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. Boudoir Photos: I went this weekend to get boudoir photos taken of me for my husband to enjoy on Valentine’s Day. I’m overweight, so I hoped that these pictures would paint me in a different light and give something dressed-up and sexy for my husband. I hate my photos. I am appalled by the positions I was in, and every single photo seemed to show off how fat I am. My sister came with me, and my makeup was professionally done, but it looks garish. I can’t stop crying about it. My sister says that I should look at them a few days from now and she’ll help me pick some sexy ones to touch up, but I feel like that’s attempting to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. My husband loves me, and I think he might either enjoy the pictures or pretend he does, but I really don’t want them to see the light of day. Should I get him another gift? Bite the bullet and get at least one photo touched up for him to see? Go into my closet and die?
A: No. 1, what your body looks like is not a secret to your husband. He knows, he adores you, and he finds you sexy. So what looks awful to you might look delightful to him. But please, stop crying. This could be one of those gifts that brings you together because you can have a good laugh about it. This would not be because of your thighs, but because of the bordello setting, the Joan Collins–circa–Dynasty makeup, and the silly cheesiness of the final product. Take your sister’s advice and touch up the photos, then put them in an album and give them to him. You can tell him what you had in mind was something along the lines of Beyoncé, but you feel the final product is more Melissa McCarthy (who’s great, sexy, funny, and beautiful!). Then Valentine’s night, put on some special lingerie, and strike some of those poses in the privacy of your own bedroom.
Q. Do I Tell My Therapist I Had an Affair (Unknowingly) With Her Husband?: A few months ago, I began therapy for severe depression. A few weeks later, I met a man who (he said) had just been through a nasty divorce. We bonded over mutual misery, and for the first time in my life, I began a “friends with benefits”-type relationship with him. Flash forward to last week: I ran into him and his wife at a grocery store. It turned out, I know his wife ... she’s my therapist. I held it together at the store but made sure later that he knew our “relationship” was over. I have ignored all subsequent contact attempts but have saved the messages and texts while I decide whether or not to tell her. So my question: Should I?
A: You went to this woman for help untangling some problems in your life. So I don’t think it would be therapeutic for you to tangle yourself up in her marriage any more than you already, wholly unwittingly, have. You need a new therapist—your own therapist probably could use one, too. So start looking for a one. In the meantime cancel your next appointment and all your subsequent ones. If she contacts you to ask what’s going on, you can simply say you have appreciated her help, but feel your work with her is done.
Q. My Sister’s Keeper: After college, my sister moved to Hollywood to make it as an actress. My parents have been supporting her since she doesn’t have a job and rarely works in her field. After school I started pursuing an advanced degree. I’m grateful for the support my parents give me to facilitate this process. However, recently my folks and sister have indicated that they expect me to take on the role of supporting my sister after I graduate and get a job. While I am happy for her to pursue her dreams, I do not want to support her while she does not work. This has been their plan for so long, evidently, that they think I’m joking when I say I won’t do it. How can I make my situation clear to them?
A: It would be hard to make it clearer than refusing to write the checks. Anyone who intends to become a performer needs a day job. Your parents are doing your sister no favors if they are supporting her in this fruitless endeavor, especially if they don’t have the means to support her forever. If your sister has some kind of mental health issues, she needs an evaluation and help. If she just prefers to do Pilates, get lattes, and go to an occasional audition, then she and your parents are nuts if they think your hard work is going to go to supporting her sloth. I am slightly concerned that if you have a heart to heart with your parents now, they will punitively cut their support for your studies—which should be wholly separate from what they give your sister. So just ignore their hints. When you get your degree and they say it’s time for you to start ponying up, tell your parents that their relationship, financial and otherwise, with your sister is their business. Your business is making yourself a productive and independent person, and that means you are not going to subsidize your sister’s unproductive acting career.
Q. Re: Do I Tell My Therapist?: I find it interesting that the LW just happened to meet a man (and became lovers with him) several weeks after starting therapy for severe depression. What if the therapist’s husband has somehow been trolling his wife’s work papers for possible vulnerable women to take advantage of with a sad (false) story and sweet talk? I agree that she should find a different therapist, but I think that she should tell the outgoing therapist why. How many other patients could potentially be saved from his predation?
