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.)
Q. Friend's Abusive Second Husband Secrets: My oldest, dearest friend remarried a verbally abusive jerk. He blows up at her for minor offenses and curses at her, breaks furniture, disappears for hours, and freaks out if she talks with her ex-husband (the father of her children) too much. Her ex-husband does not know how serious the verbal abuse has become or how much has occurred in front of their kids. I don't know if my friend has told her kids not to reveal to their dad how their stepdad treats her, but for some reason, they don't say anything to him. I know they're scared of their stepdad, because they have told my son that, and my friend has admitted that. She's worried her ex-husband will freak out if she tells him how her current husband treats her. I don't think she understands why her husband verbally abuses her, and she thinks it will stop somehow. I know my friend loves her husband and wants their marriage to work. I feel like I'm failing her kids by not giving her ex-husband a heads up. What should I do?
A: To use the old “frog in boiling water” analogy, sometimes the person in a dangerous situation will no longer recognize it because the abuse escalates gradually. Your friend is living with a violent man who is increasingly out of control. Why she loves this creep is for her to figure out, preferably with the help of a therapist, but she has to recognize the situation for what it is. I think you should take her out (let's hope her husband allows it) and lay out how concerned you are for her and her kids. You can tell her you understand that her ex would freak out to find out what's going on in the home, but that is a good indication of why he should know. He surely would want to protect his kids. Tell her you're worried she's so deep into this bad scene that she's incapable of telling the ex, so you're going to. And tell her to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline to help her get a start in getting out: 800-799-SAFE.
Dear Prudence: Son With a Plunging Crack Line
Q. Sexy Santa-Suit Scandal: My boyfriend "Nick" and I have a holiday tradition where I dress up as Mrs. Claus and he dresses up as Santa and we role play. My costume is from an adult shop and is very suggestive while his is just a regular Santa suit. The thing is this year he has decided to volunteer for a well-known charity standing on the street dressed as Santa to collect donations from passersby, and he wants to use our role-play suit! I told him I want him to get a different suit for his charity work, and reserve the other one for its own special purpose, but he's been dismissive of the idea, saying a proper Santa suit is expensive and that he doesn't want to spend the money unnecessarily. I'm considering just going and buying him one myself, but I don't want to seem pushy. Would I be over the line in insisting he doesn't use his naughty suit to be nice for charity?
A: As I understand it, you don't want him wearing his plain old Santa suit because when you see it, it says to you, "It's sexy time!" However, that connection will not be made by any of the people dropping quarters into his can. This erotic clause you cite for wanting him to spend money for a new Mr. Claus suit is ridiculous. Be nice and drop your objection.
Q. Circumcision Standoff: I am engaged to a wonderful man, and we know we want children in a few years. But he recently told me that he is vehemently against circumcision. It's not for religious reasons—he is circumcised and believes that it caused him a lot of physical pain in adolescence. I, on the other hand, am for it. I believe the new research saying that it can help protect against HIV, HPV, and herpes and the old research saying that it can lower UTIs and possibly reduce cancer. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics says the benefits outweigh the risks. But my fiancé thinks that all of these studies are just created by doctors looking to get a little extra money from the circumcisions they’ll perform. I love him dearly, but I feel like this might be a deal breaker since it affects the wellbeing of a child, no matter which side of the argument you fall on. We can't just go through life hoping we'll have a daughter.
A: All the things you say are true, and I'm Jewish, so a big believer in circumcision. I'm also wondering what the “physical pain in adolescence” caused by circumcision was. I'm guessing it had something to do with beating his member raw, which would surely have happened even if he’d had a foreskin. However, billions of men have not been circumcised and are fine. And plenty of circumcised men have the STDs you list. What's concerning is that your boyfriend asserts there's a conspiracy to snip. Surely he doesn't really think doctors are buying that vacation home on the proceeds of removing foreskins. This is one of those issues on which there's no compromise, so one of you has to bend. If you feel this impasse exposes part of his character that you find disturbing, then it's possible you need to reconsider marrying him. But maybe this is just one of those quirks married people have to accept in each other. I think you should suggest talking this over with a neutral party. It would be a shame to let such a little thing ruin a future that could be wonderful.
Q. Cheating Dad: I am in my mid-20s and no longer live at home, but am very close to my parents. Last year, I found out that my father is cheating on my mother. I discovered this when I used the family computer and he had left a secret email open with emails only from one person with a rather salacious name. I confronted him about this and he told me that the reason he had cheated on my mother was that they hadn't had sex in over a decade. He claims that he is no longer seeing the other woman and they are now "just friends" (yeah, right). I don't know if any of this is true, but the only person I could ask is my mother and then she would know. Other than this, my parents appear to have a happy marriage and have a lot of fun together. I understand that married couples sometimes become better friends than lovers, and if both of my parents are happy, who am I to judge? My dad told me he would tell my mom about the affair if I wanted him to, but thus far I have decided to pretend I never found out. Am I a coward? What should I do? My biggest fear is that my mother will find out what I know and hate me for not telling her.
A: It's not cowardly to decide to stay out of your parents' marriage. It's too bad your father decided to spill. It would have been much better if he'd said you snooped into something private and he was not going to discuss this with you. If what your father says is true and he and your mother no longer have sex—and I bet you don't want to explore this assertion further—then your mother is not in any danger from an STD. If your parents are just happy companions and not lovers, your mother may not want to know how your father deals with his sex drive. Tell your father you're sorry you found out and that decisions about his marriage are for him to make.
Q. Re: For the friend/abusive husband: Please please please, Prudie, ask the friend to talk to an expert BEFORE telling the ex-husband—there's no guarantee that is the best thing to do (for all we know, the ex may have his own anger issues, which would only make the situation more dangerous). And even if it is the right thing to do, everything needs to be handled carefully to keep the friend and her kids as safe as possible. This is a job for expert guidance, not well-meaning ultimatums.
A: Thanks, it's a good idea for the friend to call the domestic abuse hotline, describe the situation, and get a read on what course to take.
Q. Bigoted Mom: My son's second-grade class is having a "Holiday Month" where they learn about Christmas, Kwanzaa, Chanukah, Ramadan, and other holidays during December. One of the mothers is threatening to sue. She claims that since we live in a Christian country, only Christmas should be taught. She attended the Christmas session last week and said some unbelievably anti-Semitic and racist comments in front of the kids. Some of the kids were in tears. The principal called it a free speech issue and is considering cancelling the rest of the Holiday Month to avoid a lawsuit. He more or less agreed with her that Christmas should be the only holiday discussed. I live in a suburb to a major city in the South, so I've seen this before, but I'm puzzled as to what I can do.