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. Lights Out Happy Time: I am a freshman at college. My roommate is pretty great—except for one thing. I'm pretty sure she "takes care of herself" after we turn out the lights and she thinks I'm asleep. The motions and noises she makes are consistent with this theory. I have no problem with her doing that, but it makes me uncomfortable that she does it while I'm in the room. I'm also absolutely mortified about possibly discussing this with her. They did not cover this in freshman orientation, so I'm counting on you for some insight.
A: I'm going to suggest this is covered under the same rubric as bathroom noises—you pretend you don't hear them. Once the lights are out and all is quiet, you are in a zone of assuming each of you is drifting off to sleep, and if under the covers she indulges in some quiet stress relief to help bring on pleasant dreams, I think you should ignore it. Instead of lying there anxiously listening for the sounds of self-gratification, just tell yourself your roommate tends to toss and turn before the delta waves hit. Unless to accomplish her task your roommate brings out a screaming, high-decibel vibrator, talking about this with her, or a resident adviser, is going to just be mortifying for you. Look, the school year is almost over, your roommate decided she couldn't get through freshman year going hands-off, and there's not really any other time or place for her to indulge herself. Just think of this as one of those "out of classroom" learning experiences admissions officers are always touting.
Q. UPDATE RE: Pregnancy After Unimaginable Tragedy: Thank you for your advice last week. I told my husband about the pregnancy, and he's overjoyed. It now seems insane that I thought he might want me to abort our baby, but the past few months have been physically and emotionally exhausting for us. Their mother's death has understandably devastated my stepchildren. My stepson in particular has spiraled into a deep depression. I am terrified at my inability to comfort him. I think my pregnancy hormones, combined with my feelings of inadequacy as a new primary caregiver, caused me to only see the negative side of being pregnant. I couldn't imagine bringing a child into our chaotic, sometimes unhappy new world. Now that I have my husband's support, it's much easier for me to see how exciting and joyous this baby will be for us. We hope my pregnancy will give the kids somewhere positive to focus their attention, too, and that they don't see their new sibling as an encroachment on their dad’s attention. I've been reminded of how we've survived the past few months: together, as a united family.
A: Thank you so much for this update. (This is the letter writer from last week who now has full custody of her stepchildren because their mother died suddenly. She discovered she was pregnant—hadn't told her husband—and was considering an abortion because of all the turmoil the family was under.) You're right, we do live in a world that sometimes feels like it's all chaos and unhappiness, and you know it's also one of incredible beauty and joy. Your pregnancy is part of the latter. There wouldn't be any people if children were only conceived who were guaranteed to come into the perfect situation. You are obviously a deeply caring stepmother, so just continue to be a stable, loving presence for your stepchildren. They could certainly use some grief counseling, and you and your husband would be helped by getting guidance from an expert on how to help them—and yourselves. And congratulations on your wonderful news.
Q. Love Letters: After four years with my partner, he tells me that he has some love letters from his teens, and he wants me to send them to him. He has moved away and I'll be joining him soon. I was very angry about these letters and he said they are his memories and he wants to keep them. Also, we've argued about photos of women from his past which he keeps because of the nice memories he has of them. We threw out all his photos with his ex, and two years later I found some of them, which he took out of the bin and kept them behind my back. When I asked him about them he said that he can't remember and that he was under a lot of stress. He’s much better now but will still have a go at me about the photos. He does see what all the anger is about. Please help. I don't know what to make of him. After 4 years together, I feel very betrayed by his response. Thank you
A: It sounds like robot partners can't come too soon for you because you would prefer a machine programmed to meet your specifications. Your partner's previous experiences helped form who he is and presumably you find who he is appealing. I'm trying to imagine the Dumpster event you organized that was supposed to consume all evidence that he even had an ex. You are not entitled to go through his memorabilia and edit it to suit your insecurities. You don't say that he disappears for hours and you find him obsessively poring over photos of his exes, so I will assume you are not objecting to some Vertigo style obsession with his past. Given the level of your jealousy, it is odd that he would specify that he wanted his high school love letters. But maybe he realized he left a box of high school stuff behind and the only way to get it was for you to forward it, and he knew you would squirrel through it for content. The real questions here, given the evidence you have presented, is not about his betrayal, but why he's spent four years with you.
Q. Baby Shower?: I work in small, female dominated, office. One of our employees is pregnant with a new boyfriend. She has had no problem in sharing that he is a convicted sex offender for an incident that involved a 4-year-old girl. While she was not with him during the period of incident, she vehemently denies he did anything wrong. Since she was not there, the rest of us in the office are in agreement that she has no basis to defend him as he could be feeding her a line of bull. We are disgusted that she has not only allowed him in her life and gotten purposely pregnant by him but she also brings him around her underage son. Illegally, nonetheless (to her account she is not shy about sharing information). She hasn't shared his real name, unfortunately, so we are unable to alert anyone. In the office, it is common that we throw the mom-to-be a shower, however we are all in agreement that we disagree with this relationship. What do we do?
A: She's going to have the baby whether or not you throw the shower, so forgoing a shower for her is not going to persuade her that she is making a terrible mistake. Since she's been so open about the fact that she is allowing a child molester to hang around her young son, that is all the information any of you need to alert the authorities. Someone should call child protective services and explain the situation as you know it. This can be done anonymously. Maybe after your office shower, she will come home to find some social workers waiting at her door.
Q. Roommate Noises: While, yes, it is nearly the end of the year, it also isn't too late to invest in a white noise machine. You can't make her stop, but you can provide enough ambient noise so you don't have to hear it.
A: Good idea. Also people are suggesting earplugs. (I do have a question whether it's advisable to keep earplugs in every night for hours—but maybe someone can enlighten me.) The roommate sounds experienced at her activity, so I'm assuming these sessions don't last all night but are actually rather brief.
Q. Reveal an Affair?: Almost a year ago my husband caught me sleeping with one of our closest friends. He was devastated and demanded I have no contact with the man if I wanted to save our marriage. He also decided he did not want to tell my very good friend, my affair partner's wife, about the affair. My infidelity humiliated him. I respected his wishes and disappeared from my friend's life. At first she called me frequently, because we were a big part of each other's lives. Then she started to ask what she did to anger me. Lately she's taken to emailing or calling me once a month to tell me how much she loves and misses me. I am sick over how much I have hurt her. I want to respect my husband's wishes but can barely handle this additional pain I'm causing my friend.