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.

Q. Disturbing Husband: Last weekend my niece showed me an article online about a mother who was beaten up by an intruder while her young daughter was present. The website showed still shots of the act. In one of the pictures, the little girl covers her face with a pillow. This horrific incident was all caught on a nanny cam in the home. Well, when I told my husband about this article, he told me that he had already read it himself and also watched the video. Prudie! When I read the article myself, I did see the YouTube window but could not watch such a horrific act. I'm completely disturbed that my husband not only chose to watch the video in its entirety but also, feels no shame. I don't know. Just the thought of watching a young girl in the room while her mom is getting beaten up makes me sick. Do I just need to get over this?

A: A little while ago a video went around of a gruesome leg injury suffered by basketball player Kevin Ware. (Who I'm glad to see has recovered and is playing again.) I am so happy I never clicked on it, but I don't condemn the endless number of people did. Like you, I am disturbed by the distribution of a nanny cam video of a woman being assaulted while her child looks on. But people aren't monsters for clicking on something awful that's there tantalizing them—think of rubberneckers at a car accident. I don't fault your husband. If you were to discover he enjoyed the video and watched it obsessively, then you might start packing. But if he clicked out of curiosity and is simply getting on with his life, you need to accept the fact that different people have different tolerances for such things.

Q. Domestic Abuse: I have a strong suspicion that a woman in my office is the victim of domestic abuse. She came in to work with a black eye last week and an overly detailed "I'm soooo clumsy" story. My co-worker's boyfriend also works for our company indirectly as a contractor and has a sterling reputation in our office. I am friends with the ex-wife of her current boyfriend and my co-worker was the reason for the separation. The boyfriend knows that I am friendly with his ex-wife, but doesn't know the extent of our friendship and that I know all about his past history of physical abuse (injuries from one brawl in his previous relationship resulted in a doctor visit). Knowing the details of his previous relationship, I personally don't think that this will escalate in anything more than a few black eyes/bruises. Her boyfriend doesn't seem like the deadly violent type, just a guy with some serious control issues. However, I am concerned because my co-worker has a very young child and this is not a healthy environment. Do I have any obligation to report this to the authorities or say anything to someone? If I happen to be wrong about my suspicions, I don't want this to come back on me and be seen as a troublemaker or gossip.

A: How comforting to think that this guy probably won't kill her, he'll just cause some bruises and maybe a broken bone or two. Since you know for a fact he has been violent toward his ex-wife, I concur you're on to something about the black eye not being a matter of walking into the bathroom door. Again, I suggest calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline. They will have good advice for you about whether to approach your co-worker, or just report your suspicions directly to the police. That's something you should be able to do anonymously. It is alarming there is a child involved in this mess, and there should be intervention before it escalates into tragedy.

Q. Religion in an Atheist Wedding: I am an atheist, and my wonderful fiancé considers himself "spiritual but not religious." This is not at all a problem in our relationship, and neither of us want to get married in a church or even mention God in our ceremony, but we are afraid that our families will be offended by this. Particularly, both of our mothers' sides of the families are deeply religious. I feel like it's an exercise in futility to explain my beliefs to my grandparents and/or my fiancé's mother. They are all elderly, and I think at best a discussion of my fiancé and my lack of religious inclination would benefit no one, and at worst would create animosity toward us. So what do we do? I would feel disingenuous incorporating religion into the wedding, and getting married in a church like my family undoubtedly expects me to do would be even worse. Should we suck it up and pretend we're religious for our families' benefit? Attempt to explain our situation and likely create tension and sadness for some of our elderly guests? I feel like there's no way to win here, and it's causing stress in an otherwise joyous time of life.

A: The way to win is to recognize that if you're old enough to get married, you're old enough to do it in the way that makes you happy. Let's hope your adult relatives are adult enough to behave well whatever the ceremony consists of, and to have arrived at the knowledge that you can't control other people, especially as concerns their religious beliefs. How other people act is up to them. You don't need to explain or defend yourself at all. On the other hand, if you want to avoid the whole thing, you and your fiancé could have a totally private ceremony, then you can follow it with a celebration to which all are invited. No one has to explain—or seek approval—for such personal decisions.

Q. Re: 3-year-old stepson: Is your stepson allowed to help with the baby at all? I know you mentioned he's too rough, but maybe that could be a chance to help guide him on how to work with the baby? Helping take care of him might make him feel more involved in his own family and like a big brother, rather than the other kid.

A: This is an important point. Everyone's attention is on the baby, and the 3-year-old is not only jealous, he's been told he's bad when he approaches—which only makes him want to be rougher. I do think some basic parenting classes could help. The stepfather has to understand this dynamic is totally normal, and there are ways to encourage and allow the 3 year-old to be a big brother—for which he will get a lot of attention and praise!—so that this family unit can really come together.

Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Have a great week.

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