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.)
Q. Do I Tell?: I am in a committed two-year-plus relationship with a great guy whom I love. We are both in our late 30s. I am not interested in marriage or having children. I am in the relationship until one of us stops enjoying it. I have been open and honest since the beginning with my feelings and desires. He really wants children and I think hopes that I am going to come around; he brings it up constantly in a light-hearted way despite our many serious talks about it. Despite being responsible, I got pregnant and chose to have an abortion and did not tell him. I really just didn’t want to hurt him, due to how much he wants a child with me, but is this something he deserves to know? Normally I am a very direct and honest person, so having a secret to keep from him is an odd place for me to be.
A: You had the biggest possible test of whether you could change your mind about marriage and children. Having an abortion without telling the partner you love, because it would break his heart, seems a very good indication that this relationship is built on profound cross-purposes, and that both of you need to rethink why you’re together. Your boyfriend’s situation is one I often hear about from women. They are in a relationship with a man they love who just won’t take the next step toward marriage and children. I always say that if two people ultimately don’t have the same goals, then they have to make the painful decision to end things. Of course, your boyfriend is an adult, and is responsible for staying. He also isn’t facing the biological clock that women do. But if he wants to be a father, he needs to move on. I do not think you have to tell your boyfriend about your abortion. But consider that if you do, it will force the two of you to really come to terms with what you want from each other and from life.
Q. Playground Peanut Butter: Recently I was at the playground with my toddler, and gave her some peanut butter and crackers while sitting on a bench. Another parent came up, scolded me for potentially exposing her son to allergens, and demanded we leave the playground so her son could play. I was flustered so I left. I feel for her son’s allergy but it seemed slightly unfair that the solution was our banishment. Is this the status quo now?
A: The status quo is that when confronted by a nut, it’s best to keep one’s composure and if the situation calls for it, slowly back away. No one wants to inadvertently harm another child. But as this blog post by an allergy doctor points out, there is virtually no risk to child allergic to peanuts by being near someone eating peanut butter; it’s ingesting peanuts that’s the problem. This mother needs some clarification with her own doctor about how to protect her child, but of course that’s not your problem. She also needs to rethink her approach to being in public if she see the world as one big goober. You did nothing wrong, but you shouldn’t have skulked out of the park. Switching benches would have taken care of it. And I feel sorry for the teacher who’s going to have to handle the demands of this mother.
Q. When a Friend Becomes Your Boss: My good friend recently became my boss. Prior to this, we would joke around and have a lot of fun, even spend time together on the weekends. Since he has become my boss, however, I have noticed him behaving a little differently than he has in the past. I don’t feel as comfortable talking to him at work—he is taking the boss thing pretty seriously—and it makes me sad that our relationship is probably changing. What can or should be done in this type of situation? Should I talk to him about this, or should I just let it go and accept that our friendship (as it was, at least) is probably a thing of the past?
A: When someone has the power to fire you, unfortunately that changes the dynamic when you’re hanging out. Yes, your boss is behaving differently, but you probably feel more constrained about shooting the breeze over a beer—after all, you’re not going to want to complain about the boss. At work, you two have to be professional, and it sounds like he’s feeling out what it means to be a manager. Because a person is your boss does not mean you can’t socialize, but you both are going to be aware that there is a new barrier between you. At the end of the day sometime, if you normally would have suggested going out for a drink, drop by his office and ask if he wants to join you. That opens up for him the option of talking out the change in your relationship, or just going out for a drink and talking about the World Cup.
Q. Death of a Friend and Moving On: My best friend lost her fiancé a year ago. His death was unexpected and has been hard on all of us. I was really close friends with her fiancé as we had all met in college. She recently moved to the same city as me and we decided to live together. I spent many nights the first few months she moved in with me consoling her about the loss, which I figured would happen. About six months after his death she started online dating, which I had a problem with but was still trying to be the supportive friend. Now she wants to have the guy she’s dating over at the apartment but I’m not OK with it because I’m still hurting from the loss of my friend and really can’t believe she has moved on. We aren’t speaking and she’s basically not coming home anymore. Am I in the wrong? Should I just look the other way and deal with her new guy being around?
A: You all are obviously young and have suffered a shocking loss. You have lost a dear friend whom you can continue to grieve while you go about your life and even pursue a love life. The young fiancée was clearly shattered by his death, but he is gone, and she is alive. It sounds perfectly appropriate to me that after six months of mourning, she is ready to look for companionship, even love. Please stop imposing some Victorian mandate that she must wear widow’s weeds for some period of time that you dictate. You are in the wrong, so apologize to your roommate, and tell her you’d like to meet her new man.
Q. Re: Peanut allergy: Just a quick note: it actually totally is possible for a person with a peanut allergy to have a proximity reaction. I couldn’t bring peanuts into my school’s music room for years as two of our classmates could potentially have a serious anaphylactic reaction from being touched by/being in close contact with someone who had recently touched or eaten peanuts. Not saying that mother wasn’t overreacting—she definitely was, and there is no need to be that harsh—but some people’s allergies really are that serious.
A: Thanks. I did some quick searching on this issue and I understand that at elementary school kids are all over each other and it’s just easier to ban peanuts if there are allergic kids in the class. As you mention, you are talking about touching and close contact. But I did not find confirmation that simply being in an area where someone is eating peanut butter is a danger. Unless society is going to have a blanket ban on all peanut products, the parents of kids with allergies are the ones who have to make decisions about safety. In the letter I got, it was clear the allergic kid wasn’t reacting to someone eating peanut butter in the vicinity, it was the mother who was blowing up.
