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.
Q. Not a Mother of Twins: I gave birth to a beautiful baby who is now 7 months old. A bizarre rumor went around that I actually had twins, and I adopted out the disabled child and kept the healthy baby. This is not true, as I would have definitely noticed another baby coming out of me. At first I laughed it off but after months of evil glares, outright rudeness, and weird questions, it’s no longer funny. I don’t know how to prove the nonexistence of this “other baby” and some people seem intent to believe what they want to believe. My husband is outraged and has even considered legal recourse, although we can’t trace the rumor-starter. How can I clear my name, short of posting my entire medical file on social media?
A: What a weird, pernicious situation you are in. Since you are getting strange questions, that gives you an opening to address this directly. To the next person who makes this appalling insinuation, just say, “My husband and I have heard there is an ugly and false rumor going around that I had twins. I did not, and if you can help me get to the source of this slander, I would really appreciate it. We’re thinking of bringing legal action.” Tell this widely, especially to the blabbiest people in your circle. Let’s hope that the truth starts getting around. It may even shake out a name of the original source. If you do find out who spread this lie, you can go to a lawyer and get a cease and desist letter—with a warning about further legal action—delivered to this sicko.
Q. Picked On for My Political Persuasion: I recently was asked to join an established book club. Overall it’s a fun group. They are all politically aligned to the left. My husband, however, is very active in Republican causes. I don’t lead with this, and we don’t read books that would require it to be discussed. However, one woman regularly makes snide remarks about politics in general, my husband specifically, etc. I don’t take the bait and everyone else there seems to like me. How do I get her to leave politics out of it?
A: This is the flip side of the letter from last week from the closeted Democrat young woman bullied by her Republican father. This obnoxious book club patron is certainly making a good case for her political affiliation by gratuitously insulting your husband. It’s too bad the people who asked you to join haven’t pulled her aside, but you need to. First buy her the book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. Hand it to her and say since you’re both in a book club, you thought that this would speak to the problem you two are having about your differing political views. Then say that you would appreciate if she would stop bringing up politics and denigrating your husband. Explain that Haidt shows how people can look across this divide and understand each other better. If that doesn’t shut her up, the next time she makes a snide remark, go to the people who invited you and explain you tried to handle this, but you would appreciate if one of them had a word with her about the poison she is injecting into a lovely event.
Q. Parents’ Sport vs. My Theater: I’m a junior in high school and have been playing lacrosse since I was in second grade. Because my father makes me play (almost) year round, the sport has lost its thrill and I have come to hate it. My skills have gone down and I don’t fit in with any of the girls on the teams. If I quit, it would be no problem for my school’s team because they have plenty of replacements. I want to do be in the school play in the spring and am signed up for the musical in the winter instead of lacrosse. I approached my mom with this plan and she said she and my father both hated it. I love theater so much and it’s the only thing keeping me alive at this point. This sport is killing me physically—it causes me lower back and shoulder pain—and mentally—games ramp up my anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, and depression. How can I convince my parents to let me quit the sport I hate and do what I love?
A: Your parents are supposed to be your allies in life, but I hope you can find support among some of the adults at your school. Your parents had their own shot at being lacrosse stars and they didn’t make it. It is not their right to impose their failed dream on you, especially as it is a physical and psychological nightmare. And the great news is that you have something you love that makes you feel happy, engaged, and accomplished. You need to walk away from lacrosse and walk on to the stage. So talk to your guidance counselor, the head of the theater, and the coach and get advice from them. Maybe one of these people can set up a session for you and your parents so that they can understand with a neutral party there how you feel. You are heading toward college, and hard as it is, you need to start asserting your independence and following your own path. In the end, your parents cannot make you take to the field. Let’s hope that once you get past the bluster and disappointment, they will be reasonable people who end up giving you a standing ovation at curtain call.
Q. Re: Not a Mother Of Twins: A few years ago, a situation I was involved in was spread around a gossip mill and greatly exaggerated. It is a horrible feeling that people think things about you that are false and fabricated. I had a difficult time with this, but I found saying something very brief like, “I don’t know where this rumor started, but it is exactly that—a rumor and nothing more,” was helpful. As an aside, this will help you separate the people in your life that are genuine and those that are fake. There is a silver lining in here, it just takes some time to get there.
A: Thanks for this insight about how to get to the other side. In your case, there was a situation that was embroidered on. In the letter writer’s case, the rumor is utterly false. That needs to be stated very clearly.
Q. “You Didn’t Even Want That Child” Part 2: After reading some of the comments [that followed my original letter last week about my wife’s ending of a friendship after a rude remark], I thought I’d offer some additional info and an update. My wife didn’t know Lucy wanted to get pregnant until my wife announced her own unexpected pregnancy. She realized it was a sensitive topic for Lucy, so she kept quiet about it from then on. Then, at the party, when Lucy was sharing her infertility struggles she looked at my wife, and my wife felt awkward and encouraged Lucy to be patient. (Yes, I get how it can be utterly annoying to someone in her position even if well-meaning.) My wife was really hurt when Lucy blurted out that my wife hadn’t initially wanted to get pregnant, because half the people at that party weren’t even our friends, and it felt like a big violation. She has since told me that this hadn’t been the first hurtful comment coming from Lucy since she found out my wife’s expecting. When my wife told Lucy, she said something horrible about me, which caused a fight between them. They moved on, in the end, and my wife decided not to tell me. Then I found out that at the weekly girls’ night Lucy wanted to discuss my wife’s chances of miscarrying, joked that I was going to leave her as soon as she started getting big, and the list goes on. Now that I’m aware of everything my wife has put up with these last months to not hurt her feelings, I understand why she’s done with Lucy.
