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. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Complaining Couple: My wife and I are both complainers by nature. We dump most of it on each other, for the sanity of our friends and family, and it's been a comforting aspect of our relationship. She's several years younger than me and has been at the same job since finishing university. She hates it and has been talking about changing fields for years without actually doing anything about it. The things she complains about, though, are sort of part-and-parcel of any job. Recently, I was in a bad mood and I interrupted her complaining tirade by snapping, "I think you'd hate any job. It's not your job, it's you." I felt bad right away, but her reaction surprised me: She agreed. She said, very seriously, "You're right. I'm a negative, hateful person. What should I do about it?" It made me realize that I'm a negative, hateful whiner too. Do you have any ideas how we could improve this aspect of ourselves? She's seen a psychiatrist in the past and she found it very helpful, but she stopped because even with our insurance covering part of it, it was far too much for our budget.
A: Oh, sure, dump your problems on me. Did you ever think I have my own issues to deal with? You think you've got headaches—well, pull up a chair and let me unload. OK, maybe the three of us should start the Whiners Anonymous support group. Just imagine what our fellow haters would have to say about the temperature of the room, the snacks, and our lousy leadership. Good for both of you for wanting to address deficiencies in yourselves. It's rather sweet you two Debbie Downers want to do some joint reforming of your personalities. Start with a book club, reading together on cognitive-behavioral based therapy. The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns is one place to start. Both of you should have the good humor and acceptance to acknowledge you are never going to turn into Dr. Pangloss, nor would you want to. I agree one of the pleasures of marriage is that it's the place where you can blow off steam about all the annoyances (and more) of life. But not feeding each other's negative spirals will likely allow you both to get more pleasure out of life. If you feel you could use the help of an outsider, social workers charge much less than psychiatrists, so look into using the services of one. Consider that a good investment in a happier life together.
Dear Prudence: Office Going Down the Tubes
Q. No Ring on It: I'm in my late 20s and got engaged to my wonderful, live-in boyfriend (now fiancé) last weekend. There is, per my request, no ring—I never wanted an engagement ring because it always felt a little too much like a transaction, which I know is unromantic of me. As I'm telling my friends and co-workers, many people have asked about why there's no ring, even grabbing my hand to look for the ring or asking if I should be getting married if my fiancé "can't afford a diamond" (he can, we're both fortunate to be employed). Prudie, what can I say to these people about what I know is an unusual decision? I don't want to come off as judgmental, but I also don't want to be manhandled!
A: I suppose you could get a henna tattoo along the length of your finger that reads, "My fiancé is a deadbeat." It is astounding that the De Beers monopoly has the country convinced that in the absence of a rock, two people cannot be betrothed. To most you can say, "I'm not much of a jewelry person." To those with the chutzpah to be interested in your fiancé's bank account you can say, "Our love is priceless."
Q. Re: Complaining is a habit: I was a negative, whiny, frequently-complaining kind of person too, and when I finally had that moment of clarity I decided to change. Like any other skill, you must practice optimism! Force yourself to focus on the positive and be committed to building this skill. "Fake it till you make it" if you must, search high and low for the silver lining in things, and eventually this frame of mind can become the New You. Worked for me and it's a happier place to be!
A: Thanks for this. Speaking of silver linings, the grouchy couple should also have a movie club and rent Silver Linings Playbook. Maybe they can take up ballroom dancing!
Q. Binge-Drinking Father-to-Be: My husband is entering his mid-30s, and had enjoyed binge drinking at most one weekend a month. Over the past couple of years, paramedics have been called three times for alcohol intoxication. After the latest occurrence a month ago, he said he would continue to drink, but would no longer binge drink. He also apologized for putting me under the stress of these situations. Now he's planning two annual vacations with friends to party destinations. The thought of his going is stressing me out, and I know I'll be worried the entire time that he is away. He says that I need to trust that he will not drink past the state of a buzz. Should I continue to protest these trips? Also, after struggling with infertility, I am now pregnant.
A: The issue is not whether you protest, it's whether your husband continues to put you in jeopardy of being a young widow. You don't say whether he abstains during his non-binges (I'm guessing not). But having to call the paramedics repeatedly because of one's hobby is extremely alarming. I'm not convinced that your husband is capable of controlling his drinking. Once he starts binging, he can drink to the point where medical intervention is required. That's highly dangerous. You two need to get to a counselor with a specialty in alcohol and face this problem. It would also be a good idea for your husband to get a check up to assess the state of his liver. Imagine that you are away some weekend and your husband is caring for your child, and after the baby goes to bed he thinks, "Now that the kid is asleep, I'm going to have a few beers."
Q. Death at Holidays: My mom passed away on Christmas Eve of this year at the young age of 60. Yes, I cried when my dad called me, I cried at her funeral and a day or two after, but it's been three weeks and I'm completely fine. A friend of mine keeps telling me that my time is still yet to come but I'm not so sure. Aside from not being able to sleep and constantly wanting unhealthy food it's almost like nothing happened. Is it possible that I've gone through all the stages of the loss so quickly? We are a close family so I was used to talking to my parents several times a week.