Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. An edited transcript of this week's chat is below. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. For those in the D.C. area, I hope you got to see the cherry blossoms this weekend.
Pensacola, Fla.: I know this sounds stupid and petty. I have a great husband and love him more than anything—but he does something that ends up causing a fight every time. He thinks it's hilarious to pull my pants down, for instance, when I am doing dishes or just getting up off the couch. It's constant, and I find it annoying and unfunny. When I ask him to stop, he gets pouty and says I am not playful, and it's "not like it's in public." Well, I don't care—I think it's weird, and I hate it. How can I get this to stop without causing a fight?
Emily Yoffe: I disagree that this sounds petty and stupid. This sounds bizarre and awful. I always wonder in cases like yours whether, as you were dating, you thought, "This is the man of my dreams! There is that little problem with him abusively pulling down my pants all the time and pouting when I tell him how much I hate it. I wonder how mauve and peach would look as my wedding colors?" If this is not a new behavior, why did you marry this guy? If it is a new behavior, then he has some disturbing ideas of what's allowable behavior. You say he does this constantly and ignores your pleas to stop. Next time he does it, without a word pull up your pants and walk out the door, and go stay at a friend's house. You can call him later and tell him both that this has to stop and that you also want to go to a marriage counselor to figure out some rules for making your marriage work. It's possible he will actually get the message. It's also possible this is his opening gambit for a life of constant humiliation.
St. Louis, Mo.: My mother died a few months ago, and yesterday I went to her cousin's house for Easter dinner. I feel such a disconnect now. When is it OK to quit these things?
Emily Yoffe: I'm sorry for your loss. I'm trying to understand if you mean now that your mother's dead you see this as an opportunity to bow out of the whole business of having a family, or if you have always loathed these cousins and you feel liberated to make other Easter plans. If it's the former, unless there's something wrong with your extended family, I would think that you would want to maintain connections and be glad that you were included in their dinner. And if your gripe with the cousins is that they are dull, for example, I would even say dinner once a year seems like a good investment to make in staying in touch with people who meant so much to your mother.
Confused in Connecticut: I'm 30 years old and have been married for just over a year. My husband is a year older than me, and I guess we're at the point in our lives where our friends start having children. I went to visit one of these friends and her newborn son this weekend, and as I left, my husband commented that he hoped the baby cried, so that "you won't want one." I asked him about this comment when I got home, as (I thought) I had always been quite clear that having children was important to me. He replied that he thought he could have a happy and fulfilled life with or without children but that he knew it was important to me. To me, this is not the same as saying, "Yes, I want to be a father someday." Am I wrong to feel betrayed by this? We dated for SIX years before we got married—six years in which the topic of children came up numerous times. I even went through one of those pre-wedding checklists with him which discussed things like the type of values we'd want our children to have and how we'd divide the burden of child-rearing. Now I feel like he was just agreeing with me. I love him, but I'm seriously shaken by this. I don't want to have children with someone who doesn't also really want them.
Emily Yoffe: Your husband didn't say he's changed his mind and didn't want children. He's just looking at his easy, happy, fulfilled life with you and thinking, "This seems pretty good. Why throw a small, squalling creature into the mix?" While some people of both sexes have a burning desire to have children, others are at best neutral—until they have their own child. (I'm one of them.) I don't think you should feel betrayed or that worried. Your husband was being honest with you, so engage him in a nondefensive way. Say you understand that for some people visiting new babies can be a detour to having your own baby, and you appreciate that he can express his concerns. You can even say that as much as you want children, it's hard for you to imagine it, too. Don't make more of his musings than they warrant.
Chatty Cathy: We recently moved to the 'burbs and have a house with a nice fenced backyard. We (especially the kid and the dog) are really enjoying it. Our only problem is our one next-door neighbor. She is in her 60s and lives with her 92-year-old mother. Whenever we are outside, even if it's just the dog running around, she comes out. She'll have treats for the dog or chat with my son or husband and I. It's making me enjoy the yard less and less. I can't let the dog out for a quick pee, and my son comes in every time talking about "Sue." I wanted to sit outside to read in the gorgeous weather this weekend but had to make an excuse after a half-hour conversation to go inside. She seems lonely, and I don't want to be rude. But I don't know what to do.
