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. Let's get to your questions.
Q. Embarrassing Video: I recently discovered that a friend of mine has a cell phone video of me drunkenly singing and using obscenities at a New Year's Eve party. She also sent this to a few people who were at the party, some of whom I don't know very well and therefore cannot trust. I think she knows that I am embarrassed by this, but not how much, because at a recent gathering, she pulled out her phone and played the video. (It seems like she thinks it's funny, but not a big deal.) I take responsibility for my actions on New Year's Eve, but I'd like to forget the incident. Should I ask my friend to delete the video? And what about the other people who have a copy of it? Complicating matters is the fact that I am a public school teacher and worry about my reputation and career, should this video get out. (Disclaimer: I rarely have more than one drink per week and can count on my hands the number of times in my life that I have been drunk, so I do not have a drinking problem.)
A: Sadly, more and more of us are feeling like an NPR fundraiser caught on video saying wildly stupid things. I do not like stings, but nowadays anyone in a high-profile job must consider everything he says or does in a work-related situation could end up on the Internet. However, people are still entitled to be relaxed and silly after hours among friends—especially at a New Year's Eve party!—without having to worry about surreptitious recording devices. Your (ex?) friend is behaving abominably. But you must use all the restraint and humor you can muster to try to get her to see how potentially destructive she is being. Get together with her in person and tell her this video has been causing you great anxiety. You're a teacher and in the world we live in, if it were to be seen by the wrong people, you fear your job could be in jeopardy. Tell her you would be forever grateful if she would delete the video and if she would ask everyone she sent it to to delete it because of the sensitivity of the situation. What a sad state we've come to that while celebrating with friends we have to worry that they might record and disseminate our most unguarded moments.
Dear Prudence: Ungroomed Nether Regions
Q. College-Aged Children and Divorce: My 19-year-old daughter asked me to take her and her 21-year-old brother to a warm island for spring break so we could recover as a family from my recent (4 months) divorce. She then decided that she "had" to spend the last two days of her break in another city with her father, who has just married a pregnant much younger woman. I don't know how to handle all of the emotions this has raised in all of us. I am angry that she spoiled my one opportunity to relax with my family, and she is angry that her father hasn't made much effort before now to incorporate her into his life and fears it will be too late once the baby arrives. We are all hurting. We are all (except the ex, who thinks life is great) in therapy, but we all live in different cities. How can I keep what's left of my family together?
A: Your daughter did not spoil your "one opportunity" to relax with your family. You will have many more opportunities in the years to come—and you will help make sure those opportunities happen by not accusing her of betraying you and ruining your vacation.
Your husband has shattered his family and it is going to take a lot of time for all of you to heal. Life is never going to be the same, but it can be good again if you don't let bitterness poison you, and if you don't make your children choose between you and their father. Sure, you'd like them to declare he's a bastard and write him out of their lives. But he's their father, and your daughter's actions show she's worried that now that he's starting a new family, he will conclude he's done with the old. Stay in therapy, which will help all of you work through this. Be nice to yourself and your children—remember people in extremis are not at their best. Tell your daughter you enjoyed your get-away and after thinking about it, you understand why she felt she needed to see her father.
Q. Play Date Pushover: I'm a stay-at-home mom with a 3-year-old daughter. About a year ago, I met another mom who lives close by, and while we're not best friends, we enjoy each other's company well enough, and our daughters get along great. Unfortunately, play dates always end up being at my home, which means I'm the one providing lunch/snacks and cleaning up beforehand (and often afterwards). I've tried suggesting that we switch off, but something always "comes up" that makes it easier for them to come here instead. Yesterday they stayed for five hours, and relentless hints that they leave fell on deaf ears. I finally said I needed to start dinner because my husband would be home soon. She's also asked me to watch her daughter many times over the past year while she goes to meetings, runs errands, etc. I don't expect to be paid, but when I recently had minor surgery and asked if she could watch my daughter for an hour (I usually watch her daughter for 2-3 hours or more), she said the time I'd have to drop my daughter off was too early—she and her daughter wouldn't be up before 10 a.m.! Our daughters really enjoy playing together, so I don't want to end the play dates, but I'm tired of being a doormat. Hinting that we go to their house hasn't changed anything. What should I do?
A: Find some other people whose company you enjoy who have children your daughter's age. If you don't want to completely drop this woman the next time she suggests getting together you can say. "We need to come over to your house this time. Does 11:00 a.m. work?" If no times works at her house, then reply, "Sorry, we'll have to do it another time." Or now that the weather's getting nicer, you can meet in the park.
If you do have her over at your house and you've had enough, say, "Miranda, I'm afraid I have some errands to run, so I have to ask you to leave." If she wants free babysitting say, "I'm sorry, I can't watch Jillian today." You're tired of being a doormat. So brush yourself off and stop letting her walk all over you.
Q. Cheating: My parents recently visited, and my father checked his e-mail on my computer. We use the same e-mail provider, and apparently he didn't log out. I later checked my e-mail and accidentally saw his e-mails—including the one that opened in the preview panel, which was a request for rates for "adult services." This is obviously something I really, really wish I didn't know. Once I realized what had happened, I immediately logged out. I'm disgusted and furious with my father. What do I do now? Tell him I know? Tell my mother?
A: You don't actually know what your father is up to. You also don't know what kind of accommodation your parents have with each other, if any. Sure you wish you hadn't seen the e-mail, but even seeing it you actually know very little. I know some readers will say your mother should be alerted for the possibility of STDs. But I say this is one of those bits of information that should go in the memory hole.
Q. General Malaise: I think I am just bored with life, although I find that I am generally happy and that I am doing everything a young, responsible woman should be doing. I recently got married, we have a great puppy, we own a home, we both work full time, we go on vacations, have friends. I am well-educated, I do volunteer work, give to charities, have faith in a higher power, have a wonderful set of parents and in-laws. So, what's wrong with me? Why do I find life so hum-drum? Believe me, I know things could be worse. But I am just finding myself going through the routine of life even though I "have it all."