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. (Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. Let's get started.
Q. Gay Dad: Last year my father was caught cheating with another man and left my mom and my 12-year-old brother. (I'm 23 and already moved out.) We had no inkling that he was gay, although a lot of other people said they weren't surprised. It would be an understatement to say the divorce is bitter—my mom is very angry with him and is undergoing therapy. The arrangement was for my brother to visit dad during weekends, but frequently mom drives him straight back if she sees that one of dad's flings are at home. My dad on the other hand is accusing everyone of homophobia and intolerance because most of the family is supporting my mom. I personally don't feel comfortable sitting there listening to his love life when my mom's life is falling apart, but then he will get angry at me and tell me I need to be more open-minded. I feel like I'm playing a character in some kind of comic show or a soap opera. If there's any advice you can offer, that will be greatly appreciated, thanks.
A: Your father's sexual orientation is not the issue; it's his sexual inappropriateness. If he'd been caught having an affair with a woman, and now when your brother visited there was a revolving crew of females greeting him at the house, that would be cause for concern. It's one thing if your father ends up in a serious, permanent relationship (which it doesn't sound as if he is in)—but even then what comes first on these weekends is his time alone with his son. The setting of some ground rules for visits is something your mother needs to discuss with her lawyer.
You don't want to get caught up in the role of family counselor, but since you're an adult and are concerned about your brother, go out to dinner with your father to talk. Tell him that of course the breakup of the marriage is painful for all, and that he has to understand it's an adjustment to realize one's father is gay. Explain to him you and your brother love him and are not homophobes. But you're his daughter and what you don't want is to listen to stories about his love life no matter what the sex of his partner. Tell him you hope that he can begin focusing on rebuilding his relationship with your brother, who still very much needs his father.
Dear Prudence: Halitosis Hell
Q. Can't Stand Formerly Fat Friend: A friend of mine had weight-loss surgery six months ago. Within three months, she'd dropped nearly 100 pounds. The problem is that she won't stop flaunting her weight loss. Every day she posts dozens of photos and status updates to Facebook about how she's so thin now and everyone is complimenting her. Her most recent post is about how she's really starting to notice fat people a lot more now that she's thin! I can't stand it anymore, and I've blocked her updates from appearing in my FB feed. I've tried talking to her about how she makes me feel, and she said something about loving me just the way I am and then tried to shove a bunch of her old fat clothes off on me. I see my jealousy, but I just can't get over it. Is this friendship doomed?
A: Maybe not if you wait long enough. If you've seen Bridesmaids you know that singer Carnie Wilson, after bariatric surgery and a dramatic weight loss years ago, is now struggling again with her weight. It turns out that about two years after gastric bypass surgery many patients find that despite the fix, they are able to gain weight again.
This may or may not happen to your friend. And it's understandable that she is thrilling to her new body. But incessantly flaunting it, disparaging overweight people, and being condescending to her friends with weight problems is simply obnoxious. You can tell her you are happy her surgery was a success (you can silently add "so far") but that your friendship never revolved around discussions of weight before, and you don't want it to now. If that's all she wants to talk about, then you may have to distance yourself.
Q. Bridal Shower Gift: I recently received a shower gift from neighbors who could not attend. The gift was lovely and thoughtful … and contained a pair of see-through underwear. Now that it's time to write the thank-you note, I'm not sure how to proceed. Should I mention the underwear? I don't want to be rude, but I also feel pretty awkward about it!
A: Either these are really close neighbors or the gift borders on sheer insanity. What you should do is write a note thanking your neighbors for the mentionable gift. As for the unmentionable, you can ignore it, or add a P.S.: "And I will not be letting you know when I am wearing your extra added distraction."
Q. Sperm Donation: After half a year of unemployment, I've gotten desperate enough for money that I'm strongly considering donating sperm so that I can keep afloat. I'm worried about two things: one, that the ramifications of this aren't hitting home, and two, what and when I tell my girlfriend of a few months (we haven't been dating long enough where we're open books). … Thanks!
