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.)
Readers! Ask me your questions on the voicemail of the Dear Prudence podcast. Just leave a message at 401-371-DEAR (3327), and you may hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.
Mallory Ortberg: Hi, everyone! Let’s chat.
Q. Nephew circumcision: My brother and his wife are within weeks of having their first child (and my very first nephew!). I’m very excited, but the problem comes in that the child will be a boy. I am extremely against routine infant circumcision and have shared extensively on the subject in the past on social media. They aren’t big social media users and may be unaware of my stance. How do I broach the subject with them in a nonconfrontational and nonjudgmental way?
I know I cannot make this decision for them, and I will make my peace with whatever they ultimately decide, but I don’t feel like I can sit quietly and not share my feelings on the subject with the people I love most in the world. I’d like to make sure they’re aware of the medical, social, and sexual pros and cons of each decision. It’s easy when it’s a friend, but I’m finding it very difficult to start a conversation with my brother about his soon-to-be-born child’s penis.
A: That is difficult! I’m having a hard time thinking of the best way to bring up the subject, although I agree that you’re much likelier to change people’s minds through in-person conversation rather than by posting to social media. (If anyone has a particular script for bringing up the topic of routine male circumcision, please share it with us in the comments.)
People who are about to have children are often bombarded with unsolicited advice and personal questions, so you should be mindful of that dynamic. This is your brother, of course, not a stranger on the street, so he will hopefully know that you’re not looking to pry or to judge him. Make it clear from the jump that you won’t repeatedly raise the issue, that whatever he decides you’ll support him, and that you trust he and his wife want what’s best for their as-yet-unborn son. Give him a brief summary of why you think it’s wise to give the matter careful thought before making a decision (rather than reflexively opting for circumcision just because it’s customary), and let him know you’d be happy to provide further information if, and only if, he’s interested. From there, let him take the conversational lead.
Q. Body mods and money probs: My mom has always used money, or lack of money, as a means of control, particularly when it came to my appearance. As I got older and started to express interest in less traditional clothing and hair choices, she would only buy things that she approved of. She said if I wanted to buy certain clothes or dye my hair, I could do so with my own money, but since I couldn’t yet get a job I didn’t have much money to do this with. Still, this wasn’t the end of the world and usually I did end up buying what I wanted myself, forcing me to choose what I valued, which was a good lesson for me.
As I got older though, this pattern became a bit more concerning. I had expressed interest in getting a nose piercing for several years and she told me if I did so she would not pay my college tuition. I ended up getting the piercing and thankfully she did not keep that promise, but she made it very clear that if I got a tattoo there would be similar consequences. Now I am about to complete my last semester of college and my tuition is all paid. I have a small tattoo on my rib cage, no taller than an inch, that cannot be seen unless I’m wearing a swimsuit. Alas, my mother found it and said that though my tuition is paid, she didn’t have to pay my rent like we had originally agreed.
I am very aware of how privileged I am to have parents who can afford to pay my tuition and rent, and I’m very grateful for my parents’ support. They have been saving for my education since before I was born. Still, I feel like their support should not be conditional, especially not on something like my appearance. I would understand if I was failing out or partying all the time, but this is just me trying to reclaim my body in the best way I know how. How do I get her to see and understand my perspective? I want to get more tattoos in the near future, but should I wait until I’m no longer financially dependent on her? Am I completely in the wrong and being selfish?
A: It’s not wrong to want a tattoo, but your mother has been clear and consistent from the beginning about the conditions of her financial support. Whether I agree with you doesn’t matter. You could take a poll of 1,000 people and even if 999 of them sided with you over her—lots of people get tattoos nowadays, it doesn’t say anything about your dedication to getting an education or a good job—it still wouldn’t matter.
