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. Should I Move for My Baby's Father?: I am pregnant, due this spring. The father is my casual boyfriend; I’m not sure if we'll end up together, but we're thrilled about impending parenthood. We'll work very well together. We have one issue, which we keep debating. He wants me to move to the island he lives on, a suburb (easily accessible by bridge) of the Pacific Northwest city I live in. He lives on the island because his kids from a failed marriage live there; he wants to be close to them, and he wants our kid to be close to him. I could afford the move, but I dread living on this island, because of its crowdedness and community and because I'm closer to my family/friends/support in the city. I am touched by how eager my boyfriend is to embrace this new fatherhood, so I'm considering it. Do I have an obligation to move to the island?
A: Where you're going to live and whether it's together is the kind of thing that's best discussed before two people decide to reproduce. You say this guy is your "casual" boyfriend, so planning how you're going to raise this child seems to be a "Whatever. It'll all work out" proposition. It probably would have been helpful if you'd noted that he has one failed marriage behind him and taken in the effect on his children of shuttling between two homes. Now a third domicile will be added to this round-robin. But of course you two will never be divorced because you're not sure enough about each other to want to commit. I do hope you understand, however, that this man will be part of your life until your child is grown and probably beyond, and you have to start making some hard decisions about what kind of role he is going to play. Being thrilled about an impending birth is great, but it is not a basis on which to do the daily work of raising a child together. Since I don't know what you want out of the relationship with the father of your child, I'm not the one to decide how close you should live to him.
Q. Hygiene vs. Etiquette: Something that puzzles me: Why wash your hands after urinating? As a woman, I don't touch my body during this process, only the toilet paper, and urine is sterile anyway. I do a very quick hand rinse in public restrooms, but only to avoid getting dirty looks. Is it just that women feel that "down there" is sort of icky? If so, do they always wash their hands after sex and masturbation? A silly question, but who else could I ask?
A: I suppose if you wanted to acknowledge the dirty looks without having to clean your hands you could announce: "It was only number one. I didn't touch anything nasty. Farewell!" I assume you'd rather live in a world where employees really did listen to the imperative sentences on the bathroom wall and wash their hands every time, despite their personal judgment that they didn't contaminate their hands. It may be that on any given session you don't touch more than the toilet paper, the toilet handle, and the bathroom door, but that's probably enough to warrant a washing. As for sex and masturbation, let's hope you're doing those things at home where your personal hygiene is not on public display.
Q. New Job: Back in May of 2011, I decided to get back into truck driving. A large faith-based company agreed to hire me. I went through orientation, and was in the process of putting my belongings in a truck when I was called up to the safety department. The director of safety had found out that I have mild sleep apnea (my roommate snitched on me). He wanted me to travel back home, undergo another sleep study, and get a letter from my doctor stating that I could drive without any restrictions. Here's the problem: The safety department never had me sign any release for them to discuss this matter with me, or anyone else, let alone even look into it. I asked a lawyer friend about this, and he told me that it's a violation of my HIPAA rights. I am currently driving for this company, but I am tempted to quit, and file a lawsuit against them. To sue, or not to sue?
A: I often get chastised that I don't suggest more often that people just sue. But your letter beautifully encapsulates the litigious world we live in. You're considering suing over the fact that the trucking company that employs you discovered you have a medical condition that could result in your falling asleep at the wheel. I'm wondering whether in the papers you signed for your job there wasn't a line about disclosing relevant medical information that you neglected to note. In any case, your roommate snitched presumably not out of malice, but out of concern for the other people on the road. Instead of entering the legal system, enter the medical system and find out if pursuing this line of work could mean you're a danger to yourself or others.
Q. Right To Know?: My brother-in-law is getting married in two months, and his fiancee is unaware that he has a 3-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. The rest of our family knows, though it's never discussed. My brother-in-law does not have any contact with his daughter, and paid off her mother in lieu of child support and any sort of ongoing relationship with their child. Obviously as his daughter gets older, there is a possibility that she will try to establish contact, or even build a relationship, with her father. Does his fiancee have a right to know this about the man she's about to marry?
A: What a lovely guy—he's written a big fat check and effectively killed off the existence of this child. I've often said that in general people don't have to give an accounting of their sexual past to their new loves unless there is something obviously relevant. That doesn't go for their reproductive past. New partners should know if there are children who have been placed for adoption, abandoned, etc. I think a couple of relatives should sit down with the brother-in-law and say the time to tell the fiancee about his daughter is now. Explain this is not only the kind of thing a future wife is entitled to know, but that the circle of people who do know is so wide that he wouldn't want her to find out from someone else.
Q. Princess Wants a Party: I was invited to a "debutante ball" for my friend's sister who is turning 18. I thought it was going to be just a nice dinner with friends and family with a little bit of dancing. Turns out it's a much more elaborate, lavish, and narcissistic event than I anticipated. She has arranged for friends to make speeches about what a cool person she is and put on a dancing performance for her. She's even asked a group of friends to write and sing a song about her. Even I've been asked to make a speech and I don't know this girl very well. The family expects almost 200 people to attend in full formal ball gowns and tuxes. I happened to be at their house one evening when they were going over the arrangements and my jaw dropped at how much they were spending. When my brother got married last year he spent less than what they're going to spend on a BIRTHDAY party. I think it's ridiculous. I don't particularly want to go anymore, because it seems so stupid to spend a five-digit figure on a birthday party for a teenager. As a columnist on etiquette, do I have your permission to decline the invitation and gently tell my friend and her sister that this event is grossly narcissistic and wastefully extravagant? I'm sure I can find another polite way to express it more delicately.
A: You don't need my permission to decline any invitation. Doing so is simply a matter of expressing your regrets that you will not be able to attend. What I'm not going to give you carte blanche to do is to see their narcissism and raise it with your rudeness. Instead of giving them an earful when you decline, it would be more fun to imagine what you could say when it was your turn to give a speech: "Although I barely know Lavinia, during our short acquaintance it has become clear she is the type of girl that entire chapters of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is devoted to." You may rightly find this whole exercise nauseating, so don't go. The exception to this would be if you've already accepted. If so, politely attend (you can get out of the speech by saying you're not comfortable doing public speaking) and think of the evening as great material.
Q. Carrying on a Family Grudge: I come from a family of one brother and two sisters, including me. Our brother has passed away and left everything to me as he never married or had kids. He did not get along at all with our sister and they spent many years arguing. My sister is not the kind of person to challenge the will and fight for the money, but I feel bad for her that she was excluded. I know she loved our brother in her own way, even if they did not get along. Whatever hurt they inflicted upon each other, I don't think she deserved to be left out in the cold like this. I am now thinking of dividing my brother's assets 50-50 to share with my sister. But my uncle, who is the executor of the will, says that while I'm free to do whatever I want, I should respect my brother's reasons for leaving our sister out of the will. He thinks it's disrespectful to my brother's wishes to give my sister anything. Am I right to give my sister her share?