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, everyone. I was so excited to see a crocus today!
Washington, D.C.: What is the average number of times per week couples have sex and for how long? My S.O. seems to think most couples have sex twice a day for at least one hour. For him, 30 minutes is a quickie, anything else is a waste of time. It would be interesting to hear from others. His idea is that there are women who have sex for one hour or more, exercise, work, and even have families to look after. I am in the minority here who finds sex physically tiring, especially when orgasm is included, too. Our relationship is more than 20 years old.
Emily Yoffe: ... Hey, sorry, I almost didn't make it to the chat because, like most long-married women, I spend most of my time having sex with my husband. It's funny, isn't it, that I bet most people fancy themselves as having some expertise at sex, but we know nothing about what goes on in other people's bedrooms. However, I will say with almost no fear of contradiction that what is going on is not two-plus hours of daily sex. I can show you a raft of Prudie letters to back up this assertion. Also, you'd think that if that's what Americans were doing, we'd probably be a lot fitter, and that those surveys which show how people spend their time would have huge, mysterious gaps in them. If you are dreading the next orgasm, something is seriously wrong. Maybe your S.O. needs a hobby, and you should get him a woodworking set, or a computer and a subscription to a porn site, or something that will get him off your back and you off yours.
Dear Prudence Video: My Love-Hate Cousins
Springfield, Mass.: I am a divorced woman in my late 50s. I work full time and have a 10-year-old child who I share custody of—so I am busy. For the last couple of years, I have been dating men that I have met through an online dating site. These men have mostly been nice guys, and several of them have been interested in getting closer. Since these men are my age, give or take, they are not in the best physical shape, which I understand. I am no spring chicken myself and carry five to 10 pounds more than my ideal. But a man with a big, round stomach is a total turnoff to me sexually. I tried ignoring it in the first man, but I couldn't. And I have just stopped seeing other men after a few dates if they have a big belly. It sounds superficial of me, but I want to have a good sexual relationship with a partner and find that a big stomach gets in the way of (literally) the area of his body that I would rather focus on. Do you have any tips for me? There is a man right now that I like and have much in common with. We are at the stage where I need to allow more closeness or back away. When I see him sitting on the sofa with his outy belly button showing through his shirt, I am not excited by the prospect of closer contact. Can I tell him this? Help!
Emily Yoffe: Are there any dating sites that specialize in lugers or alpine skiers? They are in great shape. You are asking me either for tips on how to find gorgeously fit guys in their late 50s who are interested in somewhat flabby women in their late 50s, or for tips on how to get someone else to lose weight. Do you really think anyone has the answer to that? Since any guy you're interested in is going to have to overlook the depredations age has brought to you, you must have the same generosity of spirit and overlook theirs. Then if you really connect, you could possibly be having sex for one to two hours a day—and think of the shape you'll both be in!
Hyattsville, Md.: I work as a secretary, and I have to compile various reports for which staff have to turn in info by a certain deadline. There are one or two people who are ALWAYS late (thus causing me to turn in my report late). I send them e-mails and reminders, and bug them, and also talk to their supervisors. Their supervisors say things like, "Send them a nasty e-mail." At some point, should the supervisors make it their responsibility to supervise and get their staff to turn in the work by the deadlines? How can I stop feeling resentful? If people forget occasionally, I can understand, but being late every single time comes across to me as a lack of respect for me and disregard for my being unable to perform my work on time.
Emily Yoffe: Your work is being held hostage to the procrastinators, but is there a way to disentangle yourself from them? Sit down with the supervisors and explain that making deadlines is very important to you, but you are unable to meet your goal because of some chronically late people. Then ask if you can prepare reports which indicate some data is missing because not all of it was filed. The supervisors should not be making you the office nag. You need to ask them to set up a system in which either the data does come in, or you are able to proceed with what information you have.
Washington, D.C.: A subscription to a porn site? So he can obsess even more about what he's not getting? I think that's poor advice. They should explore where his expectations come from, with a counselor—it's got to be more than sex; more like what that type of frequency and attention means to him in terms of deeper needs that are unacknowledged that he's not addressing.
Emily Yoffe: Yes, I agree counseling is in order. But I'm serious about this guy watching some porn. Let him use technology to offload some of his sex obsession so that his partner has time to do her nails, or pay the bills, or read a book. It's hard to believe porn would make him more interested in sex than he already is.
