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.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
Q. A Recent Solicitation Charge: I am a college student just wrapping up my junior year. This school year has been incredibly stressful for me. I had to undergo a series of rabies shots after being bitten by a bat, my mother’s house was burglarized, and two close friends have been imprisoned. The house I live in attracts numerous unwanted critters and is far enough away from campus that I have lost touch with most of my classmates. Because of these factors, I have been experiencing severe bouts of depression and emotional instability, and I recently succumbed to these feelings and sought out an escort online. However, she was an undercover police officer, and I was charged with solicitation. I sought out legal help on my own, and the charges will be dismissed in less than two months after I complete an educational program. I have also entered counseling through my university. I have not told anybody outside of my lawyer and therapist about the incident because there is a definite social stigma regarding prostitution, and I am extremely embarrassed. My parents have been very understanding and supportive of me this past year, but I do not think I can bring myself to tell them about the incident. Given that the charge will be dismissed, do I need to tell my parents about it at all?
A: You were bitten by a potentially rabid bat! That gives you a freebie on subsequent mad behavior. It sounds as if Judith Viorst should do an update of her classic children’s book, make it for young adults, and call it Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Junior Year. I’m assuming you mean that the charges will be expunged, right? I hope so, in which case it’s as if the incident never happened. You have dealt with this in an adult way, and since it will have no further bearing on your life, you aren’t obligated to tell anyone. You say your parents have been very supportive of you, so instead of discussing solicitation, solicit them for help in underwriting housing for you that gets you close to the university. You’re entitled to enjoy your college years and not feel as if you’re exiled to some outer precinct of True Blood.
Q. Husband Wants to Divorce Me. I Have Cancer, and I’m on His Insurance: I am separated from my husband. Our relationship—already rocky—didn’t survive cancer treatment. It was too much focus on me and freaked him out totally! Husband keeps saying he wants a divorce. However, I would then lose my health insurance. Treatment is ongoing as it’s stage IV colon that has metastasized to liver and lung, and even with the Affordable Care Act (God bless it!) I can’t afford the premiums on my own yet. He says it’s unethical to remain married, he wants to start over (he’s not dating anyone), and he says that I’m being selfish to ask that he stay married to me as long as treatment lasts—or at least until he finds another partner. I say he’s being selfish and nasty. Your thoughts?
A: The Affordable Care Act is not affordable for you, and the only thing you should be focusing on at this time is your health. Given what you describe, yes, I think your husband should not do anything to disturb your being covered by his insurance. You two can live separately, and he can date other people, but he should maintain your marriage so that you can continue your treatments without spending precious time dealing with insurance. Please talk to the social service people at your hospital. It could be that there is a coverage fix you are unaware of. It could also be that your husband could agree to some meetings with a social worker in which you two work out how he can keep you covered while holding off on taking legal action to end your marriage.
Q. Bad Reference: A former employee of mine is looking for a job, and she has listed me several times as a reference. However, when she worked for me, she had performance issues related to the accuracy of her work (we work in financial analysis). She is aware of these, because they were documented in reviews I wrote and delivered to her. I am unable to give a positive reference, beyond her work ethic and desire to do a good job. I’ve tried leveling with her and not responding to reference requests but have gotten direct calls from hiring managers and have been honest with them. How do I get out of this predicament? She’s a nice woman who needs a job but is very socially awkward.
A: She may be socially awkward, but your concerns were about her technical proficiency at the job, apparently ones she was unable to correct. That’s a problem in any field, but in financial analysis she apparently lacks core competency. You deal with this by telling her directly that you can no longer be a reference for her and ask that you be taken off her applications. Say you wish her only the best, but as she knows, you can’t vouch for the accuracy of her work. Then if you get further inquiries, you say that you have nothing to say beyond the fact that you’ve asked to be removed as a reference.
Q. Reluctant Granny: My mother has said she won’t attend my daughter’s graduation. She is the last of seven grandchildren to graduate. My mother has said she doesn’t want to travel the hour it takes to my house and attend an event with so many people, yet she traveled just as far to attend another granddaughter’s wedding just a week ago. Should I press her to go, or should I leave it alone? My daughter is very disappointed.
