My fiancé, "Greg," is estranged from his emotionally and verbally abusive father. Recently, after our engagement, his father found me on Facebook and sent me a message wanting contact information for Greg and asking to meet me. When I brought this up to Greg, he reiterated that his father was abusive and wants him to stay away from us and our future children. I don't agree with cutting out family indefinitely and now that we're getting married, I feel like I have more of a say in the matter. Should I keep nudging Greg to eventually contact his father? And what should I tell Greg's father if Greg keeps putting off contact?
—Wanting to Be a Go-Between
I bet that you had a happy childhood. Even if it wasn’t perfect—no one’s is—you likely had well-meaning parents who put their children’s welfare first. As I wrote about here, it can be exceedingly hard for such people to understand what it is like to emerge from a painful and destructive childhood; to have a parent, or parents, who couldn’t even perform their most basic duties. Often people from normal families pressure their friends or loved ones who grew up with abusers to forgive, to seek “closure” (dreadful word), without understanding the emotional cost this might entail. It’s not unusual for adults who were abused to have never confided in anyone about what really went on. So instead of deciding that Greg’s conclusion about his relationship with his father is wrong, try to understand why he feels the healthiest thing for him is to sever contact. Tell Greg you agree to honor his wishes and not respond to his father. Say you don’t want to force him to relive his worst memories, but you love him and want to know what he went through, so you hope he can talk to you about his childhood. Maybe if you hear what happened, you will stop trying to engineer a reconciliation and instead understand why your husband-to-be can’t bear the thought of a man like his father having anything to do with your future children.
I am hoping that you can help solve a disagreement about the social etiquette of flossing. Since flossing is so boring (but also very important for dental health) I have developed the habit of flossing and using a gum scraper while I watch television. Combining my dental hygiene and my penchant for bad television has done wonders for my dental health, but there is one problem. My boyfriend finds it completely gross and rude. He's a great guy and we have been dating for over four years, so I am willing to compromise and refrain from my dental routine while he is in the room. However, is it really that gross to floss in the same room as my longtime partner? I'm flossing to get rid of the microscopic bacteria that builds up; there aren’t chunks of corn cob flying into my boyfriend's lap. I would never floss when we had company, but I feel as though the standards should be more lax with a live-in boyfriend. Am I in the wrong? Or, is my boyfriend being a neat freak?
—Dental Health Enthusiast
You’ve made the right decision not to sacrifice your boyfriend’s mental health for your dental health. We all need to floss our teeth, clip our toenails, trim our nasal hair. But these acts required to make ourselves presentable can be repulsive when done in the wrong setting. Disgust is an emotion that has to be learned, and what is considered abominable in one culture is acceptable in another—this article says that in many Asian countries public spitting is fine, but the idea of blowing into a handkerchief and putting it back in one’s pocket is sickening. No doubt your boyfriend appreciates the results of your assiduous oral hygiene, but he is so discomfited by the process that it’s not in your interest to make him watch. My stance may seem hypocritical since I’ve defended romantic partners’ letting farts fly in private settings. But there’s a difference between having a laugh at certain inevitable bodily functions and being forced to sit through extended personal maintenance.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“The Story of Oh, No: My boss walked in on me touching myself, and now he won’t stop flirting. What do I do?” Posted May 24, 2012.
“A Touch Too Long: My mom let me play with her breasts for years after I stopped breast-feeding, and now she’s doing it with my sister. How do I stop it?” Posted May 17, 2012.
“A Dirty Debut: My 19-year-old niece just confessed to me she's made a porn film. Should I tell the family?” Posted May 3, 2012.
“Honeymoon, Interrupted: My new wife postponed our tropical getaway to comfort her “best friend.” What gives?” Posted April 26, 2012.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Backup Plan: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman who just found out her fiancé originally wanted to date her best friend.” Posted June 4, 2012.
“Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s in Her Bed: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose nanny had an affair with her husband.” Posted May 29, 2012.
“Don’t Feed the Baby: In a live chat, Dear Prudence offers advice on a vegan infant, a no-child prenup, and whether a brain tumor is a good excuse for adultery.” Posted May 21, 2012.
“Guys and Dolls: In a live chat, Prudie offers advice regarding a boyfriend whose “other woman” is a mannequin.” Posted May 14, 2012.