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. Boyfriend's Family: My boyfriend warned me ahead of time that his family was a handful, but nothing could of prepared me for Thanksgiving. N-words and gay slurs and an uncle who referred to Secretary Clinton by the worst word toward women imaginable. I am not trying to be a snob, but I can't comprehend raising a child around these people. Although we are in med school a thousand miles away, we are thinking about settling down near his hometown. I talked to him about the outright bigotry his family embraces, and he is both embarrassed and also nonapologetic—I shouldn't judge them for, amongst other things, referring to our president in a manner that you wouldn't even publish. He's a great, decent guy, but his family is not one I would want to be a part of, and I'm having a hard time reconciling the two.
A: Even if one's family is composed of the rudest, crudest racists and misogynists, it can be a big leap to ask someone to write them off. Fortunately, your boyfriend ended up being nothing like these people. He's embarrassed by them. But he also feels some instinctive sense of loyalty to the people who raised him, and whom he knows in a more complicated way than you possibly could. I can understand your wanting him to denounce these idiots wholesale, but you should be able see how that might have felt presumptuous to him. You say he's your boyfriend, not yet your fiancé. So it seems premature to start dictating that you want to limit the exposure of your nonexistent children to them. You have made your understandable shock clear, so now you should back off. Let him spend some time considering what it must have been like to see his loved ones through your eyes. That will be more powerful that your trying to get him to sever ties with the only family he has.
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Q. Hearing Intimate Moments From Neighbors: I own and live in a semiattached house in a large city. The house adjacent to mine is owned by an landlord and rented out. The tenants and I share the wall between our master bedrooms. In a nutshell, I hear EVERY MINUTE of their intimate encounters. I'm in no way asking how to get them to stop. They are consenting adults and can be as intimate as they wish. My question is what to do about being woken up several times a week by their cries of ecstasy. I have so far been able to resist knocking my knuckles on the wall to alert them to their racket, but I'm an early riser and am really not interested in learning on a four-or-five-night-a-week basis how good the male partner is. Please advise.
A: These people can be identified the smiles on their faces and the bags under their eyes. You own, they rent. So you're the one who's going to have to invest in the sound proofing. Get a consultant and find out what can be done on your end to muffle the joy. Once you do that, if you still can hear the blow by blow, you need to go over and have a conversation with them. You can say that unfortunately the walls between your homes aren't thick enough, and that the sound between the bedrooms leaks through. You can say you've mitigated this as much as you can, but for their privacy, and your sleep, and if they could keep it down (per Bill Clinton, you don't have to specify what "it" is) you'd all be more comfortable.
Q. Abused Friend: My friend from school is being abused at home, where she lives with her grandparents and her mother. I've known for a few months that her grandma calls her names, and makes fun of her, but I thought very little of it because they were only words. Recently though, her grandma has become more and more violent, to the extent of burning her personal belongings, and burning her with cigarettes. I want to call Social Services, but I am afraid they will take her away and put her up for adoption, in which case I may never see her again, or they will investigate, decide it's not abuse, and then it will make things worse for her. Also, she has confided to me that she doesn't want to leave, just kill herself. I am very afraid for her well being, but I'm afraid to lose her. What should I do?
A: What a tragic situation and of course your friend is terrified to stay and more terrified of what would happen if she left. However, this girl is in imminent danger. Her grandmother has committed crimes against her that should be prosecuted. Please tell your parents, and together you should all go to the principal of the school right away to get started on getting this girl safe.
Q. Re: Boyfriend's Family: I don't think the OP is wrong for considering her future with boyfriend. It doesn't sound like the boyfriend is willing to limit contact with his family, so these folks are going to present quite a problem in the future, should the OP and boyfriend marry. Certainly all the letters you receive from people having in-law problems should be a flashing red warning to your readers about how important it is to choose your partner carefully. OP is right to be concerned, and I would advise her to hold off on making future plans with her boyfriend unless/until the issues can be discussed and resolved to her satisfaction.
A: Sure I see you could make the argument that she should get out now if this is his family and he's not ready to call them out on what they are. However, few family relationships come with such an easy on-off switch. He could be thinking, "Well I grew up with these people, and I'm nothing like them. I'm not ready to sever relations with them because of fear of exposing our not-yet-conceived children to their grandparents." It's no defense of his family to say that he might have understandably started feeling defensive because she was asking him to see them only as an outsider would. Now that he's introduced her to them, it's opened up a conversation between them. I don't think it's time for an ultimatum.
Q. Family Drama: I am a single, successful career woman who has been dating a wonderful, charming man for the past two years. With the holidays approaching I have a problem—my boyfriend would like to be included in my family events. However, my parents and siblings absolutely abhor my boyfriend. They disapprove of our significant age gap, his divorce, his behavior based on meeting him once at a party, where, in their opinion, he drank too much. They consider him a cheap, womanizing drunk who is taking advantage of me. At Thanksgiving he wondered whether I would like to have him accompany me to family dinner. Now with Christmas looming—how am I going to tell my atheist boyfriend that my family will have a fit if he shows up for midnight mass?
A: This is the season of people behaving abominably. It's time you did some truth-telling to both sides. You have to let your boyfriend know that you've been struggling with your family's disapproval of him. Explain they dislike the age difference between you and his divorce. Tell them they have always been hyper-judgmental and you are having a very hard time dealing with their negative remarks about him. Then you tell your family that you have been in love with a fine man for two years who is a permanent part of your life. If they want you to part of theirs, it's time they behaved with the true spirit of the season and welcomed him into their homes. If they refuse, then you should say you are going to have to start a new tradition of being with kind and loving people for the holidays. So you and your boyfriend will be celebrating Christmas together away from them.