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 Writes: Good afternoon. Let's get to the questions.
Q. No Cesar Milan: I have been dating a guy for three months, and he's great—mostly. I have a 3.5-year-old 20 lb. doxie mix. The dog has the habit of hopping into my lap uninvited and pushing his tennis balls under the furniture during playtimes (and then crying until they are retrieved by me). The guy thinks this is the dog's way of asserting his authority and wants to "train the dog." I know the dog isn't perfect, but I'm OK with this behavior. I resent the fact that the guy yells at the dog and gets angry at me when I don't enforce his rules. He even suggested that we cut down my sofa, armoire, and table so that the tennis balls would not be able to fit under them. I don't want the guy to fix me or the dog. I have told him so—only to be met with silence and then, much later, the statement that he isn't going to break up with me over my dog. But I can tell it still bothers him. And it bothers me that he thinks he can or should try to fix things that I don't see as broken. So—are we doomed or what? If it matters, I am 41, own my own home, and have lived alone for 15 years (and with the dog for three).
A: This guy wants to cut the legs off your furniture in order to train your dog? If my boyfriend made that suggestion to me, I'd cut off the legs from under the relationship. More than that, he's yelling at the dog and seething at you. What exactly is so good about this guy? If you don't want the dog jumping in your lap, your boyfriend is right, you need to train it, which means training it, not yelling at it. However, since you apparently like the dog jumping in your lap and making you chase balls, then the dog's behavior is not a problem, your boyfriend's is. So if you are interested in trying to continue this relationship, do a Cesar Milan on him and calmly assert your authority. Explain the abuse of your dog and his anger at you over the dog has to stop. If it doesn't, ship him off to the pound.
Dear Prudence: Resemblance Envy
Q. Priest Sex Abuse: I have a young friend of 22 who recently visited a Catholic seminary as a potential applicant. (I'm not Catholic and may have terminology wrong.) He spent about a week there and during that time one of the senior priests made sexual advances toward him. My friend would like to report this to someone but doesn't know who to call. He insists this priest is like the big kahuna in his particular order, so there is nobody he can call. I figure there must be someone. Granted, my friend isn't a child, but I still think what this priest did was inappropriate and needs to be reported. Does anyone have any ideas?
A: Absolutely this needs to be reported. If this guy is propositioning potential applicants, you can be assured he has been sexually abusing people for years. If your friend were a minor, the police should be called in. But even if the proposition doesn't rise to the level of something actionable by the legal authorities, it still might be worth a call to the district attorney's office. Perhaps there have been some previous allegations against the priest, and your friend's new testimony could help, or they might have other suggestions on what to do. For how to report this in the Catholic diocese, your friend might want to contact the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, www.snapnetwork.org—they should have some advice for the best path to take. Readers, any other suggestions?
Q. Friend Breakup: I received an e-mail from a friend who was upset with me for not having been a good friend the past six months or so—she claimed I was not reaching out to her, and she was upset. She said that I had been a great friend in the past. Here's the thing: She is totally right. I have not been a good friend. She suffers from some serious depression. In the past, I've had a lot of compassion for her. But there came a point when I was not interested in hanging out with her anymore. Quite frankly, she was not enjoyable. She never asked how I was doing, and the conversations were always centered on her and her problems. In the past six months, I have gotten married, moved to a new city, and started a new job. I am interested in having friends I can talk to about these changes. I believe friendship is a two way street. Sometimes, you take more than you give. But it has to even out eventually, and with my friend it has just never been even. The friendship began feeling more like work than fun. So, what to do? Should I respond to her e-mail and be totally honest? I am really fearful of confrontation.
A: If you have any interest in salvaging this relationship, get on the phone (if you're too far away to get together in person) and talk this out. You should be upfront about saying your friend is right—you have let this friendship go, and you don't feel good about it. You can also say that you know she is suffering from an illness, but you reached the point at which you didn't know what to do anymore because all your interactions centered on her problems. You can say it didn't even seem to you that going over and over her problems was doing any good. Then, don't filibuster, but see what she has to say. As the conversation continues, you can also say you felt somewhat miffed that she was unable to express any interest in all the changes going on in your life. If she has lost the ability to even go through the motions of expressing interest in others, then she needs a re-evaluation of her treatment because it sounds as if she's in a downward spiral. Tell her you love her and want to be a friend, and a supportive one, but you want to figure out how to do that without feeling like a therapist.
