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.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions. I know summer’s not officially over, but it feels over.
Q. Reclining Seat Etiquette: Last week when I commented to my girlfriend about the person using the “knee-saver,” I told her that my usual tactic for dealing with recliners is to just put my knees up against the seat until the person stops trying to recline. I value the space in front much more than other people do, and almost never recline my seat. She told me that if she saw me doing that while I was sitting with her on a flight, that she would report me to the flight attendant! Obviously the situation is the fault of the airlines, but is it really so rude to just as silently say, “No, I don’t want you to recline” to someone who is practically putting their seat in my face without asking?
A: When the story broke about the plane that had to be diverted because a fight broke out over a reclining seat (and the new stories since then!), I just felt thankful I never caused a plane to land somewhere other than its destination. I once got in a hassle on a 15-hour flight with the person in front of me who refused to put her seat up so I could eat (the flight attendant intervened), but I am not proud of my knee-banging response. After that episode I promised my husband and daughter I would reform. I did, and now I just take it. Yes, indeed it is the airline’s fault. When you literally cannot reach to the floor to get your handbag to retrieve your glasses, tempers are going to flare. But the airlines are only going to cram us in tighter, so the only solution, when you find yourself with your circulation cut off at the waist, is to very politely ask the person in front of you if he or she would mind putting the seat up just a notch or two to give you a little more room. If the person would mind, then you endure it. However, these hassles are for the two parties to work out. Sure your girlfriend could tell you you’re being a jerk. But let’s hope she never has you hauled off the plane in handcuffs.
Q. Kindergarten Teacher Woes: It’s only the first week of school but I already have a concern about my son’s teacher. In her welcome letter to parents, she mentions the kids may see/hear/talk about Mr. “Joe” who is her boyfriend and likes to be in the classroom when he’s available. This seems very odd to me. I don’t know this man or his background. He’s not a teacher. I think a boyfriend in the classroom is a distraction and unprofessional. Do I bring it up with the teacher or go straight to the principal or school district?
A: It’s one thing to allow the babysitter to have her boyfriend come over to the house once the kids are asleep (and it’s fine to tell the babysitter that her boyfriend is not welcome when she’s on the job). It’s another to find out that “Mr. Joe” will be hanging around during nap time. Normally, when you have an issue with a teacher, you should first take it up directly with that teacher. But this teacher—on the evidence you have presented—seems to so utterly lack judgment that I would bypass her. Go in to see the principal. Be calm, not confrontational, and simply hand her the notice from the teacher. Say you would like a clarification about what’s going on, because you are uncomfortable with the notion that someone not employed by the school is going to be socializing with the teacher during school hours.
Q. Mom Affair: Due to a phone’s staying on, I heard my mother having a steamy sexual encounter with someone other than my father. This happened when she was out of town. I’m at a loss for what to do. I thought my parents were devoted to each other. I suppose it is possible that they are swingers, but my dad works from home (where I also live), and rarely goes anywhere without my mom. So I doubt that he has any such liaisons. I don’t know how to even begin to bring this up with either Mom or Dad. But living with this secret would drive me crazy! Should I confront my mom, tell my dad, or stay silent?
A: At some point after she said to you, “Bye, bye, Sweetie, have a good week” and continued with, “Hey, Big Boy, is that an AK47 in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” you must have realized that Mom forgot the “end call” button. Yet instead of hanging up, you decided to hang on until the climax. You likely did hear what you think you heard, but you actually can’t confirm the particulars and you definitely don’t know the context. Maybe your mother has joined an avant garde community theater and was rehearsing their Shades of Grey production. If you bring this up to your parents, you could unravel their marriage. Or you could be told by your father that he and your mother have an understanding and it’s most unfortunate that now this understanding includes you. You accidentally started hearing something that was none of your business and decided not to stop. (Your mother screaming, “Don’t stop!” was not actually directed at you.) That’s your mistake. Don’t compound it by wading into the intimacies of your parents’ marriage.
Q. Baby Name and Porn: I was hoping you could settle an ongoing debate between my loving husband and me. I am currently pregnant with our first (and last, by mutual agreement) child. My husband is dead set on naming the child “Ariel,” which he says is a great name for all sexes. The only problem is that his first wife had a brief side career (during their marriage) as a pornographic actress, in which she starred in a film as “Miss Ariel,” as a slave to “Mistress Kelly.” I’ve told my husband that common sense dictates that you can’t name your child after your ex-wife’s porn name and that any etiquette maven would agree. Could you please weigh in?
A: Obviously the answer to this dilemma is to give your baby a much more traditional porn name. The popular formula is: first pet plus street you grew up on. That could result in your child being named Fluffly Third Avenue Phillips. But that’s better than thinking of your kid as, “Miss Ariel, slave to Mistress Kelly” for the rest of your life. I agree with you about common sense. I also wonder if before you got married you clarified how your husband had worked through the issues surrounding the fact that his first wife was a porn actress during their marriage, because apparently he hasn’t. I think you need to make clear that you would consider naming your child after someone near and dear to you both, and neither Miss Ariel nor Mistress Kelly fits.
Q. A Distracted Trucker: A high school classmate became a truck driver a few months ago. We’re friends on Facebook and he often describes how he texts, uses Facebook, and even watches videos behind the wheel. He also posts photos and videos taken while he is driving. His friends tell him it’s dangerous, but he scoffs. People tell him he could lose his job but he doesn’t think his boss can see his comments. Friends have complained so much that he was “sick of hearing” this and that, “I’m not going to stop. At all. Ever. So stop wasting your finger typing energy.” He’s posted the name of the trucking company he works for and I feel like I should send them some screenshots of these posts. I hesitate to put an old friend’s job at risk as he has a child. But he’s putting people’s lives at risk.
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