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. Grandma’s Career Secret: I’m incredibly proud of my career. I’ve worked hard for four decades and reached the upper echelons of my profession. My children and husband are proud of me, too, and my grandchildren see me as a role model. What none of them knows is that I got my first big promotion by sleeping with my boss some 40 years ago. I don’t think this diminishes what I’ve accomplished, but sometimes when my granddaughters question me about my early career, I wonder if I should be quite as pleased as I am.
A: You actually got something out of sleeping with the boss besides a pink slip and an STD! What happened with the boss happened in another world. Whatever profession you are in, it’s likely you were a female pioneer. Sure, you had a position (maybe many of them) under your boss that turned out to be professionally helpful. But so what? For four decades you have proved your bona fides. Lots of people get a hand up to start their professional lives. I doubt Rupert Murdoch feels what he’s done with his company is tainted by the fact that he inherited it from his father. So leave out the details about just how well you got along with the boss, and pass on to your granddaughters your hard-earned advice about having a brilliant career.
Q. Bad Aunt? I Don’t Want My Nieces Staying Overnight: In a couple of weeks, my brother and his family (wife, two kids) are visiting the city where my husband and I live. They are unable to afford a hotel, so prior to booking the trip I informed my brother that our place isn’t set up for overnight guests. We live in a loft, and the only room with walls is our tiny bathroom. Fortunately they are able to stay with my brother’s friend. Then my brother mentioned via email—our usual means of communication—that it would be great if the kids could spend one night at our place. My husband and I are childless by choice, and it’s well-known that neither of us cares much for children. We of course love our nieces, though we don’t know them too well considering we see them maybe once a year for a day or two. On our last visit with them, one of the kids barely spoke a word to us, and the other is a teen whose only concern seems to be her phone. Neither my husband nor I is comfortable at the thought of having children as overnight guests. I told my brother this, and he finds it ridiculous that we are refusing to host his kids for a night. Am I a bad aunt for making such a decision?
A: You’re a bad aunt, but just embrace it. Lots of people are happy in their choice not to have children. But when you say you globally dislike all children, even your own nieces, because they’ve inevitably started out life as children, that makes you a bad aunt. You love them? Really? You don’t even want to know them. You’re offended that on the last visit they did nothing to charm you, but that’s generally how people, especially kids, react around others who have not only no interest in them but only contempt. (And no one should take personally a teenager’s focus on the phone.) You don’t want them to stay over, so just stick to that. However, maybe your brother and his wife would appreciate an afternoon or evening to themselves. So you could offer to take the kids to a museum, or a show, or a cool neighborhood. Keep your expectations low, and maybe these slowly emerging adults will surprise you.
Q. My Friend the Troll: I have a friend with whom I used to be quite close. But for the past few years, he’s had a growing obsession with Internet trolling. He spends most of his free time on Twitter trying to get a rise out of minor celebrities and reporters. I find this behavior childish and off-putting, but he gets a huge thrill when his targets respond to his baiting. He has a group of “friends” on social media who cheer him on, which I also find off-putting. Is there a kind and tactful way to suggest he look for a new hobby? Or should I just let our friendship continue to dwindle away?
A: Is your friend the guy who wrote to tell me what a wrinkled old cow I am? I wrote back that we could both agree on that and haven’t heard anything from my correspondent since! This note is a good reminder to everyone not to take the bait. Maybe your friend sees this as a battle of wits; there is some victory in getting a minorly known stranger to engage with him. And in any case, composing nasty tweets is an easier hobby than learning to play the piano or running a marathon. You say you used to really like this guy, but now he’s developing an obsession with this unpleasant hobby. As a friend you can ask what’s going on, and even say that successful though he may be at getting a rise, you’re concerned it’s taking over too much of his life. Then you can decide if you want to let the friendship peter out and unfollow his 140-character provocations.
Q. Re: Granny’s Job: The boss, not you, should be the one who feels ashamed. You were manipulated, coerced, blackmailed, and sexually harassed. You are a survivor, hold your head high. The shame is his, not yours.