If you want the money more than you want a tattoo or a piercing, then put the body mods off for the rest of the semester. If you’d prefer the autonomy, then start paying your own rent a little sooner than you’d planned. Your mother said she’d stop paying your rent if you got a tattoo; you got a tattoo and now she’s following through on her promise. Whether you or I think her original terms are reasonable isn’t the issue; you accepted them and should be prepared to abide by them.
It may be that you and your mother will always view tattoos and piercings differently; there’s a pretty significant generational divide when it comes to body modifications, and that’s fine. Your goal should not be to convince your mother to approve of all your choices as an adult. It should be to make choices that satisfy you, and to be able to discuss your reasons for making them rationally and confidently, even if someone else disagrees.
Q. Broke and scared: I’m 26 and have been living with my boyfriend for a couple of years, and recently we started having arguments about money. It almost led to a breakup but turned into an understanding that we had rushed into things, so now I’m looking for a better job so I can afford to move out. This morning I talked about some interviews I have scheduled and he said he never agreed to my plan and just thought I wanted to vent. I was completely caught off guard, especially when he confessed he’s been feeling jealous of his co-workers who are expecting or already have babies. He made jokes about me getting pregnant immediately, but then said he would wait until we’re 30.
I am confused and scared. Babies have always been an element of fantasy to me, and now I feel like I’ve been smacked into reality. Should I get into the baby idea?
A: Good God, no. There are great reasons to have children, but “we’ve been fighting a lot lately, my boyfriend is jealous of his co-workers, and I’m confused and scared” is definitely not one of them.
You’re interested in developing more financial independence and pulling back from a relationship you initially rushed into. Having a baby with your boyfriend will absolutely torpedo these goals. The fact that your boyfriend said he “never agreed to [your] plan” to change careers and make more money is a little worrying. You don’t need his buy-in to look for a better job, and if you want to make more money and live on your own, you absolutely should. In the meantime, use birth control.
Q. Lupus and the workplace: I’ve recently run into some issues with a co-worker and my lupus diagnosis. When I first started working at my current company, I told my supervisor of my lupus diagnosis and let her know that while it was under control at the moment, I wanted her to be aware in case of future medical issues. Mistake. She eventually blabbed my medical information to another subordinate of hers, and when she was laid off that person told the new supervisor and management. Fortunately, nothing much came from the spreading of this news. However, I am now getting push-back from the first person who my original supervisor told. He is constantly bringing up how much I am gone (I am still within my allotted sick/vacation leave days) and mentioning it multiple times a week. While I have been gone more recently (an upswing in the activity of my disease has caused a flare), I don’t appreciate being lambasted when using my allotted time off. Should I speak to someone in HR? Am I being hypersensitive? Before my diagnosis seven years ago I hated missing work/school, but now I have no choice if I am in a flare. Besides this co-worker, I’ve never had any complaints or markups for missed work.
A: This is an issue that HR is (hopefully) designed to deal with. Your diagnosis and treatment plan is none of your co-worker’s business, and it’s possible your former supervisor violated the FMLA when she told one of your colleagues about your medical condition. You can also respond personally in addition to bringing his behavior to HR’s attention. Tell him, “I’m doing everything I need to take care of my health, and [Current Supervisor] is aware of my scheduled time off. There’s no need for you to keep bringing it up, so please stop.” Ideally that would be enough to make him knock it off, but he’s been enough of a pest about it that my guess is it’s going to take an additional request, either from HR or from another supervisor, to make it clear just how none of his business your health is.
Q. Bridesmaid on a budget: I’m getting married this year, and asked one of my oldest and dearest friends to be a bridesmaid. She happily accepted but told me she didn’t think she’d have the money to attend a shower or bachelorette party. I totally understand—weddings can be a huge financial outlay. My fiancé and I are fortunate to be well-off (we’re in our late 30s, both work high-paying jobs, and have saved well). I’ve offered to pay for her to come to these events, and she’s said she’s just not comfortable with that. Anything else I can do without coming across as pushy or abrasive? She’s so lovely, and at this point in my life her attendance means much, much more to me than $500 or $1,000.
