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.)
Q. Not Like Hillary Clinton: My name is Hilary, with one L. Ever since I was a young child, acquaintances have jokingly called me “Hillary Clinton” or made Hillary Clinton–related jokes. Recently, for obvious reasons, these jokes seem to occur more often than ever, especially when I’m meeting someone for the first time. I find these comments incredibly aggravating, especially as I don’t care for many of Clinton’s political views. Is there something I can say to new acquaintances who bring this up, and/or to those who repeatedly make the joke?
A: It says something about how long two-L Hillary has been in public life that you have been hearing Hillary Clinton remarks since you were a little girl, and now you’re a grown woman. I’m afraid as we’re heading to the 2016 campaign, you’re going to have to deal with a lot more of these comments. Do not take offense or get into political hassles. Just laugh this off—you can imitate Hillary’s own well-known belly laugh. Have a canned phrase or two to deal with this, something like, “When my parents named me, they were never expecting that Hilary would have a presidential ring!”
Q. Should I Invite an Unvaccinated Child to My Daughter’s Birthday Party?: My daughter’s first birthday is coming up in two months. I have a wonderful group of fellow moms with children around the same age I have become friends with. One mother, with whom I am not close, has chosen not to vaccinate her infant at all. She is vocal about her stance as an anti-vaxxer on Facebook. Personally, I am a staunch supporter of vaccinations. I had planned to invite all mothers (and their families) to my daughter’s birthday party, but I am concerned about inviting an unimmunized baby to the party, especially since he has been ill quite frequently. Should I invite them or not?
A: I think it’s fair to explain to people who refuse to vaccinate their children that for the sake of the health of their kids, and everyone else’s, you are not extending invitations to the not-inoculated. There has to be some social cost to people who want their children to ride the herd immunity of others, and that cost is that they get culled from the social herd. It is too bad for the kids, but the anti-vax movement is pernicious and dangerous to all. I read somewhere the excellent point that the anti-vax movement has so much traction because most of the people supporting it grew up in a time that childhood diseases were generally wiped out due to vaccinations. So they have never experienced firsthand the effects of these dreadful, once widespread diseases. As I’ve mentioned before, if polio were still rampant, I assume these parents would not be saying polio is a natural thing and that they would never poison their child with a shot to prevent it. Let’s hope that some terrible epidemic is not what’s required to end this foolish movement.
Q. Being Harassed at Church: My husband and I have been attending a wonderful church in our town for the past two years. Recently “Greg,” an elderly gentleman at the church, has taken an unsettling interest in me. He will seek me out at church to shake my hand—without letting go for several minutes—and request hugs while eyeing me up and down suggestively. I have tried avoiding him as he creeps me out but he actively works to find me every week. If I’m busy doing church duties and he can’t find me he will corner my husband and ask “Where are you hiding your wife at?” I’m starting to feel like I can’t go to church anymore without his making me feel incredibly uncomfortable and upset. What can I do to stop this? If I were at work I would go to HR and file a harassment claim but I’m at a loss for what to do in a religious setting.
A: Your church has HR: Your pastor. Go to her or him, explain what’s happening, and say that things have gotten so bad that you are thinking of leaving the church. If your church is as wonderful as you say, your pastor will have had training in being able to have this kind of extremely difficult conversation with Greg. (And if this is new and alarming behavior on Greg’s part, your minister should contact a family member of Greg’s about getting him a medical check-up.)
Q. Boss’s Nasty Wife: My boss’s wife is really nasty toward me. She either pretends I don’t exist or will completely ignore me, even when I am part of the larger conversation! My boss has never said anything about her behavior toward me, and I’m not about to ask. He and I enjoy a friendly, relaxed relationship that is completely professional. We are to go on a weeklong business trip soon, and she will be coming along. I dread the thought of a week’s worth of uncomfortable dinners and lunches with her outright ignoring me at the table. What should I do?
