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. Daughter Wants Me to Get a Vasectomy: My wife died last year. She is the only person I have ever slept with, but I suppose I wouldn’t necessarily wait until remarriage to have sex again. My college-aged daughter wants me to get a vasectomy. She’s heard stories of younger women taking advantage of older men and sometimes having their babies. She feels I wouldn’t be prepared for a new child (and I’m sure she’s also thinking of her inheritance). I told her that I’ll figure that out if and when I decide to have that kind of relationship with someone. But she’s worried that something will happen spontaneously, and then it will be too late. I think I have more self-control than that, but should I get a vasectomy just for my daughter’s peace of mind?
A: Maybe, to mollify your concerned daughter, you should take her with you when you get snipped—she can grill the doctor to make sure you’re done with sperm production. Then while you’re recovering with an ice pack to the scrotum, you can call in your estate lawyer and draw up documents that show her when you finally kick, she will get everything! I hope your daughter has some redeeming qualities. She has lost her mother, you’re all she has left, and she realizes that you will be a hot commodity on the dating market. I also understand a young adult could feel uneasy about the idea of her mother being replaced by a younger woman, one who might produce some half siblings (and future heirs!). However, these are issues for her to talk about with a counselor who can help her sort out her grief, fear, and avarice. She cannot make these demands of you. You need to tell her that while you appreciate she is worried about your being taken advantage of, you are an adult and you are going to proceed cautiously. You then emphasize your romantic life and even your future reproductive decisions are not her business. Tell her firmly she is way out of line, and while you love her beyond measure, you are not going to engage in this discussion with her. Being clear now is important so that she doesn’t think she’s empowered to blow up any relationship you might enter.
Q. Passive “Suicide”: I am a 59-year-old woman who recently made a difficult decision not to get treatment for breast cancer, despite an excellent prognosis. Many of my family members lived well into their 90s, including both my parents. My mother spent the last decade of her life existing on a machine, and my father lived in a nursing home unable to recognize anyone he loved, frightened and lashing out that his caregivers were trying to poison him. These experiences still haunt me and I am afraid if I don’t take the “opportunity” now to die on my own terms, this will be how I spend my final years, too. What I now wonder is, should I tell my friends and family about my decision? Or keep it to myself until it’s past treatable? I don’t know if I want to deal with other people’s emotions and pleas. I will appreciate your thoughts.
A: My thought is that you must get some clarity with a medical team that includes your oncologist and a therapist. There is no reason for you to end up having a miserable end like your parents. But to die in your early 60s from a wholly treatable disease seems like a terrible decision that is not coming from a rational place. I fully support those who have no treatment options left and choose palliative care so what time they have left is as easy and comfortable as possible. But that is not your situation. Surely there are people who love you who will be devastated by your decision. You, as your disease progresses, might also realize you have made a mistake—but then it will be too late. You say you don’t want to deal with others’ emotions and pleas, but I’m a stranger and you’ve asked me for my thoughts. I think your plan is one you should abandon immediately.
Q. Mom’s Boudoir Photos: My mother lived with my husband and me until she passed away recently and unexpectedly. Since then, one of my brothers has been helping me go through her belongings. We found some boudoir-style photos of her, nothing overly explicit, but nothing her children want. I know she liked to talk about how she was hot when she was younger, and I’m sure she was happy to have photographic proof. It feels wrong to throw pictures of her away. What do I do?
A: At least your mother was a happy customer of the boudoir photo industry, unlike this recent letter writer. So, was Mom hot? Or maybe that’s a question a child simply can’t answer. I agree it would be hard to toss the documentary proof that you late mother was one sexy momma. On the other hand, you’re not going to frame these and put them in your entrance hall. Even in this digital age, you must have a family photo album stashed somewhere. So put your mother’s photos in an envelope and stick them in the back of the album. They might be objects of great fascination for the next generation.
Q. I Wished My Co-Worker That Her Cancer Comes Back: A while ago I worked at a high-pressure hedge fund with a very intense culture. One co-worker was particularly nasty to me on a regular basis. She was borderline abusive, and I was constantly stressed by her attacks. That kind of behavior was in a way expected and approved by management. My co-worker was a cancer survivor, and in the time of most distress I secretly imagined that her cancer was back and she suffered. Those kinds of thoughts are so unlike me and made me feel like a terrible person. I felt horrified that this idea even occurred to me. Now, I feel guilty that the idea of her suffering made me feel good. How do I deal with this?
A: If your nasty thoughts had the power to send malignant cells metastasizing through her body, I’d say you have something serious to answer for. But guess what, those thoughts are simply encased in your head and have no power over the fate of your nemesis. The only person they have power over is you, and it’s important that you not berate yourself for indulging in nasty but perfectly normal thoughts about someone who was making your life miserable. Listen to this fascinating episode of the NPR show Invisibilia, which explores people who feel disabled by their own dark thoughts. If you were to take a survey among the people you know and ask if anyone had ever had similar ugly wishes toward another, if people were being honest, you’d find a 100 percent positive response rate. You deal with this by accepting you are human and your ill wishes did no harm and helped you cope with a terrible colleague.