Q. Too Much TV: My husband stays home one day a week with our 2-and-a-half-year-old. Most of the time they watch TV together all day long. I always encourage him to take our son outside to play or to do something besides watch TV. Sometimes he agrees in theory, but most of the time he just gets defensive and says that it is his day off, too, so he deserves to relax. The TV is appropriate for our son's age, but it breaks my heart that he is missing out on so many other activities with him. It has gotten to the point that when my husband comes home, our son immediately heads to the TV room. I don't want to nag my husband, but I want what is best for our son. I grew up with no/limited TV, so I don't know if I am overreacting or not. What do you think?
A: This is a tough one because lots of women complain their husbands don't do enough with the kids or around the house, then when the husbands actually do stuff, the wives micromanage and criticize. However, if you had a baby-sitter who plopped your toddler in front of the TV all day, you'd fire that baby-sitter. You and your husband need to come to some agreement on basic child-rearing guidelines, such as how much television your son should watch (which I think should be a limited amount). One way out of this might be to talk to your husband about scheduling a class (or two) to take your son to—swimming, or Gymboree, or some such—so that they are forced to get out of the house and do something active. Is there a park within walking distance or a short drive? Explain to your husband that your boy needs to run around every day, or else he gets really cranky. If your husband nods to all this, then spends the day on the couch in front of the tube, suggest you two take a parenting class or get some short-term counseling so that you can agree on your goals as parents.
Q. Wedding Gift: My husband and his brother are groomsmen in an upcoming wedding for a longtime friend. We will be traveling four hours to the location, paying for the hotel and of course for the required outfit for the guys to wear (no tux rental, black suit coat/black tie/black pants). We also paid for a hotel room for my brother-in-law and his wife, who are in worse financial shape than us. And we'll likely pay for two meals for the four adults and one child while there. We've put out a significant amount of money that we really didn't have to start with for this wedding. We have decided we are not going to be purchasing a wedding gift for them; instead, I have decided to make something for them for Christmas that they both love. My question is, do I make a note in their card that this is my intention or should I say something to them before or after the wedding?
A: Most marrying couples are so busy doing the calculations for the costs they are incurring to wine and dine their guests that they don't consider that the guests may be going broke in the process of partaking of this hospitality. Gifts are expected, yes, but optional. You don't have to make explanations or excuses for the absence or low cost. I think a handmade gift is a great idea, but that you should get to work on your craft project now so that you can present it to them as a wedding gift somewhat closer to the date of the nuptials. Then for Christmas, just send them a card.
Q. Mother In-Law disagreement: My mother in-law and I recently had a disagreement about feeding my 18-month-old popcorn. She and my father-in-law fed him popcorn three months ago on an outing. My husband and I were rather shocked they gave him this particular treat and told them he was a little young for it. Recently, my son reached for some of his grandmother's popcorn, and I told him, "No, no you're too young," and a very heated conversation began. My MIL told me it was "just stupid," and I said, "It's common sense not to give a baby popcorn." I feel bad about the argument but will not back down despite the thousands of young children who eat popcorn without incident. We'd rather wait for when our son is older and has more teeth. (I have since found out popcorn is not recommended before a child is 4 years old.) How do I keep my cool and remain respectful when I'm being called stupid for putting a bike helmet on him or cutting up grapes extra small? I am not an overly protective parent, but I do try to do the little things to protect my child when I can.
A: In the opening episode of Mad Men, the children were bouncing all over the car unrestrained, and one of them put a dry cleaning bag over his head and pretended to be a monster. This was unremarked upon by the parents. Your in-laws raised unbuckled, popcorn-eating kids, and they all turned out fine. However, what is your in-laws' plan if your toddler inhales a piece of popcorn and it gets lodged in his throat? Say, "Back in my day, this didn't happen"? I agree popcorn and toddlers don't mix. Your husband should print out some materials on this from authoritative sources and explain to his parents this is important to the two of you and, silly as they may think it is, they need to agree. If they won't, then you can't leave your child for unsupervised visits. Your mother-in-law may have felt defensive, but it's too bad that she's not old enough to understand "You're stupid" is not a good way to be persuasive.