A: Good riddance, Lucy. Here’s the letter from last week that you are following up with—but you give a good synopsis of events. Lots of people wrote to defend Lucy and say how hurtful and condescending such “Just be patient” comments are. And yes, I get that, but what your wife did was anodyne and at worst annoying. For Lucy to tell a group of people that you two didn’t initially want this pregnancy was the true violation. But the rest of what you describe is really crazy. I know that infertility is soul-crushing. But lots of people go through soul-crushing experiences and that does not give them carte blanche to trash others or violate basic social rules. Lucy’s remarks have been malicious; your wife is right to cut her out of your lives.
Q. Where Do I Go From Here?: Where I live is practically a ghost town, but I’ve been frequenting a local pharmacy because of a medical condition. I’m a lesbian and I think I can tell quite well when someone is attracted to me. When I go to t pharmacy to pick up my meds, the woman at the counter greets me with the biggest smile. She asks about my life since the last time we met. She plays with her hair and compliments me on my appearance. She even mentioned that she was getting off work soon and lives nearby. I desperately want to continue further and get to know one another in a more private setting, but there are always employees and customers around. What if I’m misinterpreting her signals? What if we do go out and then things turn out poorly? The next pharmacy is 30 miles away! What do I do?
A: If she’s interested, she’s constrained from asking you out because that could be interpreted as sexually harassing a customer. So the next time you pick up your meds, try picking her up. Sure, there are other people around, but be prepared. Say to her casually. “Hey, if you’re interested in getting coffee sometime, here’s my phone number,” and hand it to her on a slip of paper. If she doesn’t call, you just stay friendly and normal. If she does, you see where it goes. Do not worry about breaking each other’s hearts. But if the worst happens, see if your insurance company provides a mail delivery option for pharmaceuticals.
Q. Oh Brother: My younger brother bullied me for 10 years. I was under strict orders never to retaliate, and I didn’t. As a result I have no relationship with him or fond memories. Now a decade later he wants to be friends. My mother desperately wants us to be close. I can’t seem to clearly explain to her that I don’t want to be friends with my old live-in bully. She says he was a child and not responsible.
A: There was obviously a very sick dynamic in your house. Your mother enabled brutal behavior by your brother and didn’t intervene to stop him and protect you. I’m surprised you have a relationship with her. She sounds like an abject failure at motherhood. You don’t say if your brother is just acting like, “Hey, we’re all adults, can’t we put childhood behind us and get along?” Or if he has examined his behavior and given you an abject apology for what he did. In the absence of a recognition that he treated you horribly, I don’t see how you paper this over and say at Thanksgiving, “Bro, please pass the gravy.” But this kind of thing is why a therapist can be so useful. You must have a lot of baggage from your childhood. A therapist can help you figure out how to go forward in the healthiest way possible.
Q. Teachers, Leave Those Kids Alone: Recently my daughter, who is a high school senior, was given an assignment in which she had to write a paper making a persuasive argument regarding an issue that was featured in the news. She choose the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage, which at the time, was being argued in our state (it passed). I read her initial draft, and she had the beginning of a very persuasive paper arguing in support of same-sex marriage. But a week later, she came home with a paper vastly different from the original one she had written. Her new paper was a persuasive argument for banning same-sex marriage. I asked her what changed her mind. She told me that a teachers’ assistant at her high school had “helped” her with the paper, argued with her about the morality of legalizing same-sex marriage, and essentially told her that her opinion was “wrong.” My daughter felt very pressured by the situation and essentially caved to what this woman wanted her to write. I am furious. I think this was absolutely inappropriate, but I am not sure how to proceed. I hate the idea of reporting this woman only to see one more person claiming persecution because of their beliefs. What do you think?
A: If you report this, and I think you should, you would not be persecuting her because of her beliefs, you would be calling out her abuse of her authority. Her job was to help her students write the most persuasive paper possible. Sure, that would mean grappling with points from the other side, but it does not mean imposing her personal views on the students. Especially if this is a public high school, her behavior needs to addressed. You want to talk this over with your daughter before you go in to talk to the teacher, so your daughter isn't blindsided. But the teacher in charge of the class should know what's going on with her assistant. And if that teacher approved what the assistant did, you need to take this up the chain. I hope someone in charge can make very clear to the assistant that she needs to leave her personal beliefs at the school door.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone, I’m off next Monday, so Part 2 of this week’s chat will run then and we’ll chat again Nov. 17. (Update: I'll be chatting next Monday after all and will be off Nov. 17 instead.)
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