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 email@example.com.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Wife’s Behavior: My wife and I have been married for 20 years and had a relationship for several years prior to marriage. She is smart, beautiful, and a good person. Our marriage is strong. However, during a recent conversation about our respective college years (we did not meet until she was 25 and working on her MBA), she suddenly volunteered that she had performed oral sex on two different guys at school. She said that were both handsome and real catches like it was a badge of honor for her to do that. I knew about two other past loves but this has thrown me for a loop. Why would she volunteer this information? I am having a difficult time not focusing on this and it makes me see her in a less than wonderful way. Am I way off base and just having trouble seeing a real woman with a past?
A: So there you were reminiscing, and out of your wife’s mouth came this revelation about what she’d put in her mouth more than two decades ago. Now this news about an extremely limited “wild” period has you brooding about the character of someone you have loved for more than 20 years. You probably know that people like to have sex, and young people, before they settle down, are particularly noted for their sexual explorations. But you can’t wrap your mind around the information that a young woman would have a sexual encounter out of feelings of conquest. This shows a serious lack of imagination on your part. So while you do need to broaden your understanding of female sexuality, it would be foolish indeed to change your feelings about your wife. I think that what you should do is tell your wife that you have become so intrigued by her announcement that you would like to engage in some time travel and re-enact her youthful adventures.
Q. Dietary Needs at Wedding Dinner: What is the etiquette for dietary considerations at a wedding dinner? My fiancé and I are getting married next year, and we’re already fielding questions/requests regarding the food. For example, his sister doesn’t eat gluten, soy, or dairy; a friend of ours is vegan except he can’t eat onions or garlic; we have numerous friends who are gluten-free (some of their own accord, some with actual diagnoses). We’d like to do a buffet dinner to give people options, but the cost of accommodating all these needs is incredibly expensive. My mother says we are not obligated to accommodate any special requests and thinks that providing a vegetarian option is plenty, while my fiancé thinks we should just go along to get along. What is your take?
A: My take is that a wedding invitation is not the opening gambit for a nutritional consultation. People who have dietary restrictions, either voluntary or medical, have to learn to make their own accommodations at social events. This might mean having a substantial snack before or after. It doesn’t mean treating a bride and groom as if they’re flight attendants having to pass out special meals. A buffet is a great idea, and you don’t have to have every option there—a big salad can tide over the vegans and the gluten-free. When people RSVP with their meal requests, you can just say you look forward to seeing them at the wedding and you’re planning on having a buffet that should meet most needs.
Q. Interacting With Former Friend Who Sent Disparaging Email: Two years ago I was relocating to a different city and overstayed my welcome at the home of a couple who I used to be very close friends with. I should have only stayed a weekend, but I stayed a week. The day after I left the wife sent me a very long email, almost five pages, detailing every thing she despised about me, cumulative over our seven years of friendship. I was very hurt by this and I have not spoken with her since. She has sent a couple of short apology texts, which I have ignored. Now I will be working with her husband again and I am not sure of the right way to interact with her. My plan is to just pretend this never happened. Is there a better approach?
A: So you got a five-page note detailing all your transgressions from your annoying laugh to your overuse of toilet paper. I agree it would be hard to put a relationship back on track after such a missive, and I understand why you have fallen silent. Sure, you overstayed your welcome, but five extra days is a misdemeanor, not a felony, and your hosts, who were longtime friends, should have been understanding about the exigencies of moving. I agree that not bringing up this unpleasantness is the way to go. When you see her again you can simply say, “Marian, it’s been too long. Wonderful to see you!”
Q. My Boyfriend Wants to Grow Marijuana Professionally: My boyfriend of 10 years and I live in a state that allows medical and recreational marijuana use. Recently a friend who grows offered my boyfriend a job helping run the business—tracking expenses, taxes, etc. The salary is a substantial increase and would allow us to get out of debt and start our lives together. It’s completely legal (I’ve checked), but I’m worried it could backfire horribly if the laws change. We’re in our late 20s and want to get married and start having kids but can’t afford to. What should we do?
A: It’s legal, it’s lucrative, so he should go for it. Let’s say Prohibition had just been repealed and your boyfriend had a great opportunity running a bar—he wouldn’t be worrying that working for the alcohol industry would taint him. I would just encourage your boyfriend to make sure that his compensation comes wholly in dollars, and not partially in product.
Q. Poor Dog: I have a friend who, frankly, shouldn’t have a dog. She leaves it alone all day and then goes to the bar after work for an hour or two instead of letting it out first, and has someone come over twice a day when she’s out of town. For a cat, this would be fine—but not for a dog. I took care of the dog this weekend and her room smelled like urine, and she was starved for attention. I spent an hour with her outside each time I came over, but most of the people who watch her just let her out to do her business and then shut her back up in her room. My friends and I have been discussing how this person should not have a dog and how unfair it is for the poor thing. I’d like to confront her about it and urge her to make better arrangements, but I don’t think that will do much good and will just make her defensive. The dog’s not abused (and is very happy and friendly), just not being treated the way she deserves to be treated. If we all confront her together, she’ll feel ganged up on. Advice?