A: Oh, please. The letter writer makes no mention of the affair being nonconsensual. Maybe this grandmother willingly bedded the boss, and not only was the sex good, it resulted in a professional reward. It’s good that the world has changed and there are laws about sexual harassment and new standards of professional conduct. But that’s not what it was like in the 1970s. The letter writer has nothing to be ashamed of, and there’s no purpose in encouraging her to recast her past to turn herself into a victim.
Q. Political Polar Opposites: Someone I have been friends with for several years recently started a Facebook page. In person she’s kind and caring, and everyone loves her. However, her Facebook postings say something different. She reposts racist, nasty memes, and hateful statements about other social groups. I asked her if her account was hacked, and she said that what she posts is how she feels and believes. Some of her friends whom I don’t know “like” these statements. I don’t know if I can be friends with her anymore, knowing how she truly feels. It’s hard because we move in the same circles. Please advise.
A: It’s one thing to disagree with a friend about taxation or Iran policy. It’s another to see your friend go off on racist rants. You have expressed your alarm about her views, and she proudly stands by them. So block her feed and when you see her at social events just be polite and move on. Fortunately, she has the wit to keep these views to herself at social occasions, so there’s no need for you to do anything more than exchange pleasantries with her.
Q. In Need of a Good Night’s Sleep: I have a wonderful boyfriend. He’s so wonderful, in fact, that I am hesitant to bring up the one difficulty in our relationship: our discordant sex drives. I can easily have sex daily, which I think is more than enough. However, he leans toward several times a day. Left up to him, we’d be consistently late for work and/or up all night on a regular basis. I try to keep up, but working up the energy to do it when I don’t want to makes me not want to do it at all. Sometimes I simply don’t have the time! If I say “I’m tired and really need to get some sleep” after we’ve already gone at it once or twice, he seems to feel genuinely rejected. Is it possible for us to get on the same page if he genuinely feels unsatisfied if we spend less time getting physical, but I’m genuinely exhausted at the rate we’re going now?
A: Maybe you should suggest an Ambien party for your jackrabbit with the jackhammer. A glass of wine and a tablet of zolpidem should get you that much-needed rest. If you are willing to have sex daily and that doesn’t even begin to fulfill the needs of your boyfriend, and if satisfying your boyfriend means losing your job and collapsing from sleep deprivation, then your boyfriend has a problem. He sounds like he could be a sex addict, and you sound like you’d come to appreciate him cheating on you just so you could read a good book and go night-night. Maybe you could encourage your boyfriend to do what most men with an Internet connection do: watch a lot of porn. Daily sex more than satisfies your needs, and it should satisfy his. This endless excess is destructive for you and the relationship. He’s seriously pouting because you don’t go at it three times a day? Wonderful though he may be, this is not sustainable. If you want to save this relationship, you need a third-party referee to address your relationship and his libido.
Q. Explaining Marriage After Death: Five years ago I was engaged to a wonderful guy, G. Tragically, he passed away several months before the wedding. During the grieving process, I became close with G’s good friend, T. Over the months, our relationship developed, and we eventually began dating. Now, T and I are engaged. I am very excited about the marriage, but I’m not sure how to address well-meaning co-workers and acquaintances who ask how we met and started dating. It doesn’t help that I feel a lot of shame and guilt about how our relationship began.
A: Please let go of the guilt and shame! This is a very common scenario. I have read many accounts of widows and widowers who married good friends of their late spouse. Sometimes the spouse, who knew he or she was dying, would even drop hints about favorite single friends. You and G loved each other and surely he would have wanted you to go on and find love again. There is a sweetness to the fact that both you and T will forever honor and miss him. You do not have to go into the details of how you met T with anyone. You can just say he was a friend of a friend. But believe me, if you tell people your young fiancé died, and eventually you and a friend of his fell in love, people’s eyes will fill with happy tears for all of you.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.