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. Let's get to it.
Q. Awkward Run-in With Future Father-in-Law: My future in-laws stayed with us for several days a few weeks ago. They live on the other side of the country, so I have actually only met them once (though my fiance generally only has good things to say about his parents). Well, one morning when they were here, my fiance was showering and I was making everyone breakfast. I stepped in our bedroom for a moment to get something and found my fiance's dad sniffing a pair of my panties from the laundry basket. Dirty underwear. Eek!! I acted casual about it like I hadn't noticed and he said he was looking for a sweater that my fiance had offered to let him wear. This kind of creeps me out though. I haven't told my fiance and I'm not sure if I should because I know he gets along so well with his mom and dad. Any thoughts?
A: For all of you who are dreading the holidays with your overbearing in-laws, you now have a beautiful mantra to repeat to get you through Thanksgiving: "At least my father-in-law is not sniffing my dirty panties." Eek, indeed, and your future father-in-law is a rather bold pervert if he is willing to sneak into your laundry basket while his son is in the shower and you are down the hall. This is a repulsive image, one that will be hard to eradicate in the decades to come. I think this is too big a burden to keep secret from your boyfriend. At the least your fiance might want to know why you're avoiding hugs with his dad or don't want to sit next to him at meals. I think you should sit your boyfriend down and say you've got something unpleasant to tell him you realized you just couldn't keep to yourself. Hearing about this doesn't mean he's not going to continue to love his father. Just that he has to understand his dad has a problem and you are going to do your best to be warm and cordial, but keep your distance.
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Q. Mean Girl at the Office: I work in a very small office (3 women and 4 men). One of the women constantly talks about one of our co-workers in a disparaging manner—commenting on the person's presentation and odor. The target of these remarks does have an odor, but it is due to having a catheter. I am getting sick of hearing these things and I know that it's not right to talk about another person like this especially when there are specific medical reasons behind their problems. What can I do to stop this kind of talk? Because it is such a small office complete avoidance of the mean girl is not an option.
A: I think you, and possibly another likeminded colleague, should go out for coffee with the office scourge and coolly and professionally explain to her that you're disturbed by her disparagement of your co-worker and that she needs to stop. Reiterate that your colleague has medical issues, and her insults have no place in your place of work. Say that you hope she understands if she doesn't stop, you will have to take this further up the ladder. You might want to make some notes about the conversation in case this woman tries to make life unpleasant for you as a result. She sounds dreadful and I'm sure her departure from your office would be a great improvement in the atmosphere.
Q. Friendship—Do I Keep A Secret Or Spill The Truth?: I have a close friend, "Sam," who I met in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting many years ago. He has gotten very serious with a woman, "Amanda," and they have been living together now for a little over a year. They have four children between the two of them. Sam recently told me that one of the rules he had set down was that he could not, under any circumstances, be involved with a woman who drank, so his girlfriend supposedly "swore off" alcohol for him. Well, I was at a social function and Amanda happened to be there. She was drinking, and she was buzzed. When she saw me she made me promise not to say anything, and now I feel torn. As a fellow recovering alcoholic, I feel it's my duty to tell my friend because as alcoholics, our recovery must always come first and foremost, and she might end up jeopardizing this. On the other hand, I would feel terribly if I tore the family apart they are trying to build by speaking the truth. What should I do?
A: I agree that for an alcoholic staying sober is a foremost task in life. But the person who can't drink has to learn to navigate through a world of people who do. I know many recovering alcoholics who are married to people who enjoy having a glass of wine in their presence and all is fine. I can't tell from your description whether you think "Amanda" herself is hiding a drinking problem, or she was just a little tipsy at a social event. Building a relationship on unreasonable demands and lies is a poor basis for success. But I don't see how Amanda drinking at a party jeopardizes Sam's own sobriety. I think this is an issue for the two of them, and you should stay out of it.
Q. Pregnancy Announcements: I am happily and unexpectedly pregnant. My boyfriend, a divorced father, is incredibly happy too. Unexpected pregnancies don't come without inconvenience, though, so here's our dilemma: His ex-wife remarried shortly after their divorce to her high school boyfriend. Unfortunately, he wasn't fully prepared to become a stepparent, and she discovered he'd developed a really nasty temper since they'd graduated. They divorced this past April, and she's still understandably devastated about her second divorce in five years. My boyfriend wants to marry me, and I want to marry him, but we both feel sick over the pain we might cause his ex-wife, a truly kind and caring woman. I feel as though our lives are coming together as hers is falling apart. How should we proceed with pregnancy and wedding announcements? P.S. I met my boyfriend two years after his divorce, and I enjoy a good relationship with his ex-wife.
A: It would be great if people on either side of the good fortune/bad fortune divide would understand that happiness and unhappiness is not a zero sum game. If someone is unable to find a happy relationship or get pregnant, she has to accept that her friends who are getting married or having children are not stealing her potential mate or children. (Unless a friend has actually stolen her boyfriend.) This also means people who are experiencing happy milestones in their lives do not have to be preemptively defense about their good news to cushion the blow to others. Of course, no one should gloat. You and your fiance simply have to tell the ex the good news—without adding, "We kind of didn't want to tell you because your life is so crappy right now." If she's as wonderful as you say, she’ll be happy that her children will have a loving stepmother and a new sibling.
Q. Re: Sniffing Panties Guy: A long time ago you had a question from a MIL whose son-in-law was flashing her. Most of the comments seemed to suggest she was overreacting or even a fantasist. Not that much later, a website was reported in the news, which I won't link to, in which flashers and perverts gave each other tips. The number one target was MILs. My point is, if the LW saw the FIL, then she saw him. She needs to make sure her fiance is on side with her rather than letting her think she is crazy or a fantasist.