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 voice mail 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: Good morning, campers. A few announcements before breakfast: Archery and Saying No to Your In-Laws will both be at 9:45 behind the boathouse. Will everyone who has not yet broken up with their boyfriends please gather by the flagpole after lunch for the Feelings Hike. It’s 80 and sunny. Have a great day.
Q. I ruined my friend’s wedding—now what?: I was the maid of honor in my best friend’s wedding a few weeks ago and I gave a toast. My friend and I have known each other for over 20 years. It was a beautiful wedding, but during my toast I apparently said something the groom took great offense to, and he and the bride ended up fighting because of it, which then caused the bride to yell at me in the hallway outside the reception, saying that her new husband was mad at her because of what I had said in my toast. Had I known it was such a touchy subject I never would have brought it up. I felt awful about what happened and apologized profusely to my friend, who said it was OK. We had a long talk, and she apologized for yelling at me and wanted to make sure I wasn’t upset. I also asked her to extend my apologies to her husband, as I didn’t have a way of contacting him directly. I felt better after our talk, but apparently some hurt feelings remain because all of our interactions after the wedding have felt forced and awkward, and then she stopped responding to my texts and calls entirely.
I feel awful that I ruined her wedding—they wouldn’t have fought unless I had made that comment. But I also feel like I have apologized enough and that my friend is throwing away 20 years of friendship over an offhand remark I made during my toast that I didn’t even realize was going to be offensive. I also feel like it’s possible that her husband is still so upset that he’s asked her not to talk to me anymore—apparently he was livid. Is there anything else I can do to fix this?
A: Can you give us the gist of what you said? It’s hard to figure out whether you owe him any further apologies without knowing what exactly set him off. If it’s possible to do so without identifying yourself too obviously, let us know.
Leaving aside whether you owe further apologies, I think you should give her some space. It’s only been a few weeks, so assuming that your friend is “throwing away 20 years of friendship over an offhand remark” is jumping the gun a little. (It’s also extremely relevant what the offhand remark was. Some offhand remarks change your perception of another person!) You need to give them both time and space—apologies don’t make everything OK overnight. Whether you said something truly shocking or she married someone extremely thin-skinned and prone to tantrums, your friend is going through a lot right now. She got in what sounds like a semi-public fight with both her husband and her maid of honor on her wedding day, and is likely still humiliated and distressed. Don’t crowd her. Give it another month or two before reaching out again, and let her know that you’re not going to push her, but that you’re available if and when she wants to see you.
Q. Should I have given up my reservation to an expecting mom?: I made a reservation at a nice restaurant for my anniversary. Our reservation was for 8:30 p.m. but the hostess said they were running a little behind. After 20 minutes of waiting, a couple walked in behind us and asked for a table. They didn’t have reservations and the hostess said they were looking at a 45-minute wait. The couple stood behind us discussing options, then five minutes later the hostess said our table was ready. The woman pointed out that she was seven months pregnant and would really appreciate if she could sit before us. I said no because we had a reservation and they did not, then suggested two places across the street that always have seats available. The couple was visibly annoyed and said something under their breath.
Did I do the right thing here? I know to give up seats on buses, spots in a bathroom line, aisle seats on airplanes, etc. for those expecting, but am I really expected to yield my dinner reservation to a pregnant woman when there are options across the street? What is the protocol? Had they made a reservation I would have gladly switched so they could sit a few minutes early, but they were basically asking for our reservation. We were looking at having to wait another 45 minutes.
A: No, there is no social obligation to give dinner reservations to pregnant women. The reason it’s polite to give one’s seat on the bus to a pregnant woman is because it’s generally understood that people have to take public transit to get to work or doctor’s appointments, and pregnancy makes standing for long periods of time physically uncomfortable. Riding the bus is often unavoidable. The same goes with restroom lines—pregnancy is hard on the bladder and having to urinate is a basic bodily function that needs relatively quick attention. Eating at a specific restaurant does not fall into the same category. This woman and her husband could have either made a reservation, asked to sit down while they waited for an available table, or chosen to eat elsewhere.
