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. Brother’s Keeper: Today is my brother’s birthday. About a year ago, I cheated on my girlfriend and confided in him. My girlfriend has since forgiven me, and we’ve worked hard to move on and leave the past behind us, but she found out that my brother knew about my infidelity and has carried a hateful resentment ever since. She believes if he had any honor or respect for women then he would have ratted me out or at least tried harder to stop me. She forbid me to see him for months, and I reluctantly agreed until I finally broke down and told her I can’t be with her if she forces me to choose between her and my brother. He and I live in the same city and were fairly close until this happened. I see him from time to time now, and we have several mutual friends, but she still refuses to have anything to do with him, and there’s a lot of tension whenever he comes up. My brother is nonconfrontational to say the least, and prefers to just ignore the situation and make the most of our rare time together. Is my girlfriend merely protecting herself as she claims, or has her bitterness gone too far?
A: Keep the brother, lose her. She thinks infidelity is a nearly unforgivable offense, yet she has forgiven you. But she won’t forgive your brother for being told by you what you did. She actually has never forgiven you. She is going to make you pay for your transgression every day—your brother just happens to be the most convenient target. So go celebrate your brother’s birthday. Invite her to come along when you take your brother out. If she won’t go, fine. But if she tries to forbid you, you go without her. (How does she “forbid” you from seeing your brother? She locks you in your room?) You stepped out on your girlfriend for some reason. Now you have ample reason to end your relationship permanently.
Q. Creepy Neighbor: I have a neighbor directly behind me that can only be described as a creep. He ogles me, comments every time I take a shower, and follows me to the mailbox. He’s tried everything to get me to give him a copy of my house key. Believe it or not, he even once suggested drilling a hole in the wall between our apartments, supposedly to run a TV cable. (I don’t watch cable.) What’s even worse is my apartment is isolated, tucked way in the back. The other night at 3 a.m., I saw him just outside my window. Well, I went right to the office and let the agent know what I saw. Imagine my horror when she told me he had been in the office previously, worried about me because he thought someone was peeping on me. Prudie, she told him if he was up at night to go ahead and go around to my apartment and check things out! She essentially gave him permission to stalk and peep on me! Then she told me if I want a different apartment it would be significantly more money than what I pay now. This makes me sick!
A: Call the police. Your neighbor is harassing you, and you found him at your window at 3 a.m.—that’s illegal. If he wants to tell the cops the rental agent gave him “permission” to peep on you in the middle of the night, they will find that to be a good one. But even after he gets a warning from the cops, you will still be living next to this creep. Take the police report and contact the top management of the company and say either he needs to be kicked out or you need to be moved—at their expense. Unfortunately it may turn out to be that the only way you can feel safe and secure in your apartment is to find another one somewhere else.
Q. No Kids Allowed: After years of living in an apartment, I finally bought a condo in a downtown area of a major U.S. city. I’d love to have a housewarming party, but the majority of my friends have small children. Their housewarming parties have included kids, but they all moved into big houses in the suburbs. I do not want small kids in my one-bedroom condo that is not childproof. Not to mention the kids will be really bored. How do I say it nicely in the invite to please leave the kids with grandma or a babysitter? I don’t want to offend anyone, but I do want it to be adults-only.
A: Throw yourself a Saturday night cocktail party! You don’t need to mention that kids are not invited when the invitation shows a martini glass.
Q: Invalid Marriage: We recently found out that my “husband” is still married to his first wife. I feel like a fraud and want to get an annulment. My “husband” feels like it’s no big deal. It’s a big deal to me. What say you, Prudence?
A: Someone who marries his second wife while still married to his first wife is someone who would say bigamy is no big deal. That’s big of him. However, you are in jeopardy because you have none of the rights that accrue to a legal spouse. Get a lawyer, and protect yourself.
Q. Re: Creepy Neighbor: I had the same problem many years ago. My downstairs neighbor would play pornos very loudly when my boyfriend was out of town, would always invite me over to his house, and I’d find my underwear missing from the shared washer/dryer. The last straw was when I walked past his window (only way out of my upstairs apartment) and he had his computer screen pushed up against the window with a very graphic pornographic image on display. I went to the rental agency and explained the issues to them and told them I was going to call the police. They were very kind and said they would ask him to vacate, which they quickly did. Call the cops and have them speak to your neighbor, and let your rental agency know you’ve done this. They’re not smart if they want to keep someone who is harassing a tenant around.
A: Thanks for this advice and the happy news you got it resolved.
Q: Free-Spending In-Laws: My wife’s parents lived from paycheck to paycheck. My mother-in-law passed away five years ago, and my elderly father-in-law will have nothing but his Social Security to live on soon. He has alienated all of his children except my wife and has always been difficult to get along with. My wife wants him to move in with us and our three young children. I think this would be a disaster. He is in good health for his age, just without funds. How can I best explain to my wife that we are not responsible for her parents’ lifelong poor financial decisions?
A: And don’t you wish you had married one of the siblings who was estranged from this guy. Living from paycheck to paycheck is the situation many people find themselves in through no fault of their own because life is more expensive than their paychecks. But you make the point that your in-laws ended up with nothing because of a lifetime making poor financial decisions, which is something else. No, he can’t move in with you. He will utterly disrupt your family life and be an emotional and economic drain. Your wife may be a caring person, but she is pathologically attached to her father if she thinks having him underfoot every day is a good solution. He is elderly, so there are many social services available to keep an older person housed and fed. Get a list of those and direct him to them, or do the directing yourselves. Do not direct him to your guest room.
Q. Re: Invalid Marriage: You have to actually be legally married to get an annulment. If your husband is married to someone else, you don’t need an annulment because there’s no marriage to annul. But you do need an attorney.
A: Indeed, her marriage is a fraud and not valid. But this is a mess, and yes, she needs legal help.
Q. Gifts or No Gifts: I recently had a very small birthday party for my 3-year-old daughter. I indicated “please, no gifts” on the invitation; however, three out of four of the kids still brought a gift to the party. When my husband and I receive invitations that ask for no gifts, we never bring a gift. Is this wrong? Are we supposed to still bring a gift? Similarly, when invited for dinner at a friend’s house and the host indicates not to bring anything, you are still supposed to bring something, right?
A: “No gifts” is not code for “Gifts!” You did the right thing by not bringing one. Of course when people show up with gifts, the hosts need to be gracious, write thank-you notes, etc. But not following this request makes it awkward for all. Dinner parties are a little different. Not bringing anything means you are not being asked to supply a salad or dessert. But you still bring something to thank them for their hospitality, usually flowers or a bottle of wine.