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My wife of more than 10 years has always been a bit of a nudist. Nothing public, but around the house and our pool and out in the boat she likes to be in the buff. Our son is now 6 years old and my daughter is 3. My children are being raised in the nude, the same way my wife was raised. They get home from school and their clothes come off. I come home at night to two naked kids and a naked wife. Now that our children are getting older, I think it might be time that everyone starts covering up a bit more. My wife disagrees and does not want to change. Are we doing damage to our kids here?
—Clothing Not Optional
I wonder if the mail carrier, just as a courtesy mind you, instead of pushing the mail through the slot, always makes sure to hand it to the lady of the house. You say your wife is a “bit of a nudist.” But from your description, I take this to mean that she reluctantly puts on clothes only when not doing so would get her arrested. I once hung out at a nudist colony for a Slate article, where I discovered I am most emphatically a “textilist.” After spending the day with a couple hundred naked people, I came to the conclusion that no one should take off their clothes, ever. (I also learned that gravity is a force that all must reckon with.) Your wife is a second-generation nudist and she is trying to turn her kids into a third. But it’s unfair to impose this on them. For one thing, if the clothes come off when the kids come home, that means no other playmates are allowed over. I learned at the colony that children raised to let it all hang out start wanting to cover it up once puberty hits. Surely, once your son refuses to let his naked mother wrestle him out of his clothes, he will also start wishing every time he looked at his mother he didn’t have a daily reminder of whence he came. I think a clothing-optional option is only fair for your children, as long as it is truly an option. But good luck convincing your wife that you’d like her to spend more money on her wardrobe.
My husband’s sister has invited us for Thanksgiving dinner. She is a warm, thoughtful, family-loving person whose feelings are easily hurt. She is also filthy beyond belief—call-the-health-department filthy. They narrowly escaped getting sued over the condition of their last rental. Recently, she and her husband were able to purchase a home—a few hours’ drive from us—for them and their children. They are eager for us to share their first holiday meal there. We have missed getting to know our nieces and nephews because we just can’t get past the nausea-inducing odors of multiple pets that hit us in the face when the front door opens. We are trying to tell ourselves she hasn’t been in the new house long enough for real damage, but we can’t get out of our minds the likelihood of the cats basting the bird by licking it, then climbing across the table after visiting the litter box. Our guilt is compounded by the emails telling us how excited their children are at the possibility of spending time with us. We don’t have kids and are not going away, so I don’t see a way out of this. I have told my husband that I am willing to take one for the team, but he says he just doesn’t think he can get the fork to his mouth, let alone chew and swallow. Hurt feelings and disappointed children loom large. Should we stay home or go?
—Turkeys Should Not Meow
Thanks so much for that gag-inducing description of the turkey being tongue-bathed by the cats and the cats then parading across the sweet potato casserole, leaving crunchy bits behind. How sad that these kids have probably never had a friend visit them twice, and that they have been isolated from family because their parents are pathological. I can understand your reluctance to bring fork to lips at their home. You’re right that they haven’t been there long enough for the place to be condemned, although unsanitary pet conditions can create an ammonia stench in short order. If you decide to go, surely you aren’t planning to spend the night, so pack a cooler with sandwiches. If chewing and swallowing at the feast is impossible, push the food around on your plate, then when you get in the car, you’ll have something edible when you make your escape. But I lean toward your skipping Thanksgiving. Instead, invite this family for a visit, either over this holiday weekend or sometime soon. You say you wish you knew your nieces and nephews better, so even if you don’t have enough beds, the kids can have a slumber party on the floor for a night, and all of you can catch up. It would also be a revelation for the children to see how normal people live. Think of what a relief it will be to break bread with this family without picking cat hair out of the butter.
