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, everyone. I hope those in the Northeast corridor have milk, bread, and toilet paper enough for this predicted epic storm.
Q. How Do You Teach Your Child to Develop Friendships When You Yourself Are No Good at It?: My 9-year-old daughter is having a difficult time in school. She says she has no friends and cries before and after school. Her grades are good, and she has no behavioral issues. She simply has a difficult time making friends. Her teacher says my daughter is liked by all of her classmates but seems to drift from group to group without any good friends. Play dates are seldom if ever reciprocated, and extracurricular activities have not resulted in friendships either. Unfortunately, I am not much help here since I have never had a gregarious social life and as a happy introvert have never had more than a good friend or two. Ditto for Dad. How do you teach the art of making friends to your child when you have never been much good at it yourself?
A: You and Dad need to look back and remember what each of you did make the connection with those one or two good friends. Then your two need to be really open with your daughter about having experienced the same struggles she’s going through, and telling her how you two coped. You can explain in age-appropriate terms that some people are more gregarious and outgoing, and some are quieter and shyer. The world needs both kinds of people! But you and Dad know from experience that the school years are hard for quieter people like all of you. Maybe you can help your daughter identify another introvert and orchestrate some get-togethers. Definitely consult with the teacher on this and see if she can help with getting your daughter into some one-on-one activities with other girls or boys who could also use a friend. If your daughter has neighbors or family members her age whom she can more naturally spend time with, nurture that. I’d love to hear from readers who themselves went through this or had kids with the same difficulty and who came up with good solutions.
Q. Crazy in Love: I had a one-night stand. It was great! My partner was an acquaintance, and we were highly compatible in the sack. The problem is that he is now “in love.” When I tell him lust is not love, he says that sometimes you just know. I have been receiving texts and emails that echo this sentiment. I get it, but that I have a husband was never kept secret. Now, considering the “feelings,” I am nervous he is going to do something drastic, like show up at my door. He is clearly sensitive and is a good person. I need a way to get rid of him before things escalate!
A: As you’ve discovered, releasing Eros is a dangerous game, especially if your partner does not have as much to lose as you do. You need to make clear to him that this was a delightful interlude from the regular life of the two of you, but it cannot be repeated. You remind him you are married and intend to stay that way, and that you need him to stop contacting you. I have often said that a one-time, never-to-be-repeated straying from the marriage is something the guilty party does not necessarily have to disclose. Not because I condone cheating, but because confessing may make the cheater feel better while uselessly damaging the happiness of the spouse. This does not seem to be your case. You’re glad you cheated on your husband! However, your paramour is indicating he’d like to smash up your marriage. So you need to get in front of this and tell your husband what you did. You certainly don’t want him to hear it from the acquaintance with whom you were highly compatible in the sack—but clearly highly incompatible in life.
Q. Living Arrangement Stress: I am engaged to marry a wonderful man later this year. My dilemma is this: I am not comfortable in his home, which I will have to move into later this year. He is divorced, and the home that he owns is one that he has shared with his ex-wife and other past relationships. We have agreed to do an addition of a new master suite on the home, which will require a sizable loan that I am willing to co-sign on, but I worry that, even having a space that will be “just ours,” I will still never feel like it is completely my home. How can I stop feeling like this house is just a revolving door of my soon-to-be-husband’s ex-lovers? Selling the house is not an option because it is part of a piece of property where his business is located.
A: You have had no trouble taking advantage of the experience your lover gained by practicing his skills on previous women. As I’ve noted with similar situations, the only way he’s been able to refresh his personal, used equipment is with a hot shower, and this has been good enough for you. So please stop obsessing about there being some bad juju loose in the house just because other women were there before you. However, because you have these images stuck in your mind, instead of taking out an unnecessary loan and building a new bedroom, use some counter-superstition of your own. Walk around the house with a burning sage stick to banish previous lovers. Get a book on feng shui and redecorate following some of the principles for establishing a harmonious relationship. Count your blessings that you found a good man who is using his past to good effect for your present.
Q. Re: No Friends: I was one of those quiet kids who got along with most but didn’t often have any good friends. Sometimes quiet kids need a larger pool of kids to find friends in. I would recommend that the parents start looking for non-school activities that have lots of opportunity for socializing, like an art class or a theater group or whatever other interest the daughter might like to pursue.
