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, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Guestbook Caricature: At my recent wedding, we had our guests sign a matte surrounding a picture of us getting married that I had intended to hang in a prominent place in our home. Unfortunately, a friend of my husband’s chose to celebrate the occasion by depicting a very crude rendering of male genitalia on the matte. I was extremely upset upon seeing the final result. My husband agrees that it was in poor taste but isn’t willing to bring it up to his friend because there is really nothing that can be done at this point. I can’t now hang it in my home. Should I bring it up to his friend and let him know how much it hurt my feelings? I certainly don’t want him to think what he did was funny or have him do it again to another bride. My husband says it is OK if I want to bring it up, since my feelings were hurt and he will support me, but he will not broach the topic on his own. In order to continue to socialize with this person, I feel I need to clear the air.
A: I totally understand your reaction, but if a crude (possibly drunk) friend of my husband’s had done that to a matte I wanted to hang in my house, I would have found it hilarious and hung the illustration of being hung in a prominent place. It would be a kind of Where’s Waldo wedding photo. Before you slip into despair, check with an excellent framing place about what can be done. I would be surprised if there wasn’t some kind of cosmetic fix that would be able to largely eradicate this graffito. If so, fix it and move on. I suppose if you confront him and say how hurt you were by his penis drawing, he would hang his head in shame. But without further evidence, I’m not convinced this guy is a serial penis-drawer, committed to offending brides. If you can’t fix it and you can’t let it go, you can always say, “Hey, Peter, it’s good you kept your day job and didn’t go into cartooning.”
Q. Family Kept Dangerous Secret: My sister rides a motorcycle, which my preteen daughter showed an interest in. I clearly told them both that my daughter was never to ride. Last week, they were looking for something, and it was suggested that it might be in my daughter’s motorcycle jacket! They both realized the slip immediately. It turned out that they had been riding together for months, nearly every time my daughter stayed with her. Worse, my parents knew, since my sister and daughter rode the motorcycle to their house. It turns out that they all swore to secrecy. I am so hurt that my family did this to me. Obviously my daughter will never be alone with any of them from now on, but now she hates me and says she wishes her aunt were her mother. I want my sister to tell my daughter that what they did was wrong and dangerous. I want my parents to tell my daughter that they were wrong to keep such a secret from me. Short of that, I might just cut them off completely. Is that reasonable, and if so, how should I deliver such an ultimatum?
A: How thrilling to have a motorcycle-riding aunt and to be able to climb on back, wearing your own motorcycle jacket! I also share your freakout at the idea of your child secretly zooming around town on a motorcycle and your justifiable anger at them deliberately defying your express wishes. You said no to the motorcycle, so they set your daughter against you—and no sniveling safety-minded mom is going to win that contest. However, I don’t think you should go nuclear and cut off relations. I hope you are all reasonable enough people that you can sit together and hash this out. They need to see their violation, and perhaps you need to consider that there are contained circumstances in which you’d allow your daughter to ride with her aunt. This is something a mediator—hired for a few sessions—could facilitate if all of you are too angry to talk. I’m a chicken and a safety freak, so I’m with you, Mom. But there’s something about this girl swaggering on the road with her auntie that sounds amazing.
Q. Jail Bro: My brother just got sentenced to three years to five years in prison. It has of course been very difficult on my family. Now I am wondering what to tell people when they ask after him. I think this is his business, and I don’t want to spread it around. However, three-to-five years is a long time to make excuses. How can I answer people asking after him without telling them what is actually going on?
A: Yes, several years is a long time for someone to be “traveling” or “working on a project” or “incommunicado.” I think you should ask your brother. Maybe he’ll tell you to tell people the truth, or he’ll leave it up to you to decide who to tell. You are talking about discussing this not with strangers, but with people who clearly know your family and for whom it would be normal to ask about your sibling. Perhaps say something simple: “I’m sad to say Dick was convicted of fraud, and he’s incarcerated now. As you can imagine this has been very painful for all of us, so I’d rather not discuss it further.”
Q. Pay Discrimination: A couple of weeks ago, I went out to happy hour with some of my co-workers. We work for a smaller engineering company. When I took the job three years ago, I had been working for a year for a larger chemical company, so I wasn’t surprised that the offer with the new company wasn’t that high. I just assumed that it was due to cost of living differences and the fact that it was a smaller company. At this happy hour there was a mix of men and women, and the topic of salary came up. I overheard this discussion from people at the company who both just graduated last spring with the same engineering degree. Turns out, one of them makes about 75 percent of what the other one makes, even though they had the same credentials when they were offered the job, except that one is a man and the other is the woman. The woman is the one who makes less. As the conversation went on, I realized that this gentleman only makes about $2,000 a year less than me, a woman with a master’s degree that he doesn’t have. Do you have any advice on how to bring this up with superiors at my company?
