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 email@example.com.)
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Q. Neighbors Saved Our Sex Life: While my wife and I were swingers in our early 20s (and enjoyed it very much!), we moved to a more conservative area 10 years ago and found ourselves completely disconnected from others in that subculture (we are now 40). About a year ago, a couple in their late 20s moved in next door. Our homes are very close together, and their bedroom is next to our driveway, where I spend a great deal of my time tinkering around. Imagine my delight when I first heard them loudly going at it. Occasionally, my wife and I can also hear them while we’re in our kitchen. We feel a little guilty about this voyeurism, but it has caused our sex life to explode again. We also think we’re picking up interference from their baby monitors, as we’ve heard them having sex and some of their discussions (including their apparent interest in swinging). The couple is very polite to us, and my wife and I have thought about getting to know them better in hopes it could lead to something more. Is this something we should pursue? If not, is it still OK to listen in?
A: First the good news for young couples contemplating starting a family: Even people with baby monitors can have frequent and vigorous sex! The second piece of good news is that this aural voyeurism has gotten you two to spring back to life. It’s also good that you both are a little guilty about your listening. It’s better to be aware you are overhearing something private so that you don’t start crossing the line and standing with a stethoscope on the side of your neighbor’s house. When I was in the baby monitor stage of life, I too started picking up my neighbor’s conversations. Unlike with you, it was things like, “I’m going to Costco tomorrow. Do we need more toilet paper?” Since you don’t have a monitor, I don’t know on what device you’re hearing their private conversations about swinging. But do keep in mind maybe you’re only hearing partial sentences and you’re too hopefully filling in the rest. They may well be saying, “Do you think Junior is old enough for a swing set?” and not “Have you seen the couple next door? Maybe they’re swingers, too.” You want to have good relations with your neighbors. So that likely means an occasional barbeque and friendly conversation. They’ve already done you a big favor of reinfusing some passion into your lives, and I think you should let it go at that. As Robert Frost observed, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Q. Toxic MIL-to-Be: A few years ago I worked with developmentally disabled adults. I have remained close with several of them and am delighted that they will all be able to attend my wedding this summer. My future mother-in-law? Not so much. Since learning about my desire to invite these friends, she has tried to persuade me to do otherwise. She will not admit to not wanting developmentally disabled people at the wedding and instead hides behind excuses like, “Won’t they feel out of place in such a fancy location?” My fiancé supports me in challenging her prejudices directly, but my future mother-in-law won’t engage with me about them. I don’t know her well, but these interactions are forming an intense dislike of her within me. Is there any way to salvage what will ultimately be a lifelong relationship?
A: Thank you for this addition to worst mothers-in-law! This woman should start a club with the mother-in-law who didn’t want the bride’s father—who had suffered burns—to walk her down the aisle. You, and thankfully your fiancé, see through her subterfuge. But your mother-in-law is not in charge of your guest list, and you don’t want to engage in discussion of her prejudices—you want to ignore them. Close down this discussion, and if she tries to bring this up, just tell her, “Bev, we’ve got the guest list under control.” Do not worry about the next 30 years. Maybe she will behave just fine at the wedding, and you can write this off as an unpleasant aspect of an otherwise decent person.
Q. Baby Name: I am in my third trimester of my first pregnancy. My husband and I picked out baby names months ago. Is it a girl or boy? We’re waiting to see! The problem is, the middle name we picked for the boy’s name is the same as my boss’s middle name. I only know of this name because of him. It’s very rare and distinctive and both my husband and I love it. Neither of us had ever heard the name until I started working for him. Should I tell him of our intentions? Do I wait until after the little one is actually named? Thank you so much!
A: I wonder if you’re thinking this will guarantee that you’ll never be let go or you’re worrying that the boss will be put out you “stole” his name. I get a lot of name questions, and most of them come down to someone needing to understand that no one owns a name (unless it’s a matter of using a name to try to commit fraud). You of course are free to be enchanted by the mellifluousness of your boss’s name and use it for your child. Don’t say anything until after the birth, and if you do have a boy, just be straightforward about it with the boss. Presumably an announcement about your offspring will have gone around the office, so when you return to work and have a conversation with your boss about the little one, tell him, “Mr. President, the baby is Aiden Hussein O’Brien. You’ll never guess where we came up with the middle name!”
Q. Wedding Guest Gone Sour: I am getting married in a small, intimate, and hopefully casual ceremony this summer. My fiancé and I didn’t want to do anything big, so we picked a small venue in his hometown. We invited our parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and a few very close friends. The issue is with one of my friends. I have never liked her husband, and they were having problems at the time of the invites, but we invited him anyway. Since then, their problems have escalated, and it has come out that he has been physically violent. My other friend and I have looked up how to talk to and support a friend going through this, but she seems to be unreceptive to our help and is failing to realize how serious this is. In light of this new information, my fiancé and I absolutely don’t want him at our small wedding, as I am filled with anger over his actions. I will do whatever I can to support her and get her out of this doomed marriage, but the thought of having to play nice around him on our wedding day makes my skin crawl. What do I do? Will I only push her further into this bad situation if I say he’s not allowed—or will it help her open her eyes?