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 email@example.com.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions and comments.
Q. Touchy-Feely Husband Is Rough on My Clothes!: My husband likes to rip my clothes off—but not in the fun way. He is intelligent, gentlemanly and swoonably handsome. He is also very physically affectionate, always absentmindedly rubbing, scratching or stroking me. That part is lovely. However, I favor delicate, feminine clothing, most of it second-hand or vintage. Just in the past few weeks he’s ripped a flower applique off of a satin dress, shredded a silk-cashmere blouse under the back of the neck, where he likes to scratch, and torn holes in the waist of a vintage lace dress while we were out dancing. I love the loving, but it’s like having a rambunctious 6-foot-3 kitten around. I don’t want him to stop being affectionate, just a little gentler on my frocks. Do I pull his hands off when he gets too rough, or—gasp—start living in T-shirts?
A: I’m glad you mentioned cats, because your description of your husband absentmindedly rubbing, scratching, and stroking you sounds as if he thinks of you as his giant pussycat. I have had cats all my life, and when a feline is fed up with getting affection, it walks off with the flick of a tail. Press the matter, and you’ll get a swat with unsheathed claws. If your loving clod of a husband paws you to the point of disintegrating your clothing, it’s time for you to stop purring. But before you start hissing, sit him down—with a table between you—and tell him you love his physical affection, but sometimes it’s so rough that your clothing falls apart. Say that if he fails to be more conscious of how he touches you, you’re going to bring it to his attention because your tailoring bills are sky-rocketing. Then if he continues in his ways, remove his hand and say, “Sylvester, please, not so rough.” I also think you might want to obtain an actual cat. Ours like to sit between my husband and me so that if either of us are in the mood to give idle affection, they end up being the recipients.
Q. Kids Birthday Parties: A family member is hosting a birthday party for her child. The invitation specifically states only cake and ice cream will be served at the party, which is being held at 4 p.m. Is it wrong that I am incredibly irritated by this? She has made comments in the past about how it’s “too much work” to cook for everyone. The way I see it, because she is lazy, I am expected to feed my kids cake and ice cream for dinner because she can’t be bothered to provide anything more. Am I off here? It just seems rude.
A: Now you’re making me wonder whether during all those years of cake and ice cream birthday parties I hosted for my daughter, if everyone left saying, “And again, no beef Wellington! What a rip-off!” However, since no one else served anything but sweets at their kids’ parties, I’m probably in the clear. Yes, your kids will be hopped up on sugar and might not eat much for dinner. This, however will be fun for them, and not a tragedy for you, so drop it.
Q. Son Hangs Off Tall Buildings: My 27-year-old son is obsessed with hanging off the side of tall buildings, water towers, radio station towers, anything that is high up. I am scared to death about what he’s doing, but he refuses to stop. He posts pictures and videos of it online and seems to be even more encouraged by the responses. A cop friend of mine advised him of the danger and possibility of arrest for trespassing but that didn’t phase him a bit. What to do?
A: Talk about terminal velocity. This is terrifying, and I can understand your dread and despair about this hobby, imagining that one retires from it by falling off tall buildings. I see from a quick search that this is actually a thing—people record themselves engaging in this suicidal game, and get encouraged by those who can applaud from the safety of their computer screens. Your son is a thrill-seeker, unfortunately to the point where he is jeopardizing his life expectancy. But he is an adult and while what he’s doing would get him arrested, I don’t know how you prevent it, unless you know his plans in advance and can alert the authorities. Try having another heart-to-heart with him in which you explain that the people who are encouraging him don’t care at all whether he lives or dies—there will be someone else they can follow. But you know he loves you, and you love him more than anyone, and you are having a very hard time getting through the day for fear of a phone call that brings you news of the worst. Explain to him there’s no way to put this out of his mind and frankly you are begging him to find an activity that gives him excitement which doesn’t come with such grave risks. Then accept that you’ve done what you can, do not follow him in social media, and if you need to, find a counselor to help you handle your understandable anxiety.
Q. Out of Town Make-Out: I went out of town for work a month ago. I was a little lonely for two weeks I was there, so used a common dating app to find someone to have dinner with. I was up front with everyone that I talked to that I had a wife back home. I ended up meeting a girl, and we had a lovely dinner together. At the end of the night, after a few drinks, we ended up kissing while waiting for each of our taxis. I did not mean for it to happen, but it made me feel good about myself. Should I tell my wife about this?
A: I’m trying to imagine how this goes: “Honey, have you heard of this thing called ‘Tinder’? It’s a great app if you’re looking for hook-ups—you know what those are, Honey. Anyway, I get lonely when I’m traveling, so I used Tinder, and a lot of attractive women are interested in going out with a married man! I picked one and we had such a good time that we made out at the end of the evening. It was so great! I didn’t feel like an old married guy anymore, I felt young and available, and sexy. Also, I didn’t mean for it to happen, so you can’t blame me. Oh, and were you able to pick up my dry cleaning while I was away?” Here’s my advice: Shut up and delete Tinder. If you’re traveling for work, ask someone you’re working with (given your tendencies, preferably not the most alluring single female) to join you for dinner. Absent that, take a good book to a restaurant, then go back to your room and watch some porn.
Q. Re: Kids BD Parties: How about feeding the kids a late lunch or snack of protein so that they will have something substantial in their tummies before going to the party? This could serve two functions: They may be less hungry for the sugary stuff and eat less or, even if not, the protein can help stabilize their blood sugar so they won’t get as hyped (or fall as hard when the blood sugar tanks).