Q. Update—Come to my office window: I wrote to you a year and a half ago about developing feelings for my boss—we had gone out for drinks on a Saturday, she gave me a “look” I didn’t act on, and I sent you a frantic question about it the Monday after. I wanted to thank you for your advice, which I took to heart. I waited to see if my feelings would privately lift, and when they didn’t, I got a fantastic reference and ended up finding another job. A couple months ago I reconnected with my old boss at a work conference, and while we were reminiscing and trading stories, she mentioned the Dear Prudence article to me and said it reminded her of us! Prudie, I confessed it was me, we had a good laugh, and she confessed that those feelings were mutual. As she is no longer my superior and because we both have similar job titles now, we started dating. We’ve been together for three months now and we couldn’t be happier. Thank you, Prudie, for helping us find each other!
A: Oh, well done to the both of you. Congratulations on the new job and on starting this new relationship off on the right note. Please invite me to the wedding.
Q. Tank tops and fur: I am a person of fur: In other words, I am hairy. While I am not quite a Sasquatch or Chewbacca, I do have a furry back and shoulders. While in a resort town this summer, we went into a dockside restaurant for a late lunch. I had a tank top on and thought nothing of it as we dined on the outside deck. As we were sitting at the table finishing up, a woman came over and remarked that I ruined her lunch because of my exposed fur. She recommended that I “put a shirt on” and when I pointed out the fact that a tank top was indeed a shirt, it escalated.
I ignored her and she eventually went away, but only after embarrassing me in public. Was I wrong to wear a tank top to an outside restaurant? And what would the proper response to her have been?
A: Good Lord, people do too much. I am of the opinion that a person whose lunch can be ruined by proximity to human shoulders—even, quelle horreur, fuzzy shoulders—is a person whose lunch is too easily ruined. A tank top is a perfectly appropriate shirt to wear on the deck of a waterside restaurant during summer vacation, and this woman was incredibly rude to talk about your clothes and body in the first place. The fact that she didn’t drop the subject immediately and move to a remote island to quietly contemplate her life choices once you declined to engage suggests that she is not currently interested in developing better social skills. I think you did just fine in ignoring her.
Q. Co-worker blames me for not getting the job: A co-worker who I have always gotten along well with applied for a position in my department. I was put in charge of the hiring committee, which just means I handled setting up the meetings and interviews—my boss was the final hiring authority. We all assumed he’d be the best candidate but, surprise, his interview was lackluster, his presentation ill-prepared, and he came across as thoroughly uninterested in the position. By the end, everyone agreed that he was by far the worst choice.
Well, it’s been months now and he still brings it up to me at every possible opportunity. I gave him the benefit of the doubt—he was upset and a little younger, so maybe he was a little loose with his tongue. But last week he let me know exactly how he feels: He personally blames me and nobody else. He says that I should have recommended him above all the external candidates and that other hiring committees have done that before. He was so cruel about it, I literally cried.
My dilemma: I recently got a new job and am going to be leaving this one by the end of the week. I really want to reach out to him about this to make clear that whatever his perception of his qualifications, he came across entirely different in the interviews. My boss thought he had zero interest in the job, and he submitted a cover letter for a different position at an entirely different company. He’s completely deluded if he thinks I had some personal vendetta against him that made me conspire not to hire him. I want to set him straight. What do you think?
A: My guess is that based on the way he acted after not getting the job, this soon-to-be-ex-co-worker isn’t going to gracefully consider any further information you give him about the hiring process. If any part of you wants to correct him so that he can figure out how to handle rejection more professionally in the future, you’d be doing him a favor. But if you’re hoping you can somehow convince this un-self-aware entitled jerk to stop blaming you for his own failure, I think it would be a waste of time. Whatever you decide, resign yourself to the fact that he may choose to ignore your advice.
In the future, please don’t let anyone repeatedly hassle you about a decision that’s already been made and was never in your hands just because you think they’re a little young. You should have nipped this in the bud weeks ago and said, “Grelliot, you need to stop bringing this up. The decision was not ultimately mine to make, and the hiring committee offered the position to the candidate they thought best suited for it. I’m not going to discuss it with you again.”
