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. Let's get to it.
Q. Virginity: This December I am marrying a wonderful man who is from a different culture. He comes from a conservative background where young people are expected to stay virgins until their marriage. He also has this view on sex and has remained a virgin as well. Whenever we discussed sex, he said it was very difficult growing up in America and staying a virgin, but he has, because he sees sex as a special thing he wants to reserve only for his wife. The only thing is, this won't be my first time. I've had two partners previously, both in a serious relationship. I never explicitly said I wasn't a virgin but led him to believe I was. I asked him hypothetically one day (before we started dating) how would he feel if his future wife had sex before meeting him. He said that this would be a deal breaker for him. In my mind it's not a big deal having partners before marriage, but it clearly is for him. Do I say anything at this point?
A: Let's say your fiance was from a culture in which it was acceptable for men to have more than one wife, and before you started dating he asked you how you felt about polygamy. You replied that it would be a deal breaker. So you two started going out, fell in love, and got married. And as you embarked on the honeymoon he broke the news that Wife No. 1 would be accompanying you because to him polygamy was just a normal thing.
Before you even went out with this man, he laid out his bottom line on getting laid. You chose to ignore his fundamental beliefs because to you it doesn't make sense to be a virgin until marriage. I'm on your side in this debate. Frankly, since you're sexually experienced, I can't imagine why you'd want to marry someone before having a test run. Nonetheless, as silly as you may find your husband's convictions, they are his, he made them explicit, and you are starting your marriage based on a lie. When there is a lack of bloody sheets on your honeymoon, are you going to trot out the old canard that your hymen got ripped while horseback riding? When you start to blurt out, "I like it better if you—I mean, I have no idea what I like," won't he perhaps be suspicious? Before this goes any further, you must tell him the truth. That he loves you and wants to marry you might mean he is willing to examine his beliefs in light of the fact that you aren't a virgin. The Virgin Suicides is supposed to be an excellent novel; you don't also want it to be the theme of your new marriage.
Dear Prudence: Father's Worn Out Welcome
Q. Infertility: My husband has two sisters, both of whom are around 40 and childless. They both have been trying for a baby for years with no luck—one sister is divorced because of all the stress of conceiving, the other has had two miscarriages in the past 10 years. I have two young children and my sisters-in-law behave rudely to them. When we all get together, my sisters-in-law constantly tell them off for being loud or running around. If my kids are watching TV or playing games, they get told off for being lazy. They've never once received a birthday or Christmas gift from their aunts. If my MIL is having fun with my kids and laughing together, the sisters-in-law will leave the room. Others say I should be the bigger person and understand how they must be feeling, but I am simply fed up. How can I deal with this situation?
A: I see, so your sisters-in-law are entitled to disparage and ignore your children, and you're supposed to be understanding about it, because somehow your ability to reproduce was the cause of their reproductive difficulties? Of course, it's terribly painful not to be able to have children, but people going through this difficulty need to remember the world is full of kids and other people's children are not a rebuke to them. If these children are those of friends or relatives, one's life will be enriched by having a relationship with them, not insulting the children and shunning the parents. This is really a situation in which your husband should talk to his sisters. He can say he knows they are in pain, but your kids are missing out on two wonderful aunts, and they're missing the chance to be important people in the kids' lives. If they'd rather be bitter and nasty, then limit your interaction with them. If they want to leave the room when the kids' grandmother is playing with them, then that's what you call win/win.
Q. Should I End My Child's Friendship With a Lonely Child? We have a 6-year-old son (Sam). My husband's best friend of 20 years and his wife have a 6-year-old son (Chris), a 3-year-old girl, and they lost a child (Mark) a few weeks after his birth eight years ago. The mother has tried to keep Mark's memory alive, with examples ranging from the power going out in a storm, to a sound in another room as "Mark saying hello or playing in the other room." She has the two younger kids speak to him as if he is there beside them, like a regular conversation. Mark's nursery is still set up and was never used, and she keeps a shrine to Mark that includes disturbing/graphic photos (after death and surgery photos) in her living room. This is getting worse/more extreme with time. Her family support her in this, and her husband and his family face her wrath (for weeks) when they voice concerns. Chris is having problems at school. Recently, during a storm the lights went out in class, and Chris started yelling and screaming at his brother to turn the lights on in front of the other kids. He also has these one-sided conversations in the classroom with "Mark."
Kids have now started to say things like, "Chris sees dead people" and call him "Creepy Chris." My son and Chris have been friends since birth, but Sam doesn't want to invite Chris to his upcoming birthday, yet Chris has attended every previous party. What should we do? I don't want my son to be uncomfortable or force him to continue the friendship (sadly he used to really enjoy Chris' company), but I can't help thinking about those poor kids.
A: Someone needs to intervene here because this mother sounds as if she has veered into mental illness and the whole family is coming undone because of it. Since your husband has been friends for years with the father, your husband needs to have a serious talk with the man and say his wife seems stuck in her grief and, unfortunately, it's having a devastating effect on the wonderful children they do have. If necessary, your husband—who must know the grandparents—should try to enlist their help. Tell your son you understand his discomfort with Chris, but that he's a great kid who's having a hard time and all of you have to be nice to him, not shun him. If you're around Chris when he makes a reference to Mark controlling the lights or some such, feel free to say: "Chris, that was just a power outage. It had nothing to do with Mark. Mark is gone and he doesn't control anything that's going on in your life. "
Q. Virginity: The whole "Bloody sheets" thing is not universally true, and neither does every female virgin have a totally or even partially intact hymen. It doesn't always hurt the first time and it doesn't usually bleed much if at all. While I agree that she should tell her fiance, let's not engage in virginity stereotyping.
A: Sure, that's true. But I assume the bride is going to feel obligated to put on some kind of show to act as if this is her first time, and that her husband may question why he met with so little resistance.
Q. Expected for Dinner: Acquaintances of ours recently canceled a dinner invitation (again, this time the morning of the dinner party) in order to move forward some nonemergency contract work on their home (I think—the details are fuzzy). They're now asking when we can reschedule. After eating some very expensive leftovers for days on end, I'd like to say, "Why don't we come to you this time." Would it be too rude to invite ourselves to their house? They've never offered to host. I'm just tired of emotionally and physically preparing to host but would still like to see them.