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.)
Emily Yoffe: It's been hard to think of anything but the horror that just took place in Connecticut and the agony of those affected. Tragic letters sometimes do come to this column. But mostly people write about day to day frustrations. I do look forward to your questions, but I'm sure all of us will be feeling how lucky we are if we just have normal problems.
Q. Message Failed: 10 years ago, a male colleague and I enjoyed going to sporting events together. He was a bit of a player, but we never dated. He later married a nice woman who, for whatever reason, seemed to have it in for me. We remain friendly at work but don't see each other outside the office except for the very occasional office social event. A couple of months ago his wife, still in her 30s, was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. I sent her a card and note saying I was very sorry to hear this and hoped treatment would go well. In response, I got a diatribe saying I was counting the days until her death so I could get my claws back into her husband, and much more and much worse. Had she sent this only to me, I would have ignored it, but she put it on Facebook! Her husband followed up with a posting saying that, while we were friends, we had never dated and had no romantic interest in each other. I'm debating seconding his comments, or is it better to just leave it alone? I have no idea why she hates me so and assure you we never did anything in the least inappropriate. I feel bad I so enraged a dying woman but can't think of anything I can do to make it right.
A: I hope as social media rules evolve people will come to see that it is wrong and counterproductive to use a public forum to humiliate a spouse to try to make him change, or excoriate an acquaintance for some faux pas, or, as in your case, work out some sad psychological issues. People dealing with devastating illnesses deserve a lot of leeway, but making false accusations is a leeway too far, and I'm glad the husband stepped up to respond to his wife's rant. I'm sure you are embarrassed and humiliated, but I assure you almost everyone reading what she wrote will be appalled and perhaps wonder if the woman's treatment was affecting her judgment. Keep silent. You didn't do anything wrong, but there's nothing you can do to right her fantasies.
Dear Prudence: Hair-Raising Dilemma
Q. Bathroom Sexism: I work in a small office (five men and two women) and we share a unisex bathroom. A few weeks back, somebody put up a sign saying "Please leave the seat upright." I assume that our boss approves since he hasn't taken the sign down. I was extremely indignant by the sign! Even though we girls are the juniormost employees and are in the minority, why should we have to leave the seat upright? This isn't really an issue that I can take up with my boss as he's very formal and reserved and this isn't something that bothers my colleague. Should I suck it up and comply? Or should I rebel by refusing to leave the seat up?
A: The man who put this sign up sure is anal. The guys in your office must have extremely strong thigh muscles if they hover over a seat-less toilet bowl when certain kinds of duty calls. Usually in the battle of the sexes, plumbing version, it's the women who have the upper hand, forcing the men to return the seat to the down position. I've never heard of a directive insisting the toilet set remain up, therefore universally inconveniencing women every time they seek relief. If you take the sign down, it will be pretty clear it was either you or your female co-worker, thus getting you tangled up with the a**hole in the office. Leave the sign alone, but feel free to ignore its directive.
Q. SIL Neglecting Daughter for Facebook?: My husband's sister has always been the annoying person who documents her every single move on Facebook. She had a baby two weeks ago, and I am getting concerned. She updates with pictures, status updates, etc., multiple times an hour—over the course of several hours. Sometimes 10 to 15 updates an hour, spaced every five or so minutes. It's to the point where I am worried that she will spend so much time taking and uploading pictures that her daughter won't get the attention she needs. SIL was like this before with pictures of her pregnant belly, but now there's a child at stake. She freely shares tons of personal information about her daughter—full name, birthdate, etc.—on Facebook, too. I feel awful for my niece, who seems to be more like an accessory to make her mother's life look better than it really is. What can I do?
A: Again, Facebook can be wonderful for letting people know about your poetry reading, or for getting recommendations for places to eat in Venice. But its dark side is that it becomes a forum for the expression of narcissistic personality disorder. I don't even understand how your sister-in-law's schedule is possible. When I had an infant I felt as if I was on a nonstop loop of feeding and changing. It's not so easy to post updates on these activities when your hands are occupied doing it. You obviously don't like your sister-in-law very much ("... to make her mother's life look better than it really is") so try to contain your contempt as you look at this situation. Consider that your sister-in-law is obnoxious, but you're overreacting. Maybe the solution is that you just need get off her FB feed. She may be overly displaying her daughter, but it sure doesn't sound as if she's neglecting her. But if as things unfold you truly worry that things are off with this new mother, then you should have a gentle talk with your husband about your concerns. Maybe his side of the family can give her some guidance on privacy and time management.
Q. Family and the Holidays (Shocking, I Know): My family has always had a difficult time sharing the holidays with my husband's family. Since we moved across the country two years ago, it has become even worse. My husband's family does a very large Christmas brunch, while my family does an early Christmas dinner. My family is mad that they have to push the start of their party back to accommodate my husband's family. Prudie, we eat Christmas dinner at 3:30 p.m.! My family complains that they will only push their party back if my in-laws push their party earlier, which I have asked in the past and they have done, but as I have explained to my family, you can only start Christmas so early in the morning. I have also explained to my family that we eat ridiculously early and that they actually get to spend more time with us on Christmas since we spend all afternoon and evening with them. We can't combine our two families' Christmases (and I wouldn't want to), and I don't know how to make them stop complaining unless we trade Christmases each year, which I really don't want to do since it's the only holiday we get to see everyone at. Help, please! They're turning me into a Grinch.
A: Give up. Tell your family to go ahead and eat when they want. If they then start chowing down at noon, you will get there after they eat, but you should still be full from brunch. Then you can hang out for the afternoon and get a plate of leftovers in the evening. If they want to keep dinner at 3:30, then you show up, let their grumbling roll off you, and get in the true spirit of the season.
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