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. Rating My Car Dealership: When I bought my car, the salesman swore up and down that he’d be fired if we gave him anything less than a 5-star review to Honda corporate. I don’t want that on my conscience, but it wasn’t 5-star service. What do I do?
A: I’ve had a similar pitch at car dealerships (and other places)—it wasn’t put in such dire terms, but the gravity of even a 4-star rating was underlined. I’m happy to give a great rating for great service. If it’s less than stellar, I just skip the survey. You could have in the moment taken the opportunity to say, “I’m not going to rate you because as you know the repair wasn’t done right the first time and I couldn’t get you on the phone.” But you’ve gotten your car and there’s no obligation for you to either lie about how pleased you were or make life unpleasant for someone who was just OK. And I’d love to hear from service people telling what actually happens if they get less than a 5-star rating.
Q. Jealous of the Dog: My husband and I got a dog recently—our first pet after 12 years of marriage. Now the dog follows him around all day and ignores me. What was supposed to be “our dog” is really his dog. I’ve tried walking the dog and feeding her and training her in an attempt to bond with her, but she still only has eyes for him. I wanted a dog, too. To make things worse, he laughs at me when I bring it up—the last time in front of my daughter and grandchildren. He said he laughed just because he felt awkward, but I don’t buy it, and even though he’s apologized, it still hurts that he did this in the first place, and not for the first time either. Do I have to live with the dog behaving this way for the next 10 years? What do I do?
A: Your dog sounds like my cat. All I want is for him to curl up with me and give me some purr time, and all he wants to do is climb on my husband’s chest, and give me sideways glances that say, “I’m with the one I love.” There are some pets that are one-person pets. This can be very annoying to the person who is not the one. But we’re talking about a dog, and there is something pathetically amusing about someone who expresses true jealousy about the dog loving her husband more. You need the intervention of a professional, but before you go to a marriage counselor, I suggest a dog trainer. Hire someone who will come to your home, analyze the family dynamics, and help you make some changes. You may have to accept that the dog will always think of your husband as her special man. But a good trainer will help her see that it’s in her interest to love Mommy, too.
Q. Sex Offender Father/Husband: I have recently relocated with my 9-year-old and 16-year-old daughters to avoid the stigma surrounding my husband’s recent sex offender status for possession of child pornography. Their father will not be relocating with us; however, in this very Southern city, people want to know everything about their new neighbors. A typical introduction of a child will be: “This is Preston, his father is a judge,” or “This is Bunny, her parents are brain surgeons.” I just cringe at the thought of my children having to give information about their father. It seems to be very important to be able to answer the question “What does your daddy do?” How shall I instruct my girls to answer? “He was a former cybersecurity entrepreneur who sold his company to a major defense contractor and we are filthy rich but my dad has an ankle monitor on for life and we are unsuitable for polite society but will you be our friend anyway?”
A: If this is Southern hospitality, how rude. Sure, finding out what people do is something that comes up in the course of time, but labeling kids by their parents’ professions is obnoxious, as is being grilled about one’s employment status on first meeting. Your family has been through a devastating time, and I hope you’ve gotten your girls some help to deal with their father’s violation. You need to help your daughters answer questions about their father in an honest way and then close down the conversation. They can practice saying, “My dad is is a consultant. He’s living in Ohio now.” Then they need help on how to deflect follow-ups. If you are legally separated or getting divorced, that’s easy to explain. In any case, you need to empower the girls to say, “I don’t know much about my father’s work” and “I don’t want to talk about my dad not living with us.”
Q. Re: Car Dealership: I had an unenjoyable car buying experience and received a similar spiel. In my review I mentioned the long waits we underwent while the salesperson went off to “run numbers” for 20 minutes, only to come back with something we didn’t even ask for, and said that such service was why people dread encounters with car salesmen. For my trouble, I received the rudest email I’ve ever gotten from the sales manager. I’m with Prudence. I’d say spare yourself the hassle and just don’t submit a review.
A: Ah, running the numbers! We bought a car a couple of years ago, did all the boning up on how to negotiate, and realized they were going to go off and “run the numbers” until we paid the number they liked. However, getting back a hostile email for pointing out why you were unhappy with the service you received is outrageous. I generally believe in just moving on from such situations. But in your case, forwarding the email up the corporate chain might have been worth it.
Q. Spouse Cuts the Wrong Corners: Recently, following Mother’s Day, my husband and I got into it over the “gift” he got me “from our daughter” who is 5 years old. I received a card and a small bag of chocolate. While I understand that gift-giving is not the amount of money you spend, when I asked my husband about it, his answer was that he was looking to save money due to a trip we had coming up.
