Dear Prudence on family members who call way too often.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
March 23 2009 3:54 PM

Dial It Down

Dear Prudence on family members who call way too often, and other readers' quandaries.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com every Monday at 1 p.m. to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. She's taking next week off but will be back live on April 6. (Read her Slate columns here.) An unedited transcript of this week's chat follows.

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. Let's get started!

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Washington, D.C.: I'm in my early 30s, and at the age where people always ask if you have kids, want kids, or plan to have kids. This is not something I want to launch into with people I don't know well (and even people I do), so how can I deflect comments/questions such as these without seeming rude?

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Emily Yoffe: People often recommend, "Why do you ask?" as a good conversation stopper. But that really doesn't end the conversation, it just leaves the other person sputtering for a response. I like, "You'll be the first to know."

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Alexandria, Va.: My aunt panics if she can't get in touch with me. If I don't answer my phones (home and cell), she immediately assumes that I'm in some kind of trouble and calls my mother to find out if she knows where I am and if I'm OK. For example: one time, I TOLD her I was going to a happy hour with some coworkers, and probably wouldn't be able to hear my phone. In the 90 minutes I was there, she called six times, left two messages, and called my mother (who also left two messages). I could give you many more examples. Oh, and I'm in my late 20s and married.

I get that she does this because she cares, but it's driving me mad. Is there any polite way to tell her that sometimes people can't answer their phones and that "inaccessible for a few hours" does not mean "dead in a ditch somewhere"?

Emily Yoffe: It's one thing to have a mother who's batty about your safety. Comedian Amy Borkowsky has built a career on the hilarious lengths her mother will go to make sure she's all right. But why do you even take your aunt's calls? The woman clearly needs treatment for whatever ails her, but you need her to stop ailing you. Tell her that you two are going cold turkey and you're not going to answer her calls anymore. Surely she'll find someone else to worry about.

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Washington, D.C.: I thought my mother raised a gentleman. I hold doors, let others off elevators first, and always remember my p's and q's. And because I think 21st century gentlemen are more enlightened than 19th and early 20th century gentlemen, I perform social niceties without gender in mind. Unfortunately, I recently went out on a date with a woman that became irritated because I apparently did not walk on the proper side of her on the sidewalk (Admittedly, walking too fast is a bad habit of mine, but this concerned positioning). She said it was basic etiquette for a man to walk on the outside of his date, on the side closest to the street. I have never heard of this convention. I assume the convention relates to the days of unpaved streets when passing horses and wagons might splash water and muck (and worse!) on pedestrians. I did a bit of research and could only find one etiquette book that mentions this sidewalk rule. Am I just another clueless pseudo-gentleman or is she hopelessly old fashioned?

-Thinks he may have mucked it up

Emily Yoffe: It's good you didn't point out to her that it's equally impolite to get irritated and unpleasant on a date over an issue that only a tiny number of people would even be aware is a faux pas. Yes, your research is correct about the origin of that convention, but your date is being a stickler over something that no one pays any attention to anymore. I hope she had some other redeeming qualities.

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Rotterdam, Netherlands: I have a very good friend that I met in college 10 years ago. He has always been obese. At one point, he seemed to be losing weight successfully, but now that he works an office job, his weight has ballooned by at least a hundred pounds. I have also known his wife for 10 years. When I first met her, she was a size 6. She has gained at least 10 dress sizes in that time. They are both in complete denial about this, saying they would rather be fat and happy than skinny and miserable, but at the rate they're going, he especially is not going to be around much longer. He is already suffering from hypertension and sleep apnea and he's barely 30! I only see them a few times a year, when I visit my hometown, but when I do, they always want to go to a restaurant, where they order things like 16-ounce steaks with fries and 4-cheese dip with fried pita bread. From what they tell me, this is how they eat every day. They don't even have bread or milk at home! I can't really invite them for a home-cooked meal since I'm only visiting when I'm there. Do you have any suggestions on how to behave around these two people who seem determined to eat themselves to death?

Emily Yoffe: Since they've told you they want to be fat and happy, you obviously have already had a conversation with them about your alarm over their weight. If the numbers on the scale doesn't concern them, your semi-annual lectures are going to have no effect. If you enjoy their company, just have a good time when you're out with them. And no one wants to share a meal with someone who is pointing out that the steak is going to kill them.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Prudence,

I'm not sure how to deal with an awkward situation. A good college friend got engaged this fall. She sent me an email asking to confirm my address for the invitation, to which I promptly replied. Now I see (via Facebook), and hear from friends that she sent out "Save the Dates" more than a month ago. I never received one.

Now, I respect her right to invite whoever the heck she wants, and we're admittedly not as close as we once were (different coasts, electronic communication). But based on some others who she invited who were in our group of friends but not as close, I think there may have been a mistake.

How do I handle this? I don't want to put her on the spot, but don't want to miss out on celebrating her big day if she wanted me there... Help!

Emily Yoffe: Didn't I just read that someone has just written a book on Facebook etiquette? We need one. This is a case in which you could deputize someone to ask for you. Have a friend you know has been invited say to the bride, "I was talking to 'Kate' the other day and she said she got an email from you asking for her address, but she never got an invitation. She didn't seem upset, but she's wondering if she's still invited." That at least should solve this mystery.

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