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, everyone. Let's get to it.
Q. Two Wedding Rings: I married in my early 20s and had two kids. Their father and I are now divorced, and we haven't heard from him in more than a decade. I know this is unusual, but I've worn my wedding ring even after the divorce. It's a reminder of the short period of happiness I had, my two great kids who resulted from my marriage, and the many life lessons I learnt from both the marriage and divorce. I am now about to embark on my second marriage in my 40s and I want to continue wearing my ring. My fiance doesn't understand this and thinks I should take it off. He isn't enthusiastic about the idea of me wearing two wedding bands on my fourth finger. We've had a lot of debates over this. He thinks I should respect his wishes, I think he should respect mine. Who should give way?
A: I'm wondering how someone who goes around wearing a wedding ring succeeded in the dating pool. Normally a wedding ring sends a flashing "Do Not Enter" message—except to those looking for flings with married people. Of course you love the children that came from your failed marriage. But since your ex has disappeared from their lives, and apparently has neglected to even send a check to help raise them, your time with him is not an interlude worth permanently memorializing on your left hand. Marriage in this country is a one-at-a-time proposition. I agree with your intended that it's bizarre and undermining for you to continue to wear the ring of the rat who took off years ago. Stash the old ring in the sock drawer and consecrate your new marriage with his gold band.
Dear Prudence: Holiday Cheapskate
Q. Classroom Volunteer Behavior: My first-grade daughter came home the other day and said the kids made fun of her because she didn't want to sit on "Mr. Kay's" lap during story time. Mr. Kay is a beloved neighborhood retiree who has been volunteering in my daughter's classroom for eight years. His wife volunteers in a third-grade classroom. Kids sign up to sit on Mr. Kay's lap during story time, because it's such a popular location. My daughter says he hugs them during the story time and that she doesn't care for it. Maybe the recent spate of sex abuse scandals has me on high alert, but does this qualify as red flag behavior? The hugging is basically crossing his arms over the child if that helps.
A: Your daughter finds Mr. Kay icky, so that's what you need to address when you talk to the teacher about this. I agree that it's impossible to tell if he's a lovely, harmless man and the children feel that sitting on his lap is like getting to sit on Santa's, or if your daughter is picking up that there's something a little too enthusiastic about Mr. Kay. It could also be that you've had a talk with her about strangers touching her, and that's made her fearful of him. I've volunteered in classrooms of kids that age, and it's common for them to commandeer your lap. It would be a shame for society to make even the most innocent physical contact between adults and children suspect. However, your daughter does not want to sit on his lap, and that should be respected. So have a meeting with the teacher and explain that it should be clear that choosing to sit or not sit on Mr. Kay's lap is not something kids should be teased about. This conversation should also help focus the teacher's attention on any vibes that don't quite fit with the reading of Goodnight, Moon.
Q. Job Referral Issues: I work at my college's school paper. One of my editors is a hack. He's stopped coming to two classes we have together, works poorly in group projects, freely admits to drinking and video gaming during his free time, and never responds to emails I send him about articles. The editor I interned for over the summer sent me an email telling me my school paper editor had applied for an internship with her publication; she asked for candid feedback about his work ethic and ability to work with others. I feel an obligation to tell her the truth, because I don't want to damage my credibility there, and because I seriously dislike my school paper editor. But I'm not sure if it's professional or professionally advisable to talk about a boss when one hasn't been listed as a reference. I feel very uncomfortable and wish I wasn't in this position. What's the right and professional thing to do?
A: Your former boss is just doing her due diligence, and it would be remiss for you not to answer her questions. Instead of responding with the written record of an email, I think you should call your former boss. You can tell her you are uncomfortable saying uncomplimentary things about someone else, but unfortunately in this case you have to. Keep your comments limited and focused. It doesn't matter that your school mate is not going to class with you or playing videogames. What matters is that he is unresponsive as an editor. Don't completely trash him, just explain the facts: You can't say that much about his work as an editor because the problem is getting him to read and respond to your work.
Q. Response to Two Rings: Really? No consideration given to whose hand wears the ring? Seems like a small thing to get insecure about; I'm shocked you didn't caution her as to what might be the next thing he isn't enthusiastic about.
A: It is also a small thing for her dig in about. Obviously it would be unfortunate for this to escalate to: "Pry this ring off my cold, dead hand." Other readers are suggesting that since she's invested so much meaning in the ring, that she repurpose it. She could have it melted into a charm that represents her children, for example.
Q. Maybe a Boy's Best Friend Shouldn't Be His Mother...: My boyfriend is a successful, respected photographer in our artsy city. He keeps a set of artistic nudes of a beautiful woman hanging in his apartment. I never minded the nude part until, recently, I found out who the woman was: his mom. He doesn't have a weirdly close relationship with her, but the photos still creep me out a bit, because aren't there some things that even an artistic license can't cover? Otherwise he's a wonderful man, but I'm unsure if I should talk to him about this—these photos have sentimental meaning to him, I guess—or just hit the road. Your thoughts?
A: My thought is I have just the guy for Mom! Last week I ran a letter in the column about a stepfather who was a painter who did nude portraits of his stepdaughter. I agree that an adult child posing nude for a parent, or a parent posing nude for an adult child is odd. Many people wrote to say posing nude for an artist is not sexual, which I know, having done it myself for art students for a Slate “Human Guinea Pig” column. Nonetheless, I wouldn't have modeled for my Uncle Joel had he decided to take up painting. I understand your discomfort at discovering who the model is, but context is everything. Without acting creeped out or sounding accusatory, you can say you were surprised to find out the photos were of his mother—you can add that you hope you look that good at her age. Being able to hear him talk about the sessions should be reassuring (unless he says, "My mom—the most beautiful woman in the world!"). This surely isn't something worth running over—unless during the discussion he puts on the soundtrack from Psycho.