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. My Son Is in Love With a Woman Older Than Me: My just turned 18-year-old son, who is a senior in high school and lives at home, recently came home and told me he has his first girlfriend and that he is in love. He said she is older than he is. He looks a bit older than 18. Turns out his new love is 48 years old. That is a year older than me. I met her, and she is actually very nice and in love with my son. If I had grown up in this town, we would have been in school together and likely best friends. She is not his teacher or in any position that would be suspect. They simply met in a cafe and fell in Love. Is this OK?
A: She may not be his teacher, but she'll be his teacher, all right. This does not feel very OK, and if the sexes were reversed it still wouldn't. A 30-year age difference for a first romance is definitely designed to make one's parents unhappy. As "nice" as this woman may be, she sounds utterly oblivious to the inappropriateness of her behavior. Your son should be focused on his homework and going to college—if that's on his agenda—so as with any romance you need to make sure he's not devoting all his time to his new girl, ah, lady friend. However, he's 18, and the bigger deal you make of this, the deeper his love is likely to be. You can express your understandable concern that he's dating someone older than you, then back off and make sure he's studying for his biology test.
Dear Prudence: Office Water Wars
Q. Striptease Commute: My girlfriend moved into my place a few weeks ago. We're really happy together and love our new living arrangements, but there's one thing that is seriously getting on my nerves. She's not exactly an early bird, and so when I give her a lift to work in the morning, she's not usually completely ready to go by the time we leave. She makes up for it by finishing her morning routine on the go. (It takes about 20 minutes to get to her job.) She's often in her PJs when we leave, and wearing more professional attire by the time we get there. It really bugs me when she takes her top off for everyone in traffic to see before she can get a bra and blouse on. She says it doesn't matter because the windows are tinted, and besides, if anyone does see her, they're only strangers anyway so she doesn't feel embarrassed. But it's embarrassing to me, and I want her to stop. Is this something I can put my foot down on?
A: You want to try not to put your foot down on the gas pedal as she's showing off her headlights to what must be some delighted commuters. Talk about distracted drivers! I think you can tell her that her striptease is uncomfortable for you and dangerous on the road. Say you're going to set the alarm clock 20 minutes earlier so she can actually be dressed before you walk out the door. If when it's time to leave and she's still in her P.J.s tell her that she should throw a blanket over herself if she decides to get dressed on the bus.
Q. Saw relative: I recently lost my house after losing my job and being unable to keep up with the payments. A distant relative graciously let my teenage daughter and myself move in with them and work on their family farm. I sold a large share of my belongings and moved 1,000 miles to their place. My daughter was not happy about leaving her friends and starting a new school midyear. It's been a difficult time for both of us, but I was grateful for the chance of a new beginning. Now for the problem; I saw their teenage son and his friend engaging in sex acts with the livestock. I'm mortified! I don't know what to do. I don't know if I should talk to his parents or not. This is now my place to live and my employment, but I can't imagine staying here, whether I tell them or not. I don't want my daughter around these boys, but I don't have the means to move again or belongings to furnish it, not to mention how that would affect my daughter.
A: This is so much worse than the liver scene in Portnoy's Complaint. The boys are engaging in bestiality, which is repulsive and illegal in some states. Sure, your patrons might have a cow when they find out what the boys are doing to the cow, but this is something parents should know. (Although it's also possible this is something parents really don't want to know.) These kids are brazen enough to do it where they can be observed, so they need someone to address their impulse control issues. Be as low key as possible with your relative. Say that given that you have a daughter, you don't want her to see such behavior. And start looking in the want ads because it sounds as if your farm days are numbered.
Q. Unwanted Proposal: Last Valentine's Day my boyfriend proposed to me very publicly. I was completely shocked and said yes, when in private I would have told him no. I am totally not ready for marriage, but I didn't want to humiliate him. Afterward, I explained I wasn't ready but was keen to talk about it in a few months. I suggested we tell our family and friends that we came to a mutual decision to postpone an engagement due to personal reasons. My boyfriend immediately became upset and said I was dishonest with him by saying yes in the first place. But I said yes because I didn't want to publicly embarrass him by turning him down. I feel kind of angry that he put me in the spotlight like that when he knows I'm a private person. Who's at fault here?
A: Your letter is an example of why I deplore the ever-more-elaborate ritual of the public proposal. I admit I have a voyeuristic streak, but I don't want to be forced to watch people's most private moments. Your boyfriend obviously chose a public spectacle because he understands your private reservations about him. He's just done you a huge favor by showing what a manipulative, immature person he is. The "engagement" should definitely be off, and probably the relationship, too.
Q. Annoying BIL: I can't stand my husband's arrogant brother. He thinks he's better than everybody because he has a Ph.D. and occasionally lectures at college. Last week I was writing a note and misspelled something. My BIL yelled, "Don't you know how to SPELL?" He grabbed the note and walked around showing everyone my error, even after others told him it wasn't funny. I can't stand the way he brags about his achievements, and the monologues about politics or history, usually brought up to highlight his extensive general knowledge. My in-laws are pretty easygoing, so his behavior is something of an inside joke amongst them, rather than a source of major conflict. The problem is, his birthday is coming up pretty soon. I have a tradition of giving each family member a beautifully presented basket of baked goods for their birthday. But the BIL's spelling remark was the last straw to years of obnoxious behavior. I still want to give his twin sister the gift basket, but not him. I'll leave it up for my husband to buy something for his brother, even though he's a terrible gift buyer. (I'm expecting a last minute trip to the mall for some ill-fitting underwear.) My husband thinks I should just make another gift basket to keep the family peace. But I don't want to give something homemade without any love behind it. Am I petty for excluding my BIL from the gift baskets from this point onward?
A: Your brother-in-law is only humiliating himself. He's a jerk, and he has some social issues that need addressing. But as you note, everyone deals with him with a raised eyebrow and a look. So present the lovely basket to both twins. That he doesn't deserve it will make your gesture all the sweeter.