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. Sister's Being Shamed: My sister is marrying a sexually conservative man, which is to say he "saved himself" for marriage and she did not. My sister has always been honest that she had a number of sex partners (more than 20, less than 30) with her fiancé. He always seemed to understand and not care. Then his parents insisted that the couple undergo premarital counseling at their church, and my sister's fiancé told the pastor who counsels them that my sister had premarital sex. The pastor became very judgmental. He suggested my sister had been raped as a young woman because she liked sex, and liking sex was "often" an indication of being raped. He asked my sister's fiancé whether or not he could be happily married to my sister knowing about her multiple partners. Then he brought the fiancé's parents in and told them. Now everyone is acting like my sister is lucky such a stand-up guy would want to marry her, and she's miserable. She fears breaking the engagement though because she loves her fiancé and thinks this is a phase. She wants my support, but because I think her fiancé and the pastor are so gross, I'm struggling to be supportive of her marriage. Please help.
A: Oh, what a wedding night that will be. There's your sister who knows her way around a mattress and is used to experienced, sophisticated lovers. And there's her new husband trying to figure out what to do with the equipment. I can understand that after a randy youth your sister is ready to settle down, but I think she's having an overreaction if she thinks the way to go is to enter into a situation in which seeking sexual pleasure is a sign of a previous assault. This doesn't sound like a phase. Instead it seems that if your sister marries her fiancé she will always be considered a marked and damaged woman. Tell her the truth. Say you will always be there for her no matter what, but you are very concerned that the punitive judgment being rendered by her fiancé, his family, and church is not a phase but the start of a long, unpleasant siege.
Dear Prudence: Saving Lolita
Q. Tension Between Son and Father: My father is a wonderful man, a WWII vet and a member of The Greatest Generation. As he ages, he tends to vocalize his opinions much more than before. One of his opinions is that homosexuals should not only stay in the closet, but should absolutely not be married. My son is gay and came out to us years ago. I love my son and have always accepted him fully in our lives. When he came out to extended family, most of them are perfectly OK with his orientation. My father, however, frequently says rude remarks to my son about his orientation. Last weekend my son told me that he refuses to be in the company of somebody who is so blunt with his views on his lifestyle. I understand where my son is coming from, but I think he is being a bit dramatic. I think it is unfair that my son refuses to see his grandfather just because they clash on one opinion. My wife is standing by my son and is also avoiding my father. I can't turn my back on my father and all that he has given me and my country for one opinion that he holds. But my son and my wife refuse to be in the same room as my father until he stops saying remarks about homosexuality. I wish that my father could stop saying things to my son and I wish my son could understand that we love people for who they are, not for one opinion they hold. How can I get my family back together again?
A: If your father served in World War II he is indeed a very old man. I agree with you that people should cut the extremely aged some slack and accept they grew up with certain points of view that we now find repulsive. These viewpoints are dying with them, and it is worth it to see these people whole. However, what you describe is not a case in which your father sometimes makes an occasional, obnoxious, general comment about homosexuals. Instead he makes frequent, direct comments about one homosexual: his grandson. You don't say that your father is mentally addled, instead he uses his time with his grandson to insult and berate him. I don't blame your son, or your wife, for saying, "Enough." I hope they aren't telling you to turn your back on your father, but just making clear they no longer care to listen to his rants. In some situations the compromise is just to understand everyone's point of view and not try to change them. Continue to visit and honor your father. If he asks why he's not seeing your wife and son explain that his remarks about homosexuals became too frequent and painful and they didn't want to hear them anymore.
Q. Drunk Driving Prevention Ends Friendship: I threw a Halloween party this weekend, and my good friend Alicia came. During the party Alicia drank a lot and became very drunk. Even so, she wanted to drive home at the end of the night. I took her keys and refused to return them to her. I offered to call a cab or a sober friend to drive her home and offered to let her stay in my spare room. Alicia freaked out at me and demanded I return her keys to her. She said she was a grown woman and could make her own decisions. I still refused to give her the keys to her car, so eventually she called another friend to drive her home. The next day Alicia emailed me to demand the return of her car keys—I told her and her friend, when she left, that she could pick up her car as soon as she sobered up—and to tell me our eight-year friendship was over. She accused me of being controlling, disrespectful, crazy, and totally out of line. I am hurt by Alicia's decision to end our friendship, but I don't think I did the wrong thing by preventing her from driving drunk. What should I have done? Should I bother reaching out to Alicia and apologizing?
A: An apology is owed here: Alicia to you. It would have been nice when she sobered up if she said she appreciated your saving her from killing herself or someone else. Instead she's doubling down on her right to break the law and endanger the lives of everyone on the road. So when she comes, assuming she's not still on a bender, hand her the keys and say farewell.
Q. Re: Sister Being Shamed: Isn't there some sort of obligation on the part of the pastor to keep this kind of information private? Bringing in the fiancé's parents and informing them is a gross violation of the couple's privacy. In addition, it is the pastor who suggested that the sister was raped because that's the only reason a woman would like sex. What kind of backward-thinking church is this? And would the sister really want to raise her future children in such a judgmental and repressive environment?
A: Thanks for pointing out this is an alarming invasion and if the sister goes ahead she's signing up for a life of public shaming.