Got a burning question for Prudie? She'll be online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers each Monday at 1 p.m. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
I'm a 27-year-old guy who registered for an online dating service about two months ago after seeing all the ads about people meeting their life partners there. I met a girl on the website, and we started chatting online and eventually on the phone. She was smart and funny, and we connected really well. She expressed apprehension that I might not like her when I saw her, but we became friends on Facebook, and in her pictures she appeared to be good-looking. When we met for dinner, I saw that she was overweight. I realized the pictures on Facebook were mostly close-ups. However, our first date went well. We've been on three dates now, and she's a marvelous human being: caring, sweet, and smart. I know that just by asking you this question I come off as a really shallow person, but I can't seem to find the physical attraction. There is this voice in my head that tells me to appreciate the physical side of her, too, but I can't do that. Should I discuss this with her?
She knows she's fat and that being heavy is not a selling point in the dating market. Thus her close-up photos on Facebook and her hints you might not like her when you met. If you want to kiss her off because you know you'll never want to kiss her, it's early enough that you can simply say you've really enjoyed getting to know her, but you don't see this heading toward a romance. She'll probably infer why. But if she asks you point blank, then be honest and say you feel terrible, but her weight is a problem for you. However, I think you're writing to me because you don't want to stop seeing her, which is confusing. Most of us think of physical attraction as a binary system: Someone either inflames your desire or doesn't. But it's much more fluid than that. You're attracted to this woman's mind, her personality, even her face. But dating someone who is overweight is outside your comfort zone. So maybe you should try to expand your zone. A while ago I answered a letter from a woman in a similar situation: She met the most wonderful guy, but he was fat and she didn't think she'd ever be attracted to him. I suggested she stop worrying about the long term and just enjoy his company. About a year later she wrote to say they were engaged. I know a bunch of happy couples in which one partner is thin and the other isn't. It would be helpful if your new friend said something so this topic isn't taboo: "I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant. Well, it's obvious I look forward to most restaurants!" But even if she does, you won't want to reply: "Now that you've mentioned this, what are you planning to do about it?" If she opens the subject, the best thing would be to say something neutral: "I know it must be hard to talk about weight." Ultimately, if you can't ever make a move toward being intimate with her, then you have to break it off. But if you do become a happy couple, you will be one person who won't be writing to me to complain that your once slender significant other has done a bait-and-switch by increasing in size.
Dear Prudence: Pushy Lawn Mower
My husband and I help haul hay two weekends a year on his family farm. It's a big, cherished tradition in his family. His mom and two sisters (they are Amazonian women made of muscle and titanium) have made it clear that they expect me to be there hauling with everyone. These are 12-hour days, mostly in the hot sun, tossing 60- and 80-pound bales then stacking them into sheds. I'm fairly short and slight of frame and am amazed at what I can physically accomplish because of family pressure. I always feel proud after the experience, but I don't know if I can take it anymore. I already skip out on other grueling family traditions, including yearly marathons and cut-throat basketball tournaments, and his family always makes me feel like a spoilsport. My husband is usually supportive but feels forgoing hay hauling would be a big taboo and that I should be able to suck it up. As the growing season is starting, I'm beginning to have nightmares. Is there a middle ground I can take? Or should I just endure the four days a year?
It sounds as if your preferred middle ground would be the middle of a Marriott lobby. What you describe sounds arduous, but also kind of wonderful (particularly since I don't have to do it). But your husband's family also appears to be an agricultural version of the Kennedys, full of hypercompetitive contests and mockery of those who prefer that their leisure time not include a dislocated limb. You're an adult, you've been a good sport, and you're entitled to say that this year during hay hauling your physical challenge will be climbing onto the table for a hot rock massage at the spa. You also could stake out a more accommodating compromise. Let's say you agree to haul for a couple of hours, then when you've had enough, you head toward the kitchen and start the lunch preparations. Or you could agree to help out for part of one weekend, but not both. Your in-laws' style is to find other people's vulnerabilities and relentlessly needle them. So refuse to be stung. If you show up, do a stint of work, and decide to retire to the farmhouse, when they start to mock you, just call out, "I'll be dreaming of you stacking bales while I take my siesta!" And if it all gets too unpleasant, feel free to bail.
