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. Road Trips: I love to travel, and really enjoy getting away for the weekend whenever possible. However, my boyfriend of four years has put a real damper on this for me. He seems obsessed with the idea of my flashing truckers when we are on the road. He will pull up beside an 18-wheeler and slow down, expecting me to show off the goods. This makes me very uncomfortable. When I refuse, it turns into a huge fight and he ends up not speaking to me for days. He claims that he does so much for me every day and he can’t understand why I can’t do this thing for him. It has caused a lot of ridiculous fights between us. What can I do?
A: I like Dan Savage’s formulation that people in sexual relationships should be GGG—Good, Giving, and Game. That is, good in bed, generous sexually, and open to exploring the corners of their beloved’s erotic life. However, if being GGG on a road trip means you end up as road kill, then it’s time to bow out of engaging in your boyfriend’s fantasies. It doesn’t matter if on a daily basis your boyfriend cooks you Michelin-worthy meals and then massages your feet. He gets turned on by your exposing yourself to strangers driving a rig who if they get distracted could squash you like a bug. The answer to your boyfriend’s request is very firm, “No.” If that causes him to stop speaking to you, then you need to extend the silence to forever because he’s simply a creep.
Q. My Dad Despises Me: As a young teenager, I read my dad’s email and found out he cheated on my mom with a family friend. I impersonated him online and got her to send naked pictures. I forwarded them to her family, including her kids. I realized immediately how cruelly I’d behaved. I felt wretched at the unnecessary suffering I caused. I apologized to everyone I hurt, but many people, including my dad, have never forgiven me. My dad’s fury toward me came not from my exposure of the affair but rather at how I lashed out. He called me a budding sociopath, and my parents’ marriage ended more from his anger at me than the affair. I don’t know if our relationship will ever recover. How long should I continue reaching out to my dad? I don’t know how to stop caring about how he sees and loves me.
A: I’m assuming the events you are describing happened many years ago. Yes, you behaved terribly, but so did your father, and despite his anger at you, he should have been the adult and recognized that his cheating was the precipitating event. Your parents’ marriage was likely in a terminal state, so do not put the onus of its ending on yourself. You were a kid who struck out, but your father was an adult who struck back and has never taken responsibility or forgiven. Maybe he’s the one with the personality disorder. I think you need to hash out all this with a therapist to get some perspective and talk through what to do next. Maybe you just accept your father is a cruel, unforgiving man who will never be in your life. Maybe you can fashion one last attempt at a rapprochement. But you need to do that after you’ve worked through this too burdensome guilt.
Q. Gift Etiquette: A good friend recently had her twin girls very prematurely, and sadly, one of them died. My question is about gift etiquette in this situation. I handmade some matching hats for the babies—do I give them both to her? I think I should, because I made them just for her babies, and I want her to have them. But my husband thinks it only calls attention to the loss of the one, and is cruel to give a gift for a dead baby. What is the etiquette in this impossibly sad situation?
A: Give one hat, and write a note about your thoughts being with the family at this time of both joy and loss. If your friends are of baby-making age, you will soon be able to give the other hat to someone else who has happy news.
Q. Asperger’s at Work: I’m a 30-year-old woman with Asperger’s syndrome. After five years, I was recently promoted to a mid-level position at my company, and I love what I do (to the extent I get totally absorbed in my work and forget about my environment). Because my difference isn’t immediately noticeable, I’m not really “out” about it to anyone but my supervisor. I still struggle, however, with the social atmosphere of the office. I desperately want to join in, but there’s this static between me and other people. They don’t really talk to me, professionally or socially, the way they do with each other; don’t drop by my workspace personally if they need something; or ask me to join a group at lunch. I think they respect my expertise, but don’t really like me or I’m otherwise invisible to them (am I overreacting?). After observing others, I tried asking one or two to go get coffee with me, and sometimes they would; but even so, I never got a return invitation, which made me feel icky, like I’d overstepped my boundaries. I go home at the end of the day exhausted, worrying about my social performance and wondering if my actions have been misinterpreted. I’ve looked into pursuing alternate career opportunities, but I think I’d just be taking my difficulties with me if I left. What do I do?
A: Congratulations on your promotion! You have launched a career and are making a success of it, which puts you ahead of so many of your struggling peers. You may have a condition which makes it more difficult to interact with others, but you have great insight about it and your express yourself eloquently—that “static” you feel is a powerful image. I think you need to talk this over with people who experience the same thing day to day and see how they’ve worked it out. Start with these support groups: the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and Wrong Planet. There will be people there who have tips for handling the static between you and your colleagues. I’m also wondering about expanding the circle of people you’re out to. Your supervisor knows, and it’s a complicated decision whether to make this more generally known to your colleagues. Again, you can talk about this with your peers. But it might help tune out the static if your co-workers come to understand the reason for your particular strengths and weaknesses.