A: This could be a function of pure sexism. It could also be function of the well-noted tendency for women to take the offer (as you did, even though you found it inadequate) and for men to consider it a starting point for negotiation. Maybe the guy with fewer credentials than you, instead of saying to himself, “Well, the cost of living isn’t that high here,” said to the bosses that he needed several thousand more than the offer, and he got it. What you don’t do is go to the bosses and say that happy hour turned into unhappy hour when you learned women were being underpaid. Use this information to go in, describe what you’ve accomplished for the company, your skills, and what you would like to do for them in the future. Then you ask for more compensation. If you get it, keep doing it at regular intervals. Let’s hope you can close that gap. I know readers will suggest lawsuits or say that women get punished for asking for more money. But first, you have to ask for more money. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Q. Wife’s Weight: When I met my wife, she was a size 2. What I loved was her ability to “tuck in” at a meal and never worry about her weight. Turns out that ability was due to an autoimmune disorder, and now her doctor has her on steroids. My wife’s weight ballooned from a 2 to a 14, and I love it! She has “all the right curves in all the right places.” Unfortunately, her doctor wants her to lose weight, so she joined Weight Watchers and now harps on “points” and analyzes every meal. Last week I brought her chocolates for Valentine’s Day, and she accused me of sabotaging her diet. I am. I don’t want her to lose the weight. I think she looks better this way, and I miss my wife who would just eat what she wanted. Should I support her or keep trying to lure her to the dark side? (We have cookies.)
A: What a lovely gift. She’s trying to lose weight under doctor’s orders and instead of giving her flowers for Valentine’s Day, you give her 10,000 calories. If someone is being treated with steroids, it is a real struggle to keep the weight off. Your wife has a significant medical condition, which doesn’t matter to you. What matters is you like her new chest and hips. If the only thing that attracted you to your wife was her trencherman appetite, then you two need to consider the basis of this marriage. You’re seriously asking me whether you should support her or undermine her efforts to stay healthy. I hope you can answer that yourself, and I hope she could list at least a couple of things that made her want to marry you.
Q. Re: Guestbook Caricature: Get some one with artistic ability to paint flowers, butterflies or something over offending drawing and scattered flowers and butterflies in other areas of the matte.
A: Penis butterflies, great idea! I agree that there is this or some other fix available. And if you go with butterflies, you can always tell your friend, “I appreciate the pupa you drew on the matte. I didn’t know what an insect lover you were!”
Q. Re: Pay Discrimination: Be careful of how you approach this! My company has a policy of forbidding people to discuss pay, and you can get written up or punished if it’s found out. I found out by accident that a person in my department was getting paid more than me. I put together a presentation showing why I deserved a raise and got it without mentioning the other person’s pay.
A: Exactly. As I mentioned, she doesn’t reveal how revealing happy hour was. She just uses this information to make her own case for herself.
Q. BDSM/Sexuality: I am in a loving, fulfilling, healthy marriage with a man I deeply respect. We also happen to practice BDSM, which, until recently, was a relatively unpublicized fetish lifestyle. Now that a certain book series and movie have unfairly portrayed the lifestyle and made the topic mainstream, everyone seems to be weighing in, including my family members. My mother, in particular, keeps posting articles to social media—written by various mental health professionals—saying that BDSM is equivalent to domestic and verbal abuse and that anyone in a dominant/submissive relationship should seek help immediately. My question is: Is there ever an appropriate time or situation for me to say to close family members that I am living proof a BDSM relationship can be healthy and fulfilling, or should I keep quiet and let others think what they’re going to think about the lifestyle?
A: Of course people’s minds get changed about subjects like this by learning from loved ones what it means to be gay, for example, or in your case, to love BDSM. But once you reveal your personal sexual predilections, the image of you whipping your husband, or him handcuffing you, is going to be hard to get out of the minds of your family members. This is your call. But instead of making it personal, you could get into dueling Facebook feeds with your mother, posting stories that say that BDSM is one of the eternal human sexual variations, and when done by carefully consenting adults, there’s nothing abusive about it.
Q. Re: Pay Discrimination: Under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, it is illegal for employers to discourage their employees from discussing pay! Six other states have additional laws on the books that further protect the right to discuss your pay with co-workers.
A: Thanks for the clarification. Here’s an Atlantic article about this issue. However, as a matter of making the best case for herself, she should not mention the enlightening conversation; she should simply act on the intelligence.
Q. Too Soon to Quit?: I’m in my early 30s, and I recently left my successful career at one of the largest companies in my field due to burnout. I was highly respected among my peers in the industry and had a lot of freedom at work, but the pressure was too much. I recently accepted a job at a small company in the suburbs thinking I would enjoy the peace and quiet. Boy was I wrong! My breaks are strictly held to state-mandated minimums, I’m watched all day, my boss rewrites most of my work, and I’ve been belittled to the point of tears. Co-workers admit he’s a jerk and told me to get used to it. Is three months too soon to quit a new job? This place is making me miss the corporate rat race! I feel guilty about not giving it a fair shot, but I can’t take it anymore!
A: It sounds as if you need to leave for your mental health, and you have the wherewithal to do it. Go!
Q. Re: Guestbook Caricature: My ex-boyfriend wrote “Tupac” on a similar wedding guestbook—the couple in question took it in stride and frequently point it out to guests in their home. Moral of the story: Don’t use this guestbook approach if your guests are ever the kind of people who would deface the photo in ways you can’t laugh about later.
A: Love it! Thanks.