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. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Lady Killer: One of my good friends, “Chelsea,” has been dating a seemingly nice guy, “Larry,” for the past six months. They are both in their late 20s and Chelsea is very open about the possibility of settling down and starting a life with Larry. Through a shared acquaintance I recently learned that while Larry was in college he was accused of murdering his roommate. During his trial he was found innocent, but all materials from the case make the verdict seem only as a result of a lack of evidence. Chelsea has never made mention of this and I am not sure she is even aware of Larry’s past. I fear for her safety and think Larry’s murderous history is important for her to know. Is it within my place to inform Chelsea?
A: I do think “I need to tell you that I was acquitted of murdering my college roommate” is an important conversation to have with a beloved. Let’s hope Chelsea knows, has done her own due diligence, and is confident that the verdict was just. But if she doesn’t know, she needs to. Keep in mind, that if you tell her, there could be a “shoot the messenger” problem. But the message has to get to her. If he hasn’t told her, that alone should make her run.
Q. Wedding Etiquette: My fiancé and I are getting married in 19 days. We assumed his family would be attending. This morning, his mother told me that she will likely not go, because she doesn’t want to see her ex-husband. This is new, though her anger and resentment toward him isn’t, and we were expecting a meltdown surrounding the fact that he was invited (and have weathered several in the past two months). Lately, I’ve begun getting calls from other guests asking us to “un-invite” people. While I won’t accommodate them, I do try to talk to the people making these requests to work out a way to make them more comfortable. Part of me just wants to call it off and elope; my maid of honor tells me to just stop taking calls. I can’t get an accurate count for the rehearsal dinner or reception, and these are things that I need to have. How do I tell people that they have no influence over the guest list, and that once they say “Yes” or “No,” they can’t change their minds?
A: You two may not want to return from your honeymoon if you are marrying into such a viper’s nest. I often get letters about one parent refusing to attend a milestone event if the other parent has been invited. My suggestion is to say, “It would mean so much to me to have you there. But if you can’t come, I will miss you.” Do not give into such emotional blackmail. If your future mother-in-law wants to boycott her son’s wedding because her son has the temerity to invite his father, then she won’t be there. As for the rest of the loons, I agree that you should not accommodate them, but you should also not be providing therapy as to why they don’t want to be in the same room as Uncle Marvin or Aunt Cindy. If people say they won’t come if so-and-so will be there, just say, “We will miss you. Goodbye.” Surely, at this point you’ve ponied up for the catering, and if you have to eat part of the bill because there are some empty seats, you will be paying a relatively small price for information about the relatives you want to avoid in the future.
Q. Deceased Boyfriend’s Son: Eight years ago, at the age of 17, I met Ryan, an 18-year-old single dad to a beautiful 6-month-old Brayden. Brayden was born very premature due to pregnancy complications that ultimately ended his young mother’s life. Ryan wasn’t looking for anything at the time considering the loss, but within a year we were in love. I was welcomed into his entire family with open arms and my family was just as welcoming to him and his son. Three years after we met, Ryan was hit and killed by a drunk driver. Before the age of 5, Brayden had become an orphan. I moved in with Ryan’s parents to help care for Brayden. Coping through the most tragic loss of my life brought me closer to Brayden then I had imagined. He is like a son to me. With his grandparents’ permission, he calls me Mom. I was at his first day of kindergarten, and have been present at every school event, conference, award ceremony. I couldn’t see my future without Brayden in it. I have made sure he knows who both his parents are and how much they loved him, and he understands they are his parents, but he understands too how much I care for him. Brayden is now 8, and I am engaged to a wonderful man who has always been so warm and welcoming with Brayden. Ryan’s family has been amazing with welcoming my fiancé into our life. What I’m struggling with is that when I get married, my husband and I will be moving into our own home in the same town. I would love nothing more than for Brayden to stay with us whenever he’d like, even if it was permanent! My fiancé feels the same. I haven’t spoken to Brayden about this because he is a child and his legal guardians are his grandparents. Would it be appropriate to share the idea with Brayden’s grandparents?
A: I’m reeling from this story and am so moved that you have stepped up to be mother to a boy who has suffered such enduring losses so young. I’m assuming that Brayden’s grandparents are fairly young themselves and so their raising him doesn’t raise issues of their being too elderly for this task. These people—who have endured their own terrible losses—have honored your place in Brayden’s life and embraced that he thinks of you as a mother. Surely, they will want this important connection to continue. So discuss your move and what it means with Brayden’s grandparents. Of course you want Brayden to stay with you, but this will be easier to do if you all set up some schedule of visitation so that it isn’t put on Brayden to initiate seeing you. Then the four of you should sit down with Brayden and explain to him that your home will always be his home, and that, say, every other weekend he will be sleeping over in his own special bedroom.
