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 look forward to your questions.
Q. Pet Grief: Six weeks ago, I had to euthanize my cat that had been with me for most of my life. (I got him when I was 9.) This death was very traumatic for me, and I continue to have flashbacks and feelings of guilt at what I had to do. While my husband loved my cat too, he is no longer willing to support my grief. He has even gone so far as to call me a "baby" for still crying about this death and wants me to "get over it." All of my other close friends have not even asked about his death, and my parents have even stopped asking how I'm doing. Is it time for me to "get over it," or is there a way to get my husband to help me through this difficult time more easily?
A: I had a cat who lived 21 years, so I understand what it's like to lose a pet who has been with you through much of your life. First of all, there is nothing for you to feel guilty about. If you had to euthanize your kitty, it was because, fortunately, loving owners can stop the suffering of a pet who is at the end of his life. Your husband is being insensitive, but if you are immobilized by grief, you have to understand that for most people there are limits as to how much mourning they think is appropriate for the death of an elderly pet. That doesn't mean that you can turn off the pain. Try finding an online support group for other people in grief over their pets. Your veterinarian might know of one. Typing "Rainbow Bridge" in your search engine should help lead you to a community of people who understand what you are going through. And please don't add me to the list of insensitive people, but there are a lot of abandoned kittens in the world who need devoted owners.
Q. Unemployed Father-in-Law: Yesterday my husband asked me if we could invite his 59-year-old father to live with us. I have a lot of problems with this—we live in a two bedroom, one full bathroom house (we have a small basement we could put him in) across the country from him; we have two small children; but above all, when my husband is around his father, he completely shuts down. His father is a nice enough guy, but he is a know-it-all and very critical of everyone else (including my husband). He has been unemployed since just after we got married six years ago. His unemployment benefits run out very soon. He has no formal education and part of his problem is where he lives (Northern Indiana), but his attitude does not help at all. The jobs he has had have often ended when he told the bosses how to do their jobs. We have tried to help him when he has looked into attending community college or starting his own small business, but every venture ends with him refusing to go further when something goes wrong or someone does something he doesn't like. I don't want to see my father-in-law unemployed and homeless, but I also do not want to invite the kind of emotional disruption I know he will bring with him into my house. Am I being completely heartless?
A: It's not heartless to decide you don't want to blow up your happy life by ensconcing in the basement a chronically unemployed person with severe personality problems who is young enough to hang around for the next couple of decades. I know that in this recession many people have rescued family members who would otherwise be out on the street. But it sounds as if your father-in-law doesn't need the recession to make him unemployable. I don't have a good answer for what to do about your father-in-law, but once you bring him into your home, it's going to be almost impossible to get him out. Tell your husband there has to be some way other than interacting with a hypercritical person at every meal and every time he has to go to the bathroom.
Q. My First Marriage and Fiance's Third ...Wedding Etiquette? My fiance is getting married for the third time, and this is my first. Ever since we got engaged, we've been quarrelling over our wedding. He's been teased by his family, friends, and co-workers about getting married "again" and is far too embarrassed to have a decent wedding. I've always dreamed of an intimate affair at church with a white dress and my close family and friends present. He won't hear any of this and says he has to get married in a court house with only our parents present, preferably wearing jeans. I'm heartbroken to think I can't have a proper wedding just because he's already done it twice before. Who's in the right here?
A: His insistence that you get married his way might illuminate why he is embarking on a third marriage. And considering the way he's treating you, he may be looking at a fourth marriage down the road. It's good that you only want an intimate affair. I'm sorry, but there is something comic about an extravagant wedding in which the groom is saying a third time, "Until death do us part." But his marital wash-outs shouldn't mean you have to sneak to the courthouse in disguise. The ability of the two of you to compromise on this will help set the stage for the rest of your married life. You can understand his unease and embarrassment, and he should understand your desire to have your friends and family witness and celebrate your union. No one is "right" here—what's right is you two figuring out how you accommodate each other.
Q. Shattered Dreams: There is this girl I have been interested in. I'm sure we will get along great when we finally get together. Anyway, I keep track of her through Facebook, and recently she changed some settings that allowed me to see a bunch of her pictures. Needless to say, I was shocked. From what I can tell, she has had THREE boyfriends in the past two years. She also has lots of pictures of her in somewhat compromising positions with other girls, and also lots of pictures with alcohol. I was expecting her to be a nice clean girl, but obviously now I feel I have to let her go. Is this a normal occurrence in the young adult dating world? Or should I continue to keep trying to find the right one?
