Dear Prudence chats live with readers at Washingtonpost.com.

Dear Prudence chats live with readers at Washingtonpost.com.

Dear Prudence chats live with readers at Washingtonpost.com.

Advice on manners and morals.
May 3 2010 2:58 PM

Clothing's Not Optional

Prudie counsels a vacationer whose housemate likes to let it all hang out—and other advice-seekers.

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. I'll try not to leave midchat to attend to my seriously unhousebroken puppy.

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Delaware: Summer is fast approaching, so please help! I rent a weekend summer house with six other youngish professional men and women (we're in our late 20s and early 30s) every year. It's pretty much been the same group of people for the past four years; however, last year one of our members had a new boyfriend who was there most weekends. On one hand it was nice because the rent was split up between 7 instead of 6, and they shared a room, so it wasn't like he was taking up much space. On the other hand this guy was kind of out there, and it made me a little uncomfortable. He was nice enough but had a habit of walking around the house naked. And not just going from the bathroom to his bedroom naked. I personally witnessed him making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the kitchen and then sitting in a living room chair (granted, it was a fold-up chair) completely naked! I'm the only one who seems to have a problem with this. Everybody else I've talked to about it thinks it's funny (he's pretty much the opposite of buff and kind of hairy) or just kind of shrugs their shoulders. I don't know how I can approach my housemate about her boyfriend when nobody else seems to care. I don't want to alienate anyone, but I also don't want to deal with Sasquatch and his junk. Short of finding another house, what should I do?

Emily Yoffe: This guy is not only ballsy; he sounds a little nuts. And your friends seem to have left their common sense behind. Unless you've signed up for a summer nudist colony, you should not be subjected to picking some guy's chest hairs out of the peanut butter jar. And while you might have been tempted to fold him up in the chair, the quality of the furniture he uses to display his jewels doesn't matter—it's the fact that you're subjected to this undesired show. You need to enlist the rest of your pals and enforce a "No shorts, no shirt, no rental" policy. Explain to them that while they can shrug it off, you can't, and you'd like everyone to agree that the public areas will not be pubic areas. Then go ahead and tell your friend that this summer her boyfriend needs to be covered. If no one will back you up, then it's time to find a more demure group of vacationers.

Chicago: I have a dilemma regarding my sister's 12-year-old son. Her other kids are all a pleasure to be around. Within the last two years, I was able to visit my sister twice, after years of being away due to us being a military family. The first visit was great, no problems. Then last year I was able to visit again (while my husband was deployed to Iraq). I have two children. At the time my son was 4, and my daughter was 2. I had driven 10 hours, and when we got to her house, my nephew was very eager to give the kids a bath. He kept begging me to let him give them a bath and that he could do it himself. I assured him that when I was ready to give them one, I'd do it myself. Then the cousins quickly gravitated to playing with each other, in their rooms and all thru the house. However, things took a turn for me when my nephew took my daughter to his mom's bedroom and closed the door. I quickly got up, opened the door to see what he was doing ... he was tickling her. I'd make up an excuse and take her to be with me. But being that age, they just want to play with their cousins so she wouldn't stick with me very long. Later the kids would be in the boys' bedroom and they would keep the door shut. I couldn't stand it, every few minutes I kept busting the door open to make sure everything was OK. I even found my son in the closet with my nephew playing toys with the closet door closed and the room door closed at one time. I could not relax and visit with my sister. I was more worried about what was going on with my nephew and why he kept shutting the doors. My sister didn't think the doors being shut was a big deal. And I couldn't tell her what I was really wondering. Needless to say, I kept that visit short. I love my sister and I want to visit her again, but I know I will not bring my children around my nephew anymore. I don't know how to tell my sister what I suspect might be a problem with my nephew. This behavior is very odd. I told my brother about it, and despite what I said, he went to visit her recently—he has two sons under 7. He said they never had any problems like I was talking about. So now I guess I have an overactive imagination and can cause a whole heap of trouble if I open my mouth—for no reason, apparently. Curious to know what you think.

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Emily Yoffe: Your nephew's behavior is a 12-klaxon alert that something is horribly wrong. A 12-year-old boy does not greet his nursery-school-age cousins by trying to get them naked. And he does not play with them behind closed doors, especially if looking in shows he's getting physical with them. You're right that speaking up risks permanently alienating your sister. But your nephew is potentially headed for big trouble. So you need to tell your sister that you want to visit, but you haven't been able to get over your concerns about how your nephew was playing with the kids. Tell her it has worried you since then, you love her and your nephew, and you probably should have spoken up sooner rather than let this fester.

