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 morning. I look forward to your questions!
Q. Too Soon for Farts?: I’ve only been seeing this guy casually for about a month, and on our date last night he let one rip and it stunk up the whole car. He apologized, etc., and I know he is lactose-intolerant, but does this mean he doesn’t like me? His farting in front of me is very disrespectful, and if you really cared to impress a girl, you wouldn’t do this? Thoughts?
A: You have so come to the wrong place for endorsement of your philosophy. I am of the school that he was showing you he was comfortable enough with you to let one rip. Sure you were trapped, but a moving vehicle with the windows down offers the greatest chance for sulfur dissipation. It’s good he apologized, but it’s too bad you didn’t laugh hysterically and say, “Nice one!” If you care to continue to see this guy, maybe on your next date you should give him a beautifully wrapped package of pills for lactose intolerance, with a note that says, “This made me think of you.”
Q. Meat and ’Taters!: About a year ago, my wife cut meat from her diet entirely and has since become completely vegan. I fully support her dietary choices, but I don’t share them and I am beginning to resent the way in which her choices are becoming my choices. She complains bitterly when I cook meat at home and increasingly passes judgment on my diet and even choice of clothing. (Leather is taboo.) I love her dearly, but I’m feeling cornered, persistently nagged, and incredibly resentful. I find myself “acting out”; for example ordering tartare or massive steaks at restaurants, and increasingly we eat apart so that I don’t have to hear the negative comments or put up with the schoolgirl behavior (hissing between the teeth, goggle eyes, gagging, etc.). I’ve tried talking it out but am not getting through to her and am seriously contemplating divorce because my home life has grown so unbearable. I struggle to understand how one issue has taken us from two decades of happiness to utter misery. Is the situation salvageable? Am I insane to put steak over love?
A: Maybe your wife feels she would be even healthier if she cut meat, dairy, and you out of her life. You are right that two people who have significantly different eating styles can live companionably under the same roof. But that requires each to have a live-and-let-live attitude—which means the vegan cannot constantly point out that the omnivore is not letting innocent creatures live. You’ve been married for 20 years, and if hissing, goggle eyes, and gagging noises are out of character for your wife, maybe there is another underlying issue here. But before you contact a divorce lawyer so you can have a burger in peace, you’ve got to tell your wife that while you support her choices, her disparagement of your food intake is actually putting your marriage in grave jeopardy, and something has to be done.
Q. Wardrobe Malfunction: The other day I saw a woman walking outside at my university whose skirt had ridden up high enough in the back to see the bottom of her underwear. I considered telling her but decided against it because I am a man and did not want to come across as creepy. She looked college-aged and I am in my mid 20s in grad school. Did I make the right decision?
A: When our family was in Toronto last year, we all went out on a very windy day. Our teenage daughter was wearing a very short skirt and while walking down a main boulevard, a polite Canadian woman came up to her and said, “Eh, excuse me. So sorry to tell you, but your bum is totally out.” (This has become a catchphrase for our family.) However, I think you made the totally right decision not to mention to this student that her bum was totally out. Given the hypersensitive atmosphere on campus today (see the great Atlantic piece “The Coddling of the American Mind”), it was probably best that you didn’t approach an unknown female with the information you could view her nether regions. Indeed, It seems ridiculous not to warn a stranger about a wardrobe malfunction, but sadly I think you were right to consider your advice could be wildly misconstrued.
Q. 30 Going On 17: My girlfriend and I have been together for almost three years. She’s a wonderful, intelligent woman, and I love her very much. We recently purchased a condo and moved in together. It’s going very well except for one thing: Her mostly unemployed 30-year-old son lives with us. I made it clear when we were talking about buying a place that it simply wouldn’t happen if he didn’t at least pay rent, since we had to buy a larger place to make room for the extra human baggage. He makes a little money from freelance jobs my girlfriend gives him, but he’s a very large man, eats like a horse, rarely cleans up after himself without being pestered to do so, is usually home 24/7, sleeps during the day, and is anything but proactive when it comes to chores around the house. I love his mother and we get along very well when he’s not around, but this guy really pushes my buttons and I can feel my blood pressure rise whenever he’s around. We really want him to just get a job—any job—and move out, but we don’t want him to have to live under a bridge either. What can I do to encourage him to grow up, act like a responsible man, get a job, and leave the nest so we can get on with our close-to-retirement lives?