A: If you had the ability to donate an egg you might be talking about real money. But my impression is that sperm is a dime a dozen and all the time you must spend filling out the forms to be found a worthy specimen could be put to better use. In addition, see the movie The Kids Are All Right. It turns out donating sperm may not just be for a short-term payoff. The laws are changing such that this may not longer be an anonymous jumpstart for the next generation, but that you may end up in a few years—long after you've gotten a job and forgotten about this gig—with some teenager on your doorstep wanting to meet Dad.
Q. Friend's Sexual Encounters: My best friend and I have been friends since the 8th grade. We are both now 30 years old and have a great friendship. We are very open and have always talked openly about our sexual encounters. My problem is my friend's thing for barely legal girls. Just yesterday he told me about an encounter with a girl six days after her 18th birthday. I think some of these girls might be underage but he says as long as they say they're 18, that's enough for him. I am the oldest with three sisters and he grew up the youngest of three boys. This makes me really uncomfortable as my sister is close in age to these girls and I would not want a man of our age to take advantage of her. A few months ago I mentioned to him my discomfort and he got really upset, stating that he was doing nothing wrong, as these girls were of legal age, and I was a bad friend for thinking any less of him. Is he right? I'm just being uptight? Does the fact that it's legal make it OK?
A: What kind of "encounter" is a 30-year-old man having with a teenager? Your friend sounds like a creep with a serious problem, made the worse by the fact he refuses to acknowledge he has a serious problem. You can assure him you are not uptight, that you are concerned that he is potentially taking advantage of teenagers and that he's going to find himself in deep trouble someday. Your friendship may not survive your honesty, but since you are so close, you should encourage him to get some counseling—the older he gets the more repellent his behavior will be.
Q. Re: Gay Dad: While I don't agree that the teenage son should have to meet any of the dad's new dates, I'm curious as to why you agree with her pronouncement that these individuals are "flings" and a "revolving door of people." Last I checked, happy, single people are allowed to date, right? And you do know that people who are dating aren't engaging in illicit, sexual acts nonstop, right? Seems to me that your advice was needlessly sexually charged.
A: Yes, single people are allowed to date. However, a newly single parent's first obligation is not to rub his children's noses in his dating life. The older sister said when her brother comes to visit her father on the weekend, there is often a sleep-over partner there (not a long-term boyfriend). It's not my advice that's sexually charged, it's the father's behavior.
Q. Re: Sperm Donation: If you are worried about the future ramifications, maybe consider plasma donation. Depending on where you live you can get anywhere from $50 to $100 per week. This way you are still helping out others, but you don't have to worry about your past coming back to haunt you in any way.
A: As the sperm donor in The Kids Are All Right explained to his children, "It seemed like more fun than donating blood." But you're right, this is a way to make money off a body fluid that won't require answering questions about it in 2027.
Q. Meeting the "Kids": I've been going with my man for three years, and still have not met his family. He states "it is awkward." He divorced many years ago, has grown children and grandchildren. I am beginning to feel "awkward" myself! Any suggestions?
A: Are you sure the "awkwardness" is not due to the fact that while he feels divorced when he's with you, it would come as news to his wife?
If you're sure he actually is divorced then you need to say that your relationship is going to stall out if he continues to keep your existence a secret.
Q. Phone Etiquette (Old Way vs. New Way): My husband, Tom, who is in his mid-40s and who is an otherwise polite, hip, and modern guy, has one annoying habit which is old-fashioned and maybe even rude—he always answers his cellphone with "Hello?" even after he has looked at the screen and knows who's calling. I have repeatedly suggested to him that, since he knows who's calling, he should say "Hi" followed by the name of the caller when he answers his phone (for example: "Hi, Fred" or Hi, Mom"). That kind of greeting lets the person on the other end know that he already knows who it is so that introductions can be skipped, and the conversation can begin. Tom completely disagrees. He claims that it would be impolite to say the caller's name because then that person would know that he had checked to see who was calling before he answered the phone, and Tom feels that screening calls is rude. WHAT? I mean, who DOESN'T check to see who's calling before answering a phone these days and who DOESN'T already assume that everyone who can screen calls is doing so? Please help. Tom says that the only way he will even consider greeting his callers by name is if you side with me.
