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. Snow, yes, snow.
Q. My Sister Is Polyamorous and Pregnant: My sister Julia recently told our family that she and her husband Jake are in a polyamorous triad with their best friend Tony. The three of them have been together for as long as Julia has been with Jake (seven years) and all of their friends know that, essentially, Tony is Julia's other husband. They decided not to tell our more traditional family (with the exception of our brother) until Julia became pregnant, as she is now. She does not know whether the child is Jake's or Tony's, but both men plan to raise the child equally. Our brother claims they're an amazing set and that Julia has never been this happy. My parents, my husband, and I are more realistic and feel queasy about the arrangement. I cannot imagine how their child will feel, growing up with half siblings (Julia plans to have children by both men) and with their mom sleeping with two men. I don't know how they will provide the children of this "marriage" with stability. My husband doesn't want Tony around our children, even though Julia has asked that we now treat him as her husband in addition to Jake. I love Julia but am nauseated by her lifestyle choice. I think eventually it will end disastrously. How can I support this?
A: You don't have to "support" it, you just have to act like a decent person. Jake, Julia, and Tony are a threesome. Your sister is not asking for your advice or approval, she is just asking to be treated politely. You don't have to say any more to your kids other than Uncle Tony is Aunt Julia and Uncle Jake's good friend. Kids are remarkably flexible about these things. I fail to see how having Uncle Tony—presuming he's a good guy—come along on visits will harm your children in any way. If your kids have questions you answer them honestly in an age appropriate way. Which will mostly consist of, "The three of them are really close friends. I agree it's kind of unusual, but they are happy all living together." Julia is pregnant so she's the one who should be dealing with nausea. Eat a couple of crackers, settle your stomach, and welcome this new addition to the family.
Q. Marriage and Alcoholism: My husband and I will celebrate our seventh anniversary this year. We have two children, 4 years and 6 months old. About a year and a half ago, after the threat of divorce, my husband joined AA and has been sober since. In my opinion, AA has taken over his life, to the point I see him less now that he is sober than when he was drunk. He goes to meetings once or twice daily, and several times on the weekends. We both work full time, and I pick up the kids, make dinner, get them ready for bed, and get the kitchen cleaned by the time he walks in the door at night (about 8 p.m.). He has been asked to be a part of regional representation for AA, which is going to take up more of his time. I feel horrible when I say anything, since I complained when he was drunk, and now I am complaining when he is sober, but I am exhausted! I feel like he needs to be part of our family, and his kids and I are suffering now for his sobriety. Do I have a reasonable beef, or should I just suck it up for sobriety? I'd go to an Al-Anon meeting, but I sure as hell don't have the spare time.
A: Let's stipulate that your husband has an addictive personality, and being hooked on AA is a healthy alternative to liquor. His abstinence is quite new, so it's really important that he gets gratification from it and creates habits of mind and behavior that make being sober rewarding. It seems that he has found that with the fellowship that AA brings. But you have a legitimate beef that if in order for him to do this, he has virtually abandoned his own family to attend to his new one at AA. I don't know enough about the rules of AA to be certain this suggestion is kosher, but perhaps you and he could get together with his sponsor to discuss how your husband can be with his family and attend to his sobriety. If talking to the sponsor is not an option, then it is time for you two to see a counselor who has expertise in addiction issues. You are in practical effect a single mother. You need to tell him you don't want to legally become one, so you both need to figure out how you can meet the needs of yourselves, each other, and your children.
Q. Coughing Cubicle: I work in a typical cube-farm within a small department for a nonprofit organization. A cube-mate of mine coughs and clears her throat ... ALL. THE. TIME. It gets so bad that I look forward to when she takes her hour lunch so that I can have some respite from the constant hacking. Our department unfortunately requires constant phone interaction, so wearing noise-canceling headphones or listening to music is not really an option. I feel bad because she is an older lady with a lot of health problems, but may patience is wearing thin and she is driving me up the wall. Please help.
A: It's true that erratic but repetitive noises can shatter one's focus. Sure you try to concentrate and shut out the respiratory tract troubles of your colleague, but the endless hacking just makes you feel like you're caught in a tidal wave of phlegm. I don't think there's much point in asking Muriel to keep it down—she can't. She's suffering and would surely love not to feel the way she does. Instead, take this to a supervisor and be oh, so sensitive. Explain you have tremendous empathy for your co-worker's health problems, but that she has a chronic condition and unfortunately there is no way to baffle the noise which is constantly breaking your concentration. Ask if there's the possibility of a new office configuration—maybe you can be moved, maybe Muriel can.
Q. Re: Marriage and alcohol: Bad advice, Prudie—this woman should get herself to meetings of Al-Anon ASAP. Al anon is for friends and families of alcoholics and problem drinkers, whether or not the alcoholic is in treatment or attending meeting themselves. She is experiencing a common dynamic, and will get the support and advice she needs from others who have lived the same issues.
A: Sure, Al-Anon is a great idea, but she has to hire a babysitter to go because her husband isn't home long enough for her to attend a meeting. Al Anon will give her support and ideas, but in the end she and her husband have to talk and come to some understanding. I'm suggesting they do that right now.
Q. Representative Woes: I work for a college, in the admissions office. My day consists of answering calls for eight hours, to inform applicants on their application status, verify receipt of documents, and explain the admissions process. The job is very stressful and the people who call are usually always rude. If they can't understand something we have said, they never say "excuse me" or "I’m sorry." It’s always, "What?" These aren't just the students, its the parents. It seems like no one has phone manners anymore. I always try to maintain a polite composure, and assist the caller the best I can; however, the minute I say something they don't like, they want to take my name down, and talk to my supervisor. I hate this job, but leaving isn't an option. The pay is decent and the benefits are good. However, I really am starting to hate people in general. I get satisfaction when a rude applicant calls for an update, and I see that they have been rejected. I can't tell them their decision, though, and they have to wait for their letter. I feel no empathy when they call crying or upset because they didn't get in. I hate that I have become this way, but I feel that I have been driven to it. I have worked some really stressful jobs, but this takes the cake. Any suggestions?