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.)
Q. Wife Lied About Her Age: Three years ago at 34, I married my wife, who I thought was 33. We both wanted children, but when this didn't happen we began consulting a fertility specialist. After she started asking questions, my wife admitted she is actually eight years older than she had led me to believe. She's 44 years old! She's willing to try massive doses of hormones to get pregnant, but I don't want her to do that for health reasons. I'm willing to consider adoption. She says, of course, that she feared I would walk away if I knew the truth, but she must have known it would come out sometime. I think I still love her, but I feel so betrayed! Any thoughts on helping us get through this?
A: Let's get to the most important issue first—what is your wife's beauty regime because if she convincingly looks eight years younger she's doing something right. You say you're willing to consider adoption, but I think that gets you to the wrong kind of professional. If I were you, I'd be considering the services of a lawyer. People betray their spouses all the time. But letting a husband believe you're years younger than you are—with all the implications for child-bearing, is a grotesque deception. From now on, you're always going to wonder if anything she says is the truth. Because you are a man, at 37 you are lucky enough to not have big worries about your fertility. Maybe if your wife had been honest with you from the beginning, knowing her age you would have adjusted your planning and expectations for children. But she lied. So I think you need to prove her right in her assumption that when she found out the truth, you would walk away.
Dear Prudence: Keeping the Sperm in the Family
Q. Too Complimentary: I'm a single woman in my early 20s, and I have recently begun a relationship with a man who is incredibly thoughtful and kind. He goes out of his way to do things for me, and is constantly complimenting me. The compliments are actually getting to be too much. Every conversation turns into a list of reminders of how attracted he is to me, how much fun he thinks I am, and things he wants to do with me in the future. Sometimes, it feels like we can't have a normal conversation. I found it sweet in the beginning, but now it's starting to get a little annoying. I find it a bit overwhelming and he's moving a little too fast for me. I like him and want to keep seeing him, so I've asked him to tone it down and slow it down a little, but he insists this *is* toned down. Sometimes I laugh it off and say, "Oh, stop!" but I think it actually encourages him. I know I should feel lucky to have a man who is so smitten by me. Is there a way to kindly encourage him to tone down the compliments, or am I being too hard on him? Should I bite my tongue and be grateful I have such a wonderful man?
A: Sneaker alert! By that I mean put them on and start running in the opposite direction. It would seem that having a man who is so smitten that he can't stop listing your glories sounds ideal. But as you are seeing, it's cringe-making. You may know you're great, but you also know the many ways you're not great. So hearing a constant recital of your magnificence has the perverse result of giving you the creepy crawlies. Also disturbing is all the future talk. The beginning of a relationship is a time to concentrate on the present. If that works out, after a sufficient amount of time, then you start discussing if your future involves it becoming a mutual enterprise. But he's way too invested in locking you into his vision of it. You're really young, and you're writing to me about your discomfort with a new relationship. So my answer is for you to say to him, "I've enjoyed your company, but I'm just not ready for something serious, so we need to stop seeing each other." With a guy like this, be prepared for a lot of begging and drama—which should further show how right you will be to break it off decisively.
Q. New Year’s Dilemma: I'll be spending New Year’s with my boyfriend of two and a half years. While this would normally be lovely, I'm not looking forward to it. I feel bummed out by it. We'll be at his parents’, which is out in the sticks and he has visitation with his daughter for the holidays first time since she was a baby. I'm conflicted. On one hand this should be about the time he spends with his daughter and she with her grandparents. On the other hand I cannot stand the way he rewards/gives in to her tantrums and end up angry and isolating myself. I'm also 27 and feeling a little resentful that for the second year in a row my New Year’s, which should be fun and carefree, is dictated by his family plans. Even if I did ditch them, which is essentially what I'd be doing, that also feels terrible and it's not like I have many other friends or options. I'm not sure what to do or how to manage conflicting feelings of guilt and resentment. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
A: All your boyfriend needs is a girlfriend throwing a tantrum to trump his daughter's. When you got together with him, you knew he came with a child. Apparently she doesn't come very close very often, if he doesn't get to spend that much time with her. It's no surprise that a child who bounces between two young, unprepared parents (and a girlfriend who resents her) has behavior problems. Put your concerns about your New Year's plans aside and have a talk with your boyfriend about giving his girl a good foundation. Suggest he enroll in a parenting class so he better knows how to meet her needs and handle her emotions. If you're planning on sticking around, you should go to the class with him. You also need some work on handling your own emotions. You're angry that your choices are go to the sticks for a dull family celebration, or stay home stewing because you don't have any other friends. That is a situation of your own making. So instead of striking out at your boyfriend and his family, spend some time in reflection about what you do to get yourself so isolated, and steps you need to take to be a more contented person. How you mark New Year's is not important. What is important is what you do this new year to become someone who manages her life better.
Q. Re: Too complimentary: Yes, exactly what Prudence said. My first boyfriend was like this, complimenting everything to the point of my personal discomfort and completely disregarding my feelings when I stated how uncomfortable I was becoming. Always jumping ahead two to three steps in the relationship, like it was a cup of instant coffee. When I did break it off with him I had a very hard time getting rid of him. Speak up now and leave, as he's not respecting you. He's going to complain, he's going to beg, he's going to whine, he's going to cry. He's pinning a lot of dreams on a fantasy of you, he doesn't see the real you. Harden your heart. This is not the time to be the Nice Girl.
A: Oh, yeah! I love your line about "instant coffee." And I agree, guys like this will take advantage of women's desire to be nice. So don't be.
