Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the 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.)
Q. My Boyfriend Licks Me: My boyfriend of six months has an annoying habit. Every now and then, when I least expect it, he will lick my face. Mostly it's when he leans over as I'm expecting a goodbye peck on the cheek. Sometimes randomly when we sit together eating lunch. The first couple of times I thought he was trying to be cute and laughed it off. When he did it the third or fourth time I told him it was annoying and asked him to stop. He thinks it's a hilarious joke to annoy me and he's been doing it continuously ever since. The last time he did it I was so fed up I instinctively pushed him away without thinking. I felt very angry and raised my voice, telling him strongly to stop doing it. Then he got angry at me for "overreacting" and getting mad. He's otherwise a mature and thoughtful guy (I know I haven't made a good case for it but you just have to take my word for it) but this one habit irritates me to no end. I can't believe he keeps doing it to get a reaction out of me. Should I dump him?
A: What good timing! With Halloween coming up you can get your boyfriend a jumbo-sized bag of lollipops and give them to him with a goodbye note that reads, "Lick this." I accept that except for his propensity to leave a trail of slime across your face, he's Mr. Wonderful. But I'm afraid given the case you've made, I can only think of him as Mr. Tongue. Consider where his fetish, or compulsion, or whatever it is, has driven you. You are finding yourself wanting to commit assault, which I assume is out of character for you. You've only been with this guy for six months and so far your protests have resulted in the escalation of him treating you like a popsicle. I suppose you could mix cayenne pepper into your blush, which might give him pause next time he swoops in for a slurp. But I say that before you are tempted to cut off his tongue, just cut your losses.
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Q. Speaking Ill of the Dead: My stepfather died last year. He was a huge hero in the community due to his involvement in various causes. He was an idol to my mother, who was a widow with four children when they met and married. Several relatives even suggested we pen a biography of him for our future generations. What people don't know is that he took advantage of me when I was 15. I mistakenly thought of his affections as genuine love and he was my first sexual encounter, which lasted six months. He was extremely manipulative, and when I began resisting he emotionally blackmailed me. He spread lies about me to other family members so if I ever told anyone, I would look like a liar and a delinquent. As an adult I had limited contact with my mother and siblings because it was too painful to see him. After he died I started to be in touch with my family more. But it remains difficult to hear my family reminisce what a wonderful person he was. A part of me wants to out him as the scumbag he is. Another part of me wants to protect my family's memory of the husband and father he was to them, however inaccurate that is. Should I tell or keep quiet?
A: Please get some counseling to help you both deal with this trauma and figure out what your next steps should be. RAINN and Stop It Now are two places you can start. How monstrous that not only did your stepfather rape you, he used his power to estrange you from your family. I'm going to bet that depending on their sex and your late stepfather's proclivities, it's likely you are not the only sibling to have been abused by him. But it's also true that families can create fortresses of lies, and since your stepfather had already painted you as a delinquent, that might allow the others, especially your mother, to refuse to believe what happened. This is why you need some professional guidance. It might even be possible that a social worker could accompany you to a meeting with your family at which you explain the truth. He was able to bully and intimidate you into keeping his depraved secrets. But you have no obligation now to help others honor the memory of this criminal.
Q. Once Again … Breast-feeding: At the many large family gatherings I attend, my niece breast-feeds her 1-year-old multiple times over the course of the afternoon. This is not a newborn who needs feeding every couple of hours so she uses her breast more as a pacifier than anything. To be clear, she does not do this in any modest way, exposing her entire breast to the room each time. This makes my husband and his elderly father (who lives with us) uncomfortable enough that the older gentleman gets up to leave the room each time. Other people in the extended family have commented on it, too. The next event is at my house. I try to make all my guests, but especially those of a certain age, comfortable in my home. It is just a matter of respect. I would like my niece to take her son to an adjoining room that is more private although not behind closed doors when she is with us and feels the need to placate him. I know she will be upset with me, but I feel that she needs to at least be aware that this is making her older extended family uncomfortable as this wasn't done in their generation. What do you think?
A: At least your niece isn't also giving a lecture on anthropology, like the American University professor recently in the news for breast-feeding in class. I am pro-lactation. I did it myself for a year, and yes, I occasionally had to breast-feed (discreetly) in public places, and often at my in-laws. When I was at their house, I would almost always go to another room, or sit in a chair facing away from them. They were in favor of breast-feeding, but there was no reason to shove it in their faces. You're absolutely right that with a 1-year-old there is no compelling need for your niece to make everyone observers of this. When your niece arrives pull her aside and say while you support breast-feeding, you'd appreciate it that when she's feeding the baby she takes him into your bedroom for some privacy. Explain that the older family members are uncomfortable and it would be easier on them if she was the one to absent herself briefly. Then if in defiance she lets it all hang out, you can all go to another room.
Q. Re: My Boyfriend Licks Me: My boyfriend (now my husband) also liked to lick my face and it also irritated me to no end. The reason he's now my husband and not my ex-boyfriend—he stopped when I asked him to. Someone who thinks it's funny to irritate you is not good long term relationship material, no matter how sterling his other qualities.
A: I'd love to know how he explains what jollies he got from this.