My mother is a very religious Pentecostal Christian. When she discovered that I did not share her views when I was in college she disowned me for about a year. When I married and gave her a grandson, she reopened the doors to our relationship, which pleased me. However, my son is 2 years old now, and she insists on giving him gifts, which are nothing short of Christian propaganda. This past Christmas, her present to my son was a set of four tapes of Bible stories and an accompanying picture book to read along with the sound. She is certainly aware that we are not a Christian family, nor will we be raising our son to be. Some of those stories speak of nonbelievers burning in hell! We don't want to seem unappreciative of her present, but we do feel that she is undermining our desire to rear our child as we see fit. How should we respond to this gift, and what should be do with it?
—Burning in Colorado
Too bad Granny sees your toddler as a little recruit in her crusade. By ignoring your stated views regarding religion, she earns a place on the Mount Rushmore of intrusive mothers. The good news is that a 2-year-old cannot grasp hellfire and damnation. The bad news is that you have to put your foot down, with the possible consequence of again finding yourself estranged from your mother the missionary. The choice for a child's religious training belongs to the parents, not a proselytizing grandmother. Whatever religion she follows is certainly fine—for her—but she hasn't the right to try and override your wishes. As for what to do with the illustrated introduction to hell with accompanying audio, return the "gift" with a note explaining your position, along with the stipulation that she leave religion out of her relationship with Junior. If she severs relations in a snit, well, so be it. It is sad, but true, that much damage has been done in the name of religion. As one sage put it, "Religious wars are basically people killing each other over who has the better imaginary friend."
I will be 40 this year and have been getting a lot of pressure from friends and family who suggest that I get married and have children. Problem is, I have never had a relationship with a man. I am a straight female and have no interest in a homosexual lifestyle. I think I am average-looking, perhaps 15 pounds overweight. I'm a professional with a well-paying job and am college-educated. I have an active life and am happy and friendly. It's just that nothing has ever clicked with a man. I have tried blind dates and a dating service and was never asked out a second time. This never bothered me until my 20th high-school reunion a few years ago. I really felt like a failure because my classmates questioned why someone like me never married or had children. The truth is I would have loved to have married and had a family, but I was never proposed to, and things didn't work out that way. Having sex with someone I have known for a few days is not an option—and a couple men even told me I needed psychiatric help for not putting out. Why is it OK for a man never to marry, but an abomination when a woman never marries? I cannot be the only one in this situation.
—No Name Please
Your use of the word "abomination" makes me wonder if you are in touch with the Bible-toting grandmother from the first letter. There is nothing odd or "wrong" about your life, and you owe no one an explanation. Having seen many couples where one spouse resembles the Hindenberg, your extra 15 pounds cannot be the deciding factor, so forget about that detail. There is no way that Prudie could analyze what is—or isn't—going on with you and men. Just know that there are lots of ways to live a life, and there is no rule that says one must have a partner. These are the cards you were dealt, and it sounds as though you are playing your hand with acceptance and high standards. Try to avoid or tune out those people who are gauche enough to ask you why your life is the way it is. You are not a failure—you are merely single.
I have a friend who is married—to a guy I strongly dislike. He's possessive of her, arrogant, and something of a pig—not someone I would ever want to associate with under normal circumstances. Problem is, she frequently asks if my boyfriend and I will double-date with them. We don't especially want to. My boyfriend's never met him, but based on what I've told him, he's not terribly excited about it. She and I do a lot of girls' night activities almost every week (and we work together), so I see a lot of her. Do I owe it to our friendship to suck it up and go out with them once, or can I politely come up with excuses ... since I don't want to say I loathe her husband? There's always the movies. Thanks.
Split the difference. Go ahead and make a date for the four of you to go to the movies. (That knocks out two hours of talking.) Give your boyfriend the chance to see if he agrees with you. Once you've acceded to your friend's wishes about all getting together, and assuming your guy thinks her guy is a turkey, then start getting creative with the excuses. Prudie is not a big believer in going through social charades. It produces a particular kind of discomfort that usually is unnecessary.
While I'm on the telephone at home, my wife and kids insist on listening to every word—then usually ask me questions relating to what they overheard. I always share what was said and have nothing to hide. However, this eavesdropping irks me and doesn't seem polite. I married into this family, and they've always been this way, and my mother used to do the same thing. While I view this habit as rude, my wife insists it is proper, and wonders why I think it's rude?! Could you please shed some light on this issue? Many thanks.
—Confused in Virginia
This is one of those two-handed human foibles. On the one hand, it is rude to interrogate someone about a phone call you are not a party to. On the other hand, there is a natural impulse to be curious about one side of a conversation. (Honesty demands that Prudie acknowledge a third hand: hers. Your adviser has been known to query her beloved about an item or two she has heard from his end of a phone call.) Perhaps a mechanistic solution is for you to tell your family that theirs is an understandable impulse (and apparently a family trait), but it annoys you, so perhaps they could reduce the number of queries. You might also try taking calls in a room where you are alone. As problems go, however, Prudie feels sure you are aware that this annoyance is much preferable to a drunken spouse kicking the cat.