Q. Am I a Kept Woman?: Last February I met Charlie, an older man, and we started dating in July. We're very happy together, but since he is older than me and works in a lucrative field, I'm still navigating how comfortable I am with him paying for things for me. Charlie loves to dine out, and he often suggests we go out to dinner at a restaurant I would never be able to afford on my own. I don't earn very much money, so I don't fight him too much when he insists on paying. I'm less comfortable letting him take me on expensive vacations. Part of it is that I don't want to be a kept woman. Charlie does treat me as his equal, but if he pays for most of what we do together, is that possible? I also worry that I will monetize our relationship if he always pays for me. Charlie tells me he loves me and doesn't put much weight behind treating me to nicer things than I could afford. I love him too. Am I overthinking a relationship that otherwise makes me very, very happy?
A: That he's older and settled in a lucrative career are parts of Charlie you must have found appealing. Since he's at a different stage of life than you, he wants to enjoy to fruits of his labor, and he's happy to pick up the tab for the kind of luxury you can't afford. I think that's fine, as long as you're not feeling there's a quid pro quo here. But you are also capable of returning his hospitality by making a home-cooked meal, or treating him to an afternoon at a museum. But if you start to feel that your job is to be his arm candy and you're not really in a mutual relationship, listen to that inner voice.
Q. Re: New Year dilemma: It saddens me how often a person will grow resentful of their significant other's child(ren). When I was a teenager my father's then girlfriend had issues with me, surely exacerbated by the fact that I was a fellow female. What it boils down to is jealousy, and to be jealous of a child shows some serious flaws in that person. The last thing children with divorced/separated parents need is an outsider who punishes them, however subtly or passive aggressively, simply for existing.
A: You said it! I hear far too often about new loves who feel the need to undermine the love their partner has for the children from a previous relationship.
Q. Boyfriend and Jobs: My boyfriend and I both graduated from college 18 months ago. Since then, we both still work at the same retail store where we both had jobs throughout school, but would both like careers in our respective fields. I have been on a string of job interviews while having the chance to move to a floor management position at my current job. My boyfriend, too, recently moved to a higher position at our store but meanwhile has made no effort to look for a job in his field. He wants to move in together and get married eventually, but I told him with the money we currently make and my very inconsistent work schedule, I don't want to move in until we both have more financial stability (we both still live at home). He says he still wants a job in his major, but has done nothing in the past several months to show this. He had one interview that he was turned down from and seemed to take it personally. I have been on more interviews than I can even count and been turned down from them all, but haven’t let it stop me. He is so smart and could do anything he puts his mind to, and we love each other very much, but how can I get him to see that in order for us to have a decent future together, something has to change?
A: I know many happily married people met in college. Many met in high school! But too often I hear from people who met a wonderful person while in school, and there doesn't seem to be any reason not to continue the relationship, and then a kind of inertia sets in. That's not the way you should make life decisions. You may love your guy and being in love with him may have made your college years better. But now that you're out in the world there are clear fissures in how you each intend to meet your goals. Since you're working hard to see what's out there for you professionally, it may be time to see who else is out there for you personally. It's hard enough to manage your own launching, especially in such a lousy economy, but you don't have the bandwidth to supervise his. Especially discouraging is that he seems to be shrinking from this task. Cut the discussions about moving in and your future, and tell him you both need to concentrate on starting your careers. If he continues to be lackadaisical about it, then you must recognize your college romance has run its course.
Q. Re: Wife lied about her age: Wait, don't birthdates have to go on marriage licenses? At least in Virginia, we both had to show our drivers licenses and our marriage certificate has our birthdates on it. So either there's some fraud at a higher level going on here, or husband didn't read the legal document that he had to sign to get married ... Not that that makes anything better ...
A: Good point! Such a basic lie spawns all sorts of others.
Q. Etiquette to Gift College Savings Account for Only Nephew: As we consider the financial future of our newborn son, my wife and I were discussing gift ideas for my nephew, our only nephew or niece. Based on conversations with my brother and SIL, we do not imagine they have set aside savings for their son's college, let alone made any dent toward their own retirement. Instead of a material gift, we are thinking of starting a tradition by starting and then contributing toward a college fund in my nephew's name. We are even considering then giving our nephew a small gift for his birthday and Christmas just so he gets something. We would keep up this routine until he starts to better understand the value of money and the importance of savings. Is this totally inappropriate? If not, what is the best way to approach this? Do we need to run it by my brother and SIL first?
A: I think this is lovely idea for any close family member and it does not have to be given with a card that says, "Because you two are financial morons and are unable to plan ahead." I remember when I got old enough to go to the bank and withdraw the money from the savings bond my grandparents had bought for me (back in the 19th century). It was something to see my elementary school block letters on the original signature line. But if you do this for your nephew, you should tell his parents about it. Say that you have started a college fund for your own son, and want to start one for theirs. If they recoil at the idea, then don't do it. Let's hope any responsible parents would be grateful and view this as inspiration for their own financial management.
Q. Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for 2014: Just wanted to wish you happy holidays and all of the best in 2014!
A: Thank you! And I want to extend the same to all the letter writers, commenters, and readers who make this chat so much fun. And I want to also thank Bethonie Butler, the unflappable producer of the chat who keeps everything running so smoothly and unerringly alerts me to the juiciest letters.
Emily Yoffe: P.S. We're off next Monday. Talk to you again on Jan. 6, 2014. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
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