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. Let's go.
Q. Husband Nicknames: My husband and I have been married six months. All is well and we have no real complaints. But he does have this annoying little trait that I am wondering if I am just being nit-picky or if I actually have ground to stand on. I will accept whatever decision you put forth. My husband is Southern and calls every woman sweetheart or sweetie. This only happened a few times when dating to an occasional waitress, but now I see that he does it with longtime friends, other men's wives, and co-workers. It grates me that he does this and doesn't even give me a different pet name. I ask him to stop but he says that's how he's been his whole life. Is this a marriage compromise that I should just let go?
A: I live in Maryland, the land of Hon, and I enjoy those infrequent occasions when someone calls me that, though it's almost always from other women and in a retail setting. However, I don't care where your husband is from, calling every woman in his path sweetheart is both inappropriate and grating. Believe me, at his office the other women have discussed in the coffee room how uncomfortable his pet name makes them. Since you say he's from the South, but it sounds like he's not in the South, he needs to stop spritzing sweethearts everywhere. Even in the South, I can't imagine a young guy in the office expects to get away with calling his female colleagues sweetheart. If he wants to see how his presumed courtliness can be misunderstood by the wider world, have him read the stories about the sweetheart filled emails between retiring Gen. John Allen and socialite Jill Kelley.
Q. Ugly Scars: I am a survivor of childhood sexual trauma and I have come to terms with my past and am a happy, successful, and healthy person today. The problem is that when I was a teenager, I coped with the trauma by cutting my arms and wrists and now as a professional in my late 20s, I still have ugly scars that were obviously self-inflicted. Obviously, no one can wear long sleeves year-round so I do show my arms sometimes. Some people don't seem to notice, while some people stare but say nothing. A small few will ask me how I got them and I usually mumble something about it being a long story, which is usually met with a quizzical or pitying look. I am wondering if you could help me come up with a one line explanation that will let people know it's not their business and that I am fine and sane and don't need their pity. I'm worried that my scars make people doubt my professional abilities or worse, question my sanity!
A: How wonderful that you have been able to sail forth into a happy, productive life. I hope you can personally see these scars as a kind of badge of honor representing how far you've come. It's good that only a handful of people actually ask about this. What you say to deflect is, in some ways, less important than the way you say it. You've got to be totally comfortable with the subject, so when you dismiss it, you don't leave the misleading impression that you are troubled. Of course, no one should ask—but as my mailbox amply proves, they will. I think you can say something like, "Oh, it's from a long time ago and fortunately I'm fine." Do it with a smile and convey that, with that answer, the topic is closed. If the interlocutor presses on, then say, "I'd rather not go into it. Thanks."
Readers, I get the question of cutting scars fairly often. I'm wondering if anyone knows of effective cosmetic treatment for this so that the problem is physically ameliorated.
Q. Slovenly Sister-in-Law: I have a relative who has four children, ages 10 and under, and is pregnant with her fifth baby. Three of the children have mild developmental delays or behavioral issues. Overall, though, they are well behaved and cared for. The problem is her house. Dishes are put away with food still stuck to them, floors aren't cleaned and are cluttered with toys and other objects so that pathways are created from room to room. Sometimes beds don't have sheets or blankets. The worst is the bathrooms. Soap is rarely present, and one of her children draws on the walls with her own feces—and then she leaves it for weeks! Last time a relative visited, there was even what looked like dried blood on the walls. As I said, the children are generally well cared for, so I don't want to call social services. But we can't help feeling like we need to intervene. It's surely not healthy for a newborn to enter that house! She doesn't get much help with the children from her husband, so I know she must be tired and overwhelmed, but how can we help her realize a cleaner house is necessary? We don't live nearby, and the relatives that do are not willing to clean for her when the mess just returns a few days later. Is there anything we can do?
A: I'm going to have to disagree with you that the children are being well cared for. A house with dried feces and blood on the walls, no sheets on the bed, etc. is not a place where children—especially those with special needs—are getting sufficient attention. The fact that this woman would go ahead and have a fifth pregnancy under these circumstances indicates just how unable she is to make healthy decisions for her family. You should call the Child Help Hotline, 1-800-4ACHILD, for some advice on where to turn. This service should be able to help you evaluate whether CPS or some other agency should be called in.
Q. Re: Husband Nicknames: As a born and raised Southerner I can confirm that terms of endearment are often used in casual conversation for both friends and strangers (of both genders). No one means anything offensive by it; it’s a common way people talk here. I do think it's highly inappropriate for her husband to speak to co-workers in that manner.
A: Yep, but he's not in the South. And if he doesn't know it's a no-no to call his female co-workers that, someone needs to enlighten him.
Q. Tie Me Up No More: I am in a long-term relationship with a wonderful and sensitive man. Recently we became engaged and are planning on getting married in the summer. My fiancé and I have always had an open relationship and explored our sexual interests. However, since getting engaged, my fiancé no longer likes to participate in my sexual interests. He says since we are getting married now, we should put our youthful fantasies behind us and be responsible. He says he cannot do such things with the woman he will be marrying and who will be the mother of his children. Although I love my fiancé very much, how do I make him understand that I need more than a vanilla future with him?
A: If you two don't figure out how to make each other happy in bed, then I'm afraid the flavor is going to be rocky road. First of all, two people can have a wild and satisfying sex life together, so if your fiancé wants to rein it in, it doesn't mean missionary position in a dark bedroom. On the other hand if for you to be satisfied requires the services of people you're not married to, then you two might be at an impasse. Since you both are sexually adventuresome, talking about sex should come easily to you. So thoroughly explore what you each see as sexual expression inside of a marriage. As a shift in perspective try thinking of having sex with only your fiancé as an exciting new adventure instead of a dreary limitation.