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New York City: I helped a good friend of mine, "Jane," move last month. Recently, when we were hanging out with mutual friends, one of them mentioned Jane's upcoming housewarming party—which I hadn't heard about yet. They all chatted about the upcoming event for a few minutes, I felt uncomfortable, and then eventually we went home. I'm not sure whether Jane intentionally excluded me or it was an oversight. How do I bring it up without seeming too defensive or upset (which I am a little bit)? Is it even worth bringing up?

Emily Yoffe: Normally, I am opposed to the "I heard you had a dinner party and didn't include me" or "I expected to get an invitation to your wedding by now" remarks. Not everyone can be invited to every event. But invitations also sometimes do not arrive. And there are events to which one should be expected to be invited—case in point the housewarming party of a good friend you helped move. In this case I think you should call your friend and say, "Jane, I'm very uncomfortable doing this, but several of our mutual friends were talking about your housewarming, and I have to say I was stung at not being invited." She'll probably say she was surprised you hadn't RSVPed when the invitation went out.

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Waycross, Ga.: I have a wedding question! To start, my fiance was in the Coast Guard and finished his four years before we met. After a four-year hiatus, he has recently decided to go back in, and it's something we've talked about and agree on. We had originally planned to get married in May of next year, but to ease relocation and the paperwork involved with moving a "fiance" and not a "spouse," we have decided to move it up to this June. We plan on inviting only family and a few close friends and it won't be hard for anybody to adjust to the new timeline—a small, outdoor wedding at a friend's orchard with a big party afterward. Since it's been so sudden and we aren't financially able to do it up like we want, we decided that we would renew our vows for our one-year anniversary. To us, it would be the more "official" wedding in a way because we'd get to send out formal invites, have it at a nice place, get "the perfect dress," etc. My problem is registering and gifts. I don't want or expect people to do it twice, but I think people will find it strange if we register for what they see as just a vow renewal. So do we register now? My fiance and I are lost as to how to approach this and would appreciate any guidance you can give us.

Emily Yoffe: My advice is to get married, then move on with your lives. A small wedding in an orchard and a big party afterward sound wonderful and just about covers the whole "getting married" business. Looking back, maybe your prom dress wasn't everything it could have been, but please, don't buy a new one, rent a limo, and go back to the prom. No one wants to attend your second wedding, unless you liven it up by finding a second husband. A year from now, you will have been married for a year; you shouldn't be in the middle of planning another wedding to your current husband. Just be sure to write timely thank-you notes for this one.

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San Francisco: Two old friends got married recently (to each other). Though we no longer live in the same city and don't keep in touch as well as I'd like, I feel very close to both of them, and we have all been important parts of one another's lives throughout the years. While many of our mutual friends were invited to the wedding, I was not. I was surprised and a bit hurt, but of course, other people's weddings are not—and should not be—about me. Despite feeling excluded and confused, I am genuinely thrilled for them and wish them the best, and intend to consider them friends for years to come. I'd like to send them a congratulatory note but worry they would interpret it as a passive aggressive way of letting them know I felt bad about not being invited. That message is not at all my intention. Would it be appropriate to congratulate them?

Emily Yoffe: And here's a case where you can't say, "And why wasn't I invited?" You're right, being left out stings, but putting together a wedding list requires making painful choices about not including people you would like to have but don't have the space or budget for. If you normally call or e-mail occasionally, just get in touch and catch up with them the way you normally would. You want to establish you're comfortable with them. Then you could follow with a note saying it was great to talk to them, you wish them the best on their married life, and you hope to see each other soon. Include a small gift—a salad bowl, a book they would both like—as a token of your good wishes.

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Bismarck, N.D.: My son and daughter-in-law invited me to visit them this summer at their home to meet my new grandson and spend time with my 3-year-old granddaughter. The last time I visited them at home was nearly two years ago. I need to purchase my ticket soon and e-mailed to ask which dates were convenient for them. To my surprise, they responded with a request for me to fly in on July 13 and fly out on July 15. I'm traveling a great distance, at significant expense (I'm on a small, fixed income), and considering flight layovers, this schedule will result in my visit lasting all of two nights and one full day. While I certainly don't want to overstay my welcome, I can't help but be hurt that I'll only have one whole day to spend with them. Because my income is limited, and the distance between us great, I don't see them often, and I am really looking forward to seeing them. When I have visited in the past, I've made sure to be helpful with groceries, cooking, and laundry in an effort to avoid being extra work for them and spent two evenings caring for my granddaughter (which I loved) so that they could enjoy a couple of evenings to themselves. As hard as I've tried, I can't seem to not feel hurt about the idea of such a long trip for such a short visit. Am I simply oversensitive? (My son and family are taking a week prior to my visit to vacation in Mexico, so it's not as though my being there will use up valuable vacation time, and I'm not at all insistent that my son take time off work to spend time with me.) Should I just book the ticket so I can spend the short time there, or suggest that I wait until it's more convenient to be there longer? I don't want to alienate anyone.

