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.)
Q. Should I Let My Husband Marry His Dead Fiancée’s Ghost?: Before he met me, my husband was engaged to another woman who passed away only weeks before their wedding. Her mother contacted my husband with an upsetting story of her daughter appearing in her dreams repeatedly. The mother believes the spirit of her daughter is tormented and unable to “pass over” because she has unfulfilled business, namely the wedding which never occurred. The mother has asked my husband to take part in some creepy spiritual wedding ceremony so that her daughter can find peace and enter the afterworld. After he said no in the nicest possible way, she has continued to pester and plead with him. Now he thinks he should just do it for the sake of putting an elderly grieving woman at peace. While I don’t believe in such superstition I find it weird and plain wrong for my husband to “marry” another woman, even if she has been dead for years. We have been fighting over this insane issue. Am I being stubborn or am I right in thinking this is twisted and inappropriate?
A: You can have all the compassion in the world for this grieving mother, but I agree with you that having your husband engage in a spectral wedding is not the answer. Of course, this woman will always mourn her daughter, but it sounds as if she may be experiencing complicated grief. That is she is stuck in the rawness of her loss and it’s not her daughter who is unable to move on, it’s her. Since your husband is in touch with his late fiancée’s mother, I think he should gently suggest she find a therapist who deals specifically with this issue. He needs to say that he understands her wish for a ghostly ceremony, but it is not healthy for anyone to go along with it.
Q. Etiquette for Sleeping With a Former Teacher: I graduated from high school almost 10 years ago. Since then I have lost 50 pounds and go by my formal name rather than my nickname, as I did in high school. Recently I ran into a former teacher at a bar. He struck up a conversation with me, and I quickly realized he didn’t recognize (or potentially remember) me. We hit it off, he invited me back to his place, and because I felt deeply attracted to him, I spent the night with him. It never seemed like a good time to tell him I was a former student of his, so I took the coward’s way out—and didn’t. He wants to take me on a proper date, now, and I know I have to tell him about my lie by omission. I am still struggling to find the right words. Any advice?
A: Let me begin with an aside. As a general rule, if you find you’re really attracted to and interested in someone, sleeping with him on the first date (and this wasn’t even a first date) is not necessarily the best way to start what you hope might be a promising relationship. Good that Mr. Chips wants to see you again, but be prepared that Mr. Chips expects to end the evening in bed. But since this time, you’re going to go to dinner first, find a clever way to give him the big reveal. “You know, Mr. Chips, I’m still smarting over that B-minus I got for my mid-term.” You’re an adult woman long out of high school, so there is absolutely nothing improper about your getting together with a former teacher a decade after the fact.
Q. Too Tall: I am a tall woman (5-foot-8). I have always hated being tall and wish I were petite. I was able to handle my height OK when I was married to my tall husband (6-foot-2), but now I am dating a man who is 5-foot-5 and I feel awkward and manly around him. What makes it worse is that all his friends are, like him, short (he’s Jewish and his friends are as well). I hate socializing with him because I’m not only taller than all the women in the group, but also most of the men. I don’t want to break up over height, but I’m feeling so oversize around my boyfriend and his friends. It makes me socially awkward and shy in social settings around my boyfriend. Any advice?
A: Maybe you haven’t noticed that lots of petite women are running around with what looks like a brick strapped to the bottom of their feet in order to appear Amazonian. Although I am Jewish, and petite, let me make a general announcement that Jews come in all sizes. But if you feel awkward and uncomfortable dating a man who is shorter than you, if this—ridiculous though it may be—makes you feel like you’re the man in the relationship, then it’s not going to work. You are obsessed with something superficial, but there you are. So either you realize how silly you’re being, or you set your dating sights higher and find someone with whom you feel more compatible.
Q. Cubicle Crisis: I am a new hire of a few months at my company. Another girl, Anna, was hired at the same time I was for the same project, although our tasks differ. She and I sit next to each other in cubicles separated by a wall. Last week, I was talking to the manager of another project and he told me about an issue they were running up against. I suggested a solution that seemed to fit. Later that week, I hear a woman go up to Anna at her cubicle and ask her if that was her idea, because it was so good they put it in their proposal. Imagine my dismay when I hear Anna say yes! Immediately after the woman leaves, Anna peeks over the cubicle wall and asks me how I’m doing. I was so bewildered I didn’t know what to say. I feel upset and betrayed. Anna and I are around the same age, went to the same school, and I thought we would be good friends. We’ve worked together great these past few months, so I did not see this coming. Do I do anything to address this? And moving forward, how do I suggest ideas without risking the credit be given to someone else?
A: Fortunately, your manager knows who came up with the idea, so you don’t have to address it with him. Anna popped her head over the wall because she realized cubicles are not soundproof and was trying to check whether you’d heard her appropriation. I think this is worth bringing up, but in a low-key way. Ask her to have coffee with you. Say you really enjoy working with her and think your skills are very complementary. Then say you couldn’t help but hear her talking credit for your idea the other day, and that concerned you. Let’s hope she apologizes. But even if she just stumbles around, you should then say you’ve said your piece, and don’t want to make a big deal of this. Then change the subject. Let’s hope that’s enough to get her to curb this kind of behavior.