A: The object of your desire sounds as if she's the object of many people's desire, and the beauty of Facebook is that everyone can now see documentary evidence of such things. It's obviously dumb to post compromising photos of oneself on Facebook. But you should also know that many people use Facebook to goof around with their sexual image and relationship settings. You may be turned off by her displays, but you also sound rather a prig when you say you desire "a nice clean girl." Nonetheless, it's clear that your style and this girl's don't mesh. So when using Facebook as a filter, look for someone who understands the wisdom of being more circumspect.
Update, Feb. 7, 2011, 4:20 p.m.: I agree with readers who point out that I overlooked the Travis Bickle aspect of the this question, and it's likely the young woman in question doesn't even know him. He's a creep! However, I remain concerned that young people in particular are displaying for the world a version of themselves, let's say "sexy party girl," that can have unanticipated consequences, even if they think they've got their page contained. It's great to be young and sexy—but does everyone have to know?
Q. Texting Husband: Recently we had a couple over for dinner, some friends we are just getting to know. There was a football game on my husband wanted to watch, so we all sat in the living room for what I though would be my husband glancing at the game on a silent TV and also participating in the conversation. What happened was he turned up the sound loud and texted his football buddies while I tried to hold up the conversation until the game ended. I was mortified and angry but hid my feelings, until the guests left. I told him I felt he was rude to our guests and had abandoned me to do the hostessing all by myself. I'm not sure he got it—and frankly I'm leery of inviting people over if he doesn't understand why I was angry. Your thoughts?
A: I once had people over during football season and my husband went to check on the game for a minute, and 20 minutes later I found him laid out on the couch with no intention of returning to our guests. I've made sure not to entertain when there's a game ever since. I have come to understand that the long, long football season induces a kind of madness in the fans. Your husband was terribly rude, and I understand you were angry, but now that the Super Bowl is over, it's safe to invite people to your home again! If your husband is otherwise a normal person, tell him why you're pissed, but that you're going to give him a pass—and that you will consult the NFL schedule in the future before making fall or winter dinner plans.
Q. Trying To Be Fair: I recently found out that I am expecting my first child. Everyone around me is so ecstatic over the news, however, I am not. This child is the result of a forced sexual encounter. Whereas I believe that abortion should be a choice, it's not one that I can personally take on my conscience. So I've been considering adoption. Every time I mention it, my entire family yells at and lectures me. How can I show them that this is the best option for the baby? I'm young, I'm a full time student in college, and I work a part-time job, so I won't have the time or the means to give the child the life that it would deserve. Also, I don't believe that I am mentally (I have bipolar and borderline personality disorder, I have a lot of problems with suicidal ideation and self injury) ready for the child. So I'm TRYING to do what would be best for my infant, and I don't believe that being with ME is the best choice. So how can I get the rest of my family to see and accept this?
A: I cannot imagine why people in your life are ecstatic about the prospect of your having to raise a child on your own—the result of a forced encounter—when you are doing everything you can just to keep yourself together and try to lead a productive life. You sound as if you have great insight into the fact that you are not emotionally, financially, or in any other way ready to undertake the raising of a child. And you're right, there are so many loving, stable parents out there who would be ecstatic to give your baby the life that right now you can't. This is the most intensely private decision imaginable, and you have to have the strength to tell the people around you that you've heard their opinions, you don't want to hear anymore, and you will make the decision that's right for you. Then ask your gynecologist to refer you to some adoption agencies so you can begin the discussion of how you do what's best for you and your child.
Q. In-Laws Don't Love My Daughter, Their Step Granddaughter:
I became a single mom to a toddler when my first husband died in a car accident many years ago. My daughter is now 10, and I have since met and married a wonderful man, and we have a son together. Although my in-laws live a reasonable distance away, we always get together for major holidays and birthdays. My younger son loves these gatherings as my in-laws dote on him. My daughter, on the other hand, is merely tolerated. Last Christmas, they saved their measly retirement income to buy my son an Xbox while my daughter received a cheap plastic cutlery set. When we arrive, my in-laws shower my son with kisses and complete adoration, after which they quickly nod in the direction of my daughter. After my husband spoke to them about the obvious favoritism, they did make an awkward attempt to give my daughter some more attention. Then they said they couldn't help loving their grandson more than their step granddaughter and argued that I should accept this because I love my parents more than I love my in-laws. Is it unreasonable that I expect my in-laws to love both my children equally?
