Mallory Ortberg, 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. Baby ex: Before we started going out, my husband was in a long-term relationship with a woman with a pretty unique name. They haven’t kept in touch. Now, I’m pregnant with our first child (a girl, due in the spring). He would like to name her the same thing as his ex. She’s not the only person in the world with this name, but it is certainly uncommon. I think it’s a lovely name, but I’m a little weirded out by the fact that this is his ex-girlfriend’s name, and I’m worried others will be too. Is it acceptable?
A: No. Oh my God, no, that is not acceptable. You know who tried to name a child after an ex-girlfriend? Dennis Duffy, Liz Lemon’s comically horrific on-and-off boyfriend on 30 Rock. “If it’s a girl—ooh, I used to boff this chick named Judy, and I would love to honor her.” You would be with Dennis Duffy if you went that route. Name your daughter anything else. Don’t give her a name at all, rather than call her by your husband’s old girlfriend’s name for the rest of her life. (If you have named your child after an ex, let us know in the comments, but I refuse to believe that anyone has done this.)
Q. Dental distress: My boyfriend and I are in our late 20s and have been together for a little over two years. He’s a great guy—funny, smart, sweet—and we’ve discussed marriage and having kids. However, while he isn’t a slob (dresses well for work, shaves when necessary, wears deodorant, cleans frequently), in some ways he does not take very good care of himself. The worst of it is his teeth: He brushes them only every couple of weeks. His family has bad teeth anyway and this just makes it so much worse. I can see that some have serious damage. He’s really sensitive about it when I’ve asked him about it before but he really needs to get something done (it’s too late to just start brushing I’m afraid). What’s the best way to gently ask him to go to the dentist? My birthday is coming up and I’m thinking about making the trip his gift to me. Thoughts?
A: Eschew gentleness. This is not a situation that calls for tact, this is a serious health issue. Bad dental hygiene can lead to respiratory infections and an increased risk for heart disease and strokes. Periodontal bacteria can easily slip into the bloodstream and cause infection elsewhere in the body, not to mention the fact that if he brushes his teeth only every couple of weeks, kissing him can’t be very fun for you. His health is at risk, and the longer he puts off a trip to the dentist, the higher the risk grows. This is an urgent matter, and not one he can put off because he’s embarrassed or too used to his “brush once monthly” routine.
Q. Is there a kind way to break up?: It’s crystallized for me: I need to break up with my girlfriend of nearly four years. She wants marriage. I kept thinking that we could make it all work if we negotiated a few issues. But I’ve run out of patience and decided that I’m not willing to give up intercourse for the rest of my life. We tried early in the relationship, but she found it too painful, decided not to take her doctor’s advice, and now cannot be touched below the waist, etc. I was thinking about offering couples therapy, but I really don’t think this is fixable, and I’m not sure I should try. How can I break up with kindness and a minimum of pain for her?
A: Kindness is a good goal to have as you approach this breakup. Minimizing her pain is not. You cannot control how she experiences the end of your relationship, and if you try to manage her feelings, you may end up promising her things you cannot deliver or saying things you don’t mean in the hopes of preserving her happiness. You owe her the same thing you owe anyone: kindness and honesty. It does not sound like you are actually interested in pursuing couples therapy or trying to reconcile. What you want is to get out. Do not offer her false hopes or suggest that things could be different if she were to change or that this relationship is ending because there is something wrong with her; you two are simply incompatible and want very different things. Allow her the freedom to find the kind of relationship she wants with someone else.
Q. My grandmother knows I’m gay and keeps asking when I’m going to find a girlfriend: I’m a 26-year-old gay man who came out to his family 10 years ago. While the reception wasn’t great at first, my family has since come to a place of acceptance. The problem is my grandmother (who comes from a conservative religious and cultural background) won’t stop asking me why I don’t have a girlfriend almost every time I see her. She even talks about how she hopes she’ll be around to see me get married and have children. I know she’s fully aware of the facts; my mother has since told me she turned to her for guidance back when I first came out. Up until now, I’ve been telling her I’ve been “too busy” to have a girlfriend, but I feel ridiculous lying when the truth is already known. It breaks my heart that I have to pretend with a woman who, in many ways, is my second mother. Should I come out again, to her specifically? Or should I hold my tongue? I don’t want to cause her any undue pain, especially since I’m afraid she won’t be around much longer.
