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. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.) An unedited transcript of this week's chat follows.
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon!
Elk Grove, Calif.: Dear Prudence,
There's this really beautiful girl in my Pre-Calculus class that I like. I'm not insane about marrying her or something, but I can't help but feel infatuated by her beauty. She's smart, beautiful, and great with everything she does. I wouldn't be surprised if she came up to me and introduced herself as Aphrodite. But she doesn't know I exist. I've talked with only twice. Once to help her with a math problem and then later to comment her on her mother's cooking of an awesome quiche during a school potluck. So how do I impress her? Please help.
- Aphrodite's Lover
Emily Yoffe: You are right that a discussion of marriage is a little premature, given the problem of her not knowing you exist. But since you sign your self, "Aphrodite's Lover" thus imagining yourself in bed with her, perhaps you tend to get carried away with future scenarios. If this girl is everything you say, she is probably quite used to tongue-tied suitors with lust on their mind. Instead of trying to impress her, why don't you try getting to know her? Friend her on Facebook and let that help you see if you have any interests in common. Then use those to make conversation with her. Don't worry about ultimate outcomes, just act natural and enjoy her company. This goddess might enjoy being treated like a person.
Dear Prudence Video: Ex's Folks Don't Know We're Ex-ed
Wisconsin: Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend and I live together and have a wonderful relationship. We balance each other in every way. But we don't have the same aspirations. I am very career minded with high goals and he is more laid back, enjoying the moment and is happy with just financial independence in a low end job. I always saw this as a good thing since we are both of equal intelligence and talent and with our different interests we won't compete with each other. But lately we both lost our jobs due to the economy and I am living off of my student loans since I'm still in school. We both got new jobs but they don't start for a few weeks. I'm still in school and he sits at home all day. I find myself resenting him for his lack of responsibility. While he's at home, he doesn't clean up unless I ask him to two or three times. I just get angry that while I'm working for a future he is just slacking off instead of helping around the house voluntarily. I don't want to clean up the house when I've been at school all day. What do I say with out hurting his delicate feelings since he gets defensive easily.
From, A Perturbed Girlfriend
Emily Yoffe: This is what happens when life intervenes in wonderful relationships. And it sounds as if it's good you are finding out now just what your "balancing" each other means in practical terms. This is also why I have qualms about people who are so young moving to together. Have you two decided that you are making a lifetime commitment? Or is living together just more convenient? Because if you don't want to end up together by default, being under the same roof makes it very hard to decide this starter relationship is not going to take you to the finish line. I'm wondering if you're truly as okay about his lack of ambition as you say. It's not that he has to share your goals, but if he doesn't have any, and you do, that is going to grind at you over the long term. Instead of figuring out how to get him to clean up the house, you need to use this period to figure out why you two are playing house.
Richmond, Va.: Hi Prudence! Help! I am meeting the CEO of our company tonight at a fancy dinner/cocktail event. I am a young, female professional and fairly new to the company. Advice on how to make a good first impression? I'd love to think he remembers me in a good way (and remembers me at all!).
Emily Yoffe: Number one, stick to seltzer water. Nerves and alcohol can conspire to have him remember you (in a bad way). As with the young man who wants to impress Aphrodite, forget trying to make an impression. Use this opportunity to say how much you have enjoyed working at the company, then briefly mention something specific you worked on and say how that is exactly the kind of challenge you are excited to be part of. Prepare yourself with conversational nuggets -- something you read in the business page that applies to the company. Don't overstay your welcome during the cocktail hour, sense when it's time to move away gracefully. But if he's engaged with talking to you, don't calculate how you can impress, instead remember they hired you for a reason.
"instead of helping": Perhaps if you saw housework as a dual responsibility and not something he "helps" you with then maybe he might respond differently. Help implies it's your main responsibility and you're merely getting assistance. Saying that men should "help" with housework is equivalent to saying that men should "babysit" their own kids.
Emily Yoffe: Good point. But obviously this guy doesn't see it that way, and they have fallen into the eternal pattern of her nagging, and him resenting. If anyone has solved this, I'd love to hear.
