Help! My Co-Workers Tricked Me Into Insulting a Colleague.

Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 22 2013 6:00 AM

Despicable Me

In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman mortified after accidentally insulting a colleague.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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 prudence@slate.com.)

Q. Embarrassed by Co-workers: Having been single for a few months now, my colleagues have been trying to set me up with various guys. Recently at a company-sponsored dinner they suggested a guy in the office who I don't know, but is not really good looking. I assumed they were joking and laughed, declaring I would never sleep with someone who looked like him. I followed that up saying I could not imagine any woman sleeping with him. A woman at the end of the table who had been listening in gave me a strange look and got up and left. I didn't think anything until the next day someone told me that she was the wife of the man I was talking about. I am mortified and am thinking of a way to apologize. Should I call her? Call him? Send her a note saying, "You obviously DO sleep with him"? Please help me dig myself out of this.

A: So your colleagues suggested fixing you up with a married man whose wife was sitting at the table. You replied by saying of a co-worker, "Blech! Who would be desperate enough to sleep with him!" Probably sending a note to the wife saying, "I don't know how you do it, but I understand you are willing to sleep with Reginald even though I find him repulsive," will not ameliorate this situation. This whole thing is complicated by the fact that you don't know whether your co-worker knows of your insult. It's possible his wife told him. Or she might just have decided to shield him from the unpleasant remark. She also might not even know your name. If you were sure he'd heard, you could simply say to him, "I'm mortified at what a jerk I can be sometimes. I apologize." But if he doesn't know, that would be a mystifying and disturbing declaration. So I think this is one of those situations that you file under: Lesson Learned, Big Time.

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Q. Toddler Stepson: My wife and I have custody of my 3-year-old stepson and have an 8-month-old. The 3-year-old is a typical 3-year-old ... too rough and too loud with the baby, beginning to talk back, question why on everything, being bossy, not listening, and he's definitely jealous of the baby. I try to make time to play with just him, but I'm also aware that the baby gets most of my attention, well, because he's a baby. Throw in discipline and my stepson thinks I'm "grumpy all the time" and "I don't like him." Any thoughts or advice?

A: Please get some parenting classes and read Your Three-Year-Old and Between Parent and Child. These books will help you get into the mind of your stepson and see what motivates his behavior and how you can shape yours to have a happier kid and better relationship. Sure, a 3-year-old needs guidance, but if most of it is in the form of discipline, there's something wrong. You sound as if you're trying to say you understand your stepson is only a toddler, but what comes across is that you don't like him very much. Think of things from his perspective. In three short years his father has disappeared (if he ever knew him) his mother has married someone else, and now he has a new sibling. That's a lot to absorb, and your job as his father is to help make him feel secure and loved, not let him know that you find him utterly exasperating.

Q. Stepmom Attempted to Run Dad Over With Car—Now What?: I am an adult and my parents were divorced more than 10 years ago because my father had an affair with another woman. He and this woman eventually married and their relationship has been fraught with blow-out fights, distrust, and dysfunction ever since. In the past, she has thrown things at him (without actually hitting him, luckily) and verbally abused him, but since I haven't actually witnessed these events I do not know whether she is the only one behaving badly or if my dad is also guilty of this abusive behavior. Most recently, I have learned thirdhand that my stepmother attempted to run my father over with a car, ostensibly because of a disagreement about what to do with the money from the sale of a property that they co-own. My father did not involve the police when this incident occured as he likely should have. This latest drama seems to cross a line where I no longer feel that we can just stand by and allow this to continue. But, at the same time, he is an adult of substantial means who could, if he chose to, leave the relationship at any time. How can I best help my dad?

A: You're right, we don't know if this is a mutual dance of violence, but men can be victims of domestic abuse and if he's being run over by a car driven by his wife, your father is one. I suggest you call the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Talk to the people there about how you might intervene. At the very least, you should get your father alone, say you've heard of the escalating violence, and you are concerned for his well-being. It's likely he will dismiss what you say, but sometimes the voice of a trusted person will make someone see their situation in a new light. But you also have to accept that he may be so deep into a destructive pattern, that he's more committed to playing it out than being healthy.

Q. Re: Toddler stepson: I recently started sitting my 3-year-old grandson. There were days when it seemed like we were clashing and he was ignoring me all day. Last week, it occurred to me that our clashes are because he is bored, much as a smart student who is not being challenged in class becomes bored and disruptive. After that thought, I worked hard at being less “NO,” and more letting him explore and learn with supervision. He and I have both been happier.

A: Lovely! I agree that the stepfather can do a lot to make his stepson happier, which will make the entire family happier.

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