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. Frozen Rat: I asked my husband to take our ailing rat to the veterinarian to be euthanized last Thursday. The rat was almost 2 years old and had a tumor on its mouth, but it was still a friendly animal that was so gentle. When I came home from work, he said he had “taken care of it.” It turns out he froze the rat in our deep freeze. I have been crying and grieving over this all weekend. We are barely speaking. He loves animals and didn’t think this would hurt the rat. He later apologized to me via text message. I am heartbroken. I am trying to be forgiving, but this is so awful that I don't even feel like I can reach out to friends to discuss it. How do I get past this?
A: I can understand your giving the very cold shoulder to a husband who decides to save on a vet bill by sticking an ailing pet in the freezer. It would be impossible to respond to such awful news with sangfroid. (The fact that most people consider your dear late pet to be a kind of vermin to be exterminated is irrelevant.) Please tell me the rat has now been properly dealt with—I’d hate to think of your visiting mother going to the deep freeze to retrieve a lasagna and … let’s not think about it. Your husband has apologized via text, so now you have to let the man speak to you. Let’s hope he’s abjectly remorseful and doesn’t try to make excuses for gross animal cruelty. I agree this is just not something that lends itself to hashing out with friends. Ideally, your husband can convince you it was a dreadful anomaly. And maybe you get over this by getting a new rat (shudder) together.
Q. In Response to “Old Wounds Healed”: I just read the letter from Sept. 3 from the friend of a little girl who died long ago, and I swear that person is talking about my sister. Next year will be 20 years since my sister died of a brain tumor, the letter writer described my sister’s personality exactly, and I have an unusual last name. The letter writer mentioned that she found her old best friend’s sister on social media. I’m actually not on social media, but I just looked on Facebook and found a woman with my name (although she spells it slightly differently). Maybe this is all just a coincidence, but the details were so similar that I just had to say something! An easy way to clear this up would be to find out what city and state this took place in. If she is actually talking about my sister, I would love to get in touch with her.
A: Thank you for getting in touch and for confirming that you would like to hear from someone who so cherished your late sister. You wrote the city in which you grew up, but I’m leaving it off here. I hope “Old Wounds Healed” will read this column and get in touch with me so I can see if you are her friend’s sister. You each should write to me at email@example.com. I’ll let everyone know if this was a real reunion.
Q. Re: Frozen Rat: Wow, Prudie, way to skimp on the issue. You say you understand stigma against rats to be irrelevant, but it’s throughout your answer. What about the sadism of the husband who took his wife’s beloved pet and killed it mercilessly and painfully and told her about it? This is far more severe than just the loss of a pet, and they definitely shouldn’t get another. The wife should be seeking counseling and considering whether she should stay in a marriage with such an ugly man!
A: No doubt “My husband put our dying rat in the freezer” could be grounds for divorce. I’m not giving him a pass, but she didn’t indicate that this is the final act she’s willing to take in a cruelty-filled marriage. It was a shocking act for which he has expressed remorse. I hope she finds he is sincerely filled with guilt and shame. And if so, surely he will be attentive and loving to the next rat.
Q. Niece Not So Nice: Eighteen years ago I moved halfway across the country, leaving my family behind. My 25-year-old niece is now moving to the same town where I live. I always thought we were pretty close and was very excited about this. It would be great to have someone to share the holidays with, and I know how hard it is to move where you know no one. However, after her most recent visit, she suddenly stopped speaking to me. She won’t return my texts. She won’t answer my calls. She tells other family members that she’ll talk to me when she’s ready. I just have no idea why she is doing this. I am deeply hurt and saddened. What can I do?
A: Consider carefully your last visit and see if there was some exchange you thought was fine and you can now see might have set her off—an inadvertent insult, a remark about a political issue dear to her heart, etc. If you come up with something, you can address that with her in a text: “Looking back I realize I said something that might have offended you. If so, I apologize, and would like us to get back on track … ” But if you truly don’t know, since she won’t tell you—and going silent without explaining why is very immature—you should feel free to turn to her parent for explication. Tell your brother or sister you were thrilled about having your niece in the neighborhood, but you are now distressed that something has happened, she won’t tell you what, and you are hoping at least for explication.
