Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online 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. See a Dentist!: Last October I gave my husband an ultimatum, see the dentist or we’re over. In the 16 years we’ve known each other, he has not been to the dentist once. As a child he had a traumatic injury to his front teeth, and that the repair was not done correctly. As a result, he does not smile and show his teeth, and he talks so that his teeth can not be seen. He does have a dark/discolored top front tooth. Due to his lack of regular dental visits, I am not interested in kissing him. He has extreme halitosis and I have mentioned this to him and he gets very upset and angry with me. I’ve told a couple friends about my ultimatum, they think getting divorced because of poor oral hygiene is ridiculous. What are your thoughts?
A: We know what’s wrong with your husband. His mouth is a cesspool and he has extreme dental phobia. But you signed up for this 16 years ago, and I don’t understand how you married someone whose mouth reminds you of the portal to hell. Open-ended ultimatums aren’t really ultimatums. Your husband hasn’t seen the dentist, and now it’s almost July. His mouth prevents you from being intimate with him, and he won’t do anything about it. I suggest you do some research into dentist who specialize in treating the phobic. Tell your husband you will accompany him and that the biggest hurdle is just getting to the office. Your marriage does not hang on the results of a survey of your social circle—and these people have really relaxed standards. Your requirement that your husband meet a minimum threshold of hygiene is perfectly reasonable.
Q. Finders, Keepers: We hosted an end of the season party for my 12-year-old daughter’s sports team. The 7-year-old brother of a teammate came to me and proudly claimed he "found" a few $1 coins. I said "Thank you, our family’s tooth fairy brings dollar coins and she must have dropped them." Then I held out my hand to the boy to return them. He clutched them, he mother quickly stepped in front of him. She stared at me and said, "Finders, keepers." I was speechless. I did not want to confront a guest in my home, but I didn’t want the children scavenging around my home for money to keep/steal. What should I have said or done? This family is flourishing financially, and we are not. And the $6 taken from my daughter’s dresser is a small fortune in her world.
A: Normally when parents are confronted with an chance to convey a life lesson the lesson is not, “Take advantage of every opportunity to commit larceny.” The issue is not the relative condition of each family’s bank statement. It’s that a little boy needed to be told what it means to be a guest and how to respect other people’s property. (I love your graceful way of trying to get the money back.) I understand that you were aghast and speechless, but not escalating this was the right thing to do. Now you know the character of this mother, and no matter how wealthy they are, you can have some sympathy for kids who are being raised as little monsters. You should explain to your daughter what happened, how wrong it is, but that it would have been worse to try to wrestle the coins from the boy’s hand. Say that unfortunately some people are dishonest, so it’s always a good idea to put away money before guests come over.
Q. I’m Not Coming: My boyfriend and I have been dating for five months. He recently had intercourse with me and, like most women, I did not get off. I asked him for a little more attention afterward, and he balked that it was too much work and that I was expecting too much from him. He then asked what the point of intercourse was if I didn’t even get off during it and indicated that he thought I wasn’t normal. Is it too much to expect some extra attention so that it’s fun for me too, especially when I’m willing to do the same? Or should I expect to be in charge of doing my own thing while he does his?
A: I would hope that when you have a guy with this attitude about your coming, you would tell him you’re going. Of course that first time can be awkward and not wholly satisfying as two people figure out each other’s bodies and psyches. But I think you’ve heard enough to know that if this guy’s approach is “I’m done, so take care of yourself” then you should take him at his word. Attend to your own needs in private until you find someone who is interested in actually being your lover.
Q. Daddy Issues: When I was 12, my father murdered the lover of my stepmother. He was sentenced to 50 years and has served almost 20 years. It was very traumatic for me to say the least and I have been in therapy off and on ever since. Most of my issues are related to his abandonment. And it’s not like he was not a great father before he became a murderer. He has since been diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenia disorders, which was an ah-ha moment for me and my family. I visited and wrote him fairly often until I was 18 when I moved abroad for a while. In the past 10 years I have only seen him once. It was an awful visit. I told him how I felt, that I was sad and angry, etc., and he was very defensive. He also told me that he believes he deserves to be in prison because he would do the same thing over again if given the chance. I haven’t written to him in several years and a few years ago he stopped writing me. I pretty much hate him and feel he doesn’t deserve me in his life, but a part of me feels like it might be important to say goodbye. He is in poor health and I don’t imagine he will live too much longer. I’m afraid if I don’t go see him one last time, I will regret it. I don’t even know what I would say or if this would be a good idea, because the last time was so heart-wrenching. What are your thoughts?
A: Ah, closure—how I hate that concept. Of course, I know that many people have had the kind of conversations that help them feel they have addressed a lingering issue and are now more able to move on. But often the idea of closure is that a magic wand of understanding and connection is waved over a situation that just doesn’t lend itself to being satisfyingly closed. You have tried to reach out to your father and get some understanding and an apology from him. Instead you got a painful dose of reality: He is a sick person, he at least has the insight to recognize it, and he is not capable of giving you what you want. This is unlikely to have changed, so if you go see him, do so with the understanding that you’re doing it so that you don’t feel regret at not doing it. But I have heard from many, many people with catastrophic parents who never had that last goodbye and didn’t regret it. They accepted that the parent they wanted didn’t exist and the one they had was already effectively dead to them.
Q. Put an (Evil?) Ring on It: My boyfriend and I have been discussing marriage. When he asked what I like in rings, he was excited about my answer because it apparently describes his deceased grandmother’s ring that is “his.” The problem is, from what I’ve heard of the woman, she was a cruel, manipulative person. Her children didn’t speak with her, his mother is still in therapy, and the cascading effects of family dynamics caused serious examination for me when we started to date seriously. I tend to be logical and not superstitious, but I can’t shake the bad vibes. I don’t need anything pricey and I like the idea of a hand-me-down. Just not from her. Should I talk to him about this before we get engaged, or recognize it’s just a piece of metal and rock that has no bearing on us, and try to get over it?