Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below 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. I look forward to your questions!
Q. Surname Apostrophe Battle: I have been married for four years, and my new last name has an apostrophe. Like O’Malley. My husband is on red alert for a battle every time we have to provide our last name. And now, four years into it, I can kind of understand where he’s coming from. There are many variations of our last name out there. I pick my battles and am not offended when I have to offer up variations of my name until my account is located. My husband, on the other hand, simply refuses to do business with anyone who can’t spell the name correctly and he wants me to do the same. In reality, it would mean we couldn’t bank or have insurance, etc. He is really offended by my attitude and wants me to be as angry as he is about the bother of it all. How can I deal with both his attitude and the very real battle of so many businesses that can’t/won’t spell our name properly?
A: O’Dear. I suppose battling your way through life over an apostrophe is one way to go. Maybe Game of Thrones could take up the apostrophe wars next season. I have a last name that requires spelling out and is constantly misspelled and misheard. That’s life. Going off the grid because people have trouble with your last name seems rather self-defeating. The Fighting Irish may be the Notre Dame athletic nickname, but it’s not a commandment for how to get through the day. You can lead by example and just keep showing him that you get nowhere if you expect service people to have memorized a directory of Gaelic surnames, and that he’s making things harder for everyone by not being understanding and patient. And I assume he’s an early supporter of the presidential ambitions of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Q. Sister Trouble: My wife and her sister are very close. They’re a lot of fun together, and share a similarly R-rated sense of humor (which I love). A couple of years ago, “Sally” walked in on me performing oral sex on my wife. She has teased us ever since about that. Lately, she has started joking that she would appreciate some of the same treatment from me. She does this with a straight face and when my wife is not around. How can I tell her, that while I enjoy Sally’s Amy Schumer–like humor, requesting oral adultery is going too far?
A: There is nothing funny about propositioning your brother-in-law. (OK, Amy Schumer could make this funny, but your sister-in-law sounds as humorous as Chuck Schumer.) You tell her that she has crossed a serious line and is making you so uncomfortable that you don’t want to be alone with her. I also think you should tell your wife what’s been going on, in case things with “Amy” get even less funny.
Q. It’s NOT a Shotgun Wedding, So Stop Asking!: After 11 years together, my partner and I are happy to be getting married this year. We’re an opposite-sex couple in our early 30s. Mostly the reactions from friends and family have been wonderful, but we keep getting asked one question: “Why are you guys getting married?” I find this question sort of baffling, and honestly rather personal—we were asked by a new acquaintance just the other day! My fiancée thinks I’m being too sensitive and that this is a normal thing to ask. We became legal domestic partners a couple of years ago and had a small celebration, so perhaps that has something to do with it. What’s a good, succinct way to explain to people that we’re getting married because we’re best friends who’ve been in love for over a decade? This sounds like a little thing but it’s very annoying!
A: If you don’t mind my asking, why are you getting married? Sorry! You’re right, that is a rude question and one very few couples get asked. The answer is usually self-evident: We’re in love and want to get married. But given what you’ve explained here, in your case the question seems to arise because you two long demonstrated that the institution of marriage was not for you. By having a domestic partnership ceremony, I’m sure most people thought you didn’t “believe” in marriage. Maybe some people think you’re like Brad and Angelina and refused to participate in an institution that excluded gay people, and now are participating because it’s more inclusive—and they’re just trying to find out if that’s your reasoning. You don’t owe anybody any explanation. But if they ask, you can always say something like, “We realized that unless we got married and signed up for a wedding gift registry, we would never have enough trivets.”
Q. Ex Dating Son’s Camp Counselor: My ex-husband and I have been separated for two years and divorced for six months, but have maintained a close friendship. We live two blocks from each other, text or email almost daily, and partner on matters relating to our 5-year-old son. Our divorce agreement contains a few agreed-upon rules relating to our son, including that we would not introduce him to a new partner unless we had been dating six months, or without consulting the other parent. My ex recently dropped a bomb on me—he has been dating my son’s former summer camp teacher for four months and they are serious and they would like to go away together for the weekend with our son. My son has apparently been around her a couple of times. I am trying to sort out all of the different violations here. First, a mother’s relationship with any child care provider is one of trust—I spoke to her on an almost daily basis on matters relating to my son, some personal. Second, my ex has not followed our divorce agreement. And finally, I thought he and I were friends who could talk about this kind of thing, especially when our son is involved. This woman is great with kids, so this can really be a good thing in the long run, but how do I get past the deep betrayal I am feeling in order to make this work for everyone? I am very angry and hurt.
A: You’re trying to sort out all the violations, and I’m trying to sort out your sense that you’re still married to this guy although you split up two years ago. The former camp counselor is a former camp counselor (just as you are a former wife). There is nothing in your letter to indicate your husband and this woman were having an affair while you were oblivious to it. But frankly, even if they were seeing each other after you and your husband split, well, so what? I have had conversations with my daughter’s camp counselor, but they mostly consisted of: Please make sure she has on bug spray and that she eats her snack. I assume you weren’t confiding issues about your divorce with the camp counselor. In any case, you say she is a lovely woman who is great with kids and already knows your son. That’s about as good as it gets when one is dealing with a new love interest of an ex. It’s wonderful for everyone if after the divorce the parents get along, particularly when it comes to raising the child. But although you are divorced, you seem to have not really made the psychological break with your ex. He is in a perfectly appropriate relationship with someone your son knows. Do not object to his getting to know this woman better.
Q. Re: Surname Apostrophe Battle: Seriously? My name is Terri and I answer the phone all day. I have never been called by my name. “Oh, hello, Kerry, Sherry, Mary.” I’ve even heard “Hello, Karen.” Never once has someone said Terri. I never correct them, I just pass them on to whomever they want to speak to. Hubby needs to pick his battles …
A: Thanks! Apparently hubby wants to fight the Battle of the Punctuation Mark.
Q. Living a Soap Opera: During my first year in high school, my parents had a divorce of soap opera proportions: My father cheated on my mom—with my best friend’s mother who lived across the street. It was a secret affair that eventually came to light. I visited with my father for a few years following the divorce, but the fact that he never tried to explain or apologize for his actions kept eating away at me. One day I broke down and made him take me home and refused to talk to him after telling him that he “ruined my life.” As a twentysomething now, I’ve never once regretted the decision: I’m happier not having to deal with my father and now stepmother (?) and my best friend who is now possibly my stepsister. My sister continues to talk with and visit our father on a regular basis; I don’t understand why, but she’s free to make her own decisions. Mom makes crude remarks when she does find my sister coming home from trips. I know Mom’s still in serious pain from the divorce years later, but what can I do to ease the tension between them?
A: You can encourage your mother to lay off your sister and also expand your emotional repertoire to truly accept that different people have different responses to situations. Your father cheated on your mother, and the marriage ended. There’s no defense of the pain he caused—which was magnified by his cheating with someone in your social circle—but as you say, this was a long time ago and this second marriage appears to be more successful than the first. It’s long past time your mother got over this. She may hate her ex-husband, but he is the father of her children. You may also hate your father, but your sister doesn’t, and she doesn’t need a load of contempt for wanting to have him in her life. If you have the power to intervene with your mother, you can tell her that making contemptuous remarks to your sister just because she wants to see her father is only going to drive her away.