Q. Work Dilemma: I work for a large company and one of the requirements for colleagues is that we have to self-evaluate our performance. In this process, the manager would also give his/her observation and any feedback. I use to work for a very bitter and tyrannical micro-manager “DB.” DB was an extremely negative person. After some time of being under DB’s leadership, I started applying to other positions internally and externally. The company requirements was that I had to inform my manager of any internal applications and when review time came around DB wrote a negative report questioning my character, work ethic, and even wrote how I was a negative person. I brought the unfairness to a senior manager and they are working with DB on DB’s leadership skills but this report will stay with me. Immediately after, I found an awesome new position at the company. With review time around the corner, my current manager will see my previous review. Should I defend my review and give my side of the story to new manager or just keep my mouth shut and let my work speak for itself?
A: I would assume that within the company your new manager would have done some due diligence on you before offering you the position. It’s highly likely DB’s M.O. is well known, so the ridiculously negative report on you was perhaps already discounted by your new boss. Do not say anything. By bringing it up you will just sound defensive (“Actually, I’m a really competent, hard-working, positive person—not the nightmare DB described!”). But I’m wondering if you can go back to HR and have some kind of notation put on your evaluation, something that indicates this was disputed by you, or that this evaluation was brought to the attention of superiors, so at least there’s some record of its one-sidedness. But don’t worry about it, what’s important is that you got the new job and that you’re thriving in it.
Q. Overly Involved Condo Board President: I moved in a new condo complex about a year ago with a board president that is, to put it politely, overinvolved. It’s not that she knows everything; she puts herself in the middle of everything all the time. Best example was a few weeks ago when a engineer needed to examine each of our balconies. I was surprised that not only the engineer showed up, but she did too, which was totally unnecessary. She walked with him through my unit on to my balcony and then when he was busy with his evaluation spent about 10 minutes wandering around my condo commenting on things. I didn’t want to let her in in the first place, but then didn’t know how to ask her to leave. She does have a certain amount of power in the HOA and I don’t want to offend her. My problem is that the repair person is scheduled to come and I’m sure she be with him again. This time they need access through our bedroom and I don’t want to give it to her!
A: It would be amusing to observe the people drunk on the petty power that come with these kind of positions, but the really annoying thing is that they take very seriously their ability to manipulate and annoy. You have to weigh how miserable this woman can make you versus how much you want to protect your privacy. Sure, you can meet her at the door and say, “Judy, I have some work phone calls to make while the repairs are being done. So please excuse me, but I can’t invite you in today.” However, in retaliation be prepared that she finds your doormat to be noncompliant with condo rules, or that she complains about the furniture you have on your balcony. Presumably, she has a limited term of office, so maybe you can quietly confer with other tenants when the time comes and see if someone less intrusive wants the job.
Q. Re: Playground Peanut Butter: Your answer to the letter writer that “there is virtually no risk to a child allergic to peanuts by being near someone eating peanut butter; it’s ingesting peanuts that’s the problem” is OK as far as it goes. However, children are messy eaters who get food—in this case peanut butter—on their hands and faces, then run around on the playground transferring peanut butter onto the slides, swings, etc. .. Then, my child who is allergic comes in contact with the peanut butter by touching it, then rubs his mouth or eyes, and has an immediate contact-only reaction. He does not have to ingest the peanut butter. He gets hives and swelling, which our allergist tells us is a serious reaction.
A: Having to be hyperaware of the potential hazards lurking for your child is a terrible burden. Maybe being hyper-vigilant about constantly wiping off your little one’s hands is one solution. But I assume you know you cannot police the world and that you would not lay into a mother whose child was on a bench eating a peanut butter sandwich.
Q. Getting Husband to Get Real About His Parents: My husband and I have a 9-month-old baby, who is the light of our lives. He is a very happy, healthy, and robust at 25 pounds. Whenever my in-laws visit or we visit them, I inevitably have to be the bad guy by vetoing the idea of my in-laws babysitting our son by themselves. My husband says I don’t trust them, but it’s not a matter of trust. They are trustworthy people—it’s just a matter of ability. One has arthritis and can neither lift our son nor bear his weight on her lap. The other has memory problem and loses his balance easily. The last thing I want to do is hurt their feelings, but my husband (or his sister, when I’ve asked her to babysit) keeps going behind my back, asking them to babysit without talking to me about it first, and then ignoring my pleas that it’s not safe and I won’t allow it. My husband has a hard time accepting the limitations that result from their health issues, and I fear that every visit or family vacation is going to result in my being painted into the same corner and feeling awkward and uncomfortable. I will not leave my son in a situation I don’t feel is safe.
A: It is so touchy to be the one to say that your spouse’s beloved parents just aren’t up to the job of watching your child. First of all, if your description is accurate, and you are not being melodramatic, then you are right, and the two of them just aren’t physically up to the physically demanding duties of caring for an infant. If you don’t feel they have the strength or balance to lift the baby, then they just can’t be left alone to watch him for extended periods. But maybe when you visit, and the baby is fussy, you can ask them to take him for a walk in the stroller, for example. Mostly, you and your husband have to be able to have an open, loving talk about this. Say that you know the idea that his parents are getting old and frail is very painful. Tell him you want his parents to be involved in your child’s life and there are lots of way to do that, respect their dignity, and keep your baby safe. But putting in them in charge right now of picking up a bruiser of a baby is just not a good idea. Also hold out the fact that even as your in-laws get older, your son will eventually get more competent. My daughter started sleeping over her grandparents’ house when my in-laws were in their 80s and my daughter was in elementary school. I had a no-driving rule, but my mentally sharp in-laws no longer had to attend to the physical needs of my daughter, they just had to be fun grandparents. I hope that is ahead for your loving in-laws.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks so much, everyone. Have a great July Fourth!
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.