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. Introvert Daughter: My family is rather large (45 people on average for Thanksgiving) and my husband's parents are divorced and we try to see both of them at some point over the weekend. Our kids are 13, 11, and 8 and in the past have seemed to enjoy spending the holiday weekend this way. Yesterday my 11-year-old daughter told me that she wants a "quiet" holiday. We have noticed that she is getting increasingly introverted over the past year or so, more likely to read by herself than play with her brothers and cousins. She told me that there are "too many people and too much driving." My husband and I are party-loving extroverts, so house-hopping and driving six-plus hours over the weekend is no big deal to us. But my daughter doesn't complain often and I know if she brings something up it is legitimately important to her. In small groups, and especially one-on-one, my daughter is a delight: creative, funny, and very smart. But in big groups she just fades into the background, possibly counting down the minutes until she can read by herself again. How do I balance my daughter's request that we tone things down with a) reasonable expectations from family to see us, b) the rest of my immediate family's love of going all-out, and c) not making the holiday all about her. My daughter's personality is so different from the rest of us that I don't know how to meet everybody's needs at once. Any advice? Any introverts want to chime in?
A: Usually you can spot introverts from an early age, so I'm wondering about what you describe as a change in your daughter. It may be that she is finally feeling like she can stand up for her desire to curl up with a good book, but you should just make sure that she's not withdrawing for some other reason. But if you simply have an introvert on your hands, get the best-seller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking so you can understand your daughter better and help her assert her needs. You can tell her you appreciate that she understands herself so well and can articulate such things and that you will do what you can to accommodate her. It could be there's no alternative but long drives on Thanksgiving, but she should be allowed to listen to a book on tape in the back seat. And when everyone gets into the boisterous games and antics after the meal, once she's had her share, you can tell her she's free to go to a quiet bedroom and read. If the relatives start teasing her, explain to them that while the rest of you are recharged by big noisy event, for some people it just drains their batteries, so you're letting Lila take a much-needed break.
Q. Affair Partner's Daughter Stalks Me: I fell in love with a married man and slept with him. Clearly one of my worst moments as a human being. When his wife found out about our affair we ended things. Somehow their daughter found out, and she has been harassing me ever since. She wrote me several long letters in which she told me how much she disliked me and how gross and pathetic I was. She messaged the letters to my Facebook friends before I made my friend list private. I think she got my phone number and began prank calling me several times a night, sometimes three times an hour around 2 a.m. I changed my phone number. Now she is showing up where I work (a department store) and coming into my area. She has done this twice. I am always hesitant to talk to her because the wife and my affair partner threatened legal action if I ever contacted them or so much as looked at one of their kids. I do not have the money to hire a lawyer to contact their lawyer. Should I accept this teenager's behavior as a consequence of the affair, or am I within my rights to find a way to get her to stop bothering me?
A: Yes you have learned a good lesson in poor choices. Especially since your erstwhile lover is such a creep that he is now threatening you with legal action on the basis of nothing. It's especially appalling that your boyfriend and his wife have allowed their daughter to be drawn into the drama. I know you don't have much money, but it shouldn't cost that much to have a short, onetime meeting with a lawyer to explain your situation and have a letter sent to the family explaining you are being harassed and if it doesn't stop, you will have to go to the authorities. Alternatively, if the girl continues, you could just go directly to the police yourself and explain you are now being stalked. You could also alert your manager and without going into details explain that this girl is stalking you at work and you would appreciate someone having a word with her. Making a mistake does not mean you should endure an unbalanced teen trying to mess up your life.
Q. Houseguests and Sex: Recently we had family in from out of town staying with us. After we all went to bed, I heard a noise on my daughter's monitor and went to go check it out. I got halfway there and then heard, very clearly, my sister and brother-in-law having sex. They were not having sex in the guest room where they were staying; I think they were in the bathroom. I was mortified and went straight back to my bedroom. I am really uncomfortable with them having sex in the bathroom—what if my daughter was to wake up while they were in there to use the toilet? How do I even begin to approach with this them? Or do I ignore it and hope they have the good sense to keep it in the guestroom from now on?
A: I thought this was going to be a much more exciting letter about two family members not married to each other being caught cheating via the baby monitor. It just may be that your sister and her husband closed the bathroom door and had vertical sex. It's also possible that they are so vocal that their bedroom sex got picked up by a sensitive radio device. I'm trying to understand what you want to convey to them: "I think you had sex while visiting us. Nothing untoward happened. But my daughter might have been scarred for life if she'd had to make a wee-wee." You can see that this line of rebuke is going nowhere. You should have the good sense to say nothing and be happy that your sister and her husband are still hot for each other.
Q. Former Cheaters Must Fess Up to Their Kids: My husband and I met and started dating when he was still married to his ex-wife. The first three years of our relationship were adulterous. Then I became pregnant and he divorced his ex. We married when I was eight months pregnant with our oldest daughter. Nine years later, we are very happy together, even though we will never be proud of how we began as a couple. Like most children, our kids (8, 6, 4) wonder how we met. My husband and I have always given them half-truths, but we know someday we will have to be more honest. When do you think that time should be? And should we ever be completely honest about how our relationship began? My husband and I do not want to tell our kids inappropriate things about ourselves, but we also don't want to make our relationship's origin story more salacious by making it a big secret.
A: You don't mention that your husband had children by his first wife. If he did, then I assume you've already explained that Dad was married before and got divorced. If he didn't have children, that uncomplicates the telling of your romance. And you do have a story to tell apart from the inconvenient detail that their father was already married. Either you were colleagues and met at work, or you were sitting next to each other on an airplane, etc. So tell that story. Your children are still very young and don't need to know the sordid details of your cheating. At some point when the subject of divorce comes up you can tell them that Dad was married before he met you and he got a divorce. You should keep your answers age appropriate and answer their questions honestly. Mostly you want to convey that you two are happy you met, happy you got married, and thrilled to be parents.
Q. Unusual Couple: I have been dating an amazing man for three years. He recently proposed and I could not be happier. We are both so excited to plan our wedding. My fiancé is five inches shorter than me, something that has never bothered me, but what does bother me are the rude comments I sometimes get regarding our height difference and now that we have told everyone about the upcoming wedding they have increased a bit. Most of our friends and acquaintances have said nothing but lovely things, but some have said things such as: "He is too short for you in the long run," and making rude jokes about him not being "man enough" for me. These comments make me furious, and I was wondering if you could help me come up with a great retort. So far I have said; "He is big where it matters," which is not very classy.
A: Sometimes the best approach is just to look bemused, stay silent, and let the stupidity hang in the air. You could also say, "Thanks for your good wishes" or "Wow, what a small-minded thing to say."