A: Let’s separate out these components. As I’ve mentioned before, graduations are the millstones of life’s milestones. Unlike weddings (or funerals), they are a group venture, and those celebrating generally are stuck in brutal sun or airless rooms for hours on end so they can cheer for the 10 seconds it takes for a loved one to walk across the stage. I can understand even a loving grandmother saying she can’t take it anymore. You need to have a talk with your mother. It sounds as if everyone will be going to the ceremony, then celebrating at your house. Maybe she can skip the graduation and just come for the party. But if she’s complaining that a celebration at home is too much for her, and that’s out of character, maybe it means she’s not feeling well. If she’s expected to drive herself there and back, maybe it means she’s no longer confident enough on the road. A solution could be that someone ferries her. But if Grandma just isn’t up to it, tell your daughter this has nothing to do with your mother’s love for her—it’s just that Grandma is getting older, and big events are draining to her. Since she lives within an hour of you, try to arrange an intimate dinner celebration at which the three generations can really get to talk.
Q. Re: Bad Reference: I work in a similar field. He certainly isn’t obliged to provide a reference, but if he feels any obligation to someone who he says has a strong work ethic and desire, he can do so. She sounds young, so she may not have other options for work references; she also may be capable of learning, and I don’t think he has a desire to blackball her from her career. Do what most people do in this scenario: Confirm that she worked for the company at the relevant dates, provide polite bromides about working hard, and decline to say any more. This will be correctly interpreted as a lukewarm reference, which are common. He also may be breaking company policy by sharing negative feedback during a reference call.
A: Isn’t confirming a job candidate’s dates of employment the function of HR? Yes, it will be speaking volumes if a personal reference simply does the same, but if she is giving this name as someone who will vouch for her as a potential employee, and all this reference is doing is confirming this candidate was in the office, she is harming herself by listing this person. I don’t see the purpose of asking someone to dance around being a bad reference. Of course, it’s possible that this job candidate can address her issues—let’s hope she does or that she finds a line of work for which she’s better suited. But this boss says she didn’t do so sufficiently while at this company. But you’re right, if the boss continues to get calls the boss can just say, “So and so worked for me on the dates she listed.”
Q. Re: Bitten by Bats: This reads like a TV series. It’d be hilarious if it wasn’t real. His parents are supportive, but he’s been exiled and miserable in a critter-infested house for months? Does he actually talk to his parents (escort issue aside, I agree that he can keep that to himself)? I can well imagine that money is an issue, but at this stage, LW should leave his house, find a friend with a comfortable couch and pay token rent while he looks for a more permanent solution. When I was a student, many lived in shared houses where having one extra person temporarily was the norm. It’ll also make him less lonely.
A: Yes, a couch in someone else’s living room is better than a bed shared with a rabid raccoon.
Q. It’s None of Your Business!: I am currently finishing my sophomore year of college. My freshman-year roommate and I didn’t get along. I thought we were both content to go our separate ways this year. I was wrong. I recently found out that my old roommate has started a rumor that I have breast implants. People in the past have asked before if “they are real,” and I’ve done my best to avoid answering such rude questions, thinking it’s none of their business. But I also don’t like the idea of my classmates wrongly thinking I have implants. It would be weird to start announcing to people that they are real. I thought about making some off-hands comments about how I wish they were smaller and more proportional to my body, but even that seems awkward. What should I do?
A: If you know that the source of the rumor is your former roommate, and if you are on speaking terms with her, speak to her. Tell her that you two may not have gotten along, but she is spreading false stories about your breasts, and you hope she can see how inappropriate that is. You can also bring this to the R.A., and the R.A. can have a separate talk with her. The school year is almost over, so forget about this for now. You do not need to start counter-rumors about your own breasts. You need to shut down this discussion entirely. If in the fall, people start asking you about your breast size, look at them, shake your head slightly, and let this grossly rude question hang in the air.
Q. Re: Bad Reference: You could always say that company policy prohibits you from providing a reference. Believe it or not, many companies have this policy.
A: That’s a good option, thanks!
Q. Re: Bad Reference: Be careful when giving a reference (I think you should get a legal opinion). When I had to fire someone for cause, he then used the company as a reference (!) and I was not allowed to say anything bad about him! So beware.
A: I am hearing from a lot of people confirming that they aren’t allowed to say anything about a former employee and have to refer all such calls to HR, which only confirms dates of employment. So the letter writer should ask to be taken off as a reference and then if called should just refer the caller back to the company and say no more. It’s really too bad that our litigious culture means that people can’t be warned about potential miscreants or that you can’t heap praise on someone wonderful.