I am three-quarters white and one-quarter Asian. Growing up, I identified as white, and only as I've become an adult have I begun to explore my Asian heritage. When it comes up occasionally, most of my friends are pleasantly surprised, then let it drop. However, one of my friends brings it up regularly. I'd hardly call it racist, but it irks me that suddenly I am Indian to him when for most of my life I was white. It bothers me that this friend constantly describes me as "brown" or "dusky," makes ugly references to terrorism, or discusses my ancestry in a joking manner. How do I get him to back off without harming our friendship?
—Bothered and Brown
You may be three-quarters white and one-quarter Asian, but your friend is 100 percent jerk. Next time he brings this up, you can say: "Ross, it seems you spend a lot more time thinking about my heritage than I do. We're friends, so I'm assuming you don't mean to come off as racist or insulting, but that's how some of your remarks sound. I especially don't want to hear any more terrorist references. So knock it off, all of it. Seriously." If he won't, then he's the one who's harming your friendship, and you can be the one to end it.
I live in a group house, and one of the roommates is the landlord. He had an office chair in the living room. Several months ago while my boyfriend was sitting in it, the leg snapped and the chair was broken. The landlord previously told us that he bought the chair on Craigslist for $30. I'm now moving out, and the landlord has asked me to replace the chair and suggested a similar one from a local store that costs about $300. I think it's unreasonable for me to buy him a brand-new chair for that amount of money when that's not what was broken. I've offered to reimburse him what he actually paid for the chair. Am I being a jerk?
With so many newly graduated lawyers despairing of ever finding a job, I have the advantage of being able to give advice on landlord-tenant law without even having taken the LSAT. You don't mention whether you have a lease, or made a security deposit, or where you live—all of which are germane. But a few minutes of online searching turned up the principle of normal wear and tear versus actual damage. (This also saved me the three years and $150,000 tuition required for a law degree.) If anything would seem to be covered by normal wear and tear, it would be simply sitting in a used chair that collapsed. Your landlord's got chutzpah for wanting you to replace his second-hand dreck with top-flight merchandise. This is the kind of guy who if you accidentally spill wine on his sweatshirt demands you buy him an Armani jacket. Let's hope he doesn't plan to hold on to your security deposit or fight this out in small claims court—where he would be unable to proffer a receipt for a $300 chair he's demanding be replaced. I say you owe him nothing. If, for the sake of ending this drama, you generously want to give the $30 he paid for the chair, he should take it gratefully. If he doesn't, you might want to mention that your boyfriend's sacroiliac has never been the same since he sat in the defective chair your landlord kept in his living room.
More Dear Prudence Columns
"A Cornucopia of Crises: Prudie takes on Thanksgiving quandaries involving uninvited guests, the ghosts of holidays past, and exiled smokers." Posted Nov. 18, 2010.
"Bob & Carol & Ted & Malice: My parents' swinger friends are trying to blackmail our family after Mom and Dad's tragic deaths." Posted Sept. 30, 2010.
"No Debt of Gratitude: I borrowed cash from Dad to care for my dying mom. Now he's demanding payback." Posted Aug. 12, 2010.
"Dirty Pretty Things: My girlfriend has worn the same undergarment for weeks. Isn't that disgusting?" Posted Aug. 27, 2009.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
"The Grinch Who Stole Thanksgiving: Prudie counsels readers on Turkey Day predicaments, such as flying solo for the holiday, hosting irritating in-laws, and attending multiple dinners. Posted Nov. 22, 2010.
"Baby Mama Drama: Prudie counsels a sleuth who uncovered a baby-trap scheme—and other advice-seekers." Posted Nov. 1, 2010.
"The Family That Bathes Together: Prudie counsels a mother who wonders when the time is right to stop bathing with her little boy." Posted Oct. 12, 2010.
"Help! I'm Too Hot for My Age: Prudie counsels a woman whose youthful looks bring her nothing but problems—and other advice seekers." Posted Feb. 8, 2010.