A: I’m assuming you only encounter her on social occasions, so you have to do your best to limit these. Even during a weeklong work trip, you can’t be expected to take every meal with your boss, especially if his wife is tagging along—and is possibly tagging along to monitor you. So you should just excuse yourself most evenings, unless you specifically are having a work-related dinner. Have a bunch of escape lines ready: “I’ll let you two have a night alone.” “I’m beat, I’m going to order room service.” “I’m not that hungry, I’ll just grab something, and I’ll see you at the meeting in the morning,” etc.
Q. Re: Harassed at Church : If you are old enough to have a husband, you are old enough to say, emphatically—“Don’t touch me!” This is an essential life skill. It doesn’t come easily to all, but it is still important for when the pastor, HR department, or husband is not around.
A: True that when the old creep moves in for a hug, she can stiff-arm him and announce, “Do not touch me!” But this guy is stalking and harassing her and I think that means taking this to a higher authority to deal with.
Q. Trapped Again: About six months ago, I was devastated when my boyfriend of many years broke up with me. We worked together and about two months later he began dating a beautiful, younger co-worker of ours. While they didn’t do anything wrong this broke my heart all over again and the first time I bumped into them in the elevator holding hands I nearly had a panic attack. When a great job opportunity arose not long after that, I jumped at it, and I’m now much happier and working at a smaller company I love. I just found out that the new girlfriend has interviewed for a job at my company. I have no ill will against this woman, but I am not over my ex and I just cannot bump into her every day. Do I go to my wonderful boss and tell her the truth—that if this woman is hired, for my own mental health I’ll have to start looking for a new job (making myself look like a vindictive crazy person)? I’m valued a lot at this company and I know they’ll want to keep me, but it seems unethical to bring my personal life to bear on hiring decisions or potentially impact this woman’s career. Yet the thought of leaving my new company makes me incredibly sad.
A: Let’s hope that if the hiring process moves along and your boss notes that you worked at the same company as Ms. Young-Beautiful, your boss comes to you for an assessment of the new candidate. Then you can say that you have to recuse yourself from any discussion because after you and your long-time boyfriend broke up, she became his girlfriend shortly afterward. That’s all you should convey about your personal situation. But your boss will then be free to calculate, or not, this potential awkwardness. If Ms. Y-B gets the job, sure it would be hard for you, but it would also be bad for your career to jump so quickly from a place at which you are thriving. You may not be over your ex, but you need to do whatever you can to speed this along, including getting back in the dating scene. Do not dwell on her potential hiring now, but if it comes to pass, and you find yourself in great distress, see if talking it out with a therapist gives you some strategies for continuing to blossom at your new place of work.
Q. Re: Harassed at Church: The pastor needs to know. Greg may be scaring off other congregants or guests as well. Sometimes churches attract “Gregs” because people there are often too nice or too afraid of offending to say anything.
A: Another good point about why she should tell the pastor.
Q. Single: A friend of mine is in her late 20s and has never been in a serious romantic relationship. It’s a huge source of insecurity for her, and she talks about it frequently. I try to listen and support her, but the problem is: Her insecurity makes her very mean. She’s cursed out a male friend she had a crush on for no particular reason. She’ll insult another friend behind her back by saying she’s too ugly to get a date. She’ll talk to me for hours about how lonely she is, then insult me in front of friends by implying that I’m sexless and worse off than she is. Logically, I know she’s doing this because she’s insecure, but it’s getting really irritating to put up with. Most of this is recent (a guy rejected her) and it may blow over, but is there any way to get her to stop?
A: I understand why this woman can’t find romance, but not why she’s your friend. Sure, there is something going on that leads to her behaving this way, but the issue is that she treats everyone like dirt. She should be insecure, because unless she has some redeeming qualities you fail to mention, she’s a louse. I don’t know if there’s a way to get her to stop treating everyone so badly, but there is definitely a way to stop socializing with her.
Q. Re: Trapped Again: I disagree; she shouldn’t tell her boss any of that personal stuff. It’s unprofessional. She should simply say, “I don’t know about her work, however she and I have an unpleasant personal history.” And excuse herself from any further discussion.
A: I was suggesting she give the limited context of why she couldn’t discuss this woman, with the hope that the boss decides the office is too small to make the new girlfriend an addition. I get your point, but what you are suggesting raises ominous and potentially unfair red flags about this woman.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week!