Q. RE: Sex Abuse: I adamantly agree that sexual advances toward applicants into the priesthood are extremely inappropriate and wrong, but how can we make the jump that he has assuredly been a sexual abuser for years? I think it's just as dangerous to presume anything other than what is known for sure: Sexual advances were made by one adult to another adult. Should it be reported? Absolutely, but we can't draw conclusions about what this man may be guilty of because of an isolated incident.
A: I'm just going to take a flyer that an avowedly celibate older priest who makes a sexual advance toward a young potential seminarian has not found himself for the first time in his life overwhelmed with desire for a particular young man. This behavior is so out of control it virtually guarantees it's part of a pattern. And another reader has suggested contacting the National Bishops Council.
Q. Update From Past Chat Question: Wedding Gift Timeline: A few months ago, I wrote about a friend who stashed all her wedding presents in a closet and couldn't be bothered to confirm that a present which had been returned for a wrong address did finally arrive. (Eight months later, I still have no idea) Your reply said I'd know what to do when the request for baby gifts came in—it just did! She's due at the end of the year, and after four months of no contact whatsoever dropped a line just to say she's expecting. What she shouldn't be expecting is a baby gift from me. Thanks for the great advice.
A: Ha! Go ahead and drop her a line that it's wonderful to hear from her, and you're so excited about her pregnancy—you can be the big one here. Don't mention gifts. And if you get an invitation for her shower, you can reply that sadly you have a previous engagement. (Don't let her know the engagement has something to do with waiting for hell to freeze over before you ever get her another gift.) And folks who think thank you notes for gifts are passé, take note.
Q. Relationships and Friend Boundaries: My boyfriend has a friend who's a girl who he considers one of his close friends. Is it weird/inappropriate to have sleepovers with this friend, even if my boyfriend sleeps in a completely different room? I find it very inappropriate, but he insists that it's not a big deal. I know that he isn't cheating on me, and he has no interest in his friend. I trust him. But I don't trust his friend. ... And call me old-fashioned, but I don't think a man in a relationship should spend the night at another girl's house alone unless there was some absolute emergency. I also don't think it's appropriate for a girl in a relationship to spend the night at another man's house (not a sexist). Am I being overprotective and jealous? Or rational?
A: My Slate colleague Juliet Lapidos just did a wonderful series about platonic friendships between the sexes—she has one with her best friend, Jeff. Many people don't think they're really possible—sex is always lurking somewhere—but I agree with Juliet that they are. I've had male friends, and even traveled with one, and while we liked each other, we just weren't into each other. But my question here is what are the sleepovers for? Do they live far away so that if they get together for dinner, it's not practical to drive home? Or are they visiting each other from different cities? If so, then the sleepovers make sense. However, if they live in the same city, and you wouldn't expect a male friend to bunk on the couch in the same situation, then you're entitled to ask what's going on. But please don't come at this with the attitude that you just don't buy it's only a friendship—if you seek to undermine your boyfriend's friendship (even if you don't completely trust the girl), you will only inject poison into your own relationship.
Q. Wedding: I'm getting married in January to a wonderful woman. But I'm starting to get worried about the dress. I haven't seen it, and she insists that I not see it until the wedding day. But she has told me a bit about it. She keeps telling me that it's crotchless. Now, we do have an interesting and open-minded sex life, but I'm not sure that my family would approve of a crotchless wedding dress. I'm also not sure what that looks like. Should I insist on seeing the dress?
A: Dresses are crotchless. It sounds as if your intended is just teasing you about how she's going to look as she walks down the aisle. But if you're really worried about her taste, tell her to stop joking and reassure you about how provocative the dress is going to be.
Q. Re: Mother In-Law Disagreement: Seriously, popcorn? I thought that e-mail was a joke. I have a 2-and-a-half-year-old, and while I wouldn't give her popcorn regularly (for nutritional reasons), I wouldn't think twice about her having it one time while out with my in-laws, who are doing me a favor in taking her out in the first place. My in-laws and even my own parents do things not necessarily the way I would choose all the time, but all this helicopter parenting and tsk-ing the grandparents is just inappropriate.
A: Popcorn, like whole grapes, is dangerous for toddlers because if they're not chewed properly and get lodged in the throat, they are very difficult to remove. The grandparents can think the parents are overprotective idiots, but it's also idiotic to insist on feeding a baby popcorn if you've been asked not to.