Oak Park, Ill.: I recently reconnected with an old friend. We have met several times, and I've enjoyed the visits, although we live about 90 minutes apart. She mentioned that she was throwing a huge costume party for Halloween, which is also her birthday. She also sent me a "save the date" card. The costume party has a theme, and she wants us all to come dressed for the theme. To put it bluntly, I'm not interested. I don't want to make/rent/buy a costume, and I wouldn't feel comfortable at a party where she is the only person I know. Since she's given me so much advance warning, what excuse can I give? She is very, very excited about this party, and I'm totally not into it.
Emily Yoffe: Her theme must be "I'm a control freak." How do you make a costume for that? All you've gotten is a "save the date" card, which requires no response. You are saving the date—you will make plans to be home with a big bowl of candy corn to give to the cute kids in their little costumes. When the actual invitation comes, simply decline. If she starts harassing you now about whether you're coming, tell her you aren't.
Late reports: Submit your report with the notation: "no data submitted by deadline." Be sure to cc the offenders' supervisors. It will be taken care of.
Emily Yoffe: I like it!
Naming Game, Va.: My husband and I are expecting our first child in a few months. We've actually settled on an unusual name that we both like, which took some doing.
My one concern—and I can't believe I'm even asking about this—is that the first name is the same as that of the child of some friends of mine. Of course, they don't have a patent on it or anything, but I feel a little sheepish about having them think I swiped their name. (For the record, my husband read the name elsewhere and fell in love with it.) I see them maybe once or twice a year and exchange the occasional e-mail.
Can you reassure me that I won't go the rest of my life thinking about my friends' kid every time I call my own? If it were a more common name, I wouldn't think twice about it.
Emily Yoffe: You are under no obligation to your friends about "sharing" a name. And I can almost assure you that when you pick what you think is an uncommon name, you will suddenly notice that the world is full of strollers with little Poindexters or Hortenses in them. It's as if there's some signal that goes out that gets everyone picking the same unusual name. I know because Emily was once an unusual name. Now I'm one of three Emilys at Slate. Once your child is here, the image of your friends' little darling will not loom in your mind every time you murmur, "Don't cry darling Winifred."
Rockville, Md.: "Washington, DC: A subscription to a porn site? I think that's poor advice."
Yeah, bad advice. There are plenty of free sites. No need to pay for it.
Emily Yoffe: Good point!
Maryland: About a week ago, my husband called a friend of ours and asked him to come over and help us install a new chandelier. The job took the two men about 20 minutes. My husband forgot to ask if we owe him anything, and I'm feeling super guilty about it. The friend is an electrician by trade (which is why we called), but we really don't want to take advantage of that. How do I handle this now, a week later? Thanks.
Emily Yoffe: You call him up, say thanks so much for rescuing us, and we insist on paying your regular fee for your work. If he demurs, explain that you called him because you know he does excellent work, you think professionals should be paid for what they do, and you are uncomfortable not recompensing him.
K Street, D.C.: You know, I'm one of those people who doesn't get his billable hours data in on time. The admin type went to my supervisor, and do you know what he said? He told her: "You're harassing this guy about getting you some DATA??? He bills out at $375 per hour, and you bill out at ZERO. Yet you're bothering HIM about this? Go to his office, and take dictation so he can rattle off his hours? Oh, and bring him a coffee in exchange for wasting his time on you."
So, you know, think about THAT the next time you think your precious report is so important.
Emily Yoffe: Dear "K Street"—if you wonder why people on "K Street" are held in such contempt by average working people who don't "bill at $375 per hour," please reread your letter. Your boss sounds like a jerk, too.
If your office thinks maintaining whatever administrative records the "admin type" is supposed to keep is such a waste of time, then those duties should be eliminated. If your office thinks the most efficient way to get this information out of you is to have an "admin type" set up a time to get dictation from you, then you should graciously do that so that other people in your firm can get their work done. And pour your own coffee, buster.
Alexandria, Va.: I work in taxes and sometimes answer tax questions for friends (may take 20 minutes to look up the answer), but I've never expected them to pay me. Sure, she can offer to pay her friend the electrician, but don't be surprised if he doesn't accept it. Can't she just invite him for dinner?
