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 email@example.com.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I hope everyone's emerged from the Oscar-induced stupor.
Q. Pregnant Teacher: My daughter's fourth-grade teacher is unmarried and pregnant. Although she is a fantastic educator, kids at that age are bound to ask questions and are old enough that you cannot placate them with a simple answer. I asked her teacher what she told the children about her condition. She told me that she informed them she was pregnant (she is due in June, so this was obvious) and that was it. I asked her if she planned to keep the baby. She told me that was her business alone and she is not obligated to explain her marital status or plans with her child to me or anybody else. I feel that this woman has significant exposure and influence over my child and my questions were perfectly acceptable. Should I take this to the principal or switch classrooms? My husband thinks we should drop it, but I don't want my daughter to get the impression that single motherhood is acceptable.
A: As long as you were asking, I'm surprised you didn't inquire as to her favorite sexual position. Your comments were so far over the line that the teacher's proper and measured response to you indicates just how good she must be at handling unruly children. The lesson you want to teach your daughter is that you treat everyone with respect, so you should take your husband's advice and drop this completely.
Q. Bridezilla Behavior Equals Broken Engagement: Since we began planning our wedding three months ago, my fiancee has turned into another woman: selfish, temperamental, materialistic. She expects her parents, who are approaching retirement, to bankroll most of the wedding, and she continually demands items that are beyond their means. She becomes very angry with me when we disagree on major decisions (like location, menu, the band) because this is her special day and she has been planning her dream wedding since childhood. She never behaved like this before our engagement, and a number of people have assured me it's the pressure of planning the wedding that's making her act this way. I don't think there's any excuse for her behavior and have decided to break our engagement. We have been together for three years. What's the kindest way I can end our engagement, and what should I tell others?
A: Every time I think I'm going to have a moratorium on impossible bride letters, some new twist comes along. I appreciate this one because we so rarely hear what the groom ends up thinking when he watches his betrothed turn into a termagant. I love the excuses that get offered for this behavior. If the pressure of planning a party destroys one's equanimity and perspective, real life is going to be completely disabling. There is also something creepy about explaining to the man you are about to marry that he's destroying the fantasy you've harbored for decades about your perfect wedding day, which was a lot more pleasant without an actual bridegroom to mess things up. Still, I don't think you necessarily have to throw away three years of presumed happiness because of three months of hell. But you do have to shift the conversation. Instead of squabbling about lobster ravioli as an appetizer, you need to sit your fiancee down and tell her you need to put aside the wedding planning because you're feeling the need to put aside the wedding. Explain you understand both her dreams and her stress, but neither is justification for bankrupting her parents and treating you like dirt. Say that you want back the person you've loved for the past three years and suggest you two see a counselor to help get back to normal. If she simply freaks out, then the kindest thing to say is the simplest: "Courtney, I love you, but I don't love what's happening between us. We need to stop wedding planning, because the wedding is off. "
Q. Breast-feeding and Drinking: My son is 6 months old and I am still breast-feeding. Occasionally, I like to have a cocktail or two, so I purchased some strips that detect alcohol amounts in breast milk. After I drink, I pump my milk, test it, and discard the milk that contains alcohol. This way I can occasionally have a drink and still breast-feed safely. However, I've noticed that from perfect strangers up to my own mother there is a lot of judgment in this decision. I don't really understand why; I am not harming my baby in any way whatsoever. Both my doctor and my husband think this is perfectly fine. What should I say the next time somebody brings this up? I am tired of justifying my Manhattans.
A: That's a lot of micromanaging from family and even strangers! The next time someone makes a comment about the alcohol content of your breast milk, you should say, "I agree, so I'm going to pump it and use it to make you a delicious White Russian."
Q. Looking for a Mrs. Degree: I attend a small university studying engineering. I hold traditional values and I would like to get married to a woman willing to stay home and raise our children. I am lucky enough to not have any student loans and will be able to support a wife and children on my salary. Preferably, I would like to marry a woman who has a college degree and is smart because we would match intellectually and she would provide the best environment for my children. Women I meet on campus frequently call me sexist. I never thought of myself as sexist because I have no problem whatsoever with women who work in general and I respect my fellow female students and professors. Just because I don't want my wife to work does not mean I think women in general shouldn't work. Am I sexist? Is there any way I can meet a woman who shares my values, or was I born 40 years too late?
