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. Fifty Shades of Inappropriate: My boss took all the women in the office to see Fifty Shades of Grey. All of us liked the book and had often expressed excitement about the movie, so it’s not like he came up with the idea all on his own. And he was clearly trying to be nice; he bought us all lunch and drinks beforehand too. But I can’t help feeling that this was weird and inappropriate. He can get very defensive when someone calls him out on some of his mostly harmless but antiquated attitudes. He thinks of his employees as his friends and assumes we feel the same. How can I make him see that he crossed a line without making him feel bad?
A: Your boss sounds lucky all of you female employees didn’t handcuff him to his desk while you went off to a Fifty Shades matinee. There is so much wrong in this story, from the boss’s offer to the collective acceptance of the invitation. I understand he’s the boss, but all of you should have banded together and made clear such an outing was not appropriate for work, and that you were declining his offer. You have one of those boundary-challenged bosses, so you need to establish clear boundaries and stick to them. “I’m sorry, that makes me uncomfortable,” is a way to respond to his lunatic suggestion. Then document everything. If his defensiveness becomes retaliation, you need to be able to show cause and effect. And from now on, no more movie dates with the creepy boss.
Q. Too Much Tongue: My boyfriend of a year is an amazing guy. Unfortunately he’s not such an amazing kisser. On our first date he used way too much tongue, and I mean I felt like I was getting my tonsils examined. I never could bring myself to say anything to him; partly because I’ve never felt like an expert kisser, but I can’t handle this. I’ve slowly started to avoid any heavy make-out sessions with him because even the occasional tongue choking is way too much. How do I bring this up without hurting him? He acts like a tough guy, but I know he’s more sensitive than he lets on and I fear he might take this personally.
A: I’m afraid when it comes to telling someone you want him to stop playing tongue hockey with your tonsils, it is personal. One of the very first Dear Prudence letters I got was about whether it’s possible to reform a bad kisser. Lots of readers said no, but lots said yes. Those that said yes explained they got their beloved’s tongue out of their mouths and used their own tongue to explain what kind of kissing they liked. Then they offered one-on-one lessons. That means you have to be kind but confident about this. Your boyfriend doesn’t know you hate his Roto-Rooter style osculation, so tell him—then demonstrate the more gentle connection that turns you on. No one wants to hear, “You’re not doing it right.” But surely a confident person would like to hear, “I love making love with you, so let’s explore this together.”
Q. My Grandfather Is Mobbed by Fans: My grandfather was an actor on a very well-known show in the ’60s. He still occasionally appears on movies or does interviews. He has a distinctive face, so people still come up to him for his autograph or to take a picture with him, etc. He is very gracious and hates to say no to these people. I moved to the same city as my grandpa last year. We’re very close, and we try to spend at least one evening a week together. I can’t remember spending a single evening in public with him where we haven’t been interrupted at least several times by his fans. Last night we had to stop and listen to 18 separate people gush about how much they love him. There was a line in front of our table, and we were in a small café! What can we do?
A: Your grandfather obviously made an indelible impression on people, and it says something about how well he’s aged that he’s still instantly recognizable. If you live in either New York or L.A., I’m kind of surprised this is happening at nice restaurants. There is a kind of code there among natives that you just don’t bother the celebrities in your midst. In a restaurant in New York a few years ago I was a couple of tables over from Robert De Niro and Liam Neeson, and all the people there were so cool they pretended they couldn’t see them. (I did note when it was time to leave, De Niro shoved a cap low on his head, wrapped his face in a scarf, and turned up his collar, so he could walk the street unmolested.) I was in a restaurant in Santa Monica, California, when Elizabeth Taylor came in. That was the one time I saw a place fall silent because of a celebrity, but again, no one dared go to her table. You two need to frequent some regular places where you can get a booth in a far corner or Grandpa can sit with his back to the crowd. Make the acquaintance of the manager, and ask that he or she keep an eye on your table and gently steer away patrons seeking autographs. And check in with your grandfather about whether he finds all this adoration as annoying as you do.
Q. Daughter Doesn’t Want to Visit Grandfather: My father is in his 80s and lives in an assisted-living home. He has always had an excellent relationship with his grandkids, including my daughter, age 13. My daughter is an early bloomer and very sensitive about her new body. She also looks much older than she is. A few weeks ago, when we were visiting my father, a few other male residents asked her to “come and give them a kiss” or “sit on their lap.” My daughter was mortified and now refuses to visit my father. We can pick him up and bring him to our house for a visit, which is what we did this past weekend. But part of me wishes my daughter could brush off these comments.
