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: Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. This weekend I went to the stores and did my part for the economy. So much so that my card was declined when I was buying socks. A call to the credit card company had them explaining to me they became suspicious because I appeared to be "in a frenzy."
Q. Is It Time To Get Over It?: When my ex and I were married, we had trouble conceiving and years of heartache. I thought our marriage was strong enough to survive this, then I discovered he was having an affair with my sister. We had a huge, traumatic confrontation and my then husband and I decided to move and make a fresh start. A few weeks after we moved, my sister gave the news that—surprise!—she was pregnant. My ex then divorced me to start a family with her. Because I'd just started a new job and had a mortgage, it was financially impossible for me to leave. I stayed in the new city by myself and eventually made friends and settled there. My parents were also very hurt and angry, but when the baby came they mellowed and reconciled. My niece is now 5 and I have never met her. We take turns attending family functions because I can't bear to be in the same room as them. Recently my parents gently asked if I would consider having a Christmas dinner with my sister. I told them I would think about it and I really did. I took a deep breath and went on my sister's Facebook page for the first time. There, I saw hundreds of happy pictures of them as a family. My ex-husband kissing her after she'd just given birth, photos of the happy first birthday party, family trips, etc. She was tagged in a status update from my ex: "Celebrating another amazing anniversary with my beautiful wife, thank you for giving me so much happiness and our perfect daughter." I literally vomited after reading that. After five years, is it time for me to get over it and try to force myself to at least tolerate their company?
A: It's no wonder what you saw made you sick to your stomach. The violation against you was enormous. However, I don't think you should conclude that the only way you could be with them is to have a bunch of air-sickness bags with you. You have been in a bubble of denial for the past five years, so a tidal wave of evidence of the happy family life you feel these cheaters stole from you is bound to be overwhelming. If over the past few years you'd had some minimal contact with them and knew your niece slightly, you would be in a different place emotionally now. Yes, you might have still concluded you want nothing to do with them, but you would have made that decision from a more rational place. So give yourself time. You may want, possibly with the help of a therapist or even a friend, to give yourself some desensitization therapy. Instead of consuming pictures of the past five years at one gulp, over the next few months you could look occasionally at pictures of your niece. She is the innocent party here, and focusing on her might enable you to see that painful as it is, something positive has come out of all this. But Christmas is too soon for this. If you are going to find yourself being able to be in the room with this reconstituted family, it would be better to do it at a less loaded time—say a weekend in February with no connotations of holiday joy. Whatever you decide vis-a-vis your sister, be proud that you have moved on and built a happy life for yourself. (And how often do brothers- and sisters-in-law get it on? Just a few weeks ago I got a letter from a woman whose fiancé impregnated his brother's wife, but the brother remains none the wiser.)
Q. Sister-in-Law's Hospitality: My brother and sister-in-law invited our family and four other families over for Thanksgiving this weekend. We all brought side dishes, wine, desserts, and drinks so that they only needed to cook the turkey. When the meal was done, my sister-in-law came up to me and asked me to make sure to leave a check before we left. I asked her what the check was for and she said it was for hosting the dinner. She said $100 per couple should cover it. I was floored. The turkey only cost about $30 and everyone else bought at least as much in side dishes and wine. She told me there are a lot of costs that guests just don't see. In order to avoid a scene, I wrote her a check. (I know at least one other family reluctantly paid her as well.) I asked my brother what that was about and he didn't know anything about it. $500 to cook a turkey and host a dinner seems a bit steep to me—what should we do?
A. You should make other plans for Christmas if this chisler has invited you to celebrate that holiday. If you normally exchange gifts with them, consider that $100 for breast meat to be sufficient for the season. It's true there are hidden costs to hospitality, but invited guests are normally not expected to cover that month's mortgage. Your sister-in-law is a nut, and if you're ever invited for another gathering, tell her you'll supply your own peanut butter and jelly.
Q. Am I Too Prudish?: I am about to relocate to another state. My brother and his wife live in our soon to be home town and have generously offered me and my family a room until we find our own place. However, they have large nude portraits of themselves—one of my brother and another one of my SIL—hanging in the main hallway. They are not posing in any sexually suggestive way, but you see everything. Last time we visited my son was a toddler and the pictures weren't an issue. He is now 5 and I feel it's inappropriate for him to see nude portraits of his aunt and uncle. Is it rude if I ask them to take down the pictures? I'm all for giving kids age-appropriate sex ed, but I fear this is just too much too soon.
A: This isn't sex ed, it's art appreciation. You simply can't ask your brother and sister-in-law to cover their portraits the way former Attorney General John Ashcroft had the partially nude Spirit of Justice covered with drapes. Your son will likely take a cue from you, so if you don't take notice of the paintings he might not even focus on them. But if you find him staring, fascinated, then open the discussion by saying, "Those are interesting paintings, aren't they?" And whatever he says handle it with humorous aplomb. Keep in mind there's no age at which it's too soon for a kid to understand that everyone is naked under their clothes.
Q. Confused in Ariz.: It has recently been brought to my attention that my 35-year-old son is being accused of sexually molesting the son of my best friend. At the time their ages were 13 (my son) and 4 (her son). I am shocked and shaken but at the same time I believe my son who says it is not true. My best friend is upset as well and wants my son to admit it and apologize. Prudence, I am at a loss of what to do. I feel as if a 40-year friendship is going to end. Both families just found out about it as my godson just told his mother. We are all trying to deal with this. My daughter says we should all get the proper counseling if needed and move on with our separate lives. She says nothing can be done legally since my son denies it anyway. I am terrified of what might can happen and mourn a potentially lost valued friendship?
A: I think your daughter is right. This is a situation in which the truth may never be known (and the statutes of limitations has run on the potential crime). If your son absolutely denies the accusation, of course he's not going to apologize. And your friend seems naive to think that an apology would wrap things up and the friendship could continue. What a devastating turn of events; talking it through with a neutral party can help you deal with the fallout.