I enjoy using Facebook as a way to keep in touch with old friends and organize events, but recently I saw that people were leaving condolence messages on a friend's page because his mother had died. I will be sending my friend a card instead.
I guess I shouldn't be shocked that we're at the point where people would leave such an important message on a person's public Facebook page. Do you agree that it's an inappropriate forum to express condolences over something like a parent's death?
Emily Yoffe: The book on Facebook etiquette is still being written. I agree, there are things that seem completely inappropriate to communicate electronically now -- but not so long ago it would have been considered rude to send an invitation via email instead of snail mail. It's certainly right to mail a condolence letter. But I can imagine there might be benefits to people posting notes of condolences and memories of the departed on someone's Facebook page. It can become like a virtual memorial service -- with people responding to stories and adding to them. This could end up being one of the pluses of Facebook.
Goalless Boyfriend: I really think it is okay for the boyfriend not to have career goals, but it sounds like he's no house husband either. Why can't Wisconsin just ask him how he sees their future? If she is the primary breadwinner, does he realize he'll have to do more around the house than just pick up after himself? Can he see himself as a stay-at-home dad, and is he willing to work on the skills that would make him a good one? Finally, is he really content for his girlfriend to work all day then come home and take care of him all night? What has he done for her lately?
Emily Yoffe: They need to do a lot of things: Figure out their duties around the house, and duties to their goals as a couple. It sounds to me as if they prematurely fell into a pseudo-marriage without really examining what they want out of life. Here's the first bump, and now she's realizing Mr. Laidback, feels more like Mr. Freeloader.
Knoxville, Tenn.: Dear Prudence,
My wonderful fiance and I are getting married this August. The problem is my mother and I disagree about everything for the wedding including colors, food, alcohol, and having bridesmaids! We are both contributing financially as well as my future in-laws so she doesn't hold the purse strings. I just want this to be a happy time and not stressful. Should I give in to her to make her happy at the expense of having my wedding nothing like I wanted? I have tried to give her choices that I do not care about, but she is determined to choose everything down to making my brothers girlfriend my MOH (I don't even like her!)
Signed, Green is not so bad!
Emily Yoffe: Did your mother not get her way at her own wedding, and she has been finally waiting all these decades to organize the wedding she always wanted? This isn't her wedding, so she doesn't get to dictate. She really doesn't get to decide if she doesn't have a financial stake in it. You might consider scaling back your nuptials to something you can pay for yourself. Whatever you do, you have to disengage (but not get unengaged from your fiance!). Simply tell her over and over in a calm, cool way that you hear what she has to say, but you have made another decision, i.e: "I understand that you don't like green, Mom, but I do, so let's move on."
Workplace affair bystanders: Hi Prudence, I work in a small office where the CEO has recently left his wife for one of my young female coworkers. Their relationship has been less than discreet in the office and mainly manifests itself in the favoritism shown in giving assignments. The other coworkers (all also young females of equal experience) and I consistently are given twice as much work than the girlfriend and expected to adhere to tighter deadlines, more scrutiny, etc. I realize this is not a new scenario, but what can we do to stay sane and get a fair shake?
Signed, the rest of us not sleeping with the boss
Emily Yoffe: There's not much you can, do, is there? For one thing, it's not actually that everyone else has been given a double work-load. It sounds as if all the rest of you have certain duties and expectations, but her duties and expectations are being discharged in a setting other than the office. So you've got one person there who is getting special treatment, which is maddening, but ignorable. Unless you want to start looking for another job, there's not much to do except do your work and make sure your gossiping doesn't get overheard.
Facebook condolences: Would you view this differently if the Facebook messagers also sent a paper card? In other words, is it an issue of the thoughtfulness of the medium, or one of privacy?
Emily Yoffe: I think if you post on Facebook, a handwritten note is still a good idea. There are things you might want to say privately that you wouldn't want to say on Facebook. And there might be things to say on Facebook about the deceased that other people would want to hear, or would enjoy contributing their own memories to.
Akron, Ohio: My husband and I will soon be returning from a vacation in Europe and we wanted to stop in New York to see some friends and family. The problem is that when my husband called his buddