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: Good afternoon. I hope you're all ready for Valentine's Day. (And darling husband, I've already gotten your gift. So you better get those subway flowers early on Thursday.)
Q. Dead Doppelganger: I recently applied for a job as the assistant director at a well-regarded art gallery. In a pre-interview phone call with the director, she told me that my credentials were an excellent match with the position and set up an interview. The minute I walked in the gallery and introduced myself at the reception desk, I started getting weird vibes and worse. Employees, including the director, stepped back when they saw me, or gasped, or fled. I checked my appearance in the bathroom and found nothing amiss. Except for this, the interview itself went fine, from my perspective, but I didn't get the job. I asked a friend at another gallery if she knew who did get it, and it turned out to be a guy fresh out of college. Because of the gap between his credentials and mine, I decided to write to the director and ask her if she could shed some light on the situation. Surprisingly, she said she'd meet me for coffee to discuss it. She told me that the person who previously held the job looked just like me, was a dead ringer for me, in fact, and in fact was dead. The other employees had pleaded with her not to hire me. I looked him up online and saw pictures that shocked me as well as my younger sister. From his obituary I learned he had died in a car accident three months ago, and he was my age. At first I thought I could make some sort of hiring complaint, but obviously I would never fit in there, to say the least. My concern now is that I think I had a twin. Should I bring this up with my mother? Or find some friends of the dead guy and ask them more about his history? As you can imagine, I've been in a real state for the past few weeks.
A: This was a subplot on the last season of Eastbound and Down—Jason Sudeikis played a twin that no one knew was a twin, and after his character died, he showed up as the other one and scared the hell out of everyone who knew the first twin. What you describe sounds like the pitch meeting for a Lifetime movie—I can't tell if it would be good or bad. I will take you at your word that this is a real experience, and from what you say, it sounds as if the people at the gallery—and you—were seeing more than just a strong resemblance. It's something else altogether if you are suspicious there was someone out there you didn't know about who shared your DNA. If this young man, now sadly deceased, was your identical twin, it wouldn't have been all that strange that you both shared a love of art, would it? There is nothing to do about the gallery job; employers are allowed to make such subjective judgments about candidates. But it sounds as if you need to gather the information you've found, take it to your mother and say, "Mom, is there something you want to tell me?"
Dear Prudence: Newlywed Insomnia
Q. FIL Jokes: My fiancé and I just got engaged and are to be married as soon as he graduates from law school. My dad, who has a sense of humor most (but not all) people appreciate, took him on a weekend hunting trip, and according to my intended, made a number of veiled threats of violent acts should he fail to take care of me properly. Of course he tells me he was only joking and it was all in good fun, but that's not the way my boyfriend sees it. He tells me he has grounds for a case against my father, and although he's definitely not taking any action, he might in the future if dad doesn't control himself. I love my fiancé, but I'm starting to rethink our engagement. Should I just tell him to lighten up, or hope that my dad understands and is more accommodating of his sensitivities?
A: Jokes about how one person plans to kill another are less funny when the jokester is holding a gun. However, I see this situation as quite different from last week's letter in which a husband said he would kill his wife if she ever cheated on him. I'm assuming your fiancé and your father have spent some time together and at the least you've told your betrothed about your father's style of humor. He may not have found the joshing funny, but threatening to report someone to the authorities for a joke fallen flat is generally a poor idea. I think you should get together as a threesome—having prepped each guy about the misunderstanding—and have a lunch or a dinner in which you try to get them to see that while they may clash stylistically, they agree on one thing: They both adore you. You tell them it would mean so much if your favorite men got along. But if you are concluding your husband is a humorless, litigious, literal-minded drag, then you need to consider why you want to sign a legal contract that binds you to him.
Q. My Family Doesn't Like My Wife: After several years of knowing my wife, my parents and brother announced that they don't like her. She is, of course, wonderful and neither she nor I had any clue they felt that way until suddenly they were shouting at her about things they'd apparently taken offense to but never said a word about. She and I left in a hurry and I have had minimal contact with my parents for the past several months. I cut my brother off completely after he continued to insult her. But now my Ph.D. graduation is coming up. I'd quite like to invite my parents, but they haven't apologized to me or my wife, who has supported me both financially and emotionally throughout the project and who invested years into building what she thought was a good relationship with them only to have it blow up in her face. What is your advice? And if it's to not invite them to this life event, what about others? Would it ever be reasonable to re-establish full contact with them if they refuse to see their utter lack of charity?
A: There's got to be more back story here. It just makes no sense that out of the blue your wonderful, loving, supportive wife is suddenly is being denounced by your parents and brother and accused of years of offense. I'm not at all saying they're right—it could be the three are in a folie a trois and have fed each other's madness. It could be that your wife, like the hunting father, has a personality style that has rubbed them the wrong way for years, and instead of addressing any misunderstandings, they decided to have an explosive confrontation. But you—without your wife in tow—need to get together with your family and try to figure out what is wrong. A graduation is not the place to do this. Meet with your parents and brother in a spirit of openness, but also make clear that their denunciation of your wife was hurtful, shocking, and unacceptable. Maybe you can broker some kind of peace, but it has to be on the basis of good will. If they want to stick to their guns that your wife is unacceptable to them, then they've just estranged themselves from you.
Q. Re: Joking Dad: My husband is just like the joking dad, and really, the fiancé needs to get a humor gene. Typically, my husband would say to daughter "Tell (boyfriend) if he hurts you, that it is hard to eat corn on the cob without any teeth." No, my husband would not “play dentist” on anyone, and daughter took it (correctly) that Dad was there for her regardless. Now, it has become the in-joke between husband and son-in-law.
A: Dads have been making these jokes since Ogg, and I agree having a sense of humor (and treating Dad's daughter right) will go a long way.
Q. Child's Mother Causing Headaches: The mother of my child and I have never gotten along really well (the child was a result of a short-term fling which never panned out, and both of us have not made things the easiest, admittedly). Recently, however, things took a turn for the even worse when I agreed to sign a legal document for the state. It was only then, two years after her birth, that I learned that the mother had given our daughter my last name. I had always assumed that she had given our daughter her last name, but what makes me really upset is that she never asked me, and when naming her, went out of her way to tell me that she was making the choice and that I had no say in it. This is not the first time she's betrayed my trust either (she once tried to kick me out of her life), and I'm sick of her conveniently not telling me things. How much should I try and repair the damage, or should I simply just look for more time alone with my daughter and keep the mother out of my life as much as possible?