Dear Prudence responds to reader flak about a nosy dorm mate.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
April 13 2009 3:40 PM

Dormitory Drug War

Dear Prudence elaborates on the college tattletale and tackles other reader 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. Next week's discussion has been moved to Tuesday, April 21, at 1 p.m. The chat will return to its normal schedule the following Monday. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.) An unedited transcript of this week's chat follows.

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon!

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Houston, Texas: My comment is regarding your advice to "Utterly Confused." While the "nosy girl" the writer is complaining about does seem (from what he says) to be rude and annoying, it bothers me that your response puts all the blame on her shoulders and doesn't even address the underage drinking, "minor drug use" and selling of narcotics—all things that were mentioned in the question. Reporting someone to the RD for dress code violation or loud music—annoying. Reporting someone to the RD for SELLING (not just possession) drugs—I'd say that's a pretty legit thing to do. No, it's actually the RIGHT thing to do.

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Emily Yoffe: This is in response to last week's column in Slate in which a sophomore in a dorm reported that another girl in the dorm had appointed herself the unofficial dorm monitor, reporting people every time they committed an infraction. The letter writer said that people in the dorm sometimes did drink, take some drugs, and play loud music. She also said the hall monitor had heard someone in the dorm was selling drugs and she called the police and the kid was busted and expelled. The monitor is (surprise) extremely unpopular and has continued to constantly look for violations and taken to shouting abusive comments through her open door and posting attacks on other people on Facebook. The letter writer said she didn't smoke or drink but she was worried about doing something that would get her reported by this girl. I said she should talk to the resident adviser about how the girl is creating a poisonous atmosphere in the dorm.

Well, 100 percent of the people who responded to my answer said I had created a poisonous atmosphere in the column. It sounded like I was in favor of turning dorms into open air drug markets and dens of debauchery. I am not in favor of taking drugs, and my previous remarks on drinking have gotten me condemned for my Prohibition-like attitudes. Also, I HATE loud music. I should have mentioned all these things and, yes, I agree with my critics that a student is entitled to a quiet drug-free place in which to live and study. However, for space reasons I cut the fact that the monitor likes to go through garbage cans searching for beer bottles, etc. The drug-dealer is gone (and I think it would have been better to report him to school authorities before calling the police) but she's still on a frenzy looking for violations. It doesn't sound as if she's unable to go in her room and study because she lives in Animal House. It sounds as if she is compelled to be in everyone else's business—and if you live in a college dorm that's bound to provide a lot of other people's business to get into. I agree with my critics I should have said more about the fact that people should not be breaking the law and making life unpleasant for others in a group living situation. However, if the letter writer, who doesn't drink or smoke, is worried about this girl, then there is something wrong. The hall monitor sounds miserable and possibly unbalanced, and I still believe she needs the attention of an adult to help her figure out how to get along better.

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DC: My sister and I have not spoken to one another in nearly two years. There was no big blowout, no final strike argument. We just stopped talking. And it's been GREAT. She's a pathological liar who gets psychotic when she's not the center of attention. She completely lost her mind when I (the elder sibling) had the temerity to get married first and have children before she did. We never got along even as kids, and having her out of my life makes me feel so free.

My parents are aware of her issues—I'm the executor of their estate, their emergency contact, etc., because they don't want her horrible judgment or her awful religious cult to have any impact on their lives.

But at the same time they know she's insane, and have even said their lives would be better if they could cut her out too, they keep nudging me to get back in touch!

When I ask why, they have no answer. So what do you think? And how can I end this topic forever? I truly only think about my sister when they bring her up.

Emily Yoffe: No matter what, it is natural for parents to want to get their children to get along—even if they know one of those children is impossible and destructive. They probably worry about what will happen to your sister after they are gone, and if anyone from the family she will be in her life. However, your sister is clearly a disturbed woman and the rightness of your decision to cut off contact has been proven by the improvement in your life. Tell your parents you understand their concerns, but this two year experiment has been a total success and you're going to continue enjoying the sounds of silence.

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California: I get grief from my mother whenever my I use vacation time to do something other than visit her, and she's a champion minute-counter of my time ("You spent five days with your dad at Christmas, but only four with me at Thanksgiving"). It doesn't help that my new husband and I live on the West Coast, but our parents are in Georgia, Montana, and Minnesota.

Recently, my best friend invited my husband and I to spend a week with her in Brazil, where her family is from. It's an amazing opportunity (when else could we get free lodging in South America?), but thinking about mentioning it to my mom puts my stomach in knots.

With limited vacation time and funds, how should we be balancing family visits with personal time? Does getting married and acquiring in-laws mean giving up your own vacations? How should I address these issues with Mom so it stops being an issue every three months? I'm tired of feeling like a bad daughter.

Emily Yoffe: You deal with it by telling her that you and your husband are taking an exciting trip to visit friends in Brazil—and acting as if this is wonderful news. Don't give her so much notice that she has months of nagging you ahead, but don't tell her the eve of your departure, either. It's up to you to mark off new boundaries in your relationship. She will resist, but eventually she'll find that even when she nags and guilt-trips it doesn't result in more trips from you, but fewer. Start learning to say, "I'd like to see you more, too, Mom. But this time I'm going to Brazil, so let's talk about something else."

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Washington, D.C.: Dear Prudence,

My boss is a complete micro-manager and control-freak. In an attempt to control everything, he recently asked me to check in during the day or to check my voice mail when I would be out of the office for a full-day meeting for work. I do not have a work-paid cell phone, so he was asking me to call him on my personal cell phone, which I pay for, to ask him if there is anything he needs of me. I sent him a response telling him a specific person was capable of handling anything that should come up, but he responded asking me to still please check in. I didn't—and he hasn't yet said anything about it, but how can I explain to him that I am unwilling to check in when I am out of the office, but still working, for a single day? He will most likely be unhappy with my refusal, but unless he pays the minutes, why should I?

Emily Yoffe: Isn't this a case of picking your battles? It's not unreasonable to check in once during the day while you're out of the office. As for using your own minutes—aren't you on some kind of plan? And unless you're paying roaming charges from Bangkok, a call to the office has to be a nominal expense. Yes, you're in a tough situation having a control-freak boss, and you need some strategies for dealing with constant nit-picking, but becoming passive-aggressive is only going to make you more miserable in the long run.

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Seattle: Dear Prudence,

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