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, everyone. I look forward to your questions!
Q. Absolutely Insane Adoption Confrontation: Anne and I have daughters enrolled in the same dance classes. We both often stay at the lessons and chat with other moms. But I've always gotten the impression that Anne doesn't like me. She never returns my greetings and often turns away from the conversation when I'm talking. Last week we were both walking to our cars, so I asked, "Anne, have I done something to offend you? I hope not, because I'd really enjoy getting to know you better." Anne turned to me and said, "I'm sorry, but I am against adoption. I believe buying children is ethically deplorable." She got in her car and drove off. I should now explain that I am white and my husband is black, so our daughter has darker skin than me. Since she's never met my husband, Anne assumed I adopted my daughter from Africa: I found her assumption to be DEEPLY offensive, because although my daughter is not adopted, I am. I'm pretty grossed out by Anne's judgment, but I don't know how to respond, or if I should even bother engaging such a narrow-minded person.
A: Consider yourself lucky that Anne opened up to you. If you had fit her criteria for being acceptable you might have unwittingly become friendly with this deranged person. So she's against adoption, is probably a racist, and because she's such a seething mass of hatreds she doesn't even know how to behave courteously to a fellow mother at her daughter's dance class. She's beneath contempt and now that she's expressed to you the reasons for her rudeness, there really isn't any need for a response from you. It's a delicate thing to remain polite in the face of such nuttiness, but as long as you are friendly to the other mothers, Anne's bizarre behavior will speak for itself. Since you and your daughter are lovely, and Anne is obviously rude to you, the others will likely wonder if Anne is a roaring racist, which would be a good assumption. Otherwise, forget about this nitwit and just have pity for her daughter.
Dear Prudence: Lewd Poolside Parent
Q. Missing Out on My Goddaughter's Birth: When my best friend fell pregnant unexpectedly, her boyfriend confessed he was actually married. He initially said he would get a divorce, but then announced during her second trimester that he'd only stay with her if she gave the baby up for adoption. Needless to say, she dumped him and is preparing for single motherhood. I have attended antenatal appointments with her and have been helping her prepare for the baby's arrival, and generally doing most things a father would be doing. She asked me to be with her during the birth, and of course I happily said I would. Due to some previously unforeseen risks, however, she is now getting induced four weeks before the actual due date. The problem is, it is on a date where my husband and I are meant to be in Thailand. We booked the cheapest tickets and accommodation online last year so nothing is refundable. We can't even get more leave after this until next year and it's been incredibly difficult to arrange leave from work at the same time. I would like to go because it's a significant trip for me and my husband—the first proper break we have since we got married—and a chance to get away from the drama we've been experiencing in our own families. I'm scared of breaking the news to my friend, who might feel hurt and angry. Am I a terrible person for wanting to go on this vacation?
A: As your friend is experiencing, life presents us with many unexpected twists and turns. One of them is that her drama-filled pregnancy is ending a month early, and unfortunately you can't be there for the birth. Your friend is going to need a big support network to help her care for her child, so it can't just consist of you. I hope she has a family member or other close friend who can step up and attend the birth with her. You should not put off this trip. As much as you want to help your friend, it's important for her to recognize you are not a surrogate father. As for the actual father, I hope your friend hired an attorney so that child support payments will be starting a month earlier than expected.
Q. Cleaning: Dear Prudence, I'm a university student still living at with home with my parents. This summer however, I'm studying at another university, and I'll be sharing an apartment with three other girls. This will be the first time I'll actually have to do my own laundry, and as I don't want to seem weird, I have a question. At my house, everyone has their own set of bath towels, and they get washed about every three weeks. While recently staying at a friend's house though, she told me that her family just washes their towels every time they use them. I never thought about it before, but will I seem dirty if I don't wash my towels every day?
A: This reminds me of the old Joan Rivers joke about hating to do laundry: "So I told my husband we had three sets of sheets—white, gray, and black." Washing your towels every time you use them sounds a little OCD to me and would definitely make me want to install hand dryers at my home if that were the standard I was expected to keep. I wash my towels once a week, so of course I think that's the right amount of cleanliness. Readers?
Q. Should I Stay Mum About Paying Off My Home?: A few years ago, I purchased my first home. Through a little good fortune and lot of hard work, I have come very close to paying off the entire balance of the home loan rather quickly. I would love to share in this milestone with friends and family by throwing a celebratory get-together this summer, with food and drinks provided, to mark the occasion. However, some of my friends are unemployed or underemployed, and about half currently rent out the places they call home. I can't help but worry that, in this economic environment, a party to celebrate my lack of indebtedness might rub people the wrong way, especially those who may just be scraping by. Consequently, I've considered limiting the gathering to a few people with whom I'm especially close. Would I rain on some parades by throwing a larger party, or should I feel at liberty to share this news and invite the whole crew?
A: Throw a lovely summer party and keep the reason for the celebration private. You don't need an excuse to have friends over for food and drink. But tapping on a glass to announce, "The reason I've gathered you all here is to raise a toast to the fact that I have paid off my mortgage at an accelerated rate," will definitely be hard for everyone else to swallow.