Four years ago, my husband of nearly 20 years came home, told me he didn’t want to be married any longer, and moved out that day. In the tumultuous aftermath, I became involved with a man who was a starving artist and going though an extremely difficult period of his own life. Subsequently, said artist published his first book, which received much acclaim including becoming a New York Times best-seller. He has since written a second book—heralded as “one of the most anticipated of the year”—which will hit the bookstores this month. In it he writes of our time together, including passages about my sorrow and the actions of my former spouse. The book is kind and tender toward me, and having my story told by a talented author has been extraordinary. While my ex-husband is not named, my first name is used in the book and it is dedicated to me. I have arrived at a reasonable working relationship with my former spouse and we are the parents of a young adult child. My question is: Do I have an ethical obligation to inform my former spouse there are unflattering passages being printed about him?
—It’s Not Fiction
This letter is messing with a couple of important principles of this column. One, when you are writing about famous people, you have to tell us who the person is. (We’re still waiting to find out who has a worm fetish, and who that cheating politician is.) Now I’m going to have to scan the best-seller list to figure out which book describes the marital travails of the author’s lover. Two, I just wrote about the extreme unlikelihood that a starving artist who starts tapping away will end up becoming a success. But you tell of a guy whose artistic career is in the dumper, gets together with you, and almost magically produces his first book—a best-seller. Now the country’s about to devour a second volume. You are quite the muse! It’s no surprise that the portrait of a man who abruptly walks out on his wife of 20 years would be unflattering. Although you don’t address it, your letter does raise my concern that your ex might think this portrayal is a betrayal and react legally. As this article explains, the First Amendment gives writers broad protection, so it's unlikely an invasion of privacy or defamation suit would succeed. But both strategically and ethically, I think it’s a good idea for you to flag him that the book is coming out and that it deals with the recent history of the two of you. You don’t want him to hear about it first from friends who say, “Wow, you really got burned in this new book.” Maybe when your ex gets a look he will conclude that considering what could have been said, he got off easy.
About a year ago my husband and I went to our best friend’s wedding. Six months later, we took him in when he realized the marriage wouldn’t work and he needed a place to stay. He’s a great roommate, we love having our best friend around, and he’s good about making himself scarce when we need time alone. Because we spend a great deal of time together, he often joins us in our activities. My husband and I are very much homebodies, we love Netflix, and we prefer quiet places and family events over noisy bars and clubs. This means that he’s not really getting out there. We have gone with him when he wants a night out on the town, but the trouble is he generally won’t go without us and we are getting tired of going. How can we remain supportive friends and get out of the late night pub crawls?
Princess Diana famously said her marriage was doomed because, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” Maybe your friend’s marriage collapsed after a mere six months because his wife felt even more crowded being in a foursome. You know that it’s most unusual for a couple to share a BFF. It’s even more unusual for a couple to become a trio without there being a whiff of polyamory in the air. You bailed out your friend when he bailed on his marriage, but from your description, he shows no signs of being ready to move on. His search for new romantic prospects is doomed to failure if he is always introducing a young woman he just met to the couple he lives with. The issue isn’t that he needs training wheels to go to a bar by himself, it’s that it’s time he found his own place. This dude who came to dinner will become a permanent fixture in your lives unless you give him a deadline for getting out. If you don’t, expect to make room for him on the couch when you all settle in for Season 3 of Orange Is the New Black.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Giving It His All: My husband wants to donate sperm to his ex-wife. Should I let him?”
“Minor Infraction: A boarding school hired my ex despite his sordid history with female students. Should I tell?”
“Deceptive Conception: When I got pregnant, my boyfriend thought it was an accident. It wasn’t.”
“Fright in the Attic: My creepy relative won’t let anyone set foot in his house. Could he be hiding something terrible?”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Maybe She’s Born With It: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman of Asian descent whose husband complains about her small eyes.”
“Public Nuisance: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a blogger whose comment section is dominated by one person. Her mother.”
“Attack of the Baby Snatcher: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman whose childless friend is obsessed with her infant daughter.”
“Drill Sergeant: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a man whose girlfriend shouts odd encouragements during sex.”
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