A: Ah, this is a Law & Order–style twist! I wish the letter writer had told us how she met this creep. What you describe seems far-fetched since there are so many easier ways for pretend-single men to meet women. Under your scenario this therapist better heal herself because she is married to a truly bizarre predator. I think the letter writer has to do what she feels is best for her, and I don’t think she has an obligation to get into this with the therapist. But if she feels she should tell, she can do so in a phone call.
Q. Re: Boudoir Photos: She needs to tell the photographer that she’s unhappy with the final results, and why. A responsible photographer would reshoot some of the pictures—maybe not a full session, but at least a few of them—with more understated makeup and perhaps a different wardrobe. I’m heavy and I had some boudoir/nudes done a couple of years ago that were sexy and fun even though it’s quite apparent in every photo that I wear a 24, not a 2. Speak up if you’re not getting what you want!
A: Great suggestion, thanks!
Q. Dinner Party Etiquette: I am a grad student in my late 20s, and I find that often when I organize parties at home, my guests tell me enthusiastically that they are attending, but then on the day of, I receive a flurry of texts explaining how they can’t come after all. Most recently, this led me to cancel the party outright, and left me nursing hurt feelings. I pride myself on my cooking abilities, and I try to think through the guest list carefully to make sure that everyone has someone to talk to. I suspect that this is an etiquette problem rather than a personal snub. My question is, as a hostess, how can I handle it gracefully when my party unravels around me because most of my guests suddenly can’t come?
A: Please invite me! I will come with a bottle of wine, be delighted to have someone cook for me, and will try to make entertaining conversation. This is not a new problem, but I think it’s exacerbated by technology. People your age have come of age being able to spontaneously make and change plans because you have a device in your hands that makes this instantly possible. So social plans have a rather contingent quality. Dinner parties aren’t contingent. They require a lot of work and money, and in the absence of a death in the family, or a trip to the emergency room, it is not acceptable to flake at the last minute. People you weren’t close to who you wanted to know better, just cross off the list. People who are good friends who bail—well, go ahead and explain their sudden absence really stung. When do make these plans, make clear to everyone this is a dinner party. When you send out your reminder, feel free to send it to everyone and say, “Look forward to seeing all of you Friday at 7:00.” Don’t give up on gracious entertaining, just cull your guest list so you are entertaining only gracious people.
Q. Emotional: I have been feeling incredibly overwhelmed lately and have been thinking of seeing a psychiatrist, if only just to have a neutral party to talk to. I am nervous to do so because I don’t want to lay out everything that’s going on only to have them reply with “Oh, that’s just life, you can handle that,” or something along those lines. I already feel defeated for not being able to control my emotions the way I want. I’m worried that speaking to someone may make it worse. Thoughts?
A: You will find that first meeting to be such a relief because no decent therapist would ever respond that way. (Nor are you likely to find you’re accidentally having an affair with your therapist’s husband.) A good therapist will empathetically and attentively listen and will discuss with you why you are there and what you hope to accomplish. You should explain you are new at this and want to know what approaches your therapist uses, what the timeline for therapy is, and what kind of progress you should expect. Please get some referrals from people you trust. I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised and greatly relieved to have undertaken this.
Q. Re: Boudoir Photos: Just an experience that might be helpful: My husband asked me to have some boudoir photos taken. I felt the same as the letter writer—I looked at them and all I could think was how much better they’d look if I were thinner. Since Husband was expecting them, I had to give them over—and you know what? He likes them. A lot. He sees “pretty wife” instead of “chubby person.” He asked, “What don’t you like about them? You look pretty.” And in a blurt of honesty, I said, “I’d rather I looked thinner than pretty.” He gave me a hard look, and I realized how screwed-up that was. The whole thing was very eye-opening and helpful.
A: Thank you. And let’s hope original letter writer’s husband is going to like the photos, too.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next Tuesday, Feb. 17.
Check out Dear Prudence's book recommendations in the Slate Store.