A: Good advice. Several commenters are saying that I got it wrong because the party is for 4:00 and therefore impinging on dinner hour. I agree at 2:00 would be better, but there may be some reason that’s not possible. Give the kids scrambled eggs or a hamburger before the party, and everyone should make it out alive.
Q. A Huge Request: I have no relationship with my abusive, drug-addicted parents. “Tim” has been a father figure to me since my late teens. His and his wife Beth don’t have children but have always treated me like their own flesh and blood. I am pregnant with my first child, and I would love for him or her to call Tim and Beth “Grandma” and “Grandpa.” My husband loves this idea. I have no idea how to make such a big request of them or when to ask them: before or after the baby is born?
A: This doesn’t sound like a huge favor on your part, but a huge honor on theirs. What a lovely request! If Tim and Beth have functioned as surrogate parents for you, and have no children of their own, I think they would be ecstatic to get this honorific and to be considered grandparent figures for your baby. But present it to them as a request. Say that if it makes them uncomfortable, that’s all you need to hear and that will be the end of it. I’m predicting tears of joy all around.
Q. Secondary Infertility: I’ve been trying to get pregnant for eight years. During this journey I met my friend “Heather” who took two years to conceive her first child. While I experienced brief envy and sadness when she first told me, I can honestly say I was happy for her and hoped one day I would experience her happiness for myself, too. This was three years ago and she hasn’t been able to conceive since. She is about to try IVF and frequently emails me and talks to me about her feelings and how difficult this is. All I can think of is, “I’d love to be in your position.” I have started avoiding her because I’m sick of hearing about how rough she has it when I’d give anything to have even one child. I don’t know whether I should talk to her about my feelings or if I’m being unreasonably negative and I should support my friend whose trials I know so well.
A: How nice for Heather to have you as her unpaid therapist. Apparently she doesn’t think she’s in a mutual relationship in which she has to be at all attentive to how you might be feeling. You sound like a big-hearted person, so if Heather was herself a different kind of person, you could be understanding of her struggle with secondary infertility. But she sounds extremely insensitive, and I don’t know what you’re getting out of this relationship. So tell her point blank that you have your own fertility struggles and you just can’t hear about hers anymore. Maybe she will realize how selfishly she’s been behaving and apologize, maybe she won’t and will just go away. That’s what is known as a win/win.
Q. Re: Thrill-Seeking Son: She may also want to consider getting him rock-climbing lessons or find a zip line course nearby. Some people have pretty high sensory needs, and finding some high input activities that also have safety components could be a way to let him get the thrill (and sensory input) without endangering himself.
A: Good idea to suggest relatively safer ways he can get those thrills, and offer to pay for it.
Q. Not a Taxi Service: I live in a popular tourist destination. A lot of my extended relatives and friends have come over to stay with me. The problem is that I live over an hour away from the airport with limited public transport options. The only feasible option is to book an airport transfer van which costs a lot, the alternative being I go and pick them up. I hate doing airport pickups because they take up half a day in traveling and waiting, not to mention the exorbitant parking fees. I’ve tried to politely say I’m busy and some people will actually rebook their flight to find a “convenient” time when I can pick them up. How do I politely ask people to find their own way to my home?
A: I can imagine you don’t have time to pick them up at the airport; you’re probably busy running around getting food that accommodates your guests’ various dietary restrictions. What you say is, “I don’t do airport runs, so no time is convenient. The best way to get to my place is by van, or car rental. I’ll be happy to forward you the contact information.”
Q. Re: Kids’ Birthday Parties: As the father of a 33-year-old, I can assure the “incredibly irritated” parent that there will come a time when it will not matter in the slightest to her that one day her kid had ice cream and cake a 4 p.m. Get some perspective!
A: Dad, this is something you take to your deathbed. Final words: “And I’ll never got over the time Lacy and Peter had cake and ice cream for dinner and were jumping around for an hour before I could put them to bed. Oh, I see the light. Farewell!”
Q. Swinging 60’s: I have married into, what appears to all others, the Cleaver family: two perfect parents and their three perfect children. They go to great lengths to project an image of perfection. I recently discovered, through being accidentally included in an email, that my in-laws are swingers. I have to be honest that I find a certain amount of delight in being privy to something so outside the cookie-cutter life of my in-laws and know they have no idea that I know about this. Am I allowed to ever bring this up, or allude to it, with the in-laws? Or do I have to keep it quiet—conceding to the life of denial/perfection they prefer? I did tell my SO who tried to be in denial until he saw the actual proof for himself. Now it makes him a little upset but he would never bring it up to his siblings—they don’t really talk about their feelings with each other. Thoughts?
A: How salutary that you embrace imperfection in all its myriad forms, including wanting to humiliate your in-laws, and showing your husband information designed to make him feel sick and squalid. It’s true that if one exchanges emails about one’s swinging life, it’s imperative not to accidentally CC the in-laws. But what you should have done when you got the email is chuckle to yourself and hit “delete.” Probably you understand that most adults do not want direct evidence that their sixtysomething parents are still leading a ‘60s-style sex life. How would your allusions work? “Great turkey and stuffing, Barbara. After the Thanksgiving dinner, let’s all binge-watch Masters of Sex” or “Dave, here’s your Christmas present. It’s a fishbowl to put in the foyer so that everyone can throw their car keys into it—I know you know what I mean.” The family you married into may be overly invested in appearances, but you are overly invested in wanting to throw a stink bomb at them. So take a page from them, and pretend to be nicer than you are.
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.