Emily Yoffe: She is lonely, which is sad, but she has no compunction about being rude, which is rude. However, you want to have pleasant, though limited relations with the neighbor with logorrhea. Invite her over for brunch one weekend. Explain you've never really had a chance to have a proper conversation—when all of you are in the yard you're busy with your own activities—and you wanted to introduce yourselves. Then having done that, when she next leans over the fence you can say, "Oh, Sue, nice to see you. I'm grabbing a chance to catch up on my reading, but we'll chat another time" and turn to your book. Or, "I'm sorry, I'm such a bad multitasker, and I really have to concentrate on not letting the dog tear up the yard," then clam up. You have to train Sue now that you will speak only when it suits you, or else your yard will become a permanent conversation pit.
Los Angeles, Calif.: My parents, who are in their 70s and in good health, have never discussed money matters with me. Ever. They live in a house in a wealthy area and have never lacked for money as far as I can see—vacations, restaurants, etc. They are currently planning a trip to Asia. However, in the next two decades they'll be growing ill and passing on, and I need to know the state of their finances so I can make plans for their care. They seem ashamed and scared to discuss this. I am financially stable and need nothing from them. I love my parents and want to do right by them, and I can't unless I know the real state of affairs. Ideas?
Emily Yoffe: It's a very good idea for grown children to be able to have a conversation with their elderly parents about their long-term plans and wishes. I'm not sure, "I've looked at the actuarial tables and the next couple of decades will be a period of decline and death for you guys—so how are you planning to pay for that?" is the right approach. Instead of this being an issue of shame and fear, you should approach the conversation by saying they are a model for you for graceful aging, and you want to be able to discuss their long-term wishes with them as the years go on. For now, approach this as information gathering. Say that just for the sake of an emergency, you want to have some basic information about what to do if something untoward happens. If they absolutely refuse to engage in this conversation, you will have to do it piecemeal as events dictate.
Denver, Colo.: Re: Confused in Connecticut.
I was always in a similar boat—I wasn't opposed to having kids "some day," but I was always indifferent to having them at that particular point in my life. We had our daughter at 30, and it was love at first sight. She's now almost 4, and my wife has admitted to being both touched and jealous at how close we are.
Emily Yoffe: See, Connecticut, "indifference to kids" can turn into "madly in love with my kid."
For the chatter from Pensacola: Maybe also she should consider wearing pants with a tied drawstring, or a belt, or even a cat suit. Then he won't even be able to pull her pants down. I agree that he should stop, but maybe trying to beat him at his own game could be a start.
Emily Yoffe: Having to fashion some kind of updated chastity gear to keep your husband from yanking down your pants tells you just how bad this marriage is.
Good fences: Chatty Cathy needs to raise the height of her fence to six or seven feet so Sue can't see over it.
Emily Yoffe: That may be necessary if trying to train her to leave them alone fails.
Buffalo, N.Y.: We have three great kids—degreed, employed, and happy. Child A is 32, B is 30, and C is 27. Child A and C live in very expensive cities and have jobs they love that don't pay much. Child B has a job he loves but doesn't make much either. We co-signed A's car loan, paid the deposit, and will pay for her car insurance till the car is paid for in another year. We pay for B's cell and help pay C's student loans. We give them money—from a few hundred to a couple of thousand from time to time. We are not rich, but we can do this for them without hurting our lifestyle. We are glad to help, but sometimes a little voice tells us that we should not. We need an objective opinion.
