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, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Gender Render: My wife owns a dance school and recently received an unusual request for private ballet lessons. At first, she believed the inquiring father was seeking instruction for a male child (around 10) who self-identifies as female. No problem in that case. However, the father revealed that the boy (let’s call him Daniel) is being raised as a girl for two years as a “project” so he’ll be a more enlightened adult. The ballet lesson experience was to include dressing him in a pink tutu and calling him Danielle. My wife declined, saying this contradicts her professional ethic of promoting her art as a vehicle for healthy self-expression. Problem solved, I suppose, except as parents, we can’t shake the idea that this is emotional abusive (our son would certainly find it a form of torture). But I don’t know that there’s anything illegal about it. Is there any way to help this poor kid, short of mildly implying (as my wife did in her last message) that this may not be in his best interests?
A: You’re right that if this is as described to you—a male child without gender dysphoria is being raised for two years as a girl for the purposes of enlightenment—then that is serious abuse. How pathetic that being female, to these parents, means reducing a child to a cliché of pink tutus. Your wife was right to refuse this offer. I hope there are caring people who know this family who can help. But if they are actually in the midst of carrying out this awful experiment, there may not be. I know all the downsides of calling Child Protective Services, but in this case, I think a call is warranted. Someone needs to look into this situation and if necessary intervene with parents who are horribly using their child for some bizarre social purpose.
Q. An Affair to Mourn: I love my husband very much, and we have two children together, but when we got married his libido was low, and over our 25 years together it has dwindled to nothing. We have tried doctors and therapy, but he is simply asexual and does not enjoy sex. Ten years ago, feeling lonely and desperate, I rekindled things with an old flame. Ever since, twice a year I’ve told my husband I was booking a sailing holiday for myself, when really I went with my lover for two weeks on our own. A month ago my lover, who was a professional sailor, was shipwrecked and drowned. His brother sent me a parcel saying my lover had left behind this box of letters he had written to me but never sent. He loved me but felt that I wanted nothing more than our affair, so he never told me and never met anyone else. Now I feel wracked with grief at his death, regret at what could have been, and guilt for ruining his life. I am covertly seeing a grief counselor, but my husband has noticed my depression and keeps asking what is wrong, wanting to help. I love him, don’t want him to find out about this, and feel awful at having betrayed him for so long, but I feel lost and desperate about my lover. Any advice would be appreciated.
A: Please let your letter be a warning to people who enter into marriages with those who have little to no interest in sex. If a marriage begins with such utterly mismatched libidos, decades of frustration are bound to ensue. You are doing the right thing by seeking help, and discussing whether to tell your husband should be high on your therapeutic agenda. Since you have a companionable, though sexless marriage, I think it’s fine for you to tell him part of the truth and find out if he wants the whole truth. Explain that you are really sad because a dear friend died suddenly. Then see where the conversation goes and whether you want to spill all. You did not cause your lover to throw away his chance for happiness—it was his choice not to seek a more fulfilling relationship. It’s too bad that during your fortnight sojourns, you two never really opened up to each other about what you wanted out of life. But not seeking what you want out of life sounds like a lifetime habit with you. Surely your husband knows that you don’t lack a libido, and it’s rather cruel of him to assume you have simply given up on sex because he has. Maybe it’s time for more honesty all around.
Q. Fiancée Won’t Commit to Health: My fiancée is an absolutely wonderful woman, but she is at least 60 pounds overweight. I’ve tried everything to get her into active hobbies and eating better and encourage her, but nothing seems to work. It’s not about her looks at all. It’s all about her health. I don’t want her to develop diabetes during childbirth, and I don’t want her to have health complications later in life. This is the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. I don’t want to lose her young. Help!
A: Your fiancée is 60 pounds overweight. As the saying goes, this is not a bug, it’s a feature. Yes, being significantly overweight can come with health problems, but it’s also possible to be overweight and quite healthy. You make it sound as if your fiancée is not active and doesn’t eat well. You are obsessed with her lack of commitment to her health. So I have to ask: Why are you committing to her? This is similar to marrying someone with a low libido—don’t do it if you want to be married to someone with a high libido. If you want a partner who’s into fitness, don’t marry one who’s 60 pounds overweight. You don’t know what your fiancée’s lifespan will be. But the lifespan of your relationship, unless you can accept her the way she is, should be short.