Q. The Unwitting Cuckold: For the past two months I have noticed, with increasing suspicion, my husband's newfound tendency to "work late." He would come home at two, three in the morning. After he denied cheating on me, I hired a private investigator, who discovered that my husband has been visiting his pancreatic-cancer-stricken mistress in the hospital. I confronted him, and my husband told me he wants to save our marriage. He's been with his mistress for four years and loves us both. But he values our life together more. His mistress will die soon, he tells me. And he's begging me to allow him to continue to visit her, because apart from her adult children, not many people do. I am experiencing all the emotional devastation that comes with discovering infidelity, and on top of that I'm dealing with the fact that the other woman is dying. I worry my husband only wants to stay with me because she'll be gone forever soon. And I don't want him to continue to visit her, even if it would bring her comfort. Am I a terrible person?
A: I think we'll give the "Terrible Person" award to your husband. How nice for him to tell you once the other woman he loves is gone, he'll come crawling back to you. Obviously, what you have discovered is a shock and you're entitled to the full range of your reactions. I hope you have some close friends who you feel comfortable confiding in, and a therapist to help guide you through your options would be a big help at a time like this. All that said, I think you should not try to prevent your husband visiting this woman. There's nothing for you to gain by what you might see in retrospect as a petty move. I'm not defending this woman, who knowingly had an affair with a married man. I'm just acknowledging that being a dying person changes things. Your husband owes you honesty from now on. Whether you want to stay in your marriage once the mistress is gone is something you can decide on your own time.
Q. How About a Letter? … that says, "Anne, I just wanted you to know how wrong your assumption was. My daughter is my biological biracial child. Not that this justifies your shunning me on the basis of a misguided principle. And don't worry, I am no longer interested in getting to know you any better."
A: That the daughter is not adopted is irrelevant. Anne is a worm and doesn't deserve any explanations.
Q. Do I Tell Her?: My 9-year-old daughter cannot sing. Really, it's awful. She gets this total tone deafness from me. Weirdly, her brother and sister have lovely singing voices. She loves to sing so I want to leave it alone, but should we tell her that's while she has many other talents, singing is not one of them? She loves to sing for others and it's painful sometimes.
A: Oh, I would love to have a World's Worst Singer contest with your daughter. I'm sure I would take the trophy. She's only 9 years old, so I'm hoping people are a little indulgent of her desire to belt out a few tunes for them. Soon enough, she will discover the world is full of Simon Cowells, and then you can lovingly tell her that everyone has their own special talents, but for you and her (and me), singing isn't it. But if she really wants not to sound like a cat tied in a burlap bag, singing classes won't get her to the Metropolitan Opera, but they might allow her to sing, "Happy Birthday" without miming the words (and I do).
Q. Towels: Washing them once a week sounds about right to me. Every day sounds ridiculous. Once every three weeks seems like a long time. Also, your reader should keep in mind that with a group of young people in a roommate situation, the whole hygiene situation may not be what it was at home. Especially true, probably, with guys, but probably also true for women. Try to roll with the flow.
A: Agreed—but if that means putting a clothespin over your nose because of the stench, then a little lesson in laundry etiquette is appropriate.
Q. Sharing Bad News: I have just returned from a trip to China to adopt a 9-month-old baby girl. Because we had a failed domestic adoption three years ago (birth parents changed their mind) we chose not to tell anyone except a few until we had her in our arms. We couldn't wait to tell our friends and co-workers. But when we arrived there, we were told our baby was hospitalized with what doctors initially thought was a trivial illness. Then she passed away four days later in the intensive care unit after we barely got to hug her. What kills me is that except for us and a few close family members, nobody even knows of our daughter's existence. I would like to tell everybody that we had a daughter, even for a few days, and that she was loved and cherished. Since we've never been in this situation before I am not quite sure how to spread the news. Should I write an email? Tell everyone in person? How should I do this and what can I say? Would it be appropriate to share a photo?
A: I'm so sorry for your heartbreak. First of all, please contact NationalShare.org, this is a support group for people who have suffered a loss such as yours, and they will understand what you are experiencing. I think an email to a group of friends—but not everyone you know—would be perfectly appropriate. You can make the subject line "Sad News" and then say you are sorry to send a mass email, but you thought it was the best way to let everyone know that you recently suffered a loss. Explain briefly that the adoption had been underway for a while, but tragically your sweet little girl died of a medical issue before you could bring her home. A photograph of her would be fine. You can say you wanted those close to you to understand that you are going through a difficult period of mourning.
Q. Big Love: I am 5 feet tall and weigh 118 pounds. My boyfriend is 6 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 295 pounds, most of it muscle. As you can imagine, we make for an interesting-looking couple. Family, friends, strangers make a number of false assumptions based on our contrasting appearances, such as that sex must be painful for me. Recently my boyfriend and I spent the weekend with my parents. We got into a brief argument, and I guess we did raise our voices at each other. My parents freaked out about our fight, which took place in our room. They burst into the room, yelled at my boyfriend for arguing with me, and almost kicked him out. My mom drew me aside and asked me if my boyfriend tried to intimidate my physically. Despite me telling them not to be, my parents remain wary of my boyfriend, mostly because he's so much bigger than me. Do you think there's anything I can do to convince them that I can hold my own against him?