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.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Secret Pregnancy: A friend of mine is pregnant as a result of a one night stand with an acquaintance. She is planning to become a single mom. She has so far refused to tell the father of her child because she doesn't want to "burden" him when she is happy to raise the baby alone. He's a decent guy, he just doesn't ever want to get married or have a relationship, so she keeps saying she feels bad to shock him with the news. I feel like it's so wrong to keep something like this from him. Even if he decides he wants nothing to do with the baby, I feel like he should at least know and make his own decision. Would it be totally out of line for me to tell him myself? I am a firm believer in minding my own business, but I feel it's completely wrong to keep this guy in the dark and have the decision made for him that he's going to have nothing to do with his child. If it were me I would be completely outraged that someone prevented me from getting to know my own child.
A: If she's approaching motherhood in the spirit of deceit and evasion, that's not a promising start. Not only does the father need to know; the two of them need to work out financial support and talk about the father's role in child-rearing. If someone has unprotected sex, he takes on the risk of becoming a parent, and it's ludicrous that your friend thinks this knowledge would be too much of a "burden." And unless your friend is independently wealthy, she will find that raising a child on a single salary truly is a burden. Beyond that is the eventual issue of a child who will want to know who his or her father is. It doesn't matter how loving and committed a mother your friend is; children are interested in their entire paternity. I have been reading the reviews of the book Luck and Circumstance by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who went through his life haunted by the suspicion that his biological father was Orson Welles, but who was unable to get his actress mother to tell him the truth. Sure, your friend's acquaintance is no Orson Welles, but every child is entitled to as much honesty as possible about this. I think you need to tell your friend that since she's confided in you, you have profound concerns about her desire to keep her secret. Be gentle and understanding, but say you hope she will consider that in the long run, the truth will be better for everyone. Then wait and see if she comes around. If she won't, you don't have to act now, but you can tell her you will find it hard to keep this secret forever. And perhaps when she starts to show, the father will do some elementary math and draw some conclusions of his own.
Dear Prudence: I Married a Peeping Tom?
Q. My Boyfriend Lives With His Ex Wife: I have recently started dating a great guy—I've never clicked with anyone like this before. Early on he mentioned he's divorced, with two kids. Then a short while later he told me he was still living with his ex wife. He explained both of them can't afford to live separately, paying for separate households plus child support. He said his divorce was as amicable as they get, they don't communicate more than necessary, and have each had relationships in the three years they've been divorced. What is your take on this situation—is there any hope for our relationship or is this just too weird?
A: Yes, it's weird, and if you'd written this about three years ago I would have thought this guy was a married man just feeding you some real estate baloney. Then the housing market collapsed and many people who would like to dump both their domestic partner and their domicile are stuck under the same roof. However, even if his marriage and his mortgage are underwater, this is an uncomfortable situation that presents difficulties for you. But first you must make sure he's telling the truth. Given the bizarreness of his claims, he should understand that you would like to see a copy of his divorce decree. Once you establish he really is divorced, then you need to be able to talk to him about what his living situation means. Will your relationship be conducted exclusively at your place? Are he and his ex attempting to physically separate, or do they like being divorced, living together, and dating other people? It could be that living with his wife is a great way to keep from having to commit. So before you get in too deep, you need to discover if his heart really belongs to his mortgage company.
Q. Wedding Shower Blues: Please help me out with some advice for my situation. My fiance and I just purchased our first home and had our first wedding shower. Neither of us have lived on our own and our registry reflected our honest-to-goodness needs. Now I'm struggling with ungratefulness towards my gifts. Prudie, we only received one item from our registry. I was so disappointed after the shower that I cried as I drove home. I feel like no one took the time to think about who I am as a person, what kind of gift I would appreciate, and what kind of needs we are facing in our lives right now. Now I am struggling with how to write my thank you cards (which were also a gift) when I'm not very thankful. I have thought of focusing more on the guests' presence rather than their "presents" but I'm afraid that would be rather transparent. How can I say, "Thank you, but you really shouldn't have" and mean it? How can I be grateful for extremely tacky and tasteless gifts?
A: Your first step toward recovery should be to accept that your friends are just friends and not program officers of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. A registry is a convenient way of pointing people toward what you would like; it is not a series of commandments. However, it's strange that virtually everyone ignored your wishes. So there are two obvious possibilities: Your wishes were outrageous, or there is something troubling about your relationships. If you were suggesting people buy you the Regency bed set, or appliances, maybe they all balked en masse. Usually that means a bunch of salad bowls and trivets come your way, so I'm wondering if some kind of prank was being pulled with the "tacky and tasteless" gifts. But perhaps their tasteful gift is your tacky one. In any case, you pull out your thank you cards (and stationery is a perfectly appropriate gift) and write the most gracious notes possible. If they were trying to hurt your feelings, they should feel ashamed. If you were trying to hold them up to furnish your home for you, you should be.
Q. Secret Pregnancy Question: The happy-to-be-a-single-mother lady has a complete misunderstanding of the concept and purpose behind child support. Child support belongs to the child, not the mother. The child has a legal right to the funds, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the mother, her income, or her wishes. Additionally, the child has a right to other financial potentials, including survivor benefits if, god forbid, something happens to the father. The mother is being selfish by denying her child what the child is legally entitled to. If something, god forbid, happens to the mother, unless she establishes a record now, the child could potentially be out in the cold regarding significant resources to help each other.
A: Excellent points, thanks.
Q. I Don't Want To Be A Full-Time Nurse!: My fiance is an only child to divorced parents. His mother has remarried and lives out of state. His father was recently in a serious car accident and now needs full time care. We looked into putting him in a facility or getting a nurse for him at home and both options are very costly. It comes down to either me or my fiance leaving work to care for my future FIL—but since I earn a lot less than my fiance does, we won't be able to live off my income alone. I'm in a turmoil as to whether I should break up with my fiance. I know it sounds selfish but I don't know if I can give up my job to be a full time nurse for my FIL, clean him, change his adult diapers, and quit my job (which I love, even if it doesn't pay much). My fiance doesn't know I'm thinking of breaking up with him and I feel terrible. Am I selfish for feeling this way?
A: Our social safety net is fraying, but I cannot accept the only solution here is for one of two young people to leave the workforce and care full time for a disabled relative. I do not think you sound selfish to not want to devote possibly the next few decades of your life to full-time care-giving to your boyfriend's father. And I cannot believe it makes economic sense for your boyfriend to be contemplating this either. How does having no income even make care-giving possible? You two haven't even begun your marriage and you are faced with a tragic crisis that will test you both. One test of the strength of your relationship is your ability to be both honest and supportive of each other. If you think your only solution is to flee, that doesn't say very much for the ability of you two to face the inevitable crises of the future. Before you split, tell your boyfriend that you realize you cannot be his father's caregiver, and that you two together need to figure out how you both can proceed with your lives and have his father be safe and looked after. Readers, any suggestion on where to turn?