Q. My Alcoholic Parents Want To Keep My Son for Overnights: My parents love to have my 20-month-old son visit them for a couple of days at a time. They plan fun outings and show him off to their friends. My son adores them. However, come 4 or 5 p.m., they both start drinking gimlets and other hard alcoholic beverages. My son goes to bed around 8 p.m., which means by bath and bedtime my parents are not really capable of handling a situation, should something bad happen. I know my spouse and I need to discuss this with them, and I know they will 1) deny and 2) get angry. This is nothing new—my mom was a verbally abusive alcoholic when I was growing up, so it's an old pattern. So when we talk to them, should we give an ultimatum—no drinking with the kid or no kid? I know ultimatums are generally a bad idea, but I can't think of a compromise.
A: Why are you allowing a couple of alcoholics to take care of your son? Wrap your mind around a toddler in the bath with two old drunks in the other room topping off their gimlets. You made it out of your childhood alive—although an abusive alcoholic mother leaves plenty of scars. End the sleepovers now. If your parents want to get sober, let them have a good long record of sobriety behind them before you even consider leaving your son alone for the day with them.
Q. Popcorn Kills: Popcorn Kills (New York Times): "On a July afternoon in 2006, Patrick Hale microwaved a bag of popcorn for his two young children and sat down with them to watch television. When he got up to change the channel, he heard a strange noise behind him, and turned to see his 23-month-old daughter, Allison, turning purple and unable to breathe. As a Marine, he was certified in CPR, but he could not dislodge the popcorn with blows to her back and finger swipes down her throat. He called 911, but it was too late: by the time Allison arrived at the hospital, her heart had stopped beating. An autopsy found that she had inhaled pieces of popcorn into her vocal cords, her bronchial tubes and a lung. 'Neither one of us knew that popcorn was unsafe,' said her mother, Christie Hale of Keller, Tex."
Q. Dogs: I have a cat, he's very good at weeding out unsuitable boyfriends. If you love me, you love my cat. Be pleased that the dog has shown you the guy's not for you.
A: I think "love my cat" is too high a bar. "Indulgently tolerate my cat" may be as much as some guys can do.
Q. Old-Fashioned Girlfriend (It's Me): Thanks for answering, Prudie. My B.F. and his friend do live in the same town, and they also go to school together. ...The sleepovers are usually the result of hanging out at the girl's house or going out to a bar with the girl and other friends and just thinking it would be easier to crash at her house. Maybe I should offer to drive him home?
A: This clarification is causing me some confusion. Are you in the same town, too, but just not invited along for the get-togethers among the friends? But I hope you are not suggesting that if you aren't along at the end of the evening he calls you for a ride home, Mom.
Q. Relationship: I love my husband, and we've been married for about six months now. The problem: I am NOT a cuddler while I'm sleeping. I love him and I love being close to him and even cuddling with him before we go to sleep, but once I'm starting to doze off, I want miles of space. He loves to touch me and rub my back through the night, and I just can't sleep. I don't want to say, "Get off!" but I'm not sure how to phrase this in a way that doesn't hurt him.
A: In a marriage, you're supposed to be able to express your reasonable needs in a reasonable way. Fortunately, my husband and I are both of the, "Ah, could you move your toe, please, I can't sleep" school. It's time to tell your husband you realize that while you love to cuddle before you drift off, in order for you to get a decent night's sleep, you feel like one of those auto alarms that announce, "Please step away from the car now."
Q. The Priest: Sure ... report it to the church. Hitting on job applicants is inappropriate. But older men who are attracted to 22-year-old men are not necessarily pedophiles. I'm 46 years old and gay, and I might ogle younger men, but I am not interested in children. It's kind of insulting that you assume he is guilty of this behavior. Would you automatically assume that an older man hitting on a 22-year-old woman was also out hunting for little girls?
A: No, it's not insulting to assume that a priest who hits on an applicant for the seminary has a huge problem. (I didn't call him a pedophile, but who knows what a priest who thinks it's OK to make a sexual approach to a young seminarian is capable of.) The priest needs to be reported and removed from his position. I would also strenuously object to an older male boss hitting on a 22-year-old female applicant for a job and say he should be reported, even if his explanation was that he found the young woman physically desirable.