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: I learned a new word this weekend—derecho! I hope everyone else who also learned this word is now cool and has power. I am grateful to Pepco for letting me know it was time to toss the matzoh ball soup I've been freezing since Passover.
Q. Spoiled Niece: My 10-year-old niece owns two American Girl dolls. The dolls are a source of pride for her, because she "bought" them herself. My sister and her husband give her a weekly allowance in exchange for performing household chores. They require her to put a percentage in a savings account for college and donate another percentage to a local charity. My niece can spend the rest of her allowance on whatever she pleases. To my husband and me, who don't make nearly as much as my sister or my brother-in-law, our niece receives a very large allowance for a young child. The allowance was large enough that she was able to purchase the two American Girl dolls over the course of 18 months. She enjoys bringing one or both of the dolls to family gatherings. My daughter, the same age as my niece, would love an American Girl doll, but my husband and I can't afford it. I feel like my niece flaunts her dolls and doesn't understand that she seems spoiled to others who aren't as fortunate. Sometimes it's difficult to spend time around my nieces and nephew because they have many more toys than my kids do, and my kids feel badly afterward. How can I address these issues with my sister without making her defensive and my niece without hurting her?
A: You need to address these issue with yourself, then your children—not your sister. Your sister and her husband have more money than you do. That usually translates into having a bigger house, nicer cars, fancier vacations, more toys for the kids. Live with it. Unless they are constantly flaunting their wealth—which you don't mention—you, and your children, need to understand that good and bad fortune is not distributed equally. Sure, their cousins may have more stuff than they do, but you need to remind them they have more stuff than their friends [fill in the blank]. Explain that's life, and if the absence of an American Girl doll is one of their biggest heartaches, then that means all of you are lucky—even if seeing their cousin's two, two, two American Girl dolls really can be annoying. Your sister's children may get a generous allowance, but I love the lessons they are teaching their kids about it: They earn it through chores; they are putting some away for their own future; they are giving another percentage to those less fortunate; and if they save their money wisely over a long time (18 months for a little girl!) they can enjoy the result. I think you need to take a page from your sister's parenting book and instill some worthy lessons in your own kids.
Q. I Arrange My Boss's Affair: I am the well-paid assistant of a successful business mogul. I make sure his schedule runs smoothly, and I act as a gatekeeper, too, among other things. My boss is very nice to me and his other employees. He's also having an affair. A few times a month he'll take an extended lunch and go to a hotel room with his girlfriend. When he's there, I'm supposed to tell all callers that he's in an important business meeting. His wife has called twice while he's away with his girlfriend, and I feel awful for lying to her. I'm also responsible for purchasing gifts for my boss. I've purchased expensive jewelry for both his wife and his girlfriend. Next month he's going on a weeklong business trip. He only needs to be gone for two days, but he's taking his girlfriend with him and staying longer. I know I'm doing wrong by his wife. But I love my job, and I'm not sure what I could or should do to behave honorably in this situation.
A: I thought one of the ways you know someone is a "successful business mogul" is that he has an assistant who picks out jewelry that suits the taste of both his wife and his mistress. How your boss conducts his affairs is not your affair. As long as you are not being asked to do something illegal, his personal life is his business—your job is just to make it run smoothly. I assume you don't have trouble telling callers he doesn't want to talk to that he's in a meeting when he's not. I do understand your discomfort at lying to his wife. So if that duty makes you feel too morally compromised, you should seek other employment. If you want to stay, that means your terms of employment require you to make all aspects of his life as frictionless as possible.
Q. Friend's Ex-Boyfriend: One of my good friends (for at least a year) broke up with a guy a couple of years ago. I guess they didn't part very well—she remains quite bitter about him. After a year of online dating disasters she's hit gold and is with a great guy. Meanwhile, while I was out hiking with my dog, I met a lovely guy. We chatted for about an hour and we have lots in common including mutual friends and local interests. But as soon as he told me his name, I knew it was the dreaded ex. When I made the connection, he said nothing but nice things about my friend and that they just ended up not being compatible. He seemed quite keen, but I ended our chat before he had an opportunity to suggest meeting again. I'm torn. I'm attracted to him, but A) he's my friend's ex and I'm a firm believer in the friend code and B) she obviously knows lots of negative things about him that I don't. How do I proceed? Should I tell my friend about meeting him and ask for her permission to date him and risk offending her or listen to a tirade against him? Do I go on a walk with him and get to know him as a friend (we discovered we live 10 houses away from each other!) or what?
A: I think Lesley Gore answered the dilemma about asking your friend's permission to date her ex when in 1963 she sang, "You Don't Own Me." I'm excited to think that perhaps the reason your friend and he broke up is that destiny meant for you and him to be together. Sure, that will royally piss her off, but serendipity brought you two together, and any statute of limitations on dating your friend's ex (which are short) has expired. You didn't even know her when she was dating this guy, so it's not as if you were her confidante who was secretly planning to strike once they split. I like the idea of getting to know this guy better, period. That's a good way to proceed in general with potential romances. You also have presumably been given some warning information about this guy from your friend, which you can file away. You do not need your friend's permission to take a walk or go to dinner with him. You might find you don't want to do it again, so there's no reason to raise it right now. But if you discover you two enjoying each other's company, then yes, you must tell your friend that you met her ex by chance and you two hit it off. If she wants to end the friendship, bid her adieu.
Q. Re: Spoiled Niece: My sister and her husband make a substantial amount of money compared to me, a single parent whose husband left me straddled with debt and no insurance money. (His death was a suicide, so no payout.) I love your response to the LW. Yes, my sister and her husband make a lot more than me, but my kids and I have a nice, albeit small, roof over our heads (advantages of small include not much yard to mow and a much smaller electric bill!). We have enough money to occasionally eat out and see a movie. We're not rolling in money, but we are fine, and when I consider where we could be ... I just count my blessings. The LW needs to learn to see the good things she has!
A: You and your children have been through a harrowing ordeal, and how lucky they are to have a mother who takes on life with such equanimity and optimism. Thank you for this lesson!
Q. Weighty Issue: I'm a healthy woman standing at 5-foot-5. Before I got married, I weighed 115 pounds. I didn't gain a lot of weight during pregnancy, either, because of severe morning sickness that plagued me for the entire nine months. But since our daughter was born (she is now 3), I've had little time for exercise or looking after myself. I now weigh 145 pounds. My doctor says I'm still in the healthy range of BMI and I feel okay. Granted, I don't look the same as I did before becoming a mother, but I don't want to be obsessed with my looks either. The problem is my husband, who constantly tells me I need to lose weight. At first he tried to say he was worried about my health, but later admitted that he's not as attracted to me as he once was. I am hurt and angry by this, and I am even more determined not to lose weight for the sake of pleasing my man. I feel like he should love all 145 pounds of me no matter what. We've argued a lot over my weight and appearance and now neither of us is attracted to each other. Should I lose my weight or should he change his attitude?
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