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.)
Q. Hair Down There: My husband and I have been married for 18 years and have a good relationship overall. We are good friends and rarely fight. But over the past year or so, we haven't been intimate very often. I tried talking with him about it recently, and he admitted that he isn't as turned on by me anymore because I don't shave. I'm not like a beast, I trim some, but apparently he wants it all gone. I don't really want to, I like the way I look. I don't understand why so many men want it all gone. He is insisting. I really want to be intimate again. Any advice?
A: Using my incredible psychic powers, I am able to see your husband and it turns out that when he tells you he's going to the home office to look up ways to refinance your mortgage, he's actually mesmerized by porn. It's true that there's a new grooming standard which dictates that no one of either sex displays a single strand of body hair. Maybe economists need to investigate whether part of our high unemployment rate is due to the fact a large percentage of our population is spending most of their time depilating. When I started writing this column I had a very laissez-faire attitude toward porn, but it's irrefutable that excess consumption can interfere with normal sexual expectations. It's one thing if your husband made a reasonable request that you trim more enthusiastically. He could have come to you long ago and suggested you both play around with this together—because if he's still sporting body hair, what's his excuse? It's another thing if he's withdrawn from you sexually, has refused to address this, then announces he can't get turned on by you if you don't look like the people on YouPorn. Before you pick up the razor, you two need to talk about how hurtful his behavior has been over the past year, and that you hope he understands that putting his demands in such a demeaning way is not likely to turn you on.
Dear Prudence Live in New York: The Dirty Bra
Q. Misrepresentation?: I am an elderly woman who needs to use a cane to walk. I found a beautifully handmade cane on eBay, carved with flowers and a cross, which remarkably, I won with a bid I could afford. I love it, but, my Christian sister strongly objects to me using it, because I am an atheist, and she says "a person so hostile to religion should not advertise herself as being a Christian." Now, I am in a bit of a quandary. I am not a Christian, and don't want people to think of me as one, but living in the Bible belt, with a large majority Christian population, most people assume I am anyway. And the cane is a beautiful work of art, and I so hate having to use a cane, it gives me some solace to carry such a beautiful one. Do you think it is false representation for me to use it?
A: I always enjoy it when people use their religion to beat each other about the head to demonstrate their moral superiority. You can say to your sister you find it odd that she would so object to your getting solace and help from a beautiful object celebrating her faith. Then tell her if she needs to continue to vent about this, she should do so to her pastor.
Q. Mothers-in-Law Hate Each Other: My wife and I have been together for 15 years including courtship and 11 years of happy marriage. Our mothers have never gotten along. They simply have different outlooks on life, parent responsibilities (my mom was a single parent, her parents fought a lot but were together), boundaries, pretty much everything. For most of the past five years, they have refused to be in the same room with each other. This has caused yearly stress come the holiday season to ensure we see them evenly and no one gets preferential treatment; most particularly we refuse to allow anyone to be with us on Christmas morning. My father-in-law passed away suddenly a month ago. We are already feeling that we are going to have to have her mother with us for the first Christmas without him. We also think this puts us in a position where we have to insist on a bridge being built between these two women. Any advice on how to carry that out effectively is appreciated.
A: Stop trying to referee this wrestling match. Your mothers don't have to like each other, they just have to behave like adults. I don't know the geography here, but if in order for your mother-in-law not to be alone this Christmas you feel an obligation to invite her to stay at your home Christmas Eve, then do so. Then you can announce that you are having a Christmas brunch to which both mothers are invited. If they want to play a game of chicken and refuse to attend unless the other mother is uninvited, you say the invitation stands, both are welcome, and you will be happy to see whoever comes. If each mother wants to enumerate the reasons the other is unacceptable, refuse to listen. Surely each mother when raising her children told you both about the need to get along with people you don't particularly like. Quote that back to the moms and say it was excellent advice. And think about how much of a hold these bickering women have on you if you are sweating in April over what's going to happen in December.
Q. Re: Shaving down there: For the woman whose husband wants her to shave. He won't find her much of a turn-on when she's in the hospital with a Staph A. infection either. We have hair for a reason and shaving it puts you at risk for all kinds of bad stuff like this. And the LW needs to find out if this is just an excuse, excess porn, or a new girlfriend on the side. "Insisting," indeed!
A: No way I'm clicking on "this"! Millions of people do remove body hair without getting infected, and I've even read that this trend has apparently reduced the incidence of crabs. However, good point about the possibility of a very smooth girlfriend. The wife needs to investigate this.
Q. Martyr Mom: My mother is a person who always puts her own needs second and it's driving me and my siblings crazy. She secretly/silently sacrifices her own desires in order to accommodate what she thinks we want, then breaks down in tears when we fail to appreciate it. Oftentimes, the "sacrifices" are things nobody wants and just make our lives harder—for instance, she wants to talk to us often, but refuses to initiate phone calls because, quote, "I don't want to bother you," but then becomes miserably unhappy if we don't call her. We kids are all late 20s/early 30s and trying to live our own lives, and it's creating enormous amounts of drama and tension having to be responsible for Mom's feelings like this. Begging her to please just do what she wants hasn't worked. Do you have any advice? We're losing our minds here.
A: No, your mother is not putting others' needs first. As you're experiencing, her primary need is to be the center of attention and her method is to play the martyr. So, to reiterate my usual advice about impossible family members, refuse to engage. Since you want to improve your relationship with her, set up a weekly phone call schedule and agree to talk to her for 10 to 15 minutes every Sunday night, for example. If the conversations turn maudlin and accusatory, say you're sorry to hear she sounds so unhappy, you hope her week improves, and you'll talk to her next Sunday. If she makes some dramatic sacrifice none of you are interested in, just shrug and say, "Oh, you didn't need to do that, Mom," and move on. Your begging and pleading just play into her world of melodrama. If you limit contact when it's unpleasant and increase it when she's being normal, that might have an excellent effect on her outlook and interactions with her loved ones.