A: This is dog abuse. This poor, social creature is alone all day, trying unsuccessfully to hold her bladder, then getting a pittance of attention when her owner deigns to come home. Yes, people get defensive when they are called out on bad behavior. So a couple of you need to do this in a friendly, caring, but firm way. Make the case that either this dog needs to be in doggy day care, or have a real dog walker come in daily, or that she should consider rehoming her miserable, neglected pooch.
Q. Re: Growing Marijuana: If it’s legal when he does it, changing the law won’t have any effect unless he continues doing it. The Constitution (Article 1, section 9) prohibits ex post facto laws.
A: Thanks for the constitutional lesson!
Q. Re: Dietary Needs at Wedding: Not only am I gluten, dairy, and soy intolerant, but my son’s wife and all four kids are celiac, my daughter is vegetarian, a granddaughter is vegan, and a grandson is severely allergic to fish. But there are simple, and cheap, solutions with a buffet to allow virtually everyone to find something to put on a plate, which is all that is needed to make everyone feel comfortable and that they have been thought of. Have a fruit plate with the individual fruit separated into piles for easy selection. Have a crudité tray of veggies, and have a lettuce salad with just the mixed greens, no cheese, croutons or dressing. Then have cruets of olive oil and another one of wine vinegar as one of the options for dressing. I always eat before I go, but not having anything on a plate leads to questions and being a bit self-conscious. So even if someone might not be able to have the main dish, a plate full of salad and fruit should work just fine.
A: Wine vinegar? What about people with sulfite allergies! As I mentioned, there should be a salad, and sure the hosts can add another vegan/gluten free side dish. That’s it. If people are so touchy about their food that they can’t make it through a social event without a three-course meal especially for them, they should decline the invitation. As I mentioned, those with serious food restrictions should also plan to eat before or after the event. This is a wedding, not a nutrition conference.
Q. Dying Pedophile Brother: My oldest brother, who spent two stints in prison for molesting boys, and who destroyed many lives, is currently in the hospital dying. My other siblings have reacted less severely to his behavior. I, however, have absolutely no sympathy or forgiveness toward him, even now. I have not visited him and wonder whether I’m making a mistake. Not for him, but for his daughter and my siblings. Should I be making a show of support for their sakes, even though the thought of seeing him makes me sick to my stomach? I should maybe add that I was molested and it had a huge negative impact on my life.
A: You can be sympathetic to the daughter of this monster without having to go to his bedside and pretend to forgive him or express sorrow at his demise. If you are being pressured by family members, you can just say you all have your own separate ways of dealing with things, and you understand that they want to be by your brother’s bedside. Do not get drawn into any further discussion.
Q. Re: Growing Marijuana: It’s NOT legal where he does it, if he’s in the United States. Federal law prohibits the sale and distribution of marijuana. While the current administration has stated that the federal government will typically use its prosecutorial discretion not to subject operations that are in compliance with a strong state regulatory system to federal enforcement, it can and will still prosecute in appropriate circumstances. And the next administration can easily withdraw the current “Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement.”
A: Let’s hope that the decriminalization of drugs continues. I can’t debate the federal versus state aspect of this, but I still say that working for a marijuana grower in a state that has legalized pot sales sounds fine. It’s interesting how the right and the left have come together about the costs and consequences of the drug war. It’s hard to imagine that our next president would make draconian enforcement of federal marijuana laws a priority.
Q. Hosting Guests in Small Apartment?: Six months ago my husband was transferred to a new position in a city about eight hours away from our hometown, where we had a three-bedroom condo and a large yard. We were able to host guests and have parties quite a bit. When we moved we decided we would take a substantially smaller place temporarily so we could save for a house. Several people asked about staying with us and visiting, and I have had to turn them down and explain our new living situation. Last night I received a rather nasty email from one of my friends. She is miffed that I suggested a hotel and said that we should have offered our own bedroom for her and her husband and that we should sleep on the living room floor. Was I rude to not offer this? And how do I respond to this email?
A: At least you didn’t get a five-page letter detailing all your other flaws. No, you were not rude to explain that you are in tight quarters, that you would love to see your friends, but that you can’t put people up but can offer some hotel recommendations. When people stay with friends, the visitors do not get the hosts’ bed, but like Goldilocks have to hope that the sofa bed, or the air mattress is not too hard or too soft. You can respond to the email by saying, “I understand that you won’t be visiting. I hope you have fun vacation plans elsewhere.”