Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, chats with readers weekly on Mondays here at Slate. 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.)
Q. Husband Slept With My Sister; It Wasn't Part of the Deal: My husband knows that he has a free pass when he goes out of town on business trips, and our policy is don't ask, don't tell. Recently he went on a trip to Las Vegas where my younger half-sister works. I gave my husband her contact info so they could meet up as family members do and catch up. Later I come to find out he had sex with her! I'm mad that he chose to do it with a family member, while my husband insists he thought it was fine because we are not that close and did not grow up together, and he's only ever met her twice. Did I bring this on myself by allowing him free passes, or should he have looked elsewhere for sex?
A: Your husband may have gotten a free pass to the buffet at his hotel, but it probably had some fine print on it about how many meals he could get out of it, so he should understand every “free pass” comes with fine print. You and your husband may have a “stays in Vegas” clause to your marriage, but he just busted himself by telling you that your attempt to make sure he had someone nice to have dinner with ended up with him having a companion for breakfast. (And when he's away, do you have a pass to play?) I agree with you that he knows his lame defense, “You barely know your half-sister,” is half-baked. However, what's happened has happened. So you need to tell him without rancor why you are hurt, and he needs to understand he owes you an apology, and you two need to clarify your rules.
Q. Hygiene or Lack Thereof: My significant other’s two boys stay with us every other weekend. He has been divorced from their mother since they were very young, and they have not been taught good hygiene practices. Although we have finally gotten hand-washing after you use the bathroom down, they come from their mother's house in absolutely filthy clothes and usually haven't showered in a week. I'm pretty sure they sleep in their school clothes most nights and rarely change. The 9-year-old's (this is really gross, sorry) underwear are so dirty we usually just throw them away. He is also a chronic nose-picker and doesn't cover his mouth when he coughs. The issue comes from the fact that I want them to shower and change immediately when they come over Friday nights, and I spend a large part of Sunday afternoons after they have left on cleaning and washing the blankets where the nose-picking and coughing has happened. My significant other complains that we are making his kids feel dirty and that it makes him feel like I don't like his children. I do like them! They are sweet kids. He does remind them to use a Kleenex and wash, but as soon as he leaves the room, it's the finger right up the nose. I have repeatedly reminded the child, but I don't want to be the wicked girlfriend, so I usually just go somewhere else. Should I just relax my standards, or is this unacceptable for the majority of parents?
A: Your boyfriend is the one who needs to clean up his act. His sons are neglected to a point that borders on abuse. Sure, many kids resist getting in the tub, but children who sleep in their clothes and have underpants that are so filthy that they need to be discarded are kids who are living with a mother who is not up to the job. I can only imagine that their classmates refuse to sit with them because they stink. The nose-picking could be some kind of compulsive behavior or a form of self-comfort. This is not simply an issue of teaching the kids good hygiene—and good for you for stepping up—but of addressing with your boyfriend his responsibilities as a father. He's got to stop sweeping the real issue under the rug, which is not how nice you are, but how hurting his children are. Once he recognizes what's going on, it could be that he needs to consider whether he should have primary custody. This means some serious talks ahead for the two of you.
Q. Dateless Daughter: My daughter, who is 21, is home from college for the summer. I love her dearly, but she has a very limited social circle and rarely dates. I, on the other hand, am often asked out on dates and say yes from time to time. Her father and I have been divorced almost five years and have an amicable relationship. But, if I want to go on a date, my daughter is extremely negative and even accused me of whoring myself out for companionship! What should I do? Sit at home all summer?
A: Ah, the joys of having your little girl home with you—and being slut-shamed for it! There seem to be two issues here. One is that even though you are mother and daughter, you are both adults, and you both need to respect each other's space and privacy. You need to tell your daughter that although you love having her back, you are not going to be insulted about the life you've been living since you and her father divorced, nor do you need her permission to do as you please. However, what you describe about her raises concerns that she may well have more global problems than prudery about your dating life. Likely she's still got unresolved issues stemming from your split. But you mention her limited social circle and lack of dating experience. Maybe she's an introvert who could use a little more help getting herself out there. Maybe she's depressed. Take this opportunity to have a gentle talk with her about how she's feeling about life and whether over the summer she feels she would benefit from talking things out with a professional.