A: You are an adult woman who can easily brush off the creepy comments from old men who might not be fully in control of their faculties. But you are cruelly dismissive of what was a shocking and awful experience for your daughter. She’s a girl who is only just attracting the attention of men. To have your daughter be invited by old men to kiss them and sit on their laps should bring out the momma bear in you. Instead you expect her to have an understanding of senility and the ability to gracefully deflect these creepy invitations. Surely, your father enjoys an outing from his facility, so that’s how your daughter should visit him. And you should revisit your attitude toward protecting your girl and giving her helpful, empathetic lessons in empowering herself and being able to handle the many uncomfortable situations that will inevitably come her way.
Q. Re: Fifty Shades of Inappropriate: Sounds to me like the women in this office are just as much at fault as the boss. Since they all gushed about how much they liked the book, why wouldn’t they think his invitation was sincere? But if they thought it was inappropriate, they should have declined right away. You don’t have a right to complain about something after you do it.
A: I agree that unless he ordered them Christian Grey–style to obey, they were all adults who should have said, “Ah, boss, this is not going to happen.” But even if they were neglecting their duties to discuss the movie, the boss is an idiot for suggesting this outing. It sounds as if everyone in this office needs to be more focused on work—and keeping things professional.
Q. Childhood Adoption: My husband and I have been married for seven years and had our first baby in April. Since before we were married we knew we wanted to adopt in addition to the children we would have biologically. My parents have mentored children in their community whose mothers have lost parental rights. I have spent a little time with these kids. One of them is an 8-year-old girl who is charming, sweet, funny, creative, and an overall joy to be around. She expresses appreciation and affection readily, and I brought up the idea of adopting her with my husband. My husband (who happens to be adopted) thinks that we aren’t quite ready to be parents of an older child yet since we are just getting used to parenting our daughter. We’ve decided to take a week to each think about it and then continue the discussion. I know I could really love this little girl and be a great mom for her and my husband would be a wonderful dad. Do you have any thoughts you could share? Do we have to be 100 percent ready to parent an 8-year-old? I’m 29 and he’s 33.
A: You are a generous-hearted young mother, but if you have to ask if you need to be 100 percent ready to become parents to an 8-year-old girl in the foster care system, then you are not ready. You seem to be rushing in to a romantic idea of rescuing this needy child without having thought through what taking her in would mean, or even assessing your own capacity to care for an infant and a child who is going to need special care given the terrible disruptions she has endured in her short life. Most young couples feel overwhelmed by the demands of that first baby. It’s great if you feel it’s been so easy that you could start the adoption process at about the time your baby is learning to walk. But I think you need to back off. If you and your husband have extra time and energy, start doing what your parents are doing and become mentors to foster children in your own community. Getting more intensely involved with these children—rather than just “a little time”—will be crucial for your eventual decision about whether you have the emotional, financial, and temporal resources to becomes parents to one.
Q. Re: Too Much Tongue: To the person who doesn’t like how her boyfriend kisses—my girlfriend had to break this news to me once. I felt embarrassed for a second, but she made it clear she still wanted to kiss me and would show me what she preferred. The practice was fun, romantic, and even silly. If its someone you really want to stay with, you WANT to know what they like, even if its a little embarrassing to hear at first. So definitely tell him and get to practicing.
A: Thank you for this letter, and for showing that a real grown-up, after being abashed, will eagerly embrace the idea of remedial kissing lessons
Q. I’m Infertile, She’s Pregnant: My husband and I are struggling with infertility, and our families know it. Yet, my sister-in-law announced her pregnancy at our housewarming party. Our party instantly became her party. As she basked in the warm spotlight of love and congratulations for the rest of the evening, I tried to maintain my composure as I cleared dishes and refilled drinks. No one in the family showed an ounce of sensitivity toward me in that situation. Now my other sister-in-law has suggested that I host a baby shower at my house for a 60-plus guest list. How can I rise above my jealousy over my sister-in-law’s pregnancy and my anger about the housewarming party? I feel like such a jerk for having these feelings at all. This just sucks.
A: I sometimes get on the case of people who are suffering from infertility—and I understand this is great suffering—who use this as an all-purpose excuse to behave abominably to those who are fortunate enough to have children. Lots of people are in pain, but that does not give carte blanche to mistreat others. However, here is a case of gross insensitivity on the part of your relatives; they are behaving shamefully. Your housewarming party was not the place for your sister-in-law to announce her good news. Sure, the whole family was there, but she knows you are struggling and she behaved badly. You really got dealt a lousy hand in the sister-in-law department, because now another one is asking you to host an out-of-control baby shower. This pair doesn’t deserve much consideration. Simply saying, “I’m sorry, you’ll have to find another host,” is all you need to say.