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. It's good to be back for the chat. Let's get to it.
Q. My Boyfriend's Doll: I have a boyfriend of two years with a weird hobby. He has a mannequin he's kept since college, named "Barbara." I discovered her existence when we'd been seeing each other for over a year. He spends a significant amount of money for her maintenance and talks to it like a real person. When he comes home from a trip he kisses her and tells her he missed her. He sleeps next to her at night when I'm not there and basically treats her like a second girlfriend. I've asked him to get rid of it and his responses range from either ignoring what I've said, telling me he'll do it later, or pleading me to understand how important she is to him. He definitely has some kind of an emotional attachment to it. If it was a childhood blanket or even a teddy bear I wouldn't care so much, but having a life-sized, real-looking doll is just too much. We've fought over it so much he gets angry whenever I bring her up and says I'm being petty and jealous over a doll. Who's in the right here? Is this worth giving up an otherwise excellent relationship?
A: You would think one of the advantages of having a mannequin for a girlfriend is that the money needed to preserve her looks is minuscule. But Barbara sounds pretty high maintenance. Ryan Gosling starred in a movie, Lars and the Real Girl, which I had no desire to see, about a guy like your boyfriend who eventually gets everyone to accept his sex doll as his girlfriend. But your boyfriend is not so devoted to Barbara. There he is, cruelly leaving her at home, while he goes out on the town with you, and locking her in the broom closet when you spend the night. I'm trying to imagine the moment, a year into your relationship, when you discovered he was cheating on you with a life-sized doll. I am wondering how you managed not to run screaming into the night when your boyfriend finally introduced you to his love. Your boyfriend points out how petty you sound fighting with him over his feelings for a department-store mannequin. He has a point. There is no limit to the human capacity for kinkiness, and he's committed to his fetish. But you sound nuttier than he is by throwing jealous fits over Barbara. It was unfair of him to keep his obsession hidden while you two developed your relationship. That relationship may be "otherwise excellent" but excellence seems like an odd concept when your boyfriend is sleeping with a mannequin when you're not sharing his bed. If you choose to stay, then you're the one who has to accept that your boyfriend will likely never change, and neither will Barbara.
Dear Prudence: Husband Gone Wiccan
Q. Dysfunctional Family: My parents showed extreme favoritism toward me when my sister and I were growing up. If both of us did something wrong, our parents would severely rebuke my sister without saying a harsh word to me. They'd even go as far as to tell her off even more for "not looking after your little sister properly." I didn't know how dysfunctional this kind of parenting was—mainly because my parents treated me perfectly nicely and showered me with affection—until I grew up and saw how other families interacted. After my sister went to college (which she had to pay for herself by working multiple part-time jobs because my parents said they were paying for only my tuition), she decided to have as little to do with our family as much as possible. After several years of having barely any contact I wanted to establish a relationship with my sister and wrote her a letter. After four months she sent a scathing reply where she condemned me equally as our parents. I feel hurt because this is so unfair. Is there a chance of my sister forgiving me for something I never did?
A: I hope that in addition to the letter to your sister, you have had some very blunt conversations with your parents about how their favoritism destroyed their relationship with their eldest daughter and destroyed your relationship with you sister. What happened is not your fault, but surely long before you became an adult you were aware of the disparity in your treatment. From your sister's perspective, all she ever saw was how you benefited from the favoritism and never spoke up in her defense to your parents, or told her how horrible you felt about the disparities. Good for her for breaking away from your family—it sounds like the healthy thing for her to do. It would have been nice for you if she had responded differently to your letter, but what you got is not unexpected. So stop nursing your wounds over her "unfairness." She has to recover from a lifetime of abuse and that's no easy task. You may never have a relationship with her, but if you want to keep trying, respond to her letter. Tell her you understand her anger and looking back on what your childhoods were like grieves you. Say you hope you two can find a way to reconnect, but if that would be too painful for her, you understand. And tell her that you yourself have confronted your mother and father about their grotesque failures as parents.
Q. Marriage, Sex: My husband is an amazing man. We have a great relationship that bounces back quickly from any quarrels that may arise. There is only one thing that has come between us, though I think we have chosen to not acknowledge it fully, and that issue is sex. In the beginning of our relationship, we were going at it like rabbits, sometimes five to six times a day! Now we are lucky if it is once a month. He is always roaring to go, but for me, it's hard to get “in the mood.” I've had my thyroid checked and my testosterone has been checked, both are normal. Personally, I feel it is just all the stress and depression from work and money issues that I find it hard to enjoy. I've tried explaining this to him, but he just says “OK” or “I know,” but then acts like a wounded dog until he gets his lay. Any ideas on what else could be causing my lack of sex drive? Or how can I get him to stop pouting and whining around between romps?
A: If you two were having sex five to six times a day, no wonder you have financial troubles; it's hard to imagine you were able to show up for work. First of all, open a discussion with your husband about this. Explain that your loss of libido is concerning to you, you've discovered there's no medical reason, and you think life stress is making it hard for you to relax. Then make a commitment to have more sex. Forget waiting until the mood strikes; it's not fair to your husband to expect him to have sex less often than the Atlantic is published. I know it doesn't sound sexy, but decide to have appointment sex. Have an early dinner Wednesday night, then don't watch TV or go to your computers, instead take your husband by the hand and lead him to bed. Weekend mornings are also good. Since you once were quite the hot tamale, you will find that even if you aren't in the mood, once you get going you will recall just how much fun—and what a good stress reliever—having sex with your husband is.
Q. Public Expression of Annoyance: I'm Facebook friends with my sister-in-law, who, apparently, has a few issues with my parents. In the past few months she's made several posts along the lines of "oh great ... the in-laws are here—AGAIN," or "I hate it when my in-laws do (insert offenses here)." A couple of times I've replied in a light hearted way, "Hey, they're not that bad, are they?" She doesn't respond, but I'm certain she knows I can read her posts. Whatever problems she has with my parents, I feel like it's disrespectful to vent on Facebook this way, particularly when I can see them. Should I say something to her, or my brother? Or ignore it and pretend I can't see it?
A: In the matter of in-laws, I think it's a good rule of thumb to have the person who's actually related to the offender have the discussion. So tell your brother that you understand being a daughter-in-law can be tough, but when his wife vents to the world on Facebook about your parents, it's hurtful to read and is likely to get back to them. Your sister-in-law either needs to drastically increase her privacy settings, or better yet, grow up and stop writing nasty things about her in-laws for public consumption.
Q. Blind Book-Club Attendee: About six months ago, I started attending a book club at the public library. It's a great group of people and I really enjoy going. In addition to the social atmosphere and the book discussion, I liked the chance to have 30 to 40 minutes in the car by myself to listen to music and relax. (I don't get that much!) A couple of months ago, a co-worker approached me to ask me about a friend of hers who had expressed interest in joining a book club. She wanted to know if I could give him a ride to my book club, because he is blind and can't drive. I had only met him very briefly once or twice, but he seemed nice enough, so I said to give him my information and have him get in touch with me. It turned out he lives only five minutes away from me, so it wasn't inconvenient for me to pick him up. The problem? He drives me nuts! He thinks he's really smart, and isn't, and he talks nonstop all the way to book club and back. He's also trying to use book club to find a date, and quizzes me about all the women in the club and whether they're single. Prudie, he's sort of ruining my book club experience. I don't object to his being there, but he's quite dependent on me to find the room and other things in the library, so I can't just leave him to his own devices. I don't want to give up book club, but I can't figure out how to get out of taking him without coming off like a jerk who hates blind people.