A: You decided to make expensive, contractual living arrangements with someone who comes with a party you consider “extra human baggage.” Sorry, but it’s on you that you agreed to allowing this unproductive, slobby lump to lumber into your living quarters. The time to address this was when you started this relationship. If your girlfriend has a parasitic son, sure that’s her business, but it becomes your business when she suggests he move in with you and make your lives a misery. I don’t know what’s wrong with this young adult, but something is drastically off in their relationship if she thinks it’s a good idea for him to live with the two of you to better facilitate his mooching. I don’t think there’s anything you can do to change the son. The question is, what are you willing to do to change your own circumstances.
Q. Re: Too Soon for Farts: Is that LW for real? If this man is truly lactose-intolerant, he may have really tried to hold it in, but lost the battle of the gasses—not really his fault. If her standards state that this is disrespectful and indicates he may not be interested, then it is likely that she probably has not ever or ever will have a lasting relationship. Life isn’t what you see on TV!
A: Thanks! But maybe she should watch more TV, because it’s full of advertisements aimed at people who are losing the gas battle.
Q. People Don’t Take My Terminal Illness Seriously: I am 23, and in the early stages of a neurodegenerative disease that has no cure or any treatment in sight. I take medication to manage my symptoms, but my best outlook is about 15 years of life as my mind and body decay. While my partner and closest friends are understanding and supportive and have done their due diligence, my family and other acquaintances have not and often say things like “They’re always inventing new treatment!” or “You never know what will actually happen.” I do know, as I have watched other family members succumb to it. I know some of these things are what people say when they don’t know what else to say or are uncomfortable, but they feel like they discredit the struggle I am facing now and in my future. The worst is when they comment about when I am much older or my future with my daughter and being a grandmother and all that, something many doctors have assured me is not a possibility. I do not know how to respond to these statements, and they make me feel sad and angry.
A: I am so sorry about your diagnosis, and even if everyone behaved perfectly, this is a terrible blow that of course is often going to leave you sad and angry. You’re right to accept that many people make anodyne statements about cures because they don’t know what else to say—and they hope it’s true. We constantly hear about breakthroughs around the corner, but tragically the neurodegenerative diseases have remained stubbornly beyond a cure. My best advice is for you to talk to a support group of other people with your illness. They also are dealing with the same thing, and they will have many suggestions on not only how to parry these comments, but how to deal with this emotionally. It’s probably best if you have some anodyne statements at the ready for when people talk about cures or seeing your grandchildren, something like “I can only hope that you turn out to be right.”
Q. Re: Wardrobe Malfunction: I think it would have been OK to say something. Once, while walking through a crowded train station, a man tapped me on my shoulder to bashfully tell me that my skirt was pulled up and stuck in my backpack. It was apparent that this man felt awkward about telling me, but he was the only one to step up and do so, and I was very grateful.
A: Of course it’s OK! Anyone should be grateful to be told their nether regions are inadvertently on display. But this young man was reflecting on his assessment of the potential peril of tapping a fellow student on the shoulder and saying he was observing her underwear. It seems ridiculous to have to think such a benign act could be misconstrued. But if you read some of the extreme sexual harassment codes in place at universities, you will understand why this young man rightly hesitated to speak.
Q. Wedding Gift for Ex-Wife’s Family?: My ex-wife’s cousin, with whom I always had a good relationship, is getting married. My ex-wife and her boyfriend (and reason for our divorce) are attending the wedding with our children. I was not invited to the wedding, for obvious reasons, but my instinct was to send a small gift from their registry to wish them well. However, now I’m unsure if it’s appropriate. Should I send a gift?
A: That’s a lovely gesture. Enclose a note expressing your happiness for the cousin. No one should misconstrue this as a request for an invitation, or as anything but the sincere expression of good wishes that it is.