Q. Re: Road Trips: If the boyfriend was merely asking “Hey, would you do this for me?” there are ways to talk through it to see if there’s a solution within the partner’s comfort zone—i.e., what about this act do I not want to do? What about it turns him on, and can that be met in an anonymous, and safe way (censored pics posted online, etc.) that won’t have the police looking for our license number? And then respecting each other’s answers, meaning that nobody gets the silent treatment. However, the issue is the boyfriend’s idea that he has a right to demand an intimate act from his partner and then throw a fit when he doesn’t get it, which seems like a deal-breaker!
A: I once had a boyfriend who liked to insist that we have sex while he was driving. I was supposed to climb aboard and he was very tall so he would control the steering wheel with his knees. He said all his previous girlfriends agreed to this and it was great and when I refused he said I was just a buzzkill then he would give me the silent treatment. (He would also give me the silent treatment if he felt I had spent too long reading the newspaper. He was not a good guy.) If you’re the kind of person who can say, “I don’t care to expose myself to truck drivers on the highway next to me. However, let’s explore what turns you on about this—maybe I can leave nude photos of myself, with my face obscured, at truck stops and you would find that sufficiently erotic,” then you are a more giving and game person than I am. I think, “No, not going to expose myself to anyone on the highway, especially anyone driving a multi-ton rig,” is a sufficient answer.
Q. Surrogate Mother and Unreasonable Requests?: One of my long-time close friends is acting as a surrogate mother for us. Prior to the pregnancy we agreed on all the details, including that I would pay for someone to tend to household duties and child care (she has four children) during her pregnancy when needed. After a couple of weeks of having a cleaner, she decided she doesn’t like having a stranger come into her house. She’s asked me to come over every day to clean and cook for her family. I work 50 hours a week and live 45 minutes away from her. I am so grateful for what she is doing but I can’t manage her household without losing my sanity. Do I really have to go?
A: Given her demands, if she ends up carrying quadruplets for you, caring for them will be a snap compared to your duties during her pregnancy. You say prior to the conception all parties “agreed on all the details.” But it doesn’t sound as if you got them put in writing and overseen by a lawyer. Having a contract was necessary, and I know that the saying about barn doors and horses may be appropriate here, but you should see even if at this late date whether you can all get to a lawyer’s office. You do not want this woman threatening to refuse to turn over your child if you refuse to be her Cinderella. Her demands are crazy. So, gently as you can, tell her what would be best is if you are all on the same page about how to care for each other during the next few months, and that it’s important that that page be a formal, legal agreement.
Q. Re: Asperger’s at Work: We had an intern at my office who had Asperger’s. When he started, he sent out an eloquent email explaining a little bit about what Asperger’s is and how it affected him. The entire office was understanding and we got to know him pretty well. We got to know this great kid and learn something about which many of us would never have been exposed. It may not hurt if she shared some of her strengths and weaknesses and asked for help from her peers learning the social skills that will be so important as she continues her career.
A: Thanks for this—I’m glad to hear that a forthright acknowledgment brought out the empathy in people in the office and made the young man’s experience so much better.
Q. Bible Study Flirter: I am a woman in my late 20s and for years, I’ve been attending a small Bible study. This group has become my community and I’ve made many close friends through it. For as long as I can remember our de facto leader, another woman in her late 20s, has endlessly flirted with one of the participants. Everyone thought they were dating, but that isn’t the case. I know this because I’ve started seeing the guy. He says he was never interested, and put up with her attentions to be kind. We’ve fallen in love, but Bible study flirter is now making our lives a living hell. She’s turned passive aggressive, sending out mass texts with Bible verses about sexual impropriety, making snarky comments about my appearance in front of everyone and saying (in a joking manner) that I have a “jezebel spirit,” insisting that she have “leadership meetings” with my boyfriend—she’s even moved the location of the Bible study several times without letting me know. We both love this group dearly, and do not want to stop attending, but we have no idea how to deal with her bad behavior. We need help!
A: Maybe you should make a suggestion of your own for the next Bible study class. You could all analyze Psalm 136—the one about overthrowing tyrants. You say the study group has a “de facto” leader—but it sounds as if she’s just an obnoxious know-it-all who runs everything. It’s time for an insurrection. Surely others in the group are sick of this woman using her pulpit to play out her own psychological issues. You and your boyfriend could look for a more compatible group, and then encourage the others to join you there. Or maybe you should get some other group members to join you in telling this woman that while discussing the wrath of God, she’s actually bringing out the wrath of the group by insulting other members and it has got to stop. This may be your community, but if it turns out they’re fine with you being called a hussy because you are dating someone who is not romantically interested in their self-appointed spiritual leader, then you’ve got to rethink what you’re doing there.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.
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