A: Surely you can't really believe answering the phone with "Hello?" is rude. Your husband may often see the name of who's calling, but sometimes all that's displayed is a phone number instead of a name, and some people have their information blocked. What seems to be more rude is your micromanaging—in capital letters—of how your husband answers the phone. It shouldn't make any difference to you whether he says, "Hello" or "Hello, Bill."
Q. Way Out?: How do I go about telling my husband that I no longer love him as much as I thought I did? I got married for all the wrong reasons with him and do regret the situation I am in, not because of me but for him. He loves me dearly and tries to please me in any way he can. I would hate for him to hate me as I still care for him a lot. I know I won't be the first or the last woman to have cold feet and still go through with a marriage they truly do not want. We have no kids so there would be no one really affected, other than of course him.
A: I'm not clear whether you are asking how you tell your husband you want a divorce, or how do you tell him you want to continue your marriage on a more honest footing by acknowledging being married to him makes you feel kind of sick. At the least you need to be clear about what you want to tell him and why.
Given your portrait it seems pretty clear that you need to get out, and it would honest to begin the process by declaring yourself a jerk: You married him even though you felt you were making a mistake. The problem is not his personal qualities, it's your desire not to be married to him. You have to explain this is not fixable because he's actually a wonderful, attentive husband. The problem is you're a lousy wife. And that can only be taken care of by letting him find someone who deserves him.
Q. Re-Scheduling a Wedding: My brother is recently engaged and getting married in three months. I had a family vacation scheduled for the weekend that he's marrying. Would it be appropriate to ask him and his fiancée to reschedule?
A: No. Either you reschedule your vacation, or you miss the wedding. An announcement of a wedding date is not an opening bid for the couple to hear tales from friends and loved ones about their other, more pressing plans.
Q. Re: Friend's Sexual Encounters: Consensual sex between two adults in not taking advantage of someone. If the woman was 30 and the friend was 42 would you have a problem with it then?
A: I hope you can tell the difference between a girl who is days past her 18th birthday (a milestone being monitored by a creep so as to try to keep from getting entangled with law enforcement) and a 30-year-old woman. When the creep is 42, unless he seriously addresses this problem, he will still be breathlessly awaiting the day he can have "encounters" with girls who have just become legal.
And if he is initiating contact (though nonsexual) with these girls while they are still minors, he could one day find himself on the receiving end of a statutory rape charge.
Q. Rockville, MD: Is there ever a good reason for a married man to chat up a married woman (approximately same age and level of attractiveness)? There's a guy who works in my building in a different company, and I've noticed him looking at me, making eye contact, smiling. The other day, he finally struck up a conversation in the cafeteria, asked a lot of questions about me. Seems like a nice guy and not a creep, but I'm wondering if there's something inherently skeevy about the situation, since there was really no earthly reason for his striking up conversation. And he did seem overly interested in my life story and wants to chat again the next time we see each other (which seems to be about once a week). He's sort of new to the area, so maybe he's just friendly and all that, but I can't help feeling a little odd about the situation. If we weren't both married, I'd say he was attempting to "court" me.
A: It sounds as if it's perfectly clear to you he's not just being friendly with a stranger he sees in the building, but that he's coming on to you. You need to shut him down: "Sorry, I don't have time to chat." Or, "Excuse me, but I like to sit quietly at lunch. Bye." Don't be surprised if you find him cruising the cafeteria looking for more female friends.
