, and I'm afraid he will recognize me. Should I disable my account, even if it meets cutting off contact with interesting men? How can I minimize any awkwardness?

I hope he is a professor of English or psychology, because someone with familiarity with those fields should realize the long, desperate note is never a turn-on, especially when it's aimed a someone of college age. The tacit understanding about sites that connect you with strangers  electronically is that you have no obligation to them. Of course, if you're interested enough to make mutual inquiries, then use good manners and common sense.  But if you are not interested, you don't have a responsibility to respond, no matter how ardent the guy typing across cyberspace. Ignore his note. Let's hope that when you're sitting in his classroom, he doesn't recognize you. If he does, let's hope he's smart enough to keep it to himself. But if he uses summer school to make another pitch, then you tell him you're his student and your relationship has to to remain purely professional. He should know there will be serious consequences for him if he doesn't understand that.

Dear Prudie: My husband is 66 years old. I'm 62. We're both in good health and stay on top of medical exams and labs annually to maintain good health. Last year, my husbands testosterone levels were extremely low. We've been married 40 years and had become fairly accustomed to an almost non- existent sex life. Frankly, Scarlett, that suited me just fine. He never has been that great in that department anyway, so I felt kind of relieved. Anyway, my husband's physician prescribed testosterone pellet therapy for him to help aid in protecting cardiac, offering higher energy levels, helping him to sleep better at night, et al. Problem is it's fired up his libido to the point where he's going extremely overboard. It's every single night and/or morning., he can't keep his hands off me at home. He's gone totally berserk with this like he's some 20 year old again and I almost flipped the other night when he started talking about how he wishes he could get me pregnant again. Prudie, I'm 62 years old for gosh sake ! Jokingly I told him I was gonna have a chat with the doctor and he was slightly offended and told me I should be happy he's so frisky. How can we find a happy medium?

I wish a cotton robe was all it would take to turn off your lousy lover. You've got a couple of issues here, one, your aging horndog wants it day and night. Two, whenever he gives it to you, you're left unsatisfied.  I think there is a happy medium. As long as his interest is revived, you should tell him it needs to be coupled with an increase in technique. When you're outside of bed, talk to him about you want in the sack. He's 66 years-old so it's time he learned a few minutes with a jackrabbit does not a satisfying ecounter make. Additionally, either he's being seriously overdosed, or there's some amazing placebo effect going on here. There is increasing evidence that testosterone replacement is potentially dangerous, so your husband's doctor sounds not very up to date. Do some research on testosterone replacement and heart attacks, give it to your husband, and have him discuss the studies with his doctor. An adjustment of the dose -- and your husband's fear of a crushing pain in his chest -- might be just the medicine you need.

Obviously, I have no idea what's happening but the first thing that came to mind is "is she planning on or getting divorced"?   My neighbor's son was getting divorced and often his wife (while on the phone with him when she was at work) would say loudly "What do you mean you won't let me see my kids?" or something similar when they were discussing something completely different (nor did the husband ever say anything about preventing visits). She was doing this so her coworkers could testify that they her her arguing over visition and he was threatening no visits. Could this woman be setting the stage for claiming spousal abuse?

Yikes. Now we're in sociopath territory. Thanks for raising this issue. Obviously, the letter writer doesn't want to explore too deeply the distant co-worker's personal issues.  However, I still think it's fair to say a quick word about what she's seen. Let's hope this isn't a real-life Gillian Flynn novel.

My first question is, why didn't her husband know they were so short of money that she had to sell some jewelry? I have given my daughters some of my jewelry, because I wanted them to have it. If they needed money that badly, I would rather give them money so they wouldn't have to sell the jewelry (and yes, I know it's a gift. Still!)

Yes, it would have been better to have a discussion with her husband about their finances and the jewelry, so I hope she's comfortable telling her husband now.  But no matter what the gift -- unless, as I say, it's truly something with invaluable sentimental meaning -- if someone would prefer to turn it into cash, that's the recipient's choice.

Prudie, I'm currently dating a great successful girl. We are serious and have talked about marriage and kids. Here is the issue. We both have dogs. I have a 7-year-old lab that I have spent a ton of time training and have owned since she was a puppy. She has a small mix that is super food aggressive. To other dogs and in limited interactions, kids as well. She took food from a 3-year-old at a cafe. So I mentioned that I'm not sure I would trust her dog with a kid, and she said that if she had to get rid of her dog, my dog has to go as well. She won't take the dog to training, let me discipline the dog or even recognize that this is a problem. She has said that once a kid comes along, the dog will bond and everything will be fine. Any advice?

Unless there is a serious allergy situation which means someone cannot live with a pre-exisiting pet, my stance is that the pet is part of the package. Her pet is part of her life, and since you two haven't even gotten engaged, you're getting way ahead of things  to be worried about how the dogs will bond with your non-existent children. Nonetheless, there is something disturbing about the dynamic here. There simply are some dogs who are very difficult and almost beyond training -- I had one for 10 years. But at least I hired trainers and recognized there were situations that required her to  be contained.  It's unfortunate your girlfriend doesn't realize her dog has issues. But I also sense something amiss with your desire to "discipline" it. The dog needs comprehensive training. Your occasional discipline will likely just make the dog (and her) hate you. But then the ante gets upped by the discussion of how if her dog isn't safe around a baby, your dog has to be dispatched, too. So at issue here is not what do you do with your dogs, but what do you do with each other. This is a really good opportunity to see how you two address conflict and arrive at compromise. So far, I'm not impressed.