Emily Yoffe: I hear from a lot of professionals (doctors, computer techs, musicians) who are expected to provide their services gratis for friends and family. You are the first one I've heard from who willingly does so. (And let's call ourselves friends—so my question is, can I deduct the full cost of my new hard drive?) If the electrician doesn't want money, then, yes, dinner or a bottle of brandy is in order. But I would also not make a habit of asking for free tech services.
Minnesota: So a friend of mine recently suffered an injury (broke a bone playing sports) and tells me that if she needs surgery, she'll need to have a fundraiser because her deductible is outrageous. (Go American health care system!) Anyway, she's also planning a vacation—noted that she'll be using travel points to cover some costs. So what do I do if she approaches me for money for her surgery?
Emily Yoffe: So your friend says, "Hey, everyone, I expect you to pay for my surgery. In anticipation of it, I'm going on vacation—which I really need because fundraising is exhausting work!" Let's leave the outrages of the American health care system aside. Your friend needs to discuss setting up a payment plan with her doctors, then she needs to cut back on her unnecessary expenses because there are times in life when we have painful economic choices to make. You are under no obligation to chip in, and only do so if you want to.
Washington, D.C.: Thank you, Prudie, for putting K Street in his place! If he/she wants to get PAID for those hours, then he/she needs to submit them, like every other human. Period. I am an "admin type" who would like to see him/her try to manage without their "admin type"—then maybe they'll consider paying us more!
Emily Yoffe: You listening, "K Street"?
Re K St.: Just curious—who gets billed when K St. is reading Prudie on the WP live chat?
Emily Yoffe: Good point. Let's hope it's Muammar Qaddafi.
Porn saves my marriage: My wife is everything I could want in a woman, expect for the fact that she has a low sex drive. So instead of spending the rest of my life looking for the perfect woman, I use porn to supplement my sex life, and we have been happily married for 15 years.
Emily Yoffe: Thank you for pointing out a good way to compromise on mismatched sex drives and the benefits of porn. There's a strange, widespread assumption that porn is the equivalent of cheating, and any porn-watching equals an obsession with porn.
Minnesota again: Yeah, but what do I TELL her? She knows I could afford to give her something, even if it's only $50, so saying I just can't afford it right now wouldn't be believable. It's not my place to reprimand her decision—I'm not comfortable giving you money for this as you just spent money on a vacation. I'm just not sure what exactly to SAY. Thanks!
Emily Yoffe: "Cindy, I would like to help by bringing a couple of dinners over when you recover." If she presses the point after that, you can say you are uncomfortable writing checks to friends. And if she presses after that, consider this is an aspect of your friend you find unappealing.
State of Disgust: I have a conflict in my kitchen that's taken on outsized importance in my marriage. My husband simply refuses to rinse dishes before putting them into the dishwasher. I am constantly finding old food on "clean" dishes. Once I poured myself a big glass of cold milk, which I enjoyed immensely until I got to its bottom and found the congealed remainders of milk from some previous day. Is there anything I can do about this BESIDES wash all the dishes myself? That's the only thing I can come up with, but I'll be honest: My entire childhood was spent as the designated dish-scrubber for my family of five, and I always dreamed of someday growing up and not having to wash all of the dishes, all of the time. I can't bring myself to be the kitchen slave again!
Emily Yoffe: This is one of those "pick your spots" conflicts, and I think it's best not to have an ongoing conflict over picking spots of food off the dishes. According to dishwasher manufacturers, it's not good to remove every trace of food before loading the dishwasher because then all the scrubbing action can cause wear on the dishware. The fact that the issue of food leftovers is leftover from your childhood tells you it's not just about dishes. See if you can convince yourself getting all wrought up about dishes is something best left in the past.
Data for Reports: I am one of these chronically late submitters of data. The problem is that the process requires multiple rounds of submission back and forth between various people who all need to sign off on the data. To make matters worse, many of these people are not in the same location, and since it relies on signatures, it cannot be e-mailed. So, to the person in charge of collecting the data, please realize that it is not that I do not respect you or your position, its just that the process to generate the data is not very friendly to a quick turn-around. On the other hand, going to my supervisor to complain about the issue or sending me a nasty e-mail is hardly going to inspire me to try to push things through faster the next time.
Emily Yoffe: Then this requires an office-wide reassessment of the procedures and discussion among everyone on how to streamline an unwieldy system.
Thanks everyone. I hope all your data are in on time and your systems run smoothly!