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.)
Q. How Do You Stop a Witch Hunt?: Recently I told my fiancée, Carrie, that as a very young child I “played doctor” with Leigh, a close family friend my age. Our parents caught us, lectured us, and we outgrew the game. Now the idea of seeing Leigh naked is laughable, as she’s like a sister to me. Carrie freaked out when I told her about playing doctor, insisting it was abnormal and wrong. I’d told her Leigh instigated the game, and although Leigh didn’t force me to do anything, Carrie has decided Leigh preyed upon me. She’s livid over this perceived abuse; I’m sick at the thought she might confront Leigh or smear her to mutual friends. She won’t listen to my protestations that Leigh did nothing wrong. I don’t know how to diffuse this situation or what to tell people (especially Leigh).
A: Everyone knows what’s meant by “playing doctor” because it’s a totally normal part of childhood. I loved the story a friend told me about the time he went to pick up his nursery school–age daughter, who was playing with a friend’s same-aged son, and when the parents called to the kids to come downstairs from the little boy’s bedroom, he was wearing her outfit and she was wearing his. I have often said that adult partners should be judicious in what they reveal about previous sexual encounters, but I never thought this should cover kindergarten-aged hijinks. Get Carrie a book about childhood sexual development; any good one will show her that what you and Leigh did was decidedly not abuse but normal development. If that doesn’t convince Carrie and she wants to smear Leigh or remove her from your life for a long-ago, ordinary, childhood exploration, you need to explore whether you need to put a hold on the wedding.
Q. Crowdfunding for Personal Convenience: I’ve noticed a few acquaintances reaching out via social media requesting contributions to funding campaigns; one was seeking assistance with the cost of a breast reduction, another wanted financial help to find a new apartment after discovering mold in the place she had moved to a month ago. We are all in our late 20s, hold at least undergraduate degrees from respected colleges, and hail from an affluent town where resources available are well above average. I understand falling on hard times and needing to reach out to loved ones privately for a loan, but is this crowdfunding for what seems to be a failure to plan for reasonable expenses that come up in real life socially acceptable?
A: You mean I can ask everyone to pay for my bunion removal? Or orchestra seats to The Book of Mormon? Crowdfunding, here I come! I agree with you that it is unseemly and inappropriate to blast-ask everyone you know to fund your elective surgery or housing needs. It’s one thing for someone who is truly in extremis to have one’s nearest and dearest spread the word that help is needed; it’s another to impersonally request that everyone you know send you money for life’s exigencies. You don’t need to do anything, however, except refuse to break out the credit card.
Q. To Convert or Not to Convert: I am a 37-year-old woman who has been in a relationship with a wonderful, compassionate man for the past three years. We would both like to get married but face a stumbling block we just can’t seem to resolve. He is a semireligious Muslim, and I am a nonpracticing Christian (essentially agnostic). For cultural and religious reasons, he would like me to convert to Islam. The problem is twofold: 1) I don’t really want to convert, but I suppose I could because it is important to him, and I simply don’t care that much about it (which he is fully aware of). 2) The bigger issue is that he comes from a country with severe legal and human rights restrictions for women (which he agrees are abhorrent). If we ever live in this country—to be closer to his aging parents for example—we would need to be married, but this would put me at a great disadvantage. He is a truly kind, ethical person, and I can’t imagine him leveraging these types of laws against me, but I’ve lived enough of life to see people do terrible things when hurt. What to do? Signed, Can’t Mecca Sense of This.
A: First of all, I don’t think you undertake a conversion to a religion for which you have no feeling but are doing it because you are under some degree of emotional duress. Second, I take your ending pun to mean your intended is Saudi. You need to do some serious research on what it means to be the wife of a Saudi if you do ever go live there for any extended period, or even visit. You don’t say whether you want to have children, but if you do, and you take them there, again, you better be very well-informed about your rights or lack thereof—an emphasis on the latter. Your beloved may find his country’s treatment of women to be abhorrent, but that doesn’t mean that if he takes you there he will advocate for your equal treatment. As you pointed out, relationships can get complicated or go sour, and you do not want this to happen while you’re in a place where it’s against the law for you to drive and where you can get beaten for showing your hair. He wants you to convert for his reasons, but is he a big enough believer in female independence that he would marry you if you let him know you can’t and you won’t?