Well, this same husband, weeks prior, spent a pretty penny on his personal hobby. I explained that I don’t expect to be lavished with expensive gifts, but he is sending the message that Daddy can spend on himself but gifts for others are opportunities to cut costs. When I shop for gifts with my daughter, I ask what interests the recipient has and what would make them happy and we come to a decision on what to purchase based on our means. I just want the same consideration when I am the recipient. I find myself resentful because he seems to think I’m being materialistic. I don’t feel like I’m being unreasonable. Am I?
A: There are gift people and non-gift people. I’m a non-gift person, so when my daughter was little, if my husband had thought to have her sign a card and get me a small bag of chocolates, I would have been delighted. (And now my grown daughter has stories of how, when she got a little older, she would say, “Dad, it’s Mother’s Day, we have to get something!” And then they would set off that morning, frantically driving around looking for a box of chocolates or some undead flowers.) You are a gift person, so putting thought and effort into these expressions is highly meaningful for you; not getting the same consideration in return is highly offensive. Though I haven’t read it, many readers have said the book The 5 Love Languages explores this at length. So maybe you should give this book to your husband as a gift, with a bookmark at the appropriate chapter. You can explain that silly as it may seem to him, you are still nursing some hurt for feeling blown off on Mother’s Day. But you need to read the book, too. I hope you see that your husband expresses his devotion in ways other than gifts, and that you two can appreciate your different styles of showing love.
Q. Re: 5-Star: I work at a car dealership. Yes, repeated less-than-5-star surveys can get an employee fired, but surveys are also used to give out bonuses and hit marks within the corporate division to earn extra marketing money and goodies. If it’s not 5-star service, don’t be afraid to call the manager. They may be able to rectify it!
A: Thanks for this inside look. And someone who consistently can’t get the 5 stars probably has some problems that need addressing.
Q. Son’s Girlfriend’s Family Is Homeless: My son has been dating his girlfriend since ninth grade. The two of them recently graduated from a very well-respected college and moved into the in-law suite in our home. Her mother and two younger brothers are caught up in an ugly divorce and are homeless and penniless. We have suggested many options, but there are always many reasons why none of them will work. They want to move in with us. We would love to help them but do not want another family living here. Are we being harsh and uncaring?
A: You can have sympathy for people who because of circumstances in and out of their control are in dire straits. What’s cause for less sympathy is when they are given actionable advice on bettering their situation, and reject it. If you truly have helped them to seek options to get them stabilized, and all they want to do is bunk with you, you are perfectly within your rights not to take in a family you may not be able to get rid of. I’m hoping that the younger brothers are old enough that they’re out of high school, and if they aren’t in college, are capable of getting jobs. You also don’t give any reason why the mother can’t find work. I think you should stand firm. You say you simply can’t take this family in, but you reiterate you are happy to find social service alternatives for them to help them get on their feet.
Q. Re: Spouse Cuts the Wrong Corners: Prudie, I think you missed the point. It isn’t just the paltry gift; it’s that he spent loads of cash on himself just before while using Mother’s Day as an occasion to “save money” for their trip. Where was his consideration of savings then? To me, the issue here is selfishness, not someone who downplays gifts.
A: Maybe the wife also has things in her life that she spends money on that are optional but bring her great pleasure and the husband accepts these as reasonable expenses. If the husband has, say, a motorcycle hobby that the wife is fine with, I don’t think it’s helpful to bring that up when complaining about a paltry Mother’s Day gift. I just don’t think Mother’s Day is an occasion for extravagance, and not going all out on Mother’s Day is at worst a misdemeanor. These two have to understand each other better when it comes to gifts. Becoming angry over his hobby (unless it is financially damaging the family) is not the way to do it.
Q. Ex-BFF Marrying Ex-Boyfriend: About six years ago, I went through a devastating breakup with my boyfriend of three years. Two months after the breakup, he started to date my lifelong best friend. I was understandably very hurt. My ex-boyfriend told me he would expose some risqué photographs of me if I talked to anyone about the two of them and their new relationship (another reminder to not let someone take naked pictures of you!). I cut all ties there and moved forward with my life, avoiding the two of them at all costs. Years have passed, and I have forgiven them for this and built a new life for myself. This summer the two of them will be getting married. They have invited my parents to the wedding. (They will be attending.) At this point I wish no ill intent and feel they probably are a good match. Do you think I should send them happy wishes or a card on their wedding day, or should I just let sleeping dogs lie?
A: Do your parents know the groom once tried to blackmail you? Maybe this happy pair does deserve each other. (Note: When people break up, they can’t keep lifetime dibs on their exes to prevent them from dating others in one’s social circle. However, it is unpleasant to have a best friend see you through a terrible breakup, then turn around and immediately start dating your ex. That raises questions about what led to the breakup.) I guess that even though you broke up with both your boyfriend and your best friend, your parents didn’t. Or maybe the two of them are trying to prove that their start was not a tainted one because, hey, Marissa’s parents are coming to the wedding! You have cut them out of your life and moved on. That was a good strategy, and there’s no reason to break your silence now.