Q. Big Secrets in a Marriage: I suffered a miscarriage at 12 weeks pregnant. My husband didn't know about the pregnancy and I went through the miscarriage in silence. Though the emotional toll has been great, and my husband has noticed my depression, he is still clueless. Should I tell him about "our loss" knowing that he'll be just as upset as I am—and also quite relieved, because the child was unplanned. Or should I continue to keep this mum to protect him from the whirlwind of emotions I've been feeling?
A: Why shouldn't the poor guy be clueless—you just kept from him one of the most important pieces of information a wife can tell a husband. Before you find yourself accidentally pregnant again, figure out why you wouldn't have told your husband the second you thought it was a possible you were pregnant.
Q. AIDS: Several years ago I worked as an office assistant at a very laid-back medical-type facility. One of my first tasks, after being hired, was to go through certain (confidential) files and rearrange them. In order to do so I had to read at least a little bit of every page to discern where it belonged … so I ended up finding out more about a few of the patients than I had any reason to know. One of the words that jump off the page in this sort of situation is definitely "HIV." I discovered that a gentleman who was a casual acquaintance of mine was positive. Other than concern for his health and well-being, I had an unpleasant and worrisome thought: If I were to, say, be walking down the street near to this gentleman, and he fell and hit his head (I realize this is far-fetched), and someone ran over, hands outstretched, to help stop the flow of blood—what is my responsibility in terms of his status? I assume it is to keep my mouth shut and allow him to announce it or not as is his choice, but what if he were knocked unconscious? Is it fair to the Samaritan to potentially expose them to HIV infection in order to preserve the dignity of my acquaintance? Part of the reason I ask you is that there is such social and political stigma where AIDS is concerned. Please, what's the right thing to do here?
A: You've got to be kidding. There's nothing for you to do except try to come up with a distracting activity (reciting the times tables, Angry Birds, macramé) when you find your mind wandering to, as you say, far-fetched scenarios involving this gentleman of your acquaintance whose health care information you are required to keep confidential.
Q. Autistic Child: My 5-year-old son is autistic. He looks like a "normal" kid, but his social and language skills are very delayed. The problem is when we are out in public and he "acts" autistic. I don't know how to handle people's reactions to him. For example, on a recent plane trip, my son was loudly repeating the same phrase over and over again. A woman a few rows up kept turning around to give us the stink-eye. I ignored her, until I eventually just stared her down, and she stopped. Other examples include his throwing temper tantrums over (what appears to be) a minor issue. For example, my son freaks out when he hears certain words, such as the words "rain" or "OK." Recently when this happened, a woman started lecturing him about his bad attitude. Do you have advice for handling these types of situations?
A: This is an important point people should keep in mind when they see a child acting up in public. I hope you have a support group either in your area or online of other parents whose children have autism. They will be a fount of good advice for how to deal with these situations and the many others that will come up over the years. Other parents have told me that even if they'd rather be left alone, sometimes they have to be ambassadors to the world for their children, calmly explaining this disorder. So you might want to work on being able to say something like, "My son has autism. He's a wonderful kid, but part of this disorder means normal stimuli can overwhelm him. Thanks for your understanding."
Q. Re: Phone Etiquette: Geez—what a pleasure it must be for Tom to be married to you. Just yesterday my wife called me from my daughter's soccer game using another team parent's phone. If I had answered "properly" I would have said "Hi, John" and my wife would have said, "It's Lisa" … so lighten up!
A: Many readers have made the point that even if the phone tells you who's calling, that may not be the actual caller.
Q. Re: Friend's Sexual Encounters: A friend of mine is in jail because that supposed 18-year-old girl was a 13-year-old child. Just a warning.
A: And good riddance. It's likely that someone who is counting the days until a girl's 18th birthday really wants someone younger than 18, and is going to end up in the situation your friend is now in.
Emily Yoffe:Thanks so much, everyone. Stay cool, and talk to you next week.