Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. A transcript of this week's chat is below. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I hope everyone in the D.C. area has their shoveling arms in shape for Tuesday!
Chicago: Because this is anonymous, I don't have to pretend here that I don't know that I have great, firm, wrinkle-free skin at almost 50. I just won the genetic lottery in that regard. The problem arises in that people often peg my age at mid- to late 30s. Great, right? Not really. Recently I found myself at a work function with younger people. One man in the group starting bemoaning being 43 and the oldest person at the table. That led to a whole funny-serious discussion about being old. I stayed silent because I'm five years older than 43, and telling people my age often leads to the "look," which is where the other person will sort of freeze for a moment in disbelief and then change to a growing look of horror. Good lord, she's old! I've found there's a big disparity between how a person perceives and treats someone in their mid- to late 30s vs. late 40s, and it's led to some awkward moments. I don't think I should be saying, "Hi, I'm Mary, and just so you know, I'm 48," when meeting people, so what do I do? Drop a Culture Club reference right away?
Emily Yoffe: You've come to me for sympathy? Try being the person at the table who can remember hearing that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Do you really think the phrase "The horror, the horror" runs through the minds of your acquaintances and co-workers when they realize you're not in your 30s but are in your ... FORTIES! (Actually, probably not, since they're too young to remember Apocalypse Now.) I'm assuming these young people have actually met, interacted with, and even enjoyed the company of such ancient mariners as you. Since you are blessed to look eons younger than you are, maybe you are just seeing surprised recalculation. Maybe they are wondering if they can ask you the secret to eternal youth. If you don't feel like discussing your age then, sure, keep silent when decrepit colleagues of 43 bemoan their creaking bones. Otherwise, how often does one's age come up at work, anyway? And be aware that women who are uncomfortable about their age, or make a fetish of never revealing it, end up seeming older than they are.
Topeka, Kan.: Do you have any advice for a gal who despises her mother-in-law? We got along great until she decided that what she (and her daughter—my sister-in-law) wanted at the birth of my child was more important than what I wanted and threw a fit at the hospital. That was a lack of respect I couldn't forgive. (Just so you know, my husband defended my desires to the end. I gave in to their demands to lessen the stress so I could, you know, give birth.)
Almost two years later, I still hate them. I do nothing to get in the way of them seeing my child (despite the fact that they don't deserve the privilege), but unfortunately, I see them frequently, and to see my child bringing them such joy just kills me. And I'm bitter because, due to proximity, they see my child more than my family does.
I tried faking it for the first few months, but that made me feel worse. Right now, I barely speak to them. But soon my child will be old enough to notice that Mommy doesn't like Grandma, so I need to change my tactic. Do you have any advice?
Emily Yoffe: What did they demand at the hospital——that Grandma perform the episiotomy and sister-in-law cut the cord? I agree that anyone who makes demands of a woman in labor and then throws a fit deserves to be firmly put in her place—which should be in the hospital parking lot. But you say all of you got along great until the maternity-ward unpleasantness. Now you have not only nursed your child, but the past two years you have been nursing a grudge, and guess what, the person it's hurting is you. "To see my child bringing them such joy just kills me" is a very disturbing admission. If you don't get over this, you're only going to poison yourself and your child's relationship with your in-laws. I think you should seek some short-term therapy so you can talk this out and come up with a plan for getting over it. Maybe you need to have a conversation (not a confrontation) with your mother-in-law that allows her to acknowledge that her actions caused you pain so you can move on. But it's possible you won't get that from her, yet it's imperative you find a way to heal this wound. This has become an obsession, and you need to find a way out.
San Francisco: My uncle married a wonderful woman when I was 7 years old. She had two kids from a previous relationship who were 8 years old. We grew up as cousins (even though we weren't really related by blood). A few years ago, my aunt and uncle separated. My cousins and I remained close. Last week, one of my cousins asked me out on a date. I haven't really thought of him in that light up until he asked me out. Is it strange for me to be considering saying yes? HELP!
Emily Yoffe: It's true a DNA cheek swab would show that you aren't cousins by blood. But family members routinely don't check their DNA status in order to understand incest taboos. You were all raised since childhood as cousins, close ones, as you say, that's why this potential date feels so funny. Many states have laws against cousin marriage, which I think are ridiculous—people should be allowed to make that choice. But most of the successful cousin romances I've heard of involve people who barely ever, or never, saw each other as children, or who perhaps knew each other as kids, but hadn't interacted in decades. This just sounds too strange to go from childhood family members to potential dating partners. Say no for now and continue dating others. If ultimately this was "meant to be," it will have been worth it to wait.
Canada: What is the proper "break-up etiquette" in today's day and age? I have been seeing someone for over a year now and could probably count on one hand the number of times that we have talked on the phone. Our main forms of correspondence are e-mail and text messaging. Over the last few months, our relationship has become quite strained, and we barely see each other anymore. Over the last month, we have e-mailed each other maybe three times (down from several times a day), and gone from seeing each other once a week at least, to more than a month since the last time we did something together. I would like to e-mail him to discuss our failing relationship, and most likely just end it, but in discussing it with friends, they feel that it has to be done over the phone or face to face. I feel that with our situation, e-mail is the more appropriate option since it is how we had based all communication (and even I will agree that a break-up text message is not an option). Thoughts?