A: Your in-laws are the reason the word step has such unnecessarily negative, Grimm's fairy tale connotations. Let's give the in-laws points for at least recognizing that they're behaving abominably. But we'll have to subtract those points because in response to having this unfairness pointed out, they try to justify it because of biological ties. When your husband married you, he became the father of your daughter, and she should have been joyfully welcomed by your in-laws. You are in a horrible situation because you don't want to punish your son by not letting him be showered in the love of his grandparents. But your husband needs to have another talk in which he makes clear that unfortunately, unless they start addressing this inequality—and he understands it will be awkward at first and take time—all of you are going to have to start limiting visits because he won't stand for seeing his daughter treated with such unfairness.
Q. To Shattered Dreams: Some "nice clean boy" who's Facebook-stalking a girl and then judging her for the pictures she posts because they don't live up to HIS standards. Newsflash, fella: Your "dreams" were only shattered because your lady love doesn't exist. She was a fantasy you made up based on your impressions and expectations of a near-stranger.
A: Good slap-down. However, people should be aware that employers, co-workers, and graduate-school admissions officers can also have access to one's Facebook page. If it portrays someone who likes to tell the world of her drunken sexual adventures, it might have consequences beyond scaring off a jerk.
Q. Baby Alcoholic? My girlfriend of over two years and I are sophomores in college, at different schools but in the same city. Last weekend we went to a typical college party, full of booze and strangers. She drank a fair amount before and during the event itself, as usual. Afterwards, on the way to my apartment, it was like a switch flipped in her head. When I got to my door and realized I had left my keys at her dorm room, she unloaded on me, laying out a string of obscenities, violently attacking me, and saying the most hurtful things I could've imagined. On the way to get my keys, she tried running into a busy main road twice as cars whizzed by, apparently suicidal. I luckily grabbed her in time. She proceeded to collapse in the hallway before we got to her room. The next morning I had to piece together the night's events for her, as she could hardly remember any of it. She insists that it was a "one time incident," but there had been glimpses of this problem before when she drinks. She refuses to alter her drinking behavior in any way, saying that it's part of the "college experience." We're not even of legal drinking age ... if she was in trouble somewhere, the police or paramedics would not get called. I'm terrified of what could happen when I'm not around, but it doesn't faze her. Can I be with someone who doesn't seem to care about herself? -
A: You need to have a talk in which you explain you care very much for her, but she's got a serious drinking problem which is endangering her health and safety—and yours. Tell her it is vital that she get some help to get her drinking under control. And explain that as much as you care for her, and despite her not remembering what happened, she violently attacked you, which means you are breaking up with her. Unfortunately, underage binge drinking is too often part of the college experience. But many students also cheat on tests, so you would hardly agree with her assertion that violating the honor code is part of the college experience. If she keeps this up, she is heading toward ending up raped, arrested, or dead before she graduates.
You also need to contact her parents and say you are alarmed by the escalation in their daughter's drinking and her violent and near-suicidal behavior when she's drunk. Let's hope they will intervene and make sure she gets help.
Q. Family Vacations: My husband and I have a dilemma I hope you can help us with. We have three children—two sons (10 and 12) and a daughter (14). In the past few years, my husband and I have discovered the joys of hiking and camping. So far we do this as day-hikes, or maybe one night for camping. My sons really enjoy these activities but my daughter despises them! Now, I want to start going a little further and spending more time camping and hiking, maybe three to five days out of town. It would be an affordable vacation for us and a great opportunity to see the natural beauty of this great country. My daughter refuses to go; my husband thinks we should just stay at home instead since she will not join us, or if we force her, she would be miserable. I understand that camping is not everyone's cup of tea! But I also don't believe that my sons should miss out on the experience just because their sister is more mall-minded! If we could afford it, we'd do small camping trips and also stay in hotels in cities, but these days that is not an option and camping offers an affordable way to get out of town. What are your thoughts? Should we leave her behind (we have family who'd be delighted to have her stay with them) and take a family vacation without all of the family? Or miss out on the experience and opt for a stay-cation?