Yes, a gift is a gift, but there are different types of gifts and different ways to respond. If I gave you a bottle of wine and you promptly poured it down the drain, one could say, it was a gift and so you could do what you wanted, but you're response would be considered rude and ungrateful. Admittedly, that's an extreme scenario, but the point is that the woman did a very foolish thing and knows it. She should fess up and take responsibility for a bad and thoughtless decision. If she didn't like the jewelry, her MIL likely would have wanted someone else to have it.

And if the daughter-in-law flung the jewelry back in the mother-in-law's face and said, "What makes you think I would wear this dreck?" that would also be rude.  But if you got a nice bottle of wine, thanked your givers, then brought it to a dinner party as a gift for the hosts, that would be just fine.  The jewelry was not given with strings, and the wife sold not out of malice.  Yes, the mother-in-law needs to be told, but no one is behaving badly here.

A student in my grad program appears to be having an affair with a professor -- normally this is not a huge deal, but the prof is supervising the student's dissertation. This in itself violates university policies, but it also appears that prof is pulling some strings on student's behalf in other areas. There is no conclusive evidence, but several other students have suspicions. No one wants to report it for fear of looking bad. Should we drop it or do we have a duty to report? If so, how should we go about it?

Your evidence sounds thin.  And I'm also not clear that the "string-pulling" is not simply a matter of the professor using contacts to help the career of a  promising student. Yes, there is a duty to report if you know academic code violations are taking place and some students are being disadvantaged because a professor is having an affair with a favored student. But since by your own admission you only have gossip and speculation, I agree you will look like nosy busybodies if there's nothing more conclusive to report.

Prudie, my son met and married a young woman four years ago when he had known for just a few months. He was 30, she was 32. We all embraced her as part of the family. Over time, I've come to understand she had a "checkered" past -- the most concering info was about drug addiction and alcoholism. She has had many slips since then. She also has severe abandonment issues and knows how to get attention from my son and me, often in the most negative of ways. They have had a piece of perfection in a beautiful daughter who is now 2. But the marriage is ending. I am focused on their daughter's well-being and, of course, am supportive of my son. But I am so worried about his wife, her issues both chemical and emotional. I don't want to abandon her or make her feel deserted by this family. Yet I don't want my son to feel that I'm disloyal if I maintain communication and a relationship, however limited, with her. How do I walk this line in a wise and caring way for all three of them?

Thank you for wanting to continue to help this family even if they are not intact. A little girl with a troubled mother is going to need the consistent love of a grandmother. I think you tell your husband what you told me. That you do not want to do anything to make him feel you are being disloyal to him, but that you are concerned about the emotional well-being of his ex, particularly as regards their child. You say you hope you can walk that fine line of continuing a cordial relationship with his ex-wife so that all of you have an easier time of it in the years ahead.  Then see what he has to say -- let's hope it's supportive of your plan -- and also let him know that you want to know if anything you do makes him uncomfortable.

I had a phone call this morning from an editor at one of the largest book publishers. I am an adjunct at a state college, and have some recognition as a scholar for a specific narrow era. The editor - very arrogant and pushy - proposed I write a book about my specialty for a political figure of some notoriety. In turn, I would receive a flat fee, no author credit, no royalties. As an adjunct instructor, I could certainly use the temporary boost, but I think the cost is too high, especially since my politics do not jibe with the political figure. I have not agreed nor turned down the offer, but my hesitance was met with the editor's derision. Also, my wife is horrified that I'm considering passing this by. She says I'm too prideful. By the way, I'm not young, so it's not an early career consideration. Yes, I would like to write and publish a book in my field, but if I have to sign a non-disclosure about my authorship, is it worth it?

You don't like the editor and you don't like the political figure, so this sounds like the beginning of a dreadful relationship.  However, if you'd been able to be more objective about this, I find myself agreeing with your wife. Just think, with your expertise and writing skill, maybe you could even have influenced this politician to consider your subject matter in a more sophisticated way. You could also just be looking at this as being like a lawyer. You're using your skills for a discrete (and in this case discreet) purpose; you don't have to become the politician's campaign manager. Additionally, you would want your contribution to be secret, so the non-disclosure is to your benefit. Unless the politician's views are absolutely noxious to you, there's something to be said -- especially if you're an adjunct -- to taking the money and running. But given the start you've gotten off to, I expect the editor is already interviewing more amenable candidates.

The LW could also try installing a better vent fan in the bathroom and keeping the thermostat turned down. If the ambient temperature is lower, his wife won't need to worry so much about pitting out her work clothes or melting her makeup. I imagine arriving for work looking like you walked there from Miami, is just as much a problem for her as being distracted at the office is for him.

Many people have suggested that when the wife is at the gym the husband cranks up the air conditioning so that when she returns she can get ready for work without having her make up drip down her face. She'd also be more likely to put on a tee shirt!

Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.

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Emily Yoffe
Emily Yoffe -- a.k.a. Slate's advice columnist Dear Prudence, offers advice on manners, morals and more. She is also Slate's Human Guinea Pig, a contributor to the XX Factor blog, and the author of What the Dog Did: Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner.

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