Q: Should I Feel Guilty About Using the Handicapped-Accessible Stall? I never, ever take a handicap parking spot, but I almost always go into a handicap bathroom stall if I can. It’s roomier and more comfortable, but the main reason I go there is that it’s bigger and I have mild claustrophobia. If I have to, I can use a regular stall, but I feel more relaxed and less anxious in the handicap stall, since I feel less boxed-in. Usually it’s fine, but in the past couple of weeks, several people have given me nasty looks or comments. Should I stop using this stall?
A: A handicapped bathroom stall is not like a handicapped parking place. The latter is exclusively for the use of someone with a disability. The former is not similarly restricted. Obviously, if there is a line and someone who needs such a stall is waiting, that person should have priority. But otherwise it is fine to use the handicapped stall. Ignore the looks and comments.
Q. Re: Frozen Rat: Actually, freezing is a very humane way to euthanize a rodent. They are designed to go into “hibernation” when the temperature starts to drop, which prevents both discomfort and panic. In fact, chilling young rats is an accepted form of anesthesia commonly used in animal research. Your husband was actually correct that it didn’t hurt the rat. Please don’t continue to make him feel guilty. He did the same thing a trained animal researcher would have done.
A: I’ve been doing this column for almost 10 years, and I really do appreciate when issues arise I’ve never dealt with before. The degree of cruelty involved in freezing one’s pet rat definitely is new territory. Because it’s the chat, I don’t have time to do much outside research, but a quick search turns up the use of hypothermia in young rodents, but notes that rapid chilling is uncomfortable. So while what the husband did may not be as awful at it initially sounds, it is not an appropriate way to end the life of an ailing pet rat.
Q. No Baby Talk, Please! My husband and I are in our mid-30s and recently began fertility treatment, which offers a roller coaster of high hopes and low spirits in the face of each month’s failures. I'm trying to remain optimistic over the next few months, but the target date for determining the success or failure of this treatment will be right around the time my brother gets married. My family is close-knit and caring but can sometimes be tactless, and some have made comments in the past speculating on possible pregnancy indicators. I tend to be sensitive, but I don’t want to take away from the celebration by turning into an emotional wreck if someone makes a thoughtless comment. I’m thinking about asking my parents to talk to their siblings in the weeks before the wedding and ask them not to bring up “baby talk,” but I don’t want my brother and sister-in-law to feel like I’m taking focus away from their day. Do I just carry a half-full wine glass around the reception and take a drink whenever someone asks if we’re pregnant yet? How do I protect myself but still support my brother?
A: “Are you pregnant?” is a question that is asked at great peril. You should not have to think about dealing with a barrage of such inquiries at a happy family event—or at any event. But since you know you come from a family where such things are asked, be prepared. If people start badgering you about whether you’re pregnant—and yes, a glass of wine is a good indicator you’re not—or when you’re going to be, or what’s going on—you can respond, “We’re not actually working on this while we’re at the wedding.” Or “Let’s just focus on the bride and groom.” Or “Excuse me, I need to refresh my drink.”
Q. Re: Frozen Rat: I am a veterinarian. Putting an animal in the freezer is not a humane way to euthanize any species, although it is often put forth (by people who don’t know any better) as ways to euthanize fish, reptiles, frogs, and small mammals. I didn’t want to let the comment go about it being not that bad, as I don’t want anyone to think this is a decent way for anything to die. There’s a reason no veterinarian euthanizes anything via freezer.
A: Thanks, and several other vets have similarly weighed in.
Q. Tell and Kiss? I am a female sophomore in college with an embarrassing lack of dating experience. I’m very shy and on the autism spectrum, so I’ve had a hard time meeting people. I had only ever been on one date until last week, when a great guy asked me out. We had a great time, and since then we have had several study sessions together, and we have another date planned for Saturday. I really like this guy, and I want this to last for a while, but I’m worried about our first kiss. I’ve never kissed anyone before, and I don’t really know how to. Should I tell him I’ve never kissed anyone before? I’m kind of embarrassed by this, and I’d rather he didn’t know, but if he tries to kiss me and I completely mess up, I want him to know why.
A: I hope you feel sorry for people who came of age before YouTube and had to figure this stuff out from dirty books hidden under their parents’ beds, word of mouth from clueless friends, and trial and error. But now you can type “How to kiss” into a search engine and find numerous step-by-step tutorials. So watch a bunch, absorb the style that appeals most of you, and go on that next date with confidence that you’re ready for the real thing.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. Talk to you next Tuesday. (Monday is Rosh Hashanah.) Have a great week.