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. Let's get to it.
Q. No, Everyone Does Not Want to See Your Nipples: My 20-year-old son "Ted" has a 19-year-old girlfriend named "Dahlia." Dahlia is very well-endowed and rarely wears a bra. However, she does wear low-cut clothing and often looks like she's about to fall out. The dress she was wearing last night was so small on her that it she couldn't zip it up all the way and she was very close to a nip slip. When she walked in the door she looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and said, "I know this is a low-cut dress" as if she knew she was coming to my house, knew what my expectations are, but came looking like that anyway. Here's my problem: She's going on vacation with us in a week. I don't want to seem prudish but I do want to get through to her that this type of dress isn't appropriate for the places we'll be going and the people we'll be seeing. I'll be asking her before we leave if she's got bras in her suitcase and I am ready to leave her behind if she doesn't or make her go out and buy a few or buy them for her. What do I do? How do I handle this without alienating her but helping her to understand that something that is fine when you're out clubbing is not fine when you're trying to make a good impression with your boyfriend's family?
A: You have time to have a friendly and helpful chat with Dahlia before you all go bouncing off on holiday. Take a supportive, not punitive approach. You can say something like, "Dahlia, dear, you're young and beautiful, but the clothes you wear to go out in the evening aren't going to be appropriate for family outings. I wanted to make sure you have things to wear, including bras, that will work for the trip. If not, let's go to the department store and get you a few items." If you have to put the underwire, nipple-concealing bra on your credit card, consider it an excellent investment.
Dear Prudence: Not-So-Secret Life
Q. Married Boyfriend Makes Guilt Payments to Wife: I've been involved with a married man (don't judge) who decided to move out and get a divorce. It came unexpectedly to his wife. He said that after nine years of marriage, he owes it to his wife to continue significant financial support until she completes her two-year course (which she hasn't even started) and finds a job. As a result, nearly most of his income continue to go to his wife and children as though they were still living together. I understand his sympathy toward her but this is taking a toll on our lives, as well. I feel like the breadwinner in this relationship as I now support myself and my boyfriend with my income alone. He gets touchy and defensive when I ask him to agree on a more realistic amount and time frame for alimony with his wife. Is this a sign that our relationship won't work out in the long term?
A: That wife sounds so awful I'd be wishing along with you that she just drops dead, except for the fact that then you'd be responsible for helping your guy with his dreadful rug rats. Here's some news, when you tell your story you can say, "Don't judge," but you're going to be judged anyway. Yes, people cheat and marriages end. But when this happens there should be some recognition on the part of the cheaters that they have caused great pain to innocent parties. If there are children involved, the adults must focus on putting them first and ameliorating their pain. That includes the father's obligation to support them financially. I think you should do everyone a favor and kick this guy out. Tell him that now that you have him you realize what a leech he is and you're done. Maybe he will see what a horrible mistake he made and crawl back to his family begging his wife's forgiveness. Maybe if he's very lucky, and totally sincere, his wife will take him in.
Q. Children Ask About Their Father's Mistress: My husband had an affair with a very good friend of mine. Her husband found out and told me. My husband and I decided if we wanted to save our marriage, we needed to end our relationship with the other family. The decision has been painful, not just because I miss the friendship I thought I had with his affair partner but also because the couple (themselves childless) were close with our kids. Our young children miss our friends and ask when they can see them again. My former friend has also sent me several letters begging me to allow her to see my kids or to at least communicate with them or send them presents on birthdays. I tear up the letters. Without telling my kids about their dad's affair, how can I explain to them why they can no longer see their "auntie" and their "uncle"?
A: How sad that your children are collateral damage in all this. And how presumptuous that your former friend doesn't understand the need to disappear from all of your lives. Of course this is painful and confusing for your children, but when you start to feel bad about this, think about how much more painful and confusing it would be if you and your husband split up and if he suddenly was living with "Aunt Griselda." You can be honest with your kids in an age-appropriate way. The next time they bring up their aunt and uncle you can say of course you understand that they miss them, you miss them, too. But unfortunately, there was a big fight over some grown-up stuff and it was a bad enough one that it turns out you and dad don't want to see Auntie and Uncle. This made everyone sad, especially since it affects you kids, and you're all sorry about that. If they want to know what the fight was about, you can say that Aunt Griselda told some lies and it was very hurtful. Try to find some family members or other friends to fill this void, which your children will likely soon get over.
Q. Overcoming Future MIL's Prejudices: My brother and I are the product of a long-term affair. Our dad's wife found out about us when I was 6, and he disappeared from our lives after that. My mom worked overtime to make sure my brother and I felt loved and had everything we needed. My fiancé's mom recently learned about my "origins" from him, and now she has concerns about our relationship. His mom has been cheated on by her ex-husband and by my fiancé's dad, and she now believes my mom is a train wreck. She also told my fiancé that I grew up in a home with a permissive attitude toward affairs and that my judgment about them might be skewed. I am hurt and offended by my future mother in law's judgment, but I want to have a good relationship with my in-laws. I'm not sure where to go from here.
A: I hope your mother got your disappearing rat of a father to at least send checks to help support you. If not, she got screwed then screwed over by your father. And now you're reaping the resentment of a woman on the other side of the equation. I hope your future mother-in-law is adult enough to be able to separate her own personal hurts from her knowledge that you are an individual her son loves who has absolutely nothing to do with the unfaithful men in her life. I don't know if you've learned of her reaction first hand, of if your fiancé has told you. But in any case, he's the one who should address this with his mother. He needs to tell her that now she's had her say about your upbringing, she needs to put that aside. He can say he's sympathetic to the pain affairs cause and can add that you yourself have suffered being abandoned because of infidelity. But now she's got to get over her reaction and makes sure she treats you—and your mother on the occasions you're together—with respect.