A: If your daughter has really given hiking a try, then there's nothing more miserable than trying to drag along a sullen teenage girl on an adventure when she's rather be hanging around with her friends. But what you don't want to do is permanently split the family when vacation time happens. Sure, let her have the fun of staying with other family members on one of your outings. Then think of things that all of you can do that would be more fun for her. Maybe she would enjoy the theater or a museum or a Renaissance fair. It's natural that your 14-year-old is pulling away (and that she finds your idea of fun unutterably lame), but don't completely cut her loose.
Q. RE: Drunk Girlfriend: While the escalation of her drinking should definitely be addressed, please don't rule out that she could have been drugged. I was in a similar situation (while of drinking age), and my then medical student friends noticed that I was acting out of my drinking "norm" and took me to the hospital, where it was confirmed. I never leave my drinks unattended and am wary of house parties now.
A: Interesting point, thanks—and how sickening that people think it's fun to endanger the lives of young women. If only this crime was easier to prosecute.
Q. Death Jammies: My grandmother recently passed away, and I was fortunate enough to be there when she passed. While I was back at my parents' for the memorial service, I took on going through some of her things. Since she had already distributed many of her belongs to family, there were mostly clothes to sort through and get ready to donate. I kept a couple of sweaters she wanted me to have, and I also saved out the pajamas she was wearing when she died. They aren't anything special, but the sweet hospice nurse had put them on her because they matched her eyes, and I was touched by the nurse's thoughtfulness and the very compassionate care she was given. When I showed my husband, he asked in his ever practical way what I was planning on doing with them. I hadn't really thought about it. I think they would fit me (they have been washed), but wearing them strikes me as odd. I don't want to donate them because of the sentimental value, but I also don't want to be that crazy lady who is holding onto her dead grandmother's P.J.s for no apparent reason. What should I do with them?
A: If the nurse gave you the earrings your grandmother was wearing in an envelope, you wouldn't have any qualms about wearing those, would you? My darling father-in-law recently died at age 98. Granted, it was before his death, but he gave a few pairs of his silk pajamas to my teenage daughter, who loves to wear them. Just last night she had them on and my husband and I said, "Poppa would love to know that you are enjoying his P.J.s." I think remembering your beloved grandmother when you put on her pajamas is the opposite of crazy.
A Note From Prudie's Editor: Here's another idea for Grandma's P.J.s—have them made into a quilt, along with some of her other clothing or belongings.
Q. To Camp Mama: My parents forced me on multi-night camping trips. It was OK, till puberty. But let me tell you ... having your period in the middle of the woods while sleeping on cold hard ground with your parents and little brothers all nagging you to pick up the pace. It was nightmarish. I also put my foot down around that age, and I don't blame your daughter one bit.
A: Camping parents, understand this point of view. That doesn't mean no camping at all for the rest of you, but it does mean being sensitive to your daughter's preferences.
Q. Wife's Penny Pinching: I think my wife has gone off the deep end. All of a sudden, we're required to cut expenses to the bone. Both of us have high-paying jobs that are as secure as possible. She recently sold all of my sports equipment (golf clubs, tennis racquet, even my running shoes) on eBay without even telling me. She says that every spare dollar we have needs to go into our two kids' college funds. I probably spent less than $1,000 per year on golf, golfing at municipal courses only. Tennis is practically free, as I play on public courts and only need to buy tennis balls. My only expense for running was the shoes. She's even told me I am forbidden to buy books—only checking out library books is permissible. Dinners out and vacations are gone. Cable TV and Internet service are also gone. Basically, anything and everything I enjoy doing in life, with the exception of spending time with the kids, has been prohibited. She knows how angry I was after she sold all of my sporting equipment, but she won't budge. How do I get through to her?
A: The key here is that "she's gone off the deep end" and she's behaving in a bizarre way in response to a nonexistent threat. Anyone experiencing a sudden personality change needs to be evaluated by a medical professional.
Q. CHI town: So here's the deal: hired a new guy at work. He smokes cigars in his car while commuting. He comes to work smelling disgusting. Everyone talks about it behind his back because it is so overpowering and foul. We have a morning meeting every day, and it's intolerable to be in the meeting next to him, he smells so bad. Question is, do we say something, and how?
A: Yes, you tell him that unfortunately, the scent of his cigar is embedded in his clothes, and while you understand the pleasure of a good cigar, the lingering smell is ruining the morning meeting.
Q. Penny Pinching: As a friend of someone who has just gone through something similar, check your finances to be sure that your wife hasn't pocketed/gambled/ used illicitly the money.
A: Good warning—this could be one reason for the dive off the deep end.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. Talk to you next week.
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