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Emily Yoffe: You were invited to meet your new grandson several months after his birth, and the last time you were there was two years ago, so you have a distant, strangely formal relationship with your son and daughter-in-law. It's time, especially since there are grandchildren involved, for all of you to be more comfortable expressing your desires. I often hear from the other half of this equation—the grown children who feel the grandparents have no interest in visiting, only come after being extended an invitation, and never take initiative to be involved in the lives of the grandchildren. Two years between visits is a chasm in the life of a young child and means you don't have any ongoing contact with your grandkids. I agree this, "Hello, goodbye" schedule is ridiculous. But you have to open communication and say even though you are physically far away and don't have the money for frequent visits, you want to repair this relationship and figure out how to be more involved in all of their lives.

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San Francisco: I'm a young woman in my early 20s with a chronic neurological condition. It's a congenital condition that rarely results in any visible symptoms, and though it can be debilitating at times, I appear "healthy" to people around me. I've just started seeing a great guy. One problem: When and how do I tell him about my illness? All of the relationships I've had in the past have been with people who have known about my condition beforehand, so I haven't had to handle this situation before. I don't want to tell him too soon, because it isn't something that I discuss with many people; however, it is a pretty big part of my life and I don't want to be keeping that from him if we do become serious.

Emily Yoffe: I wish I could say, "You tell him 45 minutes into your third date, shortly after you discuss what your relationship with your siblings is like." But this is a case in which you should have a feel for when it's right. This is not something you have to disclose right away, before you know if you're each interested in seeing a lot more of each other. But once you establish that interest, there should come a point at which you start to feel you are withholding this information by not telling. I understand it's a risky thing, and it could scare him off. (And better to know now if that's the case). Keeping quiet for too long about so central a fact of your life would leave him wondering about your trustworthiness and openness.

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Also in Chicago but not the parent of a 2-year-old: I can understand how the parent of a 2-year-old might be nervous about her safety. But I can also understand how a 12-year-old might be eager to show off how responsible he is. There's not enough in the letter to justify a 12-klaxon alarm, but there is certainly enough for the moms to talk. Maybe the 12-year-old just got Red Cross babysitter certification and wanted to demonstrate that he can care for a 2-year-old. Or maybe he's a true creep. Don't panic, but do talk.

Emily Yoffe: I just don't have the feeling that the 12-year-old boy who wanted to get his small cousins alone, stripped down and in the tub, who took one into the closet "to play," and shut the bedroom door so he could tickle the other is working on his Boy Scout merit badge in child care. I'll concede I ordered too many klaxons—but even one klaxon of concern about the behavior of a 12-year-old boy around small children is something that must be addressed.

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Not Invited: I'm usually pretty cool about not being invited to certain events. But a few years ago, a good friend who I had known for 20 years was getting married. He came and told me that it was going to be a very small wedding, and I wouldn't be invited. I wished him well and told him I completely understood. Then I found out who WAS invited. A real eye-opener as to what he thought of me.

Emily Yoffe: Good for your friend for explaining beforehand. But you are also right that sometimes when you discover who was there, a sting turns into a slap.

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Timeline for opening wedding presents: Speaking of sending timely thank yous for wedding gifts ... is there a timeline in which the married couple should bother to even open their presents? When I tried to confirm a friend received a wedding gift I sent her (after it had been erroneously returned for a wrong address), she said she wouldn't know because she and her hubby hadn't opened gifts yet—they were all in a pile in the corner. Her wedding was three months ago. I guess if guests have a year to send them, she also has up to a year to open them?

Emily Yoffe: If she wants to offend everyone who took the trouble of sending a gift, she should take as long as she likes. It's pretty unbelievable that once you checked, she couldn't be bothered to go through her Sam's Club warehouse of gifts and see if yours was in the pile. You can take this into account when it comes time for her baby shower.

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New York City: I was recently asked by a mentor to apply for a job opening at her firm. After the application process, however, another candidate was ultimately hired. Of course, I understood that was a possibility and shrugged it off. My issue is the ensuing behavior of my mentor: When I was informed I hadn't received the job, the human resources director suggested I apply for another position I wasn't interested in. Politely, I said thanks, but no thanks. Since then I have received several notes from my mentor ordering me to "apologize" to the H.R. director for being "ungrateful" and to apply for the other job. And even that "a little groveling" was necessary. I don't want to burn bridges with this longtime trusted mentor, but I feel like she is overstepping here and, frankly, treating me like a child. Any advice on how to move past this awkward situation?