A: Your grandmother does not want you to hold your tongue. She’s trying to force a confrontation or a lie out of you. A woman who repeatedly asks a man she knows to be gay when he’s going to get married and have children is not trying to let sleeping dogs lie. The gay cat is out of the gay bag, to mix metaphors. It may be that this is her slightly tortured way of asking you to come out to her directly. You’re not giving her new information, but let her hear it from you. The next time she asks, say, “The reason I don’t have a girlfriend is because I’m gay. If I get married and have children, it will be with a man.” If after that, she goes back to the old “When are you going to find a girlfriend” routine, I don’t think you have to force repeated conversations with her, but you should tell her the truth at least once.
Q. Re: Baby ex: When my little sister was about 13, my dad offhandedly mentioned that her name was the same as one of his old girlfriends. How that had never come up before, I’ll never know. My mom yelled at him for a couple of minutes, and it hasn’t come up since then (over 30 years). My advice; don’t mention the origin, and one day, it’ll be a funny story!
A: This man not only managed to name his daughter after an old girlfriend, he kept the old girlfriend a secret from his wife? I will confess I am impressed. Mostly horrified, but also a little impressed.
Q. Re: Baby Ex: I was named after my dad’s high school sweetheart, who had also been a childhood friend of my mother’s. I was even called by my middle name, as she was! My parents divorced when I was 8; Dad was in a terrible second marriage for 18 years and met up again w/the lady whose namesake I was years later. She had married and divorced, so she and Dad married and we WELCOMED her heartily into the family. So we have Kay I and Kay II in the family.
A: Well, don’t I just stand entirely corrected.
Q. Co-worker wants to set me up with her uncle: A co-worker who is 15 years older than me wants to set me up with her uncle who is 23 years older than me (I am 32). Surprised, I said “OK” when she first mentioned it, but now I am having doubts. It’s a sizable age difference and I am closer in age to his children. How do I politely tell her I changed my mind? Or do I just go on one date?
A: I think it’s absolutely fine to say you’ve given it more thought, and you’re just not comfortable with the age difference. You haven’t set a date or even been introduced to him yet, so it’s better to back out now than to sit through a date just because you were too surprised to say no the first time someone suggested it.
Q. Dated a ghost: I recently went on a very promising first date with a guy, following which he practically fell off the face of the earth: Texts went unanswered and such. I did not text him excessively, but by the fourth text or so it had become clear that I’d been ghosted. That I’d gone on a date with The Undead. This was disappointing because I genuinely thought we had chemistry: We laughed a lot, and he even walked me home and kissed me at the door.
Why does this happen? How do I deal? Is it weird that I feel, like, gross about myself because of this?
A: It happens because some people are conflict-avoidant, and rather than tell someone you’ve only met once that you don’t want to go out a second time, it’s easier to delete them from your phone and pretend nothing ever happened. Some people find this easier than hearing “I don’t want to see you again,” and some people find it infuriating. The hardest part about being ghosted is the fact that you can’t deal with the ghoster directly. You just never hear from them again, and everything feels odd and incomplete.
There are few things more disconcerting than realizing the first date you thought went so well was in fact a dud; allow yourself to feel hurt and disappointed. If, in the future, you go out with someone and decide you don’t want to see them again, do them the courtesy of saying, “Hey, I had a nice time, but I don’t think things are going to work out between us.” Only you can help fight ghosting.
Q. Re: Baby Ex: Doesn’t the story of Kay I and Kay II actually just demonstrate why this should ring alarm bells?
A: It sounds like it worked out great for the daughter! Her mother, not so much.
Mallory Ortberg: Thanks for chatting, everyone. May all your children be named after people you've never slept with and may none of the raves you attend this week have surprise cats in attendance.