A: You can try once more, but if she declines again, you should drop it. Tell her that you’d happily pay for her travel expenses because her attendance means so much to you. If she’s demurring out of a reluctance to impose, that might get her to change her mind. But if she still says no, then let her know how much you’ll miss her, and how excited you are to see her at the wedding.
Q. Flirting: Is it OK to flirt with other people when you are in a relationship? In every relationship I’ve been in, I end up flirting with people at bars while out with girlfriends. I’m dating a great guy, I feel completely in love with him, yet over the weekend I was back to wanting attention from other people. It never rises to the level of cheating, but I’m wondering if I am not meant to be a relationship person. I’m in my mid-20s and feel that all my other friends in relationships don’t have these feelings. I just feel guilty over this weird desire to be flirtatious with random strangers at bars.
A: It depends on the type of person you are, and it depends on the type of relationship you’re in. Some people are natural flirts; some aren’t. Some people flirt in a way that feels expansive and generous and native to their personalities; some people flirt in a way that seems specific and weighted with intent.
You’ll have to figure out what you consider to be over-the-line—is it accepting a drink from someone? Giving out your phone number? Something else?—as well as what your boyfriend considers obviously hurtful. Enjoying attention from other people isn’t a character flaw, and you’re hardly the only young person who gets an ego rush from occasionally flirting with a stranger. This is not weird, and it’s not necessarily a sign that your relationships are doomed to fail.
Q. Is this even possible?: I’m in love with my male friend (he’s gay) who is one of my best friends. I’ve never spoken these words out loud before. We live by each other, have the same friends, and spend lots of time together. My feelings have become obvious (to myself) as of late. Sometime in the past few months, I’ve noticed, or I think I noticed, looks, glances, actions that under different circumstances, from a man who’s interested in women, I would identify as a sexual chemistry/interest in me. I am confused on what to do and whether this is even possible? I don’t trust my gut or intuition on this matter. I have many other gay close friends and this has never happened—they also go by the mantra, “bi now, gay later.” I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize our friendship and can’t bear the thought of not having him in my life.
A: In general, I think it is best not to let clever slogans dictate one’s sexual and romantic conduct. “Bi now, gay later” is a cute play on slogans for credit plans, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with your situation. The likeliest explanation is that your friend is not interested in you, and the behavior that you would interpret as interest if it came from a straight or bisexual man does not, in fact, denote any sexual or romantic intentions on his end. You can certainly ask. If you two are truly close, and you trust that he won’t run screaming for the hills at the mere thought of your having a crush on him, you can bring up the fact that you’ve noticed a potential chemistry between the two of you, and ask if he feels the same way. But you should be, I think, prepared to hear that what you’ve interpreted as romantic potential, he considers simple friendship.
Q. Re: Lupus and the workplace: The original manager who blabbed to a subordinate could face serious consequences. Medical information is private. She should report the violation by the manager to HR, and also lodge a complaint about the co-worker’s harassment. Her life is hard enough right now without these fools.
A: As best as I can tell from the letter, the original manager was laid off a while back and it’s now the colleague said manager initially told who’s causing the problems now. But she should definitely report both the initial violation and the current harassment she’s facing from her colleague to HR.
Q. Re: Nephew circumcision: “I’m finding it very difficult to start a conversation with my brother about his soon-to-be-born child’s penis.” That should be the very first clue that you should mind your own damn business.
A: For what it’s worth, the overwhelming consensus from the commentariat is not to bring this up with your brother. You know your relationship with him best, so if this is the sort of thing you two regularly talk about, that’s one thing, but if nothing else, this suggests that he may very well take offense at your bringing up such a personal topic, which you should be prepared for, and decide whether or not you want to proceed. It may be more effective to continue your activism in a more general fashion—offer information to the general public, rather than initiate conversations with individuals about their plans for their own children.