Q. Mom Blocking Kids in Wedding: My fiancé and I have been together for five years and are getting married in August. He has two kids from a former marriage who are excited to be the best man and maid of honor in our wedding. I am lucky to have a great relationship with both children. The problem is their mother is refusing to allow them to be part of the wedding. We share custody of the children. The wedding falls on the mother’s week and is in my home state, a plane ride away. Their mom is threatening to call the police and say we are kidnapping the children if we take them with us. The mother initiated the divorce because she was having an affair, but she calls me a homewrecker because my fiancé and I started dating while she says there was still time for her to get back together with my fiancé. My No. 1 priority is not putting the kids in the middle. My second is having a happy joining of our two families. Logistically we can’t move the wedding. What should I do?
A: Your fiancé should talk to his divorce lawyer. Is there something he can do to make sure the kids can be there? And is there something he can do to protect himself if you take the kids and she calls the police? How sad for the children. It’s too bad that their mother doesn’t understand that by trying to undermine your marriage and make her kids hostage, she is only harming them and her relationship with them. If worse comes to worse, and they can’t go, take plenty of pictures to show them. Then, when you’re all together again, get dressed up in your finery—and theirs—and have a small private re-enactment of the wedding so they can feel they helped set the stage for this happy new phase of their lives.
Q. Re: Fat Fiancée: Do you know if she is actually unhealthy? Do you know what her labs show? Not all overweight women develop gestational diabetes. I didn’t, and I have been at least that overweight my whole adult life. At 50, and clinically morbidly obese, my cholesterol is normal, BP normal, with no metabolic disorder. I can tell you one thing, though: Your incessant nagging and focus on this will not help with anything. You cannot force someone to lose weight, and even thin people who exercise and eat right can be unhealthy. Either get over it, or do her a favor and let her go.
A: Thanks for this.
Q. Post-Happy Parent: My mom has a photo of my sister and me as her Facebook profile, which I guess is OK. The problem is she posts terribly conservative, offensive, and even racist things on her page, sometimes as many as 12 posts a day. I have her blocked in my News Feed, so it does not actually affect me; however, I would hate for someone to do an online search for me and see me tied in with these terribly offensive things I am in no way associated with or believe in. If I ask her to take my photo from her profile, she will no doubt be both offended and hurt. What should I do?
A: Your mother’s noxious opinions are her own, and she should take into account the harm she is potentially doing you by associating you with them. Tell her that you want and need—for important professional reasons—not to be the face of her Facebook account. So what if she’s offended and hurt? She doesn’t care about posting offensive things under your profile picture. You explain that it’s important that everyone’s personal opinions reflect only on him or her, and not family members, in this highly socially connected age. If Mommy has a big meltdown because you don’t want people to think you’re a racist, too bad.
Q. Re: Kids in the Wedding: Also, consider having a civil marriage service in your current city ahead of the one out-of-town. This way the kids could attend and be a part of it. Yes, it’s a pain—but what’s more important?
A: Nice suggestions, thanks!
Q. Fearing the Tears?: I work with the aging, dying, and deceased on a daily basis. Over the years I’ve noticed a significant decrease in my outward and physical reactions to grief (i.e., crying) whether it’s a patient I’ve cared for or my own family members. I still feel saddened by their passing; I just don’t weep, wail, and tear at my clothes as those around me think I should. Close family members have claimed I’m “afraid” to show my emotions and am bottling them up, which will adversely affect my mental health in the long run. I think I’ve developed a healthy professional safeguard and personal way of grieving. I have not lost my empathy, but I’m losing my patience.
A: You work with dying people, so if you dissolved into a puddle of tears daily, your mental health would be at risk, and you’d also be of no use to your patients or their families. You say close family members say you’re now afraid to show your emotions. But I don’t know if they mean that you don’t cry when talking about work, or you seemed detached at the funerals of your parents. In any case, you feel you’re able to do your job, handle its enormous emotional pressures, and feel good when you leave for the day. So when family members offer to psychoanalyze you, tell them you appreciate their concern, but you’ll seek professional advice if necessary.
Q. Re: Post-Happy Parent: And if your mom won’t take your picture down, you can report it to Facebook and request to have it removed.
A: Good point, and thanks. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.