Emily Yoffe: Congratulations that you have three educated, employed, launched children. Now it's time to actually wean them. Just as the woman with the older parents needs to have a conversation about the future, you need to have one about your future with your kids. You can tell them you don't want them to have to worry about your finances when you're retired and aging, so the two of you need to rebuilt your nest egg after paying for three college tuitions. Explain you're going to have to stop underwriting various expenses and give them a time table. This doesn't mean you can't give a cash gift for a birthday or Christmas, for example; it just means that it's time to cut off the allowance.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas: A good friend and his fiancee go to Vegas on a business trip. They are out one night and his fiancee disappears. She isn't answering her phone and doesn't come back to the room that night. But she reappears the next morning and says she "doesn't remember" what happened or where she was, and she lost her phone at some point during the night.
They are planning to get married in a couple of weeks and just signed a long-term lease together. He thinks he can't walk away despite her lack of answers. He is concerned that this kind of thing will happen again and clearly now isn't as trusting as he was before. He's conflicted but thinks that backing out at this late date is a bad idea.
Do I A) stand by quietly as the best man and watch him marry this woman or B) explain to him that I can't in good faith be the best man when he clearly is so conflicted?
Emily Yoffe: Thanks for the insight into how really bad marriages start. I hope he doesn't think that after the wedding, when she's missing all night and shows up at their apartment suffering from temporary amnesia that then it will be easier to disentangle his life from hers. Sit down with him and tell him that if he's concerned he can't trust her now, it will not get better when he's married. Say that if he postpones or cancels the wedding, he will get a lot of support from his friends. Explain you are so concerned you are having trouble imagining standing up for him as best man. But if he does go ahead, you might as well be there. Just try not to say, post-honeymoon, "I told you so."
Pantsed: I would suggest pantsing the husband. Make sure it's at home and with his hands full—same thing he's doing to you. Pretty good hunch he won't like the "turn about is fair play"—mine didn't and it stopped happening.
Emily Yoffe: I'm hoping there are just two of you with "pantsing" husbands. Glad this worked for you. I still think walking out is better than getting into a possible wrestling match over this.
Alexandria (via Ohio): I have a wedding question that might upset readers, but here goes. My fiance and I recently called off our summer wedding because we realized we couldn't afford it. It wasn't going to be a dramatic affair—no flowers, basic decor, etc.—but even that was going to wipe out our savings. It hurt for a while to give up something I'd been looking forward to, but we both feel okay.
His parents were understanding, but mine balked. My mother had paid for the reception rental—about $500, for which we said we'd reimburse her. Out of the blue, she and my father offered us $2,000 to help cover expenses. You'd think I'd be over the moon, but I'm not. My two younger sisters are going to private college this fall, and I know this puts a strain on their finances. Plus, even with their money, we'd be close to wiping out our savings (and this is after cutting everything but the non-negotiables out of the budget). I was at the point where I was just looking forward to a relaxing summer. (I'm a teacher.) Do I go along with Mom, or do I say no and deny her what she wants?
Emily Yoffe: First of all, no one is going to find this letter upsetting except your mother. Second, I'm hoping what your mother wants is a happily married daughter and not a wastefully expensive wedding. I hope you don't mean that because of finances you aren't going ahead and getting married. You two can actually get married for less than a night on the town. So go to city hall, or get your minister, etc., to do it, and get on with your lives. Do not start your married life in debt because you wanted to pay for duck breast for everyone you know.
Re: Vegas: I'm wondering if there is some possibility that the fiance described in this post was drugged or attacked or something. Call me naive but, wouldn't it be easier to cheat when you are NOT traveling with your significant other? Did the groom-to-be even consider this possibility, or is this behavior not that out of the ordinary for the bride-to-be?
Emily Yoffe: Several people are mentioning this as a possibility. From the original letter, it sounds as if the fiancee's disappearance was not totally out of character. But if she was drugged and raped, I'm assuming even if she didn't remember what happened, she would be terrified and confused about the evening, and not just saying, "Oh, I misplaced my phone."
Los Angeles, Calif.: I lost my job in mid 2008 and haven't been able to find employment during the recession. Recently I was offered a full-time, permanent position. Unfortunately, I had to declare personal bankruptcy in December 2009. When my employer found out about the bankruptcy, the job offer was rescinded. I work as an accountant and have 10 years of good employment reviews, no criminal history, and no drug use. I have recently been offered another job and will be submitting authorization for a credit check on my first day of employment. Should I tell the employer about my credit history on my first day or stay silent and explain myself when they receive my credit report? I am ashamed of the bankruptcy and am starting to feel like a criminal, but I do see the irony of declaring bankruptcy because I had no job, and then not being able to get a job because I declared bankruptcy.