Q. Re: Mom’s Boudoir Photos: I liked your suggestion that the LW put Mom’s racy photos in an envelope in the back of an album. But don’t forget to stick in a note explaining who the photo is of and the context. When my mom died, she left us lots of old family photos, but she and the previous generations never bothered to label them, assuming everyone would know who was who. It will be a lot more fun for the next generation if they don’t have to guess which great-granny is in the bustier.
A: Good point. A little exegesis on the origin of the photos would make them so much more interesting.
Q. Re: Daughter Wants Father to Have Vasectomy: The flip side of this is that if the dad is certain he doesn’t want more kids (with one in college), he should be thinking about it. He should tell his daughter she does not get to control his love life, but that does not mean her advice is not good. It could also go a LONG way in not having her disrupt any future relationships he has.
A: He didn’t say he was certain. I’m afraid giving in to a college student’s demand that dad get a vasectomy in order to keep her from interfering in his love life is not the way to go.
Q. Trust Issues with Fiancée: My girlfriend and I recently got engaged. We share all of our passwords and emails, and I was definitely snooping when I found an email confirming that she had slept with a mutual friend of ours around the time that we began dating. That’s fine, and she is obviously free to do that. The problem is that she never told me about it, despite our (so I thought) openness about our sexual histories. This affects me because our mutual friend is not known for using the safest practices, which obviously now has an impact on my health. My question is this: Am I doomed to silently stew about this breach of trust, or do I confront her about never telling me? I know that it is hypocritical to get worked up about this when I’m guilty of snooping as well.
A: I think you should put the wedding planning on ice while you examine the fundamentals of your relationship. Some people indeed are very open about all their communications, but I’m getting an uneasy feeling about this sharing of all your passwords and emails. Why would you check your fiancée’s emails? And if you are entitled to read them daily, what was the snooping about? Were you suspicious she was cheating on you? Or did you have to scratch that longtime suspicion that something might have been up between her and Jason? As you acknowledge, that tryst was none of your business and not a violation. She had no obligation to tell you, and given your behavior now, you can understand why she didn’t. Please can the excuse that your health has somehow been damaged by this guy. Either she got an STD from him and passed it on to you, or she didn’t. If she didn’t, their encounter has had no effect on your health. But maybe the issue is more your mental health. You sound like a hyper-controlling, jealous sort. So I think you should come completely clean with your fiancée. Say you went snooping, and that you were distressed to find out she slept with Jason. Give her the full dose of who you really are. If she wants to go ahead with the wedding, then that’s on her.
Q. Husband Drinks, I’m Newly Sober: As of today it has been three months since I quit smoking—yay me! In that process I also quit drinking alcohol. I realize I am an alcoholic and even though I quit drinking while pregnant with my two sons, now 4 and 8, I resumed my usual bottle(s) of wine a night quickly after both were born. In my newfound sobriety, I have become concerned for my husband. He drinks every night, usually getting to the point of slurring words and stumbling. He becomes aggressive, getting upset easily. I have tried not to get on a high horse, but anytime I say anything about his drinking, a huge argument ensues. He points out every “wrong” thing about me. I’m at my wits’ end. It has even occurred to me it would be easier if I opened some wine and sat outside with a pack of cigarettes to avoid him—I’m not going to, but it can’t be good I would rather avoid my husband than be around him. What is the first step you take in this kind of situation?
A: You’ve taken the first step—recognizing you’re an alcoholic. The second one is recognizing that you’re married to one. If you are going sober on your own, I urge you to get support. You’re already thinking of blowing your sobriety just to relieve the distress of dealing with your angry, drunken husband. You can find help through a support group, or through an individual counselor. Both would probably be good, and I think you need your own therapist who deals in substance abuse issues to be there to guide you through these rocky shoals. You have two little boys who have parents with serious problems. You are finally acknowledging yours. But for the sake of your kids’ mental and physical health, you need to get some systems in place to make sure their lives aren’t ruled by the bottle.
Q. Re: Passive Suicide: I totally understand your fears, but take heart! Aid-in-dying legislation is moving forward in many states. It seems possible, if not likely, that you can have assistance in ending your life if you are of sound mind with a terminal illness when you have reached an older age.
A: Agreed that there is going to have to be a major change in how we deal with these issues so that dying boomers don’t sink the entire country. There are advance directives now that the letter writer—that anyone!—can put in place to make sure no extraordinary measures are taken. But let’s hope the letter writer will not have to face this herself for several decades.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.