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.)
Q. What To Do With This Letter?: I borrowed a book from a guy friend last week. While reading I came across a letter written to his ex-wife, which he obviously did not send, folded and tucked inside the book. He poured his heart out in the letter and made references to very personal marital problems (including those in the bedroom). Outwardly he's a cheerful guy who looks like nothing in the world bothers him. I am now in an awkward dilemma. What do I do with the letter? If I leave it back inside the book and return it I'm afraid he's going to realize I came across it and feel humiliated. I don't feel right discarding the letter either, although obviously he's forgotten that it's there.
A: I hope when you return the book with the letter tucked exactly where it was he assumes you're not a snooping busybody and you'd know not to open his personal correspondence. What you read is none of your business. Assuming he's already read the book, it's likely he'll just place it on the shelf and never realize the letter is in there. If he finds it and says something to you, I'm going to suggest a little white lie and that you say of course you didn't open it. The only awkward dilemma you have is discovering something unpleasant about yourself.
Q. MIL problems: Sometime next month I'll give birth to my second son. My in-laws, who live very close, have volunteered to take my older child while I'm in the hospital. However, I can't imagine two more opposite parenting styles than those between me and my MIL. I'm a reduced-sweets, no TV, early bedtimes (and fun too!). She is snacks whenever, bedtime whenever, and TV all the time. This is really causing me some serious angst. We have friends who would gladly take older child, but I feel guilty asking them when we have family who is (mostly) able. Do I just need to suck it up and tell myself that 16 hours of TV with fruit loops and Oreos won't kill my child for the two days while I'm in the hospital? Or is there some way to talk to her about what is/isn't OK when dealing with my child?
A: Your son is in for a big shock. So how better to ease this transition than a couple of days of R&R with Grandma where the sky rains Fruit Loops and Oreos and the TV is always blasting uneducational shows. You seem to think your husband turned out OK, and he was raised by this woman. So accept that while you're out making your son into a big brother, a couple of days with Grandma won't hurt him.
Q. Perfect Baby: I am the mother of a nine-month-old and my daughter is the perfect baby. She started sleeping through from day five and even now she goes to bed on her own at 8 p.m. and wakes up at 10 a.m. She is a very happy baby, breastfeeds easily, and naps twice a day (again, without any problem). She loves people and hardly cries. In fact, I don't even remember the last time she fussed. I've never felt stressed about being a mom because my own mother loves being a grandparent and comes over every day to deliver meals, and plays with my daughter while I do my own thing. My problem is that when I hang out with other mothers, they become annoyed at me when I share my parenting experience. I don't try to be insensitive about other moms' problems with their babies but the fact is I have none, and I don't think I need to hide the fact that my daughter is an easy baby or make up problems that don't exist. How can I better fit in with other moms? Do I really need to be stressed about motherhood in order to make good mommy friends? Signed, Happy Mom.
A: Oh, how happy your friends will be when your daughter gets a world-class case of the terrible twos. If your friends are letting off steam about their exhaustion, difficulties feeding, and trouble finding help and you're beaming a beatific smile and offering what an angel you've given birth to, and how you have the ideal home situation, well, you can see why they'd want to brain you. This doesn't mean that you have to trash your daughter or motherhood. It just means that you listen attentively to their problems, downplay how utterly perfect your life is, and be prepared for things to change.
Q. Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: I've been dating my boyfriend for four years. He was diagnosed with a terminal illness and I've stood by him and supported him. For the past year—shortly before he was diagnosed—I've questioned whether I love him and wanted to break free from the relationship. His illness has made this impossible. I feel horribly guilty for essentially abandoning a dying man. I do not think he will cope with the breakup very well. I am his main source of emotional support and do care for him greatly. I just don't love him in that way or see a future together if he were a healthy man. The doctor says his expectant life span is somewhat unpredictable—if he takes a bad turn it can be a few months, if he fights on, a couple of years. Should I just stay with him until he passes away, or is it OK to let him go now?
A: This is a similar dilemma to the man with the girlfriend with the botched nose job, but how different your situation is. Of course you're right that if you're your boyfriend's main emotional support, he won't take it well that you're ending the relationship while he faces the end of his life. But you are understandably feeling held hostage because you wouldn't be with your boyfriend now if he hadn't fallen ill. But he did, and you have been there for the man you spent four years with through this ordeal. The question really isn't so much about the rest of his life, but about the rest of yours. You have to examine hard how you would feel about yourself if you were to, as you say, "abandon a dying man."
Q. Wedding Shower Etiquette: First let me say I love your column and have read all the archives. I can't wait to hear what kind of advice you can give me. Here is the situation: My fiance and I are getting married in three months. A small wedding with less than 100 guests. We just purchased a house and have registered for things that we will need, mostly basics like sheets, towels, cookware, and the entire gamut of kitchen utensils. It is not a small list, but there is very little on it that is considered a "want." My issue now is, I have two friends that would like ME to tell my bridesmaids that I want a catalog shower of their home-based businesses (think Tupperware or Mary Kay, that sort of thing). While I like the products that these home-based businesses offer, I cannot justify the costs right now—for me or for anyone. I would rather have the basics from my registry first, then slowly accumulate the "goodies" from my friends' businesses. So I need to know, what is the best way to turn down these two friends? What do I say? One is a colleague and the other is a friend from college.
A: This is a twist. Instead of the bride viewing her friends as a fully loaded ATM just awaiting a PIN number, your friends view the bride as a soft touch for their side businesses. What you say is, "I love the stuff you sell, but I'm not going to do a Tupperware/Mary Kay party for the shower. Thanks." If they get pushy, just smile and repeat.
Q. Say My Name, Not That Awful Nickname: What can I do about getting some family members to stop using a nickname that I have told them, politely and sincerely, that I really dislike? This nickname started years ago, when my nephew, as a baby, mispronounced my name. Two out of my three sisters (and the nephew, now an adult) still call me "Nan." It was cute when it was a matter of baby-talk, but now I cringe when these family members not only call me Nan, but introduce me as such. When I've already said, "Please call me by my name." What more can I do?