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. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Hope everyone had a great Fourth! I look forward to your questions.
Q. Slow Boyfriend: I want to marry my boyfriend, but there is one issue that always holds me back. To put it bluntly, he is, well, slow. I don't mean to sound condescending (I'm not exactly a rocket scientist either), but that is what he is. He has zero general knowledge. He thinks hamsters lay eggs, and Greece is a continent, and Beijing is a country in Greece. If I encourage him to read a book, he boasts that he's never read a whole book in his life. He doesn't know a lot of words that most high school graduates know. For instance, I was watching the news and remarked, "That politician always contradicts himself." He asked me what "contradict" means. This happens several times a week, even with my average vocabulary. Although he was born here, his mom is from Chile, so at first I thought it was because Spanish is his dominant language. It turns out he doesn't even speak Spanish, even though all of his siblings speak at a basic conversational level. He managed to graduate college without any special help, so I don't think he has any kind of cognitive disabilities. Would this impact our marriage negatively?
A: Hold on, hamsters don't lay eggs? Then what did I just fry up for breakfast? If you marry this guy, he will tell the best bedtime stories to your children! "On a continent called Greece, there was a giant city full of Chinese people whose favorite food was 1,000-year-old hamster eggs. No one spoke Spanish there, not even the Chileans."
Usually letters such as yours start with praise for the beloved ("I have a wonderful boyfriend with one glaring flaw: He's a serial killer. Should I be concerned?). But except for your acknowledgement that you're no genius yourself, I fail to find anything in your letter that indicates what you find appealing about Mr. Befuddled. Although I'm curious as to what college awards a B.A. to someone who appears to be barely literate, and what he does for a living, the big question is: What do you see in him? If you're asking me if I would have a hard time marrying someone who wanted to raise hamsters to save money on eggs, the answer is yes. But only you know if his agricultural and geographical deficits are overcome by some extraordinary qualities you haven't mentioned. And please don't tell me he's superb at his work ... teaching elementary school.
Dear Prudence: Flatulent Boyfriend
Q. Bad Luck Bride?: Six years after my first time as a bride I am walking down the aisle again with my second husband. My first wedding was one with all the glitz and glamour. Although it was nice, I believe you should only have one big wedding party—hence my second wedding is a low-key affair. I don't want to spend a lot of money and have been cutting corners where I can. Since bridal gowns take up a significant portion of the budget in many weddings I've opted to re-wear the dress I wore at my first wedding. To me it has no sentimental value, and it's not like I'm going to display my first and second wedding photos side by side anyway to compare how much more beautiful I used to look when I was younger. But the reaction of my family and friends is that of horror. Some people said it's bad luck and others said it's tacky to wear it again. Personally, I don't think the dress has any superpowers to somehow cast the evil eye on my second marriage. But since people have reacted to it so strongly, it makes me wonder—should I buy a new dress?
A: You often hear from women who buy untraditional wedding gowns that they intend to wear them again, and probably no one ever does. But you have come up with the perfect way to get more use out of your gown—wear it for all your marriages! I agree with you that it's silly to imbue extraordinary talismanic powers in inanimate wedding objects. People have written to me asking if it's OK to reuse engagement and wedding rings, and as long as everyone is comfortable, why not? On the other hand, as you walk down the aisle, you want people murmuring how beautiful you look, not, "I think the dress fit her better last time." I suggest a compromise—have the dress altered. If it's strapless, transform it with some lace a la Catherine Middleton. Perhaps you could change the length. With some clever tailoring you can repurpose your gown so that it looks as if the dress, as well as your union, marks a fresh start.
Q. Workplace Harassment: I am in a difficult situation. I am a new graduate lucky enough to find a fantastic job in my industry. I am a young single female in a work environment dominated by older men. I am ambitious and hardworking and put in extra hours. My immediate supervisors have had a very high opinion of me and have communicated this to me and to other managers. An opportunity arose where my supervisor wanted to promote me, which was met by accusations of him having a "personal relationship" with me due to the amount of praise I was receiving. I was passed up for a promotion and new opportunity while being told by a higher-up that my boss (who was reassigned to a new project) did not need any distractions. Embarrassed and disappointed, I then was put under the supervision of another supervisor, who asked me flat out if I had slept with my last boss. This supervisor regularly makes sexual advances and comments in my direction. I've told him multiple times and sternly that it is inappropriate and makes me feel uncomfortable, [only] to be told that "this is the way it is in this industry." I fear (and strongly believe) that if I complain I will lose my job (which I really love, minus the harassment) and be black marked in the industry. I live in a smaller city where similar opportunities are not widely available to someone with my experience level, and I recently took on a mortgage. What is the best way to handle this awful situation while maintaining my dignity and employment status?
A: Just when you think the world has really changed, there's a letter like yours. You have done exactly the right thing by addressing your harasser directly and asking him to stop. And he, knowing the job market, knowing how he can damage your reputation, has you in a psychological vise. But a creep like this is only going to escalate, and you will find yourself eventually dreading coming in. You must go to another supervisor or the Human Resources department at your company and give a full accounting of what has been going on. It might be helpful to contact your former supervisor and tell him about the insinuations and harassment you are enduring (he should be interested that his reputation is being sullied) and ask for his help. Once you talk to a supervisor, start keeping notes on how you are treated. Although many readers recommend bringing lawsuits for infractions like the company cafeteria using too much mayonnaise, in this case, if you can't get relief from a boss who is simultaneously trying to ruin your reputation and get you into bed, a discussion with an employment law specialist might be worth having.