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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
A: I'm trying to understand why you would like to see these people. Is it because just as you can't tickle yourself, it's impossible to stand yourself up? It sounds as if you enjoy their company because you don't actually get to enjoy their company, but you do get to lick your wounds—and eat lots of leftovers—when they end up not showing. Here are some good reasons for explaining why on the morning of a dinner party you can't come: A parent just died, or you are having an emergency appendectomy. The next time they ask when they can get you to spend a lot of money on them, you can either say, "Since you've cancelled on me the last few times, I've concluded you're not interested in having dinner with us." Or, "I'll get back to you on that," then don't.
Q. Bragging About Money: My wife's sister's husband, for over 30 years, has bragged continually about how much money he has made. One never hears the end of his "CDs," etc. On occasion, he will enter a room and change the conversation topic to money, and he rarely talks about much else. Is it acceptable to just call him a dolt ?
A: Maybe this guy should become the next Treasury secretary, since he's the only one still making money. He is a dolt, but it would be rude to blurt this out, and odd after 30 years. But it is acceptable to fall silent and stare into space when he starts blabbing about his 401(k). It's also acceptable to get up and say, "Excuse me, I need to freshen my drink."
Q. My Friend Is a Thief?: When my close friend "Tiffany" got kicked out of her home by her ex-boyfriend I offered her a room in my home until she found elsewhere to live. A couple of months after her monthlong stay, I decided to do some spring cleaning. In the process of cleaning out old clothing, I also took out my jewelry box, which I normally keep hidden in my drawers. To my horror I realized an antique hairpin and my great-grandmother's wedding ring were gone. I have always kept them there my whole life, my husband swears he hasn't touched it (he didn't even know I had a jewelry box), and I know I definitely haven't moved it. I hate to say this, but Tiffany is the strongest suspect here. I entertain friends at home every now and then, but they never go upstairs, where my bedroom is. I am at a loss as to how to bring the subject up with Tiffany. What do I do now?
A: You have a strong suspicion but no proof. Whether or not the culprit is Tiffany, she obviously is going to deny she stole the stuff from Tiffany's, so it's useless to accuse her. It's also possible she didn't do it. So I'd say from now on keep your socializing with Tiffany off your premises.
Q. Expected for Dinner, Cont.: They're friends of friends, we enjoy their company, and our life stages are similar (young families). I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt and don't view myself as weak or spineless for doing so (thank you very much). I'm just wondering the best way to go about it given their behavior and my limited resources.
A: There are no lack of delightful people with young children who would be thrilled to get an invitation for a home-cooked meal, will actually come, and will bring a bottle of wine in addition. You've said these people chronically diss you and now you're mad at me for telling you to drop them. I'm afraid I don't know how to help you to get them to cook for you.
Q. Death of a Parent: I just found yesterday that my mother-in-law (aged 58) has less than one month left to live. This was the devastating news from her doctors. She has cancer that has managed to spread to her bones and just went to hospice. I'm at a loss as to how to deal. My husband doesn't like to talk about his emotions, and I get that, but he's pushing me away. I want to talk but he doesn't. How can I show him that it'll be easier to talk, and easier to heal to talk about things rather than keep them bottled up inside? I know it's going to take a while to get over this loss, and I want to remember the good times, get life back to normal, but I also don't want to be pushed away from that side of the family. She is literally the glue that holds everyone together.
A: You can help him get through this terrible news and his coming loss by not forcing on him your ideas of how people should respond to such events and letting him know how he should act once his mother is gone. You want to talk, he doesn't. So you need to talk to your friends about what's going on, because your husband is processing his shock and grief in his own way. When you have an to urge to force your ideas of "healing" on him, take a deep breath and keep your mouth closed. Follow his lead in what he wants. Maybe he wants you just to hold his hand (but if he doesn't, hands off). Maybe you could do the most good by organizing meals for the family as they start their vigil. Stop anticipating people pushing you away or falling apart. This is your mother-in-law's illness and death, it isn't your drama. Quietly take your place by your husband's side and don't make this about you.
Q. Stolen Jewelry?: Prudie, Prudie, Prudie, this is a perfect time to dust off your acting skills. Over lunch with your friend, you burst into tears, talking about how losing your Nana's things has upset you. You can't imagine how this happened. You know you haven't moved them from your drawer. You do NOT accuse her—you let her know the loss is significant to you, and you let her either confess, or replace them unnoticed by you. If neither happens, drop her.
A: Tiffany may be the thief, but we don't know that for sure. Maybe Nana's things were snatched before Tiffany ever showed up. I agree that it's fine for the letter writer to go out with Tiffany and in the course of the conversation say she was deeply distressed to find her late grandmother's jewelry was missing. Perhaps that will spark a confession. But if one's friend is capable of stealing jewelry, she's capable of keeping that to herself.
Q. I'm Not a Library!: I'm an avid reader and collector of books, and I often recommend books to my friends who are interested in the same genres. Recently, I loaned a book to a friend who promised she would take exquisite care of it—only to have the nearly pristine first edition paperback returned in appalling condition (binding broken, cover torn and bent, pages buckled). This has happened before (with other friends), and I swore off lending books for years, but I'm relatively new in this city and have few friends here, and I didn't want to insult my friend when she asked. Can I ask her to replace the damaged book with a like copy (which could run to around $30 since it's first edition)? And how do I tell future friends I'm not a lending library without them assuming I don't trust them? I've gotten that reaction before, and I've also had friendships dissolve over damaged books. I think they see paperbacks and assume the books have no value, but that's often not true. Do I have to put my treasures on the line to preserve my friendships?
A: Since you love books, the writers of them will appreciate if after you rave about a book you say, "I just don't like to lend out books. But I assure you, you won't regret buying this one." Your friend should have taken better care of the book, but paperbacks easily show their wear and if you wanted it to remain pristine, you never should have loaned it. Save your friendship and shell out the $30 yourself if you must have another copy.
Q. Seeing Red!: I am fortunate to have two beautiful young daughters. One of my daughters has gorgeous bright red hair, which attracts comments from random strangers on a regular basis. As a proud mother, I used to find these comments flattering, however, they're starting to get annoying. First of all, my daughter has become very well aware that having red hair is an envied trait. However, what bothers me most is that many of these "well-wishers" completely look past my other daughter, who is generally right next to her! Last week she made a comment to me about how she is "not special" because she doesn't have red hair like her sister. This breaks my heart! Is there a polite way to handle these situations?