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. Hug Toll: My husband forces me to give him hugs. I know this sounds like a really stupid problem to have. He has created a “hug toll,” and he won’t let me leave the room until I give him a hug. Here are some examples. I am running late for work and need to rush out the door. He will physically block my exit until I give him a hug. He doesn’t do this in a way that will hurt me; he’ll just pick me up until I give him his hug then he’ll let me go. Another scenario is when we are downstairs and I have to use the bathroom. He will block the stairs until I hug him. It’s really annoying. Sometimes I just don’t feel like giving hugs. I have told him this, but he just laughed at me. The hug “tax” is really obnoxious. How do I make it stop? He is 100 pounds heavier than me and a foot taller, so I can’t push my way out. How can I make it stop, Prudence? I love hugging him, just not on command. He’s a hug bully.
A: Your letter makes me think that perhaps it’s time for you to establish a “knee to the balls” tax in response to the “hug tax.” (I have not checked with the IRS for a ruling on this.) This is a stupid problem, because your husband is behaving stupidly, but it’s not a stupid problem in the sense that it is trivial. Your very large husband manhandles you when you’re on your way out the door or even going to the bathroom. This is profoundly not OK. People treat their pets with more respect for their autonomy than he’s giving you. You need to tell him this has to stop—now. Explain that he is undermining the very basis of your marriage, and you cannot continue to feel as if your own home is the equivalent of Checkpoint Charlie.
Q. Hateful Church Across the Street: My partner, my daughter, and I have recently signed a lease for an amazing apartment in a great neighborhood. We all believe people are entitled to their own beliefs, and if they’re not spreading hate, then it’s their right to be left alone. We noticed there is a church directly across the street from our new home, and I decided to go online to check it out. They do amazing mission and charity work—and also openly hate on gays and other religions that they do not tolerate because they are “false.” It turns out they often host a lot of hate-filled events right on their grounds. We can not back out of the lease or move again, but now I am afraid we are moving somewhere that could be problematic for us. My partner thinks we should hang a pride flag out front and be sure to always smile and wave to them, but I feel like we should avoid them at all costs. What do we do?
A: I think you should ignore them and just let them fade into the background. Sure, you could hang a pride flag, but if you’re doing it to change their minds, you won’t. While their views are noxious, as a society such views becoming less common and more marginal. You say they host “hate-filled gatherings,” but you don’t explain what these are. If they are burning crosses or have loudspeakers broadcasting vile views into your living room, that’s a cause for complaint. If they are just gathering on their property, and you feel because of their views such gatherings are inherently hate-filled, then pay no attention to them. You have a lovely apartment in a wonderful neighborhood, so don’t let the church across the street diminish the enjoyment of your good fortune.
Q. Saying No to Butt Play: My husband and I are newlyweds, and since our nuptials, my husband has decided to “spice things up” in the bedroom. I have always told him throughout our courtship that I do not like butt play, it doesn’t make me feel good, and I don’t plan on trying it again. Since we were wed, he has been pushing it on me, expecting it now that we are married. He even went so far as buying me a butt plug and a wide variety of lubes! I have had plenty of sexual experience and have tried numerous times different types of butt play, and I just don’t like it. He feels like it will somehow be different with him. How can I get him off my back about this without hurting his feelings? I am feeling so much pressure, and it has become a source of anxiety for me.
A: You get him off your back by turning over and definitively saying, “Get off my back and out of my rear end.” If after being—in Dan Savage’s lovely phrase—“good, giving, and game,” you conclude that a certain sexual activity is not only not for you, but it actually ruins sex for you, then your partner has to respect this. But if “butt play” is essential to your husband’s erotic life, you two had a chance to address this during your courtship. Given your division over this, maybe it should have been a deal-breaker. But he doesn’t now get to assert some marital right with your nether regions. He needs to butt out, pronto. You need to tell him that his insistence on this play is ruining your sex life and undermining your marriage.
Q. My Parents Hate My Husband: My husband and I have been married nearly a year (we’re planning on having kids in a year or two). Before we got married, my mom and dad adored him and treated him like their son. They were delightful at our wedding and in the weeks after. However, after Christmas last year, which we spent with them, they became really weird around him. They avoid him and don’t want to touch him, and at one point my mom started to tell me something serious (I think about my husband) and then said, “You know what? Never mind. It won’t help anything.” I’m really worried something terrible happened, but my husband says nothing happened on Christmas and he’s as confused as any of us. My parents are generally tolerant people, I can’t imagine it’s a religious issue or something. What do I do?
A: You sit down with your parents alone and tell them enough is enough. You say there has been a 180-degree change in how they treat your husband and either they explain to you the origin of this or they start behaving like normal, loving people again. If they won’t do either, then you tell them because you continue to love and adore your husband, you will not subject him to their further behavior and you all will have to make separate Christmas plans this year.
Q. It’s None of My Business: This is something that is none of my business, but I am still conflicted. I am about 95 percent certain two co-workers are having an affair. I have not talked about this to anybody at work and don’t take part in gossip, so I’m not sure who other than myself might know about this. Our workplace has a moral code in management contracts that says if a manager does something that can be considered morally inappropriate, he or she can be fired. I worked in another unit where my supervisor was fired for having an affair, in his case with somebody outside the office. I know that supervisor had no clue this clause was in his contract as he hadn’t read the small print. I think the co-workers who are having the affair also do not know about this clause. If they did, I don’t think they’d risk their careers as well as their marriages by having an affair. My husband says to stay out of it, but I like these two people, and I’d like to give them a chance to break off their affair before upper management hears about it. What do you think?
A: I think that you are naive to think that a morals clause would stop two people from having an affair. People smash up their lives all the time over such irresistible urges. I’m assuming two married people in an office are aware, whatever the fine print of their contracts, that an affair could lead to all sorts of trouble. You should stay out of this—your job is not to be their fairy godmother and warn them to behave.
Q. Recommendation Letter: I’m a college professor. A sophomore student of mine (whom I also taught last year) has requested my recommendation for a highly prestigious research internship. He is an absolutely brilliant scholar—one of the best students I’ve ever encountered, hardworking, kind, passionate, and extremely intelligent. I’m also the head of this subject’s department, so getting my (glowing) recommendation would pretty much guarantee his admission to the program. Here’s the problem: I’m dating his mom, and we live together. We met before I knew him and have been together almost three years (it’s a serious relationship—I’d marry her tomorrow). I honestly believe I’m unbiased, and I would have given this recommendation without ever meeting my student’s mother. Disclosing that I’m dating her on the letter would probably diminish my credibility as a recommendation considerably, but not doing so and being discovered (especially if I marry her) would do the same. What do I do?
A: If this young man is as brilliant as you say, surely he has impressed other faculty members. His mother has impressed you enough that he is the equivalent of your stepson. That is a conflict of interest, and you have to recuse yourself from writing a recommendation. (And I’m wondering if it’s an issue that a student in your class is the son of your partner.) Explain this to him and help him figure out who best to approach to write that glowing letter.
Q. Re: It’s None of My Business: I think that letter asking what the LW should do about two co-workers having an affair was written about me. There’s another reason the LW should mind his own business. Our company has a strict policy of no dating among employees. The co-worker he thinks I’m having an affair with is actually my wife. If it got out that we were married, we’d both be fired, despite the fact that the marriage predated the employment of either one of us. We need our jobs, though, so we’re working here until one or both of us finds something else suitable.
A: How ridiculous that a married couple in 2015 would have to pretend not to know each other to keep their jobs. Your company’s policies need a serious overhaul. However, this is another good reason for the “helpful” fellow employee to stay out of it.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. Have a great week!