A: This is a comforting note in the long term, but hard for parents (and the child) now. I agree, though, that some kids just need a bigger pool to draw from to find that special person they click with. Other readers have suggested continuing the extracurriculars, especially if the daughter has special interests, be it art, sports, animals, etc., so that she’s more likely to find someone outside of school with a shared passion.
Q. Poisoned Potluck: My husband and I belong to a social organization that frequently has picnics, parties, campouts, and other social gatherings. The food is usually potluck. One of the organizers let it slip in passing that one of our members has Hepatitis C. The member with Hepatitis C is one of our most devoted bakers. I’ve done some Googling on Hepatitis C transmission but I’m still not sure how safe I feel eating those cookies. Also, is it ethical for her to be feeding all of us? What if she accidentally cut her finger in the kitchen? Am I being a germaphobe? I’m having a hard time looking at these formerly happy events the same way as before.
A: I did some Googling myself and apparently you missed this from the CDC: “Hepatitis C virus is not spread by sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing. It is also not spread through food or water.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who should know, the most common course of transmission for Hepatitis C is “sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs.” I assume your potluck is mostly about (non-pot) brownies, and as long as you’re not passing around a heroin needle for dessert, there’s nothing to be concerned about. Whoever tattled about someone’s private health condition should be ashamed. You have been happily consuming your friend’s baked goods with no ill effect. So if you’re going to open your mouth about this, do so to eat her food and praise it. Stop worrying she’s hurting you, and do not spread the news of her medical status.
Q. Re: One-night stand: I see nothing in his or her letter to indicate that the husband didn’t know about this. “Cheating” and “straying” and “guilty” are loaded words that may not apply at all.
A: OK, then. If this was a situation where everyone thought a nonmarital sexual interlude was a great idea, then the wife and husband should present a united front in telling the lovesick suitor to go away.
Q. Feeling Burnt Out: My husband enjoys owning a small business and does well financially, but the hours are long and the business can be volatile. I work a corporate job that I like less and less every day due to the demanding hours and high stress, but I get paid very well (more than my husband, with benefits to boot). A nanny watches our two young children, and my live-in mother-in-law manages the rest of the household cooking and cleaning. I’m tempted to quit my job either to stay home with the kids or find an “easy” job at a quarter of my current pay. I feel guilty about missing my kids’ childhoods, and besides, my job is making me miserable. But if I quit, I’ll worry about our finances. Advice?
A: People who are stressed and burnt out often see things in the kind of black-and-white terms you describe. But there are so many other options beyond quitting or earning a small portion of your current pay. You sound like a valued employee, so use that to discuss with your company some possible changes. Maybe you could work remotely one or two days a week. Or you could start taking every other Friday off. Maybe you can take an unpaid leave to see how it feels personally and financially to not be working. If you want to switch jobs, the only alternative is not finding something that will bore you and pay you poorly. You obviously have high-level corporate skills. So use those to start investigating alternatives. Talk to your contacts, especially others who have managed to cut back while continuing to nurture a career. You are suffering from one kind of stress. But pulling the bottom out from your family’s finances will cause another kind. Take several deep breaths and go at this in a careful, considered way.
Q. Re: Living Arrangement Stress: When I married my husband, I moved into his home that his ex-wife had picked out and that he then shared with a girlfriend after his divorce and before we were together. I felt weird about it at first (that it was “her” house), but it wasn’t practical financially to sell just to feel better about who had and had not lived there before me. After I moved in, I found it wasn’t an issue. We simply focused on our new life together, and I never had thoughts of the women who lived there before me. And that was even without sage and feng shui.
A: Thanks. And others have mentioned the healing power of fresh paint, new pieces of furniture, personal objects and art, and other redecorating. But a sage stick never hurt!
Q. Re: Childhood Friendships: I also was on the quiet side as child with few friends. Joining my school’s drama club helped me to come out of my shell and make many friends. A child can take on a small role, or be part of the backstage crew. And drama clubs often welcome quirky people of all types.
A: Good idea about drama club. Any kind of club: music, chess, etc., can allow a kid to get to know others while engaging in activities that take off the social stress.
Q. Re: Child Friendships: She should get her daughter involved with Girl Scouts—9 is the perfect age, and as a scout leader myself I’ve seen shy introverts come alive doing service projects and playing games with their friends.
A: Another good suggestion, thanks.
Check out Dear Prudence's book recommendations in the Slate Store.