Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week's chat is below. ( Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie's Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at email@example.com.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I'm so cool now that it's a temperate 95 degrees out there.
Q. Gossips: At my high school, girls tend to gossip about each other. Unfortunately, this rumor spreading has become out of control in my friendship group—whenever my best friend leaves the room, three of my close friends start complaining about her and saying mean things about her. She confided in them when her sister had cancer, but they made fun of her crying when she left school early. I am fine with them not liking her, but when she is around, all of them laugh with her and she thinks of me and them as her best friends. Should I tell her these girls aren't who she thinks they are, or just stop talking to them myself and ignore the way they talk about her? Does it have to be a choice between my BFF and my social circle?
A: Maybe the producers of the movie Mean Girls had a scene in which the meanies all howled with laughter when one of their "friends" left school in tears because her sister was being treated for cancer. Then they thought, "Nah, that's just too nasty and implausible." High school is hard enough as it is, what with AP classes, skin break-outs, and applying to college. It's too bad you're also forced into having a moral crisis over how to maintain friendships with some vicious people.
I hear from many adults who regret their terrible behavior in high school—or are sorry they didn't stand up to others behaving horrendously—and wonder whether they should apologize now to their victims. (The ones who don't regret their behavior continue to torment in cubicle-land.) You can avoid this dilemma by voicing your objections to this crew. I know this is very hard to do, and I don't want you to get ostracized. But surely there are more decent kids you can hang out with if it becomes necessary. For now, when your BFF leaves the room and the maliciousness starts, you can simply say, "Natalie's my friend, and I'm really uncomfortable with this conversation." If they continue, you can say, "I've got to go." I know that's asking a lot, and runs the risk of you being the girl they laugh at when you leave the room (well, any girl who leaves the room runs that risk). Maybe they'll hear what you say and start thinking about it. Likely, they won't. But doing the right thing now will mean you won't have to look back on these years and wish you'd been a stronger, kinder person.
Dear Prudence: TMI Divorce Drama
Q. Blowing in the Wind: I realize that marriage/partnership means that you take the bad with the good and learn to put up with each others', well, bodily idiosyncrasies. But my husband farts constantly, and they're pretty pungent. Our bedroom reeks of it, and they slip out with clock-like regularity (although certain foodstuffs are noticeably worse in their effect). They even wake me up in the middle of the night. I have a lot of sympathy with him, and sure, everyone farts, but I'm also keen to mop up this problem if possible. I've bought him some "gas-ease" style pills, but he says they make him bloated. I've also tried altering his diet a bit to no avail. He knows it's a mild issue—I giggle sometimes, or scowl, or gently mock him—but for me, it's becoming a bit more of a problem than he knows. I'd hope that we've got at least another 50 years of marriage to go, and it's something I wouldn't mind finding a solution for in the early ears. What's a girl to do?
A: Since you're contemplating 50 years of this, you may want to start buying air freshener in bulk. Your husband is lucky you feel his pungency is a "mild" issue, but having your sleep regularly disturbed by his gaseous announcements might eventually cause you to explode. I dealt with the issue of openly farting in private in a video letter and advised the girlfriend to shrug it off. I was rebuked by people with irritable bowel syndrome and other maladies. Everyone farts, but not like a metronome. "Constantly" is the keyword here and your husband needs a work up by a gastroenterologist. He may be lactose intolerant or have some medical condition. Just think how great it will be if a proper diagnosis clears the air.
Q. Snappy Answers to Cancer Questions/Comments?: I am in my mid-40s and I'm currently fighting cancer and it shows: I'm bald, skinnier than I have been in years, and I have an I.V. that is very visible. On a regular basis, this means I get questions and comments that I have no idea how to respond to, including: From friends: "I'm so sorry." (This is usually after hearing about the type of cancer I have, which is usually fatal.) "Are you dying?" "Can I have your cookbooks when you die?" (I wish I were making that up.) "You look so much better now that you have lost weight" (!). From People I have never met before: I get people who touch or rub my head or hug me as they tell me it's OK. Normally I wouldn't mind this, but the cancer I have means that I have to be careful because my immune system is compromised. Also people who don't know me come up and tell me their experiences with cancer and chemo (usually awful stories involving bodily fluids, sigh). Is there something I can say to all these people to acknowledge that I appreciate their interest, but they really need to be a bit more gentle with my body and energy?
A: I'm so sorry for your diagnosis. And your letter is a great manifesto on behalf of all people going through medical treatment. What is there to say to someone who asks for your cookbooks except, "Please leave." So readers who have been there—what have you found are the best ways to deal with the rude and the well-meaning but intrusive?
Q. Not as Generous as You Think: I went to a wedding a few months ago, where the bride and groom had said they didn't want any gifts—just our presence. Since I'd travelled quite a ways to get there, I took them up on their offer. However, I just got a thank you note in the mail, thanking me for the incredibly generous gift I'd gotten them (a mountain bike!) with a note about how much the groom is looking forward to going biking with me, and how much it meant to them that this gift came from me. I'm 100 percent sure that nobody gifted this in my name, but somehow the card I left (with no gift) got associated with the bike. How do I say that I was a cheapskate and didn't get them anything!?