Q. Re: Mr. Chips: And if he does, she can say no if she wants. Just because she jumped into bed once doesn’t obligate anything. And if he’d really dump her over sleeping together so quickly—when he did the same thing—good riddance to him and your irritating comment.
A: If a man had written this letter, not only would I say the same thing, I have said the same thing. Can it be exciting to hop into bed with an attractive stranger? Sure! It can also be dangerous. And while I know there are exceptions, it can mean that it’s then difficult to establish, “Hey, we don’t really know each other, so let’s roll this back.” (And I’d love to hear from people in long-term relationships that started with such a bang.) Of course she doesn’t have to sleep with him now or any other time. And yes, good riddance if that’s all he wants and she wants something more.
Q. Re: Too Tall: And after you break it off with your BF, you should find a therapist for at least a few sessions. You are taller than average, but not remarkably tall. I personally don’t look at height as a measure of attractiveness (and definitely not as one of masculinity!), and I don’t know anyone who does. You know what IS unattractive? Insecurity. Get some help to start liking yourself.
Q. Re: Long-term relationships that started with such a bang: [Sheepishly raises hand.] My husband of five years (together for eight) jumped into bed on our first date after being co-workers and friends for about six months. If we had to do it over, we both would have waited, but you can’t go back. We’ve had a wonderful relationship. I have several friends who got together with their now-spouses under similar circumstances. Everyone agrees that it was not the best way to start, but it certainly doesn’t mean it can’t end well (and none of us would say that you should expect such a hookup to lead to marriage).
A: I’m hearing from a lot of happily married people decided to get the preliminaries out of the way quickly. However, in your case, you knew your now-husband quite well before you went on this memorable first date. And you mention—as have others, and I’ll run a couple of more responses—that you kind of wish you had waited. I am not saying such a beginning is fatal to a long-term relationship. I was just taking the opportunity to say that it can be even more exciting not to act immediately on a powerful desire, which also gives you a chance to know better the character and health status of the object of your lust.
Q. My Tenant Killed My Cat: My husband and I have a few rental homes on our street. We recently started renting to an acquaintance. The first day she moved in, her dog, a husky mix, killed one of my beloved outdoor cats. The cat was in her yard and she liked to wander and was very friendly. I know we cannot evict her but I don’t want to see her and I think that dog of hers should be put down. She’s done everything we’ve asked—the dog has been to numerous trainers and day cares and has references, but I don’t know how to get over this. She’s only two houses down so I know I will see her a lot and I’m dreading it. Please let me know if there is any way I can get over this without being miserable for the next year.
A: This is just awful, and I’m sure your tenant is beside herself. However, her dog was in his own yard, and your cat—classic prey to a husky—invaded his territory. Cars, dogs, (in my neighborhood) foxes, are the kind of dangers one has to accept if one has an outdoor cat. Because your cat was a wanderer, this was the kind of risk you were willing to run. You get over it by accepting your part. You are way out of line for thinking you right the death of your cat by putting down this dog.
Q. Re: Long-term relationship that started in bed: That’s me! I slept with my now husband of nearly 15 years on our second date. I felt badly about it and he was sweet, so we did roll things back a bit. But we fell quickly and madly in love and things then progressed normally. Never looked back. Yes, it was a little odd and out of character for both of us, actually, but we just try to look at it as a sign of how deeply attracted we were to one another. That’s a good thing!
A: Thanks for this!
Q. No Longer a Jerk: I grew up in a small town where—thanks to my father’s business success—we were the richest family. I used that fact as an excuse to act pretty terribly, trying to buy friends and punish those who didn’t like me, and even threatening teachers and others in authority positions. Basically, I was “untouchable” and acted accordingly. My father somewhat enabled this. Fast forward 15 years. I have matured a lot, and feel terrible about how I treated people growing up. I’ve pretty much stayed away from my hometown because of it. My father recently passed away and I’m going to have to be in town for weeks at a time as we settle the estate, etc. I want to apologize to the people in our community for acting so rudely when I was growing up, but I’m not sure how. Do I just apologize one-on-one as I see people and they offer condolences? Is there a way to make a more public statement of apology? Use some of my inheritance to do something really good for the town?
A: Taking a full-page ad in the local paper and declaring you know what a jerk you were and how terrible you feel about it would get the town talking, but it smacks of noblesse oblige, so ultimately wouldn’t have the desired effect. You are going to be back in town and so will be running into lots of people you treated badly. So you need to tailor your remarks for each person. Presumably they will offer their condolences, so just being kind and gracious will mark a change in you. Then, if you remember specific incidents, or you had a long history with someone, you can then say, “It’s good to see you, because I’ve wanted to apologize for what a spoiled jerk I was when I was growing up.” Yes, this will make for some awkwardness, but it is up to you to smooth that over. You can say, “The last thing I want is to make you feel more uncomfortable, but I really appreciate the opportunity to say this to you in person.” I also like the idea of your making a contribution to the town. Start asking around and say you want to do something in your father’s name to memorialize how much he cared about the community. Then follow through! Your actions now will be the best way to ameliorate your past.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. Have a great week.
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