Emily Yoffe: This is the dark side of having a mentor—when the relationship feels less like your career is being nurtured than dictated. Since your mentor is telling you that you owe H.R. an apology, maybe you were too brusque in your response to the potential of another job. It wouldn't hurt you to write to the H.R. person and say you appreciated the chance to apply for X job, and while Y job wasn't right for you, you are grateful to have been thought of for it. Say you remain very interested in the company, and would like to stay in touch to be considered as openings occur. Then you can tell your mentor you've clarified your interest in the company. If she continues to berate you, that should help clarify your relationship with your mentor.

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Klaxons: One thing I notice that Prudie didn't mention is that even if the nephew doesn't have any particularly ill intentions, behavior like this still raises the question of where he's learning this from. Often people who are being abused will act out themselves, which is a concern not only if his behavior is harmful to others but also a red flag that makes me ask what might be happening to him.

Emily Yoffe: Excellent, sad point.

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Five-alarm klaxon: Be worried, very worried. As someone who was molested by a cousin, I can attest this is not normal behavior. Act sooner rather than later, please

Emily Yoffe: What an awful thing to happen. Thank you for the warning to the aunt of the 12 year-old boy.

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Providence, R.I.: I am hoping for some advice on what could be a delicate subject—neighbors. We have a family that lives next door who we have always been friendly with, the normal waving/greeting when we run across each other letting each other know if we'll be away for an extended period so if the house catches fire someone notices. But we have never really been friends, like discussing daily life, kids, etc. So over the past month I've noticed that the husband, "George," has not been around at all, not even his car in the driveway. The wife, "Jane," and I still run into each other a couple of times a week and say hello. So I was wondering if it would be totally inappropriate to ask how "George" is or mention that we haven't seen him around lately. I admit I'm curious as to what is going on, but I also am a little concerned that something bad happened and I'm totally oblivious. So the question is, am I just being nosy or is it OK to be concerned for your neighbors and inquire in this situation?

Emily Yoffe: If you only have a waving relationship and have never even talked about your kids, no, you shouldn't say you recently rented Rear Window and happen to have noticed at the same time that George has gone missing. Next time you pass each other, you could say, "Beautiful weather. I hope life's treating you well." If she doesn't spill that it could be better because she and George just split, you'll just have to satisfy your curiosity by discreetly inquiring among neighbors you do know better.

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Providence, R.I.: I am a fiftysomething woman, probably what most would consider used-to-be-attractive, now 40 pounds overweight, and definitely look my age. My problem is that at family gatherings and vacations, and at events ranging from meetings at my daughter's school to attending a niece's recital, cameras are everpresent. The resulting snapshots, which are sometimes e-mailed around or even posted on photo-sharing sites, are painful to me. I hate being photographed. Any suggestions? People are very insistent.

Emily Yoffe: Alas, technology doesn't allow you to use my grandmother's solution, which was to place postage stamps over all photos she thought were unflattering. Since she thought all photos of her were unflattering, we have an album somewhere of family gatherings which feature, where my grandmother should be, a postage stamp of George Washington.

I think you should have a two-pronged approach. Accept who you are now, get a flattering hair cut and clothes that fit, and learn how to apply makeup. Your loved ones love you and want you in the picture. Then after you allow a minimum number to be snapped, bow out, and don't let yourself get dragged back in.

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Small wedding, no gifts please: My intended and I are planning a wedding. We're both in our late 40s and have been married before. I want a very small informal ceremony with party to follow. He wants the formal fairy tale thing (really, no kidding) because he never had it with his first wedding and feels like he missed out. Maybe if I show him some of your wedding questions, he'll come around to my point of view. Fingers crossed.

Emily Yoffe: Thank you for shaking up my sexist assumptions. I'm afraid I haven't heard from too many "hes" who want the whole fairy tale "My Day." Maybe you should tell him you're both in your late 40s, this is a second wedding for both, and the fairy tale is that you found each other. It's not making your friends endure an untasteful blowout.

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When does a gap year make sense?: My almost 20-year-old daughter is a sophomore at college. She is doing all right there but lacks focus and direction. She is not really into the social life at school and while she enjoys some of her subjects, there are others she really finds a chore. She raised the subject of taking off time from school with me and my initial reaction was negative, as I remember going through times at college during which I was tired of it but just needed to plow through. I don't want to baby her, but if I thought it would help her to take off some time and work, then I would be all for it. What to do with a child who doesn't appreciate college and all it has to offer?

Emily Yoffe: A gap year makes sense when a child is dragging through college, wasting tons of money, and not enjoying the opportunity. A year off shouldn't be about hanging around but about working, volunteering, or pursing some interest so that when she returns to finish her degree she is refreshed, ready, and more mature. Part of that maturation process should come about by her being able to tell you what she truly needs, instead of having you decide what's best for her.

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Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.

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