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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Overbearing, Creepy In-Law: My husband and I, newly married, recently moved to the same town in which his bachelor brother lives. My husband travels frequently on business and encouraged me to invite his brother over if I ever felt lonely. He also told his brother to "watch out for me." One night I caught his brother peering in my bedroom window. He told my husband that he thought he heard me cry out and wanted to make sure I was OK. A few weeks ago, he showed up in the middle of the night and said he wanted to make sure I was alone. The final straw came last night, when I was showering. I turned around, and there was my brother-in-law! He claimed he hadn't known I was home and my husband told him where to find our hide-a-key. The issue is that my husband believes his brother's explanations rather than my feelings that his brother's behavior crosses the line. He has asked his brother to back off "a bit." Is it reasonable for me to expect more? How can I make a case for my feelings—that his brother is a creep—without coming off like a harpy?
A: First, you need to call a locksmith and get your house re-keyed in case your brother-in-law, Norman Bates, has made a copy. Then you need a new hidey hole for the key and you must get your husband to agree not to tell his brother where it is. What you describe—the man at the window escalating to the man in the bathroom, is right out of the playbook of every slasher movie ever made. I don't want to unduly alarm you, but frankly, I'm alarmed. And if your husband isn't, then you are married to a dolt. You cannot wait until you are actually crying out, "No, Norman, no!" Sit your husband down and say it's possible that since he's a man, he doesn't understand how utterly violated and vulnerable a woman would feel by his brother's behavior. But he has to recognize that what is brother is doing is terrifying you. If he doesn't immediately tell his brother that he's been wildly out of line and should only be coming over if he has an invitation, then I'm sorry to say that you should pack and get yourself a living situation in which there is no one unexpectedly greeting you as you step out of the shower.
Q. My Husband Carries a Purse!: My husband is a wonderful man—we have been married for three decades now and have been together since we were high-school sweethearts at the age of 16. He's hardworking and generous, and spends much of his time caring for his ailing aunt. But not long ago he decided to start carrying a purse (a very feminine looking and expensive Coach purse!). He says it's so much more convenient than trying to stuff everything he has to carry on him into his pockets. And there are a number of things he has to have on him at all times, like his inhaler for his asthma, some medications, and blood testing kit (he's also diabetic) in addition to the everyday things like his keys, cellphone and wallet. I wouldn't care about the purse (I actually agree that it's much more convenient) except for all the strange looks we get. We live in an area that isn't exactly known for its tolerant people, and while I'm more than confident that my husband is definitely not gay, I'm afraid that, judging from the icy glares directed at us, a lot of people get the wrong idea. How can I convince my husband to put his purse away for good?
A: Forget other people and their "wrong ideas," you need to think about your husband's fashion choice and why it's bothering you. There are endless bags he could carry—from backpacks to briefcase-style—that would serve the same purpose for him. Surely he knows he is carrying a purse, and he wants to carry one, despite the glares. So you two needs to have a frank talk about why. If he sincerely says he was just looking for something roomy enough for all his stuff and this was on sale, you can say you know it says something about you and your perception of gender roles, but you wish he'd carry something more neutral and you'd be happy to shop for that with him. If he says the purse makes him happy in a way no backpack could, then after 30 years he owes you a more thorough conversation about why.
Q. My Home Is Not Your Home!: I live in a two-bedroom house at a popular tourist location. I frequently receive requests to stay in the spare bedroom from my family and friends. I don't mind so much those with whom I am close. But I feel annoyed by the constant stream of emails from former classmates I haven't spoken to in years, or friends of friends I've never met who were told "Jean has a guest room—you should ask if you can stay there!" Since when did it become acceptable to invite yourself to stay for several days in the house of someone you don't know well? Is this not a major breach of etiquette?
A: It hasn't become acceptable; technology has just made it easier to track people you used to know. Have a list of nearby hotels and motels and when you hear from people who you once sat next to for algebra, write back to them, "I hope you have fun while you're in town. I'm unable to put you up, but he's a list of good places for you to book a room."
Q. Re: The Man Purse: He does not owe her a more thorough conversation about why, because even if the purse truly does make him happy that still only speaks to her discomfort about gender roles. If he had a green backpack and she wished he'd carry a blue one, if he says, "I'm fine with the green backpack," that does not mean he owes her a more thorough explanation.
A: If he's carrying a woman's purse because he has given himself permission to start using women's accessories, and possibly clothing, that is something a husband is obligated to discuss with his wife. If he would be just as happy with a blue or green backpack as a purse, it is not too much to ask him to use one.
Q. My Niece's Secret Twin: My oldest niece is a twin, but she doesn't know it. Her twin sister died when they were 8 months old. Immediately my sister and her husband erased their deceased child's existence from the planet and demanded that our family do the same. Now my niece is 15, and I think she might know about her twin sister. She has begun to ask me how many siblings she has, and she asks if I'm lying when I tell her two (her younger brothers). She asks why there are so few pictures of her from when she was younger than 8 months. Given that she has access to the Internet and a sea of people who know about her twin, it's likely that she's learned some basic information but doesn't know how to ask for more. When I broach the topic with my sister and her husband, they insist this is the way they want to do things. I feel trapped in this unraveling lie. What should I do?