Q. Re: Follow-Up to Too Old and Too Tired: I just wanted to write again and thank you for your sound advice, and to especially thank you for posting all those kind responses from other mothers facing similar dilemmas. I went to a clinic very soon after writing to you, just to see what my options were. I was given an ultrasound and told I was about six weeks at the time, and medical abortion (the pill) seemed like the best choice, but I couldn’t go through with it that day. I talked a couple times with a very good friend, who also had the good sense to just listen, and understand that there really isn’t any advice that can be offered—you truly have to work it out for yourself. It definitely would have been easier if I felt like I could talk to my husband, but I couldn’t, and that felt like a huge betrayal too. So I went along for a couple of weeks, had three different appointments to take the pills, but I just kept canceling. My brain went round and round and back and forth and honestly, I was OK with the abortion one minute, and wanting to keep it the next. No decision felt like “the right decision.” Finally, I went back again, and had to have another ultrasound, and should have been 10 weeks, but was still only measuring 6½ weeks. I was diagnosed with a blighted ovum, and ended up having a miscarriage. The doctor at the clinic was incredibly compassionate, and I felt such a sense of both sadness and relief. I won’t say I feel guilt-free, but the weight of having to make that decision was taken out of my hands. I told my husband about the miscarriage, and he has given me lots of hugs and support (and also some crap about not telling him in the first place). In the end, I can only say that I am still pro-choice, and I have such a better understanding of what that term means. “Pro-choice” means that no one can, and no one should be able to tell you what you have to do. I have much more compassion for women who have to make that difficult decision, and just wanted to say thank you again for all the supportive words.
A: Thank you for letting us know. This is such powerful testimony about the profundity of making this choice and the importance of this choice remaining available.
Q. Re: Wedding Etiquette: Y’know, these guests are missing a golden opportunity. They’ve got a chance to go to the wedding, see their feudin’ partner, then show everybody how they’re completely above the feud by being perfectly polite!
A: Alternatively, a food fight would make for a memorable wedding. Cellphone videos await!
Q. Mystery Mother: My mother has always been vague about her family. We’ve seen photos and had hints that her childhood was unhappy, but never met any of her relatives. Recently, one of my brothers had to go through a security check for a job. He passed, but the official then said, “Your father’s information checks out, but there are no records of your mother being born when and where she said she was.” When he confronted our mother, she mumbled something about being adopted, but she’s the spitting image of photos of her mother. Now my brother wants to hire a private detective to find out the truth and wants us to help. I’m torn, because I suspect the information is accurate for an earlier year—she’s a vain woman and lying about her age on our birth certificates sounds like the sort of thing she’d do. Should we do this or leave well enough alone?
A: I understand the pull of uncovering the mystery of your mother’s origins, but it would be best, if you are trying to find the truth, to be truthful with your mother before you set out. The security check result is a good opening to address with her the enduring questions about her family. In a kind, nonthreatening way, you children can tell her that you’d like to know more about where you come from, too, by knowing more about her. See how she takes it (and I’m assuming you’ll get more obfuscation) before deciding whether this is a burning enough question for all of you to decide to solve. There is some reason for your mother’s behavior. It could be as simple as a combination of her own personality quirks and her desire to distance herself from people she never felt close to. It could be that she escaped from something terrible, and desperately wanted to leave it behind. Maybe there is something she feels a sense of shame about, and she feared passing on what she believed to be a stigma to her own children. Think through the implications for her, and all of you, if against her will, you decide to uncover a past she has so thoroughly buried.
Q. Re: Wedding Etiquette: My MIL abhors my FIL, but went to the wedding, rehearsal dinner and everything. She was polite and showed that the best revenge is living well. Even when some of my FIL’s family was cold to her.
A: Indeed. And how awful for parents of the bride and groom to use the occasion of their child’s wedding to demonstrate what a hash marriage can turn out to be.
Q. Should I End My Marriage?: With the recent iPhone updates, unbeknownst to me and my husband his Safari history was put on my phone too. I noticed a favorite added of a naked celebrity porn site. I asked him about it and he grabbed my phone and his hands started shaking. We had an hourlong discussion during which I insisted I needed to see the phone history to see exactly what was going on. He insisted it was just porn and I didn’t need to see anything. He erased the data. I feel so uneasy, like I don’t know this man anymore. And what in the world was in that history that I couldn’t see? Walking away isn’t easy; we have two young kids, a mortgage, and I’m currently unemployed because I’m in an intense nursing program. Help!
A: Maybe there should be an opt in/opt out option for iPhone upgrades, something like: “Would you like to share browsing history with others on this account, or would you prefer not to ruin your marriage?” You need to calm down. What you know now is that your husband looks at porn. Surveys show that just about everyone’s husband looks at porn, so don’t let this fact undo you. Yes, your husband’s behavior set off your alarms, so you need to gather yourself and reopen this discussion. Tell him you are not concerned about the nude celebrity site. But you are concerned that he may be doing something that could jeopardize your family. If he’s looking at child pornography, for example, that could ruin all of you. Tell him that what you’re asking is for him to be honest about whether something is going on that you need to know. I hope he can then put your mind at ease. If he can, then you two don’t need to separate, you just need to separate your browsers.
Q. Re: Wedding Etiquette: When my son got married, he asked me if I would walk down the aisle with my ex-wife, with whom I had spoken only under special circumstances for years. I told him I would do whatever he wanted, and that’s what he wanted. It makes life a lot easier to be able to tolerate these occasions, which is particularly important now that there’s a grandchild—she only has one birthday a year.
A: Exactly! There are some occasions for which you just both have to be there—weddings and funerals for starters. How healing if you and your ex can be in the same room to delight in your granddaughter’s blowing out her birthday candles.
Q. Re: Deceased Boyfriend’s Son: I have no advice or insight, but just want to say that this was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.
A: I agree it was so moving.