Emily Yoffe: Since the bankruptcy already cost you one job, when you start at this one, go to the human resources department and alert them of what they will find when they run the credit check. Since you're an accountant, you must have documents that can show your prior good financial standing. You can explain that having lost your job because of the downturn put you in dire financial circumstances and that you look forward to re-establishing your previous excellent credit rating. Your attitude shouldn't be one of shame but of wanting to be clear and upfront as you begin this exciting new job.
Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend wants our parents to meet for the first time when my mom comes to visit us in D.C. next week. I agreed to lunch because I couldn't think of a good reason for them not too. My boyfriend and I have been together for three and a half years and living together for a year. We both have met our respective families over the holidays several times. My problem is his parents are conservative and stiff, and my mom is liberal and outgoing. How do I manage this situation to prevent or mitigate awkwardness? Do we suggest bringing up stories about their sons (we are a gay couple)? Or do I order a margarita and pray that the restaurant service is not slow.
Emily Yoffe: It's about time the parents met, and I hope we are not so polarized in this country that it's impossible to imagine a conservative couple and a liberal woman being able to have a pleasant lunch together. You two should warn your respective parents beforehand that they are unlikely to have much in common politically, so you'd appreciate it if you could keep the politics out of the lunch. Otherwise, why not expect that since the respective parents find both of you to be delightful, they will be mutually delighted with the people who produced the two of you.
Philadelphia: I am a 13-year-old girl with a crush on my friend. He's nice and funny and smart, but I have a problem; I can never tell whether he likes me or not. He'll smile at me and talk to me a lot, starting conversations and walking with me one day. The next day, he'll completely ignore me. It's become confusing for me; he's a really nice boy, but I just can't tell. My friend insists that he likes me, but I'm uneasy. I don't want to mess up our friendship, but I don't want it to stay the way it is if he harbors feelings. What should I do?
Emily Yoffe: Thirteen-year-olds are not noted for being suave. Which is a good thing because at 13-years-old, you're too young for a true romance. It sounds like this boy likes you. And maybe on the days he's not talking to you, he's feeling, "Wow, I like her so much, I don't know what to do," or he's feeling, "I like having her as a friend, but why is she looking at me like we're going steady?!" There's no reason for you to clarify his feelings—which he probably isn't even sure of—because you're only 13 years old! Just enjoy having a nice, smart, funny friend.
Re: Confused in Connecticut: Just to throw this in the mix: My father was one of those "fine with or without" types, and my mom was the one who really wanted kids. So they had me, and let me tell you, he could not have been a better father. We have always been very close, and he would do absolutely anything for me.
Emily Yoffe: Connecticut, take heart! And I like that your father was able to tell you that before you came along he had his doubts, but that you convinced him you were the best thing that ever happened to him!
Vegas (more): I'm the best man again. She definitely likes to party (no, not out of character to drink to excess—which she was doing when they were out together). It has not been discussed with me that she could have been attacked.
Thanks for the advice. I am definitely going to talk to him and suggest at least a delay in the marriage until they can sort through this with a professional.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks for the clarification, because obviously if she'd been attacked, that's a totally different story. The relationship you describe here makes the pantsing couple sound idyllic. And given this, you could tell your friend your concerns are too grave for you to be his best man.
Somerville, Mass.: I just want to echo what Prudie said about getting married on the cheap. We were married by a justice of the peace and went out for a nice dinner afterward with friends. The whole evening cost less than $500 and would have cost less than $200 if we'd skipped dinner.
Emily Yoffe: And I would bet you haven't spent every day since bemoaning the fact that you didn't have monogrammed cocktail napkins that you spent a college tuition on.
Thanks, everyone! Talk to you next week.