A: You sound like the male equivalent of the bride in the letter above who much preferred planning her wedding without the bother of a real person to marry. Of course we all have ideas of what our ideal life would be, then life happens and we have to—even want to—adjust to reality. Yes, there are women, even well-educated ones, who would prefer to stay home with their children. But dictating these terms before you've even gotten far enough to go steady makes you sound rigid, dictatorial, and yes, sexist. Instead of announcing your life plan for the so-far nonexistent woman you plan to marry, you should just date interesting, intelligent women and find out what they want out of life. But if you're determined to only spend time with women who meet your qualifications, go to a rally for Rick Santorum. He shares your views of women's roles, and during his Q&A ask if he can fix you up.
Q. Sharing Spouses: My husband and I got to know a couple through our son's preschool. Their son and our son were in the same class. "Joanie" called me constantly for “play dates,” BBQs, and dinners. I was taken aback by all the attention, but I thought she (they) was (were) just very “social.” Within four months, they had invited us (me, my husband, my son) to their beach house. We agreed to go. Within 24 hours of being at the beach, “Joanie's” husband propositioned my husband, saying, "I am willing to share my wife. What about you?" My husband stated "I don't share.” I also walked in on "Joanie" sitting extraordinarily close to my husband on the couch. My husband didn't relate this story until after we got home. I trust my husband. Initially, I didn't understand why my husband was so rude to them. (He can be pretty blunt.) Now I don't know how to distance myself from this couple. Our sons go to the same school and we also carpool. I can't stand to be around them. Now I am more aware of how "Joanie" acts around my husband, i.e., leg flung over the arm of a chair, short shorts, etc. I am more aware of "Joanie's" husband giving me hugs that last too long ... of the prying questions about our sex life. By the way, "Joanie" is a college professor and her husband is a business owner. Dear Prudence, please give me words to get these people out of our lives.
A: Get a new car pool! When you do, tell the Swingles that you no longer care to socialize. After that your interaction can be limited to nodding at them at the nursery school end-of-year party.
Q. Spell Check: My husband and I have been married for eight years now. In the course of our courtship then, we spoke about how we grew up and so forth. I expressed to him that when I was in grade school, I had won several spelling bee contests but was horrible at math. Absolutely hated it! Since we have gotten together, and in the course of sending out multiple emails for business or personal reasons, he constantly asks me how to spell something. In the beginning it was not an issue, but now it has become tedious and irritating. On top of all of this, he can be belittling when it comes to math, saying things such as, "Get your calculator out. I know how bad you are at math." If I had trouble with a word when I was young and I asked my mother how to spell it, her response was, "Look it up in the dictionary." I had said this to him once jokingly and he became irritated with me. I'm not talking about a word occasionally. In the course of one email, he will ask three to five times per email. Four to eight emails. And, yes we have spell checker in our email. I don't want to belittle him as he does me on occasion about my math skills, but this issue is becoming extremely grating on my otherwise calm demeanor. How can I deal with this without throwing a dictionary at his head?
A: This has been going on for eight years and he has a spell checker? The next time he asks you to spell a word say, "I-M L-E-A-V-I-N-G T-H-E R-O-O-M." Then get up and go.
Q. Long Car Rides: On car rides, my husband refuses to stop for bathroom breaks between gas fill-ups. Now that I am pregnant and he is planning a long trip next month, I have asked that he relax that rule for me, but he just says I should either hold it or wear a diaper. This doesn't seem normal to me. What can I do to convince him to allow me to take more frequent bathroom breaks on long car rides?
A: Before you got pregnant by him did you get any clues that your husband is a controlling nut? Is everyone writing in today married to a lunatic? What you do is say that you've come up with a more practical solution: You're staying home.
Q. Pregnant Teacher Op: I am having a hard time just "dropping" this. My daughter loves her teacher and is with her for a considerable amount of her day. Her teacher is somebody she looks up to, and now I am afraid my daughter is getting a bad example. I always plan to treat her teacher with respect, but that does not mean her condition does not have consequences at her job—which is influencing young minds!
A: I have written at length about my concern about the consequences for society of so many children being born out of wedlock and gotten a lot of flak for it. However, whatever the larger social discussion is, any particular woman's decision is none of your business. More than half of births to women under 30 in this country are to unwed mothers, so if you think you're going to protect your child from this fact you are wrong. Your daughter is only in fourth grade so she's probably hardly aware of her teacher's marital status. If she brings it up you just tell the truth, "Miss Carson is not married." You seriously need to get out of this teacher's personal life before it affects your relationship with the school.