Help! Should I Hug the Dirty Old Man Who Comes Into My Shop?

Advice on manners and morals.
March 26 2012 3:12 PM

Whoa, Momma

During a live chat, Dear Prudence offers advice on having children after tragedy, elective surrogacy, and the demands of parenting twins.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

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 prudence@slate.com.)

Emily Yoffe:  Good afternoon, everyone.

Q. Pregnancy After Unimaginable Tragedy: My stepchildren’s mom died suddenly not long ago. They are 11 and 13, and now live with my husband and I; we have always lived nearby their mom's house. I recently discovered I was pregnant but have not told anyone—for over a week—because I'm not sure whether it would be fair to have the baby. My stepchildren obviously need unending amounts of love, support, and stability as my husband and I help them navigate their grief. A newborn would be a major disruption. But at the same time I want this baby so much. My husband and I had begun to try before his ex-wife died. Part of me is scared he will ask me to abort the baby. Another part thinks that's the only fair thing to do. What advice can you offer?

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A: I can't imagine anything that would signal more clearly that life goes on and joy can follow tragedy than your having a much wanted child. Of course your stepchildren need love and support now—they always will. But I think a new sibling will help everyone feel that a new family is being forged, despite a loss that will echo through their lives. Yes, there will be many complicated feelings on your stepchildren's part, including jealousy, but I think you will be surprised by how much they will rise to embracing their new sibling. I am an ardent proponent of abortion rights, but abortion is inevitably a sad and painful choice. It would be tragic to lose a wanted child because of these difficult circumstances. I hope you are badly misreading your husband in your thinking he wouldn't want this pregnancy to proceed. Break the news to him. I hope you will be reassured by his joyful reaction.

Dear Prudence: Hermit Husband

Q. Surrogate Issues:  I have a difficult issue. My sister-in-law is dedicated to her career and she is using a surrogate  to have a baby. They are doing this because they want a biological child but my sister-in-law does not want to take time off work to have a normal childbirth. Last week I was invited to a baby shower via Evite where you can see the other guests. The surrogate will be attending this shower with my sister-in-law and assorted guests. I guess I am old fashioned, because this all seems very awkward to me. I completely respect and understand using a surrogate if there are fertility problems, but that is not the case here. I'm also not sure what to say or how to act to either the surrogate or my sister-in-law at the shower. I plan to attend this shower because my sister-in-law has always been supportive of me and my children, but I am not sure what to say or how to act in this unorthodox situation. Thank you!

A: I don't understand why you have to "act" any particular way to any particular guest. You make chit-chat with the surrogate, and since she's pregnant, you ask how she's feeling. You talk about babies with everyone and ooh and ahh over the gifts. I will say that if not wanting to take time away from the office is truly the sole reason your sister-in-law hired someone to bear her child, I have doubts about her interest in actual motherhood. However that's not the issue here. The issue is behaving politely at a shower. Surely you don't need advice on doing that.

Q. Disgusted With Customer: I work at a large retail store and am a female in my early 20s. Ever since I started there a few years ago there's been this old, very tall man who frequently shops there. He's always rude to most of the employees (with the exception of the young women who work there, myself included) and he expects us to give him our full attention no matter how busy we are, even though he'll only purchase a few dollars’ worth of merchandise each day. Well, this guy has this habit of hugging all the female employees in the store, and most of them just hug him back. I hate hugging people, especially smelly, old men who look like they haven't showered in ages. Unfortunately I hugged him once, due to feeling intimidated, and now he hugs me every time he comes in. At first, I sucked it up and just hugged him. Now I feel trapped! I try avoiding him whenever he comes in and it's greatly affecting my work. Please tell me what I can do to get rid of this guy! I feel bad because I hugged him in the first place, but I don't think I can do it anymore. I do only have a few more months left of working in this place, should I just suck it up or say something?

A: How clever of this dirty old man to disguise himself as a customer in order to cop a feel. I think you and several other female employees should discuss this with the manager and explain how you are being manhandled by this guy. Then there should be an alert when he comes in so only the male employees offer assistance. If he comes up to you with his arms out feel free to step back and say, "Please don't touch me."

Q. Gym Romance: I'm a fit, attractive 30-something single woman who enjoys working out at my local gym. A few weeks ago I noticed a cute guy seemed to have a similar schedule as mine. We also seemed to have a similar workout routine—bike, weights, swim etc. I've tried smiling at him once or twice, to see if there was any interest, but neither of us has made the first move. Then yesterday, I returned to my stationary bike as I had forgotten to wipe it down, and I noticed that he was standing next to it, rubbing the damp seat with an odd look on his face. He then pretended to have dropped something, but I saw that he was actually sniffing the seat, before returning to the locker room. I don't think he realized that he had been spotted. How do I proceed? He is very attractive, and I guess he is into me as well. Do I say something about what I saw, or should I continue flirting with him knowing what I know?

A: Oh, yeah he's into—eeewwww! I regularly get reports about sniffers in this column. If you want to try to start a relationship with him, I can predict that soon you will be writing to me about finding him rooting around in the laundry basket of your best friend when you went over for brunch. He's now made the first move. Don't you make the second.

Q. Bad Idea: My sister has an impressive career and missed her boat to get married and have babies. Now in her late 30s, she told us two years ago that she wanted to adopt. We've all been supportive and excited about the prospect of welcoming a new child into the family. A week ago she received the news that she is going to be a mother—to twins. When we asked her how she was going to realistically parent two kids by herself, she said she was going to take a two week leave from work when the twins arrive, then hire a nanny. Did I mention she works 60-hour weeks and doesn't plan on cutting back? I feel distressed at the thought of adopting two babies then leaving them with a nanny for the vast majority of their waking hours for the rest of their childhood. I really don't think she will cope with two kids on her own, however much resources and paid help she might get. When I explained the demands of having a child, let alone two, she dismissed my concerns as sexist and said a strong woman can cope with anything in life. She has no idea what she's getting into and is unrealistic about how much she can stretch herself. What can I say to her now?