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. And we're all indoors on this gorgeous day!
Q. Toting My Tot on Public Transportation: Every weekday, I carry my daughter with me on the Metro for our dual commutes to day care and work, respectively. She sits in a baby carrier that has her facing toward me on my chest. Each day on the Metro is an adventure. I have questions about how to address well-meaning Metro riders who insist on interacting with me, my daughter, or both of us. On several occasions, Metro riders have stopped to tell me what I am doing wrong with my daughter ("she needs a hat" or "you should get a stroller"). Other people make noises and faces at my daughter that get her excited and sometimes prompt sweet screeches. Those screeches then prompt scowls of disdain from those around us. Still others actually reach out to touch my daughter. Something I would never even think to do to a stranger's child. How do I explain to these mostly well-meaning riders that this commute is my time with my daughter, that I don't need advice, and that it is not okay to touch someone's child? Also, can you remind twentysomething young men that they need to offer their seats to weary older travelers and tot-toting moms.
A: Oh dear, you may be talking about me. I'm one of those people who loves to make faces at babies and get their attention. Usually this just results in a smile and a gurgle, not a screech. And usually parents react as if they're relieved someone is enjoying their child, instead of fuming about noisy kids. Instead of girding yourself for the miserable gauntlet of the morning commute, think of it as a chance for your child to become a tiny, sophisticated commuter. This means that pleasant strangers will smile at her, because babies bring joy. If it also means busybodies offer unsolicited parenting critiques, just reply, "Thanks," then turn aside. If a stranger gives her a pat or wiggles a foot, usually the touch is done before you can even get a word out. If a hand lingers, then feel free to say, "Please, don't touch her." As for the able-bodied young people who won't help you out, feel free to stand over to one, smile broadly and say, "I'm sorry to bother you, but would you mind letting us sit—it's hard to stay on my feet when the train lurches."
Dear Prudence: Pelt Peeve
Q. Marriage Advice for a Spouse With a Bad Habit!: I have been married to my husband for 15 years. Maintaining the "spark" has proven challenging at times, but until recently, we've gotten through it. Unfortunately, over the years, my husband has increasingly used smokeless tobacco. He did this once in a while when we first married, and over the years it has become a daily (if not hourly) habit. This habit repulses me. It has negatively affected my husband's appearance: His breath is extremely unpleasant, and it's embarrassing and disgusting to me to see him with a lump of the stuff in his mouth. With all of the more "natural" challenges of maintaining our spark/attraction, this is just one I cannot overcome.
I do not want to kiss him or be face to face, and this definitely puts a damper on my desire to be intimate. I've asked nicely, attempted to help by providing information for quit lines, quit websites, even gone so far as to use our children, begging him to stop for them. I've pleaded, nagged, purchased bags of hard candy and sunflower seeds, let him know that this is hampering my ability/desire to be near him—nothing has worked. While he says he wants to stop, he never does. It seems insane to me to lose my husband over something like this, but it's as if he's choosing this habit over our intimacy—I'm at the end of my rope picking up spit bottles and explaining why "dad eats ooooey" to the kids.
A: You mean seeing your husband spit tobacco-stained loogies all day is not getting you aroused? How picky! If your physical repulsion matters less to him than his wad, he has a serious problem. Try to get him to agree to go to a doctor's appointment with you. The doctor should explain how unpleasant head and neck cancer is, which is where your husband is potentially headed. Then a treatment plan for his addiction needs to be discussed. You need to tell your husband you are as tired of begging and nagging as he is of hearing it. Tell him he needs to understand that not only does his habit have the potential to destroy his health, but also your marriage.
Q. Miscarriage Live Coverage: Like most people, I have my fair share of obligatory familial Facebook friends. Usually I just ignore them and block their applications, but one in particular has been bothering me lately. She got pregnant and announced it very early, despite a history of miscarriages, and then proceeded to keep the world updated as to the growth and non-growth of the fetus and, eventually, the intimate and gory details of the pain and bleeding at the end. Now I've known enough women who've gone through this to have some grasp of what a painful and traumatizing event a miscarriage can be, and I also understand that many women with fertility issues feel like it's something shameful that needs to be kept deeply secret and that this isn't healthy. But I find myself feeling less sympathy than discomfort at what feels more like a public plea for attention than anything else. And then I feel like a horrible person for not just feeling pity for her. Am I right that this is a little over the top, or am I just continuing a trend of trying to keep this sort of issue in the closet? Some things don't need to be on Facebook.
A: Thank you for the weekly Facebook update documenting the ways this technology brings to one's inbox things we wish we didn't know. At least she didn't put the conception on the newsfeed. I, too, have no idea why someone would provide real-time updates of her most private, painful moments to everyone she knows. It may be a plea for attention, but you don't have to give any. An impersonal, public announcement is just that. But if what your friend is posting makes you so uncomfortable, just defriend her.
Q. Public Gum-Smacking: I work in retail customer service. Frequently, I come across people who think it is appropriate to smack their gum loudly during our interactions. This makes my blood boil with annoyance, to the point where sometimes, I can barely finish the task at hand without grinding my teeth, let alone with the smile that is required of me. Is there any possible way to confront this kindly? I know no one is doing this to hurt me (in fact, it makes me quite aware of how little regard they are showing for anyone but themselves!), but I guess I would like to point it out somehow so that I, along with the many other people I'm sure it bothers, don't have to hear it again. Should I just get over it?
A: Just imagine these customers chewing tobacco and carrying little cups of spittle around their store. Doesn't that make the gum-chewing seem innocuous and even breath-freshening? So there is your gum-chewing customer, and there you are grinding your teeth—which is also an annoying habit. That's quite a stand-off. Instead of concentrating on how your customers drive you round the bend, you need to recognize that these cud-chewing people are who pays your salary. Providing them with excellent service will cause them to purchase things, then leave. Instead of pointing out they should rid themselves of the gum, concentrate on pointing out the items that would suit their needs.