Q. Don’t want to let my abusive father win: My father was physically and emotionally abusive to me and my two brothers throughout our childhood. As my brothers got bigger, he then focused on me. My parents divorced when I was a senior in high school. I was glad. My dad got married the day after the divorce was final and quickly made it clear that he had a new family. All I remember is him taking my mom to court to pay less child support. About 11 years ago, I broke off all contact as I realized that he really didn’t care for me and would never apologize for the years of abuse and hurt. Once in a while he sends friend requests through Facebook, but I have ignored them and blocked him.
One of my brothers insists on having a relationship with him, as he is the only grandpa my nephews have. Earlier this month my brother told me that my nephew wants my dad at his baptism into our church. Dad used to use public functions to show affection and act like everything was fine because he knew we didn't dare do anything in front of people. He showed up to my dear maternal grandmother's funeral and when I refused to speak with him, I was tracked down and given a lecture by my cousin and uncle. I thought I would be OK, but a week after my brother told me, I ended up in the hospital with a massive anxiety attack. A mental health counselor helped me realize the idea of seeing my dad again was one of the triggers for this attack.
I spoke with my brother about it and he said dad would not be there. But today I got an email saying that he didn’t dare break his dear son’s heart, so dad is coming, and can’t we all just forgive and get along? He told dad he can’t approach me or talk to me, but I don’t trust that man.
My nephew has asked me to sing, and I want to be there for him. I also don’t want my abuser to win. I’m hurt, and extremely pissed, and feel that my brother picked my dad over me and my mental health.
Plus, how do I act or react? It’s probably not a good idea to yell, “Get your damn hands off me!” at a church function. I don’t want to ruin my nephew’s special day, especially because he is completely clueless in all this family history. Please help.
A: If it’s not possible for you and your father to be in the same room, and your father is going to be at your nephew’s baptism, then I think you should decline to attend. That’s obviously sad, and it may put on a strain on your relationship with your own brother, but that strain may be necessary if your brother decides to have regular contact with your father. For you that’s simply not possible—it’s too great a threat to your mental and emotional well-being. If you can, try to find a time when you can come by your brother’s house, alone, and celebrate his son’s baptism privately. But if your brother tries to demand that you re-establish a relationship with your abusive father just because he’s done so, then you can, and should, refuse.
Q. Follow-up re: I ruined my friend’s wedding—now what?: I’m hesitant to disclose exactly what I said because I feel it’s too identifying, but it was something that was meant as a compliment and was supposed to illustrate how I knew they would eventually get married. It’s also a sentiment that is often used in wedding toasts. For what it’s worth, no one else who heard it found it problematic (i.e. it wasn’t a politics/religion/other sensitive topic dig).
A: OK, that doesn’t sound too horrifying. With the benefit of hindsight, you might have shown a draft of your toast to your friend before the wedding to make sure it looked all right to her—one person’s “fun, common joke” is often another person’s “painful jab”—but it doesn’t sound like you owe any further apologies to her. Just give her some time. If you two speak again in the near future, you might ask if she thinks it would be helpful for you to speak directly with her husband, just to reiterate that you never intended to hurt his feelings. If she says no, your work here is done. Time and space will (hopefully) do the rest.
Q. Re: Should I have given up my reservation to an expecting mom?: Former hostess and maître d’ in NYC here—no, you should not have given up your table. I’ve seen this exact situation many times. (It’s weird! Do they recommend doing this in What to Expect When You’re Expecting or something?!) She didn’t become seven months pregnant that day, so being pregnant didn’t come to her as a surprise. She and her husband knew they were taking a chance walking into a busy restaurant without a reservation and then she used her situation to try to manipulate you into giving up your table for them. I mean, if you wanted to, that’s your prerogative, but you shouldn’t feel badly saying “no.” She was out of line.
Q. Re: Should I have given up my reservation to an expecting mom?: I am currently seven months pregnant, and I think the expectant mom and her partner were rude to ask for such a thing and then mutter under their breath. While I sincerely appreciate when people hold doors open for me and the like, I would never ask for special treatment unless medically necessary and certainly would not expect it.
A: There you have it. Both another hostess and another seven-months pregnant woman agree that you’re in the clear.