Q. Husband’s Friendly Co-Worker: My husband had a married female co-worker whom he became extremely close with over the last year or so. This made me uncomfortable, but he would brush it off as jealousy and assure me that nothing untoward was happening. Now, we have moved to a new city, and this woman is no longer a co-worker. They recently both attended an out-of-state conference in their field, during which I know they spent some time together, some of it late at night, in his room. I have also come to learn that my husband calls her daily during his commute. I did the cowardly thing and looked at his text messages. She is very emotional in them (“I miss you all the time”), and there is a lot of sexual joking, though indirect. I don’t have any “proof” that anything is happening, besides an uncomfortably close friendship, but I would like to confront him about it. How do I do this without sounding insane or revealing that I looked at his text messages? I really want him to be honest and not brush this off.
A: Tell your husband you looked at his texts because you no longer had faith in his denials of involvement with her and you were tired of feeling like a paranoid fool. You say your snooping indeed makes you feel like a fool, but a whole lot less paranoid because it seems quite obvious that he and his co-worker have been having an affair. If he says they haven’t actually done the deed, then you can say you don’t believe him, but even if that’s true, he is emotionally and sexually entwined with this woman, and this has put your marriage in jeopardy. You tell him this has been going on for a year, so it’s time he came clean, showed you some respect, and addressed what’s going on in his life and your marriage.
Q. Re: To Convert or Not: This person should be very careful, should she choose to marry and travel to her fiancé’s country. I have personal knowledge of a woman who married a Jordanian man who seemed to be very Westernized. When they went for a “visit” to Jordan, she became trapped there, was beaten by her husband and his family. Her family paid a fortune to get her out, and she ended up leaving through a covert operation with just the clothes on her back.
A: A lot of people are writing in with similar stories. As I said, the letter writer must do serious due diligence about what marrying a foreign national means and what could happen while abroad.
Q. I Hate You, Get Out; Now Help Me!: When I was a young teenager, a distant friend of my mother’s came to live with my family for a time. She made a clear effort to reach out to me, but I made it no secret that I couldn’t stand her. I don’t know if it was just hormones or a personality clash, but I was rude and resentful toward her, and the longer she stayed the worse it became. Eventually she moved out, and for years I kept a cool distance, even though she remained good friends with my mother and would visit occasionally. I feel embarrassed now about how I acted as a teenager, and even though I try to be very friendly when I see her, I feel like there is still some animosity between us. Recently I learned that she and her new husband are very connected in the field I am trying to break into. I have her email to get in touch with them both, but I feel uncomfortable asking for help after how rudely I treated her. Should I apologize for what an obnoxious 14-year-old I was? Or is it silly to dredge up something from so long ago, when I was a much younger and more hormonal person?
A: You need to be ruthlessly honest with yourself about how badly you behaved, and for how long, and whether you have made amends in any substantive way since then. I understand you have never apologized to her, but if over the years as a young adult you have had warm and pleasant interactions, then this woman may indeed have seen that you were an obnoxious teen who resented the intrusion, but you have turned into a lovely adult. But if you’ve basically been mostly unpleasant, and in recent years have been merely polite, then you don’t now want to show up at her door asking for help. You need to be more subtle. If she and your mother are still in touch and get together, ask Mom to include you for the next lunch, or whatever. Then you can tell her you want to take this opportunity to apologize for being such a snot-nosed teen. Do not then segue into, “So now that that’s out of the way, how can you help me?” If you establish a warmer relationship with her, in due time you can reach out for advice. If she comes to see you as someone she likes, she then indeed may even offer to help.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.