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.)
Q. Not Sure—Family? Etiquette?: David and I have been best friends since we met in undergrad. When we were accepted to grad programs at the same university, we got an apartment together. Two days ago, David was killed in a car accident. I have been devastated ever since. When I looked up David's online obituary, I was shocked to see myself listed as his fiancée. As close as we were, there was never anything romantic between us. David was gay. The only person I really know in David's family is his brother, and I called him to ask him why I was listed as his fiancée in the obituary. His brother explained that his parents are ultraconservative and very religious and, even though they knew David was gay, they never quite accepted it. I guess people in his hometown town knew he was living with a girl, and his parents explained away this "sin" by saying we were engaged, rather than saying we were just friends or even just roommates. The funeral is Tuesday, and I don't know if I can go or not. I know David would have hated the lie his parents told, but I also know he loved them very much and wouldn't want them to be hurt. I'm not sure what people would say if his "fiancée" didn't show up for the service. But I am also not comfortable accepting condolences from people for something that is a lie. I know how much David struggled with coming out to his parents and how he fought for acceptance. There is a part of me that would like to demand a retraction and correction of the obituary. Another part of me says to let it go because David is beyond hurting now. What should I do?
A: Go to the funeral and quietly accept people's condolences. You have lost one of the dearest people in the world to you, and however mixed your feelings about his family's behavior you should be at his funeral to pay your respects and be comforted by those who loved him. The immediate aftermath of the sudden death of a vibrant, young person is not the time to be making demands on the grief-stricken family, however misguided their actions. I agree it's terrible that his family felt it necessary to make up a lie in order to present a more acceptable face to the world. Fortunately, that world is changing and had David lived it's likely that over the course of his life his parents might have been able to accept a partner of David's. But that chance is gone and his parents are suffering the worst torment imaginable. Go to the funeral and hug and cry. If there are people insensitive enough to ask you for details of the "wedding" just shake your head and say you hope they understand it's something you can't bring yourself to talk about now.
Q. Shower Time: My girlfriend and I recently moved in together and I discovered an odd quirk. Once or twice a week she'll retreat to the bathroom and take a "shower" for an hour or two. Like literally 120 minutes. Our place doesn't have nearly that much hot water and so I asked her how this works. It turns out that she goes in there, builds a little nest out of towels, turns the shower on, and just lies there and reads or naps with cold water running, and then takes a couple minute shower. Apparently she's done it since she was a child and just finds it relaxing. Prudie, do you know how much water this uses?! She'll use several hundred gallons of water per session! Thousands a month! When I talked to her about the waste she just said that this is how she likes to spend her money (she insisted on paying the water bill when we moved in together and now I know why) and that lots of human activities are wasteful, but that since she's not even in the shower for most of the time the water's not being polluted (not sure about that) and that she does give to a water-related charity. Should I chalk this up as a quirky indulgence and that there are worse things than the shower running for hours at a time?
A: One great pleasure of this column is that just when I think I've heard everything I realize, Oh no, I haven't. The cold-water-shower-reading-nest is a new one on me, and I've got goosebumps and pruney skin just thinking about it. It's too bad your girlfriend didn't grow up in a house that only had bathtubs. Then she just would have soaked in a cold tub and while all her books may have gotten soggy the water bill wouldn't rival that of the Hoover Dam. It's generally a good idea to indulge your loved one's harmless quirks. Also keep in mind that a lot of people have passionate hobbies: motorcycles, skiing, buying shoes—that are far more expensive than a weekly, private Niagara. For now I suggest that when your girlfriend says she's feeling particularly dirty and it's time for a long shower, you don't stay home steaming about the running water, but let off steam by going out for a long run.
Q. My Friend and My Husband Cheated Together—What Now? : Melanie's husband ran out on her and their four young children two years ago. My husband, our kids, and I live down the block from Melanie and know her well. When her husband left I reached out to her to see if there was any way I could help her out. We began doing things together as friends and as moms with our kids. Sometimes my husband also helped Melanie with minor home repairs. I always admired him for his willingness to help Melanie. A few days ago I discovered a series of emails between Melanie and my husband, detailing their "mostly unacted upon" attraction to one another. They do not want to hurt me, and my husband said in the emails he would never leave me. But they cannot escape their attraction to one another. I confronted my husband, and we agreed that if we are going to save our marriage, Melanie needs to go. However, I feel guilty because my husband is the only father figure Melanie's kids have. I also don't want to tell her I know about her and my husband; I just want to cut off all contact with her.
A: I hope your husband recognizes what a decent person he is married to and how indecent his attraction (however common such things are) to Melanie. Good for you for being worried about the innocent children. And shame on Melanie and your husband for potentially shattering another set of kids. I think there's a compromise situation here in that if Melanie's kids are friendly with your kids there's no reason that they cannot continue to enjoy each other's company. It's you and your husband who are going to have nothing to do with Melanie. You don't have to go into details with this woman, but you can have a brief conversation with her saying something like, "For obvious reasons our friendship is over and Jack will not be doing handyman duty for you any longer. I don't want to hurt your kids more than necessary so they are still welcome in our home. You are not."
Q. Racist Grandma: My grandmother is, well, a racist. She is now dying and although she has her share of flaws, the rest of our family thinks we should just make her last remaining weeks/months as comfortable as possible. That's why I decided not to tell my grandmother that the man I'm about to marry is black. To me it makes no sense to get her worked up and upset when she is dying. Grandma lives four hours' drive away and has never met my fiancé, and she's unable to travel to attend the wedding. My fiancé, however, is deeply offended over this issue. He thinks my grandmother should be told he is black. Furthermore, he wants to meet her so she has an opportunity to get to know him and realize her stereotypes and prejudice are wrong. I've explained to him that her racism is so deeply entrenched that his meeting her a couple of times won't change anything. He thinks she should be told anyway, out of principle. We are in such strong disagreement over the issue that he's thinking of postponing the wedding until he can meet my grandmother. I think it's ridiculous. What are your thoughts?