Dear Prudence advises a woman whose fiance is too attached to his dead sister-in-law—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.
Photograph by Teresa Castracane.
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. Haunting Photo: My fiance (with whom I'm expecting a child in three months) has a photo of his deceased sister-in-law in his wallet. Right where people usually display pictures of their sweethearts or kids, there she is. I told him that was kind of weird and asked if he would remove it. He said yes, but it remained there a few days later. I put his driver's license in front of the photo but later saw that he moved the license elsewhere. Later, I gave him a printed picture of the ultrasound scan of our baby. I saw it left in the car for several days. I later broached the subject of removing the SIL's photo again because I found it creepy and disturbing. His response was, "I can't take the picture out and put it just anywhere." I angrily asked why the ultrasound picture of our child could be left carelessly in the car, but a photo of his SIL had to be treated with such respect. He said nothing. If he had just removed it, then it wouldn't be an issue, but now this is driving me crazy. Why on earth is he so protective about the photo? And how can I get him to remove it?
A: I have been married for 17 years, and for all I know my husband has a photo of my sister in his wallet. Perhaps he has a photo of Lindsay Lohan. I cannot imagine pawing through his wallet trying to censor his photographs. A photo of your fiance’s late sister-in-law has a prominent place in his wallet and therefore by his hip, and now you can barely think about anything else. Even accounting for the heightened emotions some people experience during pregnancy, I can't understand why you care. Maybe if you had borrowed $20 from him and saw her photo you could have said, "I see that you keep a photo of Eliza in your wallet. You must have cared for her a lot." That way you would have had a chance to understand her place of honor. But you blew it by acting as if you were entitled to monitor this very private property. I'm assuming this sister-in-law died young. Maybe your fiance feels moved to honor her short life. Maybe, as it sounds you suspect, he had unusually strong feelings for her. So what? You're about to have this man's child, and you're spending all your emotional energy on your jealousy of a dead woman. You say this photo is creepy, but I find creepy and intrusive your demand that he display an ultrasound scan of your child. You're going to be a mother, and since you're engaged I'm presuming you don't want to be a single one. That means you need to be able to recognize what conflicts are necessary to address and distinguish those from irrational demands that will only make you impossible to live with. Your question shouldn't be about getting your fiance to remove the photo, but instead you should be asking yourself how you remove this obsession from your own mind.
Dear Prudence: Existential Doggy Dread
Q. To Tell or Not To Tell?: Recently my sister-in-law asked if I could take my niece to a doctor's appointment. I had a day off from work and love spending time with the girl, so I agreed. During the appointment the doctor mentioned my niece's blood type, and I froze. Because we are close and donate blood frequently, I know my sister-in-law and brother's blood types. Their daughter has a different blood type from both of them, leading me to conclude that she is not my brother's biological child. I feel sick over this unwanted knowledge and do not know what to do. My brother and sister-in-law have another child, and now I'm tempted to DNA test him too, even though I know that's crazy. I adore my niece regardless of her biological makeup, but I am nonetheless furious at my sister-in-law and baffled by my intense emotions over this issue, which I found out completely by accident. I know it would hurt my brother deeply to find out about his daughter's paternity.
A: Perhaps this is the intrusive relative chat. Knowing each other's blood types is a True Blood level of closeness. Since this knowledge is overheard information, you actually don't have confirmation of anyone's blood type. (Let me add that not only do I not know what photos are in my husband's wallet, I also don't know his blood type. I don't know my daughter's blood type, and I consider us close.) I once ran a letter about an anomalous and suspicious blood type of an offspring and several people wrote in to say inherited blood typing can be more complicated than most people think and there are cases in which parents and children who are biologically related seemingly don't match. The most important point here is that all this is absolutely none of your business. Not only may you be totally wrong in your assumptions, it could be that your brother is infertile and he and his wife used a sperm donor and never told anyone. Whatever the case is, these girls are your nieces and unless you are writing a new entry in the Twilight saga, you are to stay away from their bodily fluids.