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. Green-Eyed Millennial: One of my best friends, “Nicole,” is from an extremely wealthy family, while my parents are lower-middle-class and have given me very little financial support since I started college. Nicole and I were roommates all through school, and our financial differences did not manifest in our little New England college town. However, it’s been three years since graduation, we both live in Manhattan, and the disparities in our economic situation have become starker by the day. Nicole has not held a steady job since we graduated—her parents pay her rent on an expensive Midtown apartment, and she fills her time with working out, shopping, and a series of expensive hobbies. I, on the other hand, work at a nonprofit, pay my own bills, and like most people my age, am on a very tight budget. Nicole thinks it’s reasonable to spend $75 a person on brunch or a few hundred dollars in bar tabs. I also find myself growing increasingly resentful of the professional opportunities she eschews. Her parents are incredibly well-connected and have tried to set her up dozens of times with fantastic internships and jobs—often the very same ones that I’ve fruitlessly sent out applications for. She turns them down because she wants to “find her passion.” The other day she mentioned that her father had set her up with a gig as an associate at a top consulting company, which she turned down because she “would rather live in poverty than work somewhere that soul-sucking.” I almost walked out in fury. Nicole has been one of my closest friends for years, and when her wealth and connections aren’t featured in our conversation, she’s a genuinely lovely, warm, funny person. But I can’t stop myself from seething at how she’s content to ignore professional opportunities I would kill for so she can become a character off Gossip Girl or whatever. Any advice?
A: Here’s an illustration of the soul-sucking nature of having everything handed to you. Nicole is a kind of parasite, although perhaps one could view her life in economic terms as a pass-through for keeping afloat the service economy. If you are indeed serious friends, I think it’s time for a serious talk. For one thing, you have to explain now that you two are long past being on a school meal plan, and you simply don’t have the money for a $75 brunch; a $7.50 brunch is more like it. And I don’t know why you don’t call her out on her decisions. When she turns down a choice gig at a consulting company (her parents must be really well-connected), you can say that you think she’s making a huge mistake. Say she obviously will never live in poverty but, despite her parents’ money, if she won’t step up and start a career, she is going to find herself completely dependent on them because now is the time to start working one’s way up. But Nicole may already feel she’s at the top. If the pinnacle of her day is an excellent mani-pedi, you may find you have no room in your day for someone you no longer respect.
Q. Restaurant Etiquette With Babies: When dining out with our children (we have a 4-year-old and 10-month-old twins), bits of food often will fall on the floor under high chairs. Upon payment of our bill, my husband insists on getting down on the floor to pick up the bits and pieces of food off the floor. I find this completely humiliating—he looks ridiculous, even if he is conscientious. I say restaurants that serve families are surely prepared and expect to do a quick sweep when flipping the table. Should we clean the crumbs that fall from the table or not?
A: Cleaning up spills and drips is a core competency of restaurant workers. If one of your children chucks a drumstick on the floor, sure, you pick it up. But you don’t have to turn yourself into a human Hoover at the end of the meal because the kids have been messy. When eating out with three children under 5 years old, what you are obligated to do is budget for an excellent tip.
Q. Re: Green-eyed Millennial: Is it wrong to note that with all these jobs and internships falling at her feet, Nicole has never said, “I don’t think I’d be good at this job, but my friend from college would be excellent!”
A: Indeed! Nicole doesn’t even offer to pick up the tab for her impoverished classmate, let alone help her with juicy job prospects. Some friend!
Q. Adoption and Relationships: I’ve been with my boyfriend for about 10 years. About nine years ago, we had a baby whom we decided to place for adoption, and nobody in either of our families knows. He thinks that in order to have a good relationship with his family, they need to know, and that it’s the right thing to do. I can’t help but feel that this would blow my world apart. I know we made the best decision, but I still can’t bring myself to share this with anyone outside of my therapist. I’m perfectly fine keeping it to myself, but I don’t want him to suffer because he can’t. Do they “deserve” to know, and is that the right thing to do?
A: You two must be pretty distant, both physically and psychologically, if you were able to get through a pregnancy and place a baby for adoption without anyone in either family discovering. Once upon a time, the entire adoption process was thought of as a shameful secret. Young women disappeared for months to supposedly visit distant relatives. Babies were adopted and their records sealed, and some were never told they weren’t the biological offspring of their parents. It is so much better today that much of that shame and secrecy has been lifted, and the rights of the adopted to know their origins have been expanded. You have treated the birth and placement of your child as an embarrassing, hidden episode in your lives, but this has long weighed on your boyfriend. You do not have an obligation to tell your family, but obviously he can’t tell his without it directly affecting you. I would recast this not as a question of your family members “deserving” this information, but as one that is about the effect this secret is having on you both. You have a therapist, so why not invite your boyfriend in for a few sessions to work through these important issues? In any case, because the world has changed, you surely must have grappled with the notion that you have a child out in the world who may in the next decade seek out his or her biological parents. If your child does, I think he or she does deserve such a meeting not only with you, but with his or her extended family.
Q. Re: Restaurant Etiquette With Babies: This parent seemingly never worked as a server. I have an 18-month-old, and every time we eat out, I absolutely do a quick sweep of the floor because I was a server at one point, and therefore had to deal with this. I don’t get every single crumb, but make an effort to get most of the mess. It doesn’t take more than a minute, and I have had a number of servers thank me for doing so. However, you are right that if someone does not do this, be prepared to leave an excellent tip.
A: I think the issue is what’s the definition of mess. A child throwing a cascade of food off the side of the high chair should be dealt with by the parents. But eating in restaurants generates mess: dirty dishes and napkins, crumbs, spills, etc. Part of the pleasure of eating out is that someone else prepares the food and cleans up the mess, and you pay for that privilege.
Q. Uneducated Guess: My stepdaughter is gorgeous, successful, and self-made. Her father and I are professionals with advanced degrees. “Sissy” took her own path and dropped out of high school to travel the world. For a couple of years, she landed in Poshtown, home to a prestigious university. She bartended and taught yoga classes. Now in her early 30s, she has built a solid résumé as a stylist. She is on the cusp of landing a major account, from hard work and talent. What concerns me is that she lists World Class U as her alma mater on social media. I am worried that she is sabotaging herself. There are definitely people from her past who could unwittingly blow her cover. I asked her father to address this with her, but he thinks it’s amusing that she has embellished her CV. Is he right? Should I address this with her?
A: There is nothing amusing about wrecking your career over a stupid and unnecessary inflation of one’s credentials. What’s really ridiculous about your stepdaughter’s lie is that a college degree is not necessary to her professional advancement. But lying about having such a degree could be the means of destroying what she’s built. Do some searching of stories of people who have gotten fired for less egregious lies about credentials than your daughter and give these examples to your husband. It would be best if he were the one to tell her that she needs to scrub all references to her having graduated from World Class ASAP. If he won’t, then I hope you have a good enough relationship with her that she would understand your bringing it up is an act of love.
Q. Re: Green-eyed Millennial: If Nicole and you are such close friends. maybe her parents might be willing to help out a good friend of their daughter.
A: It’s worth a try before the friendship fades out for the letter writer to ask Nicole if she could meet with her parents to ask if they would be willing to help her with trying to get a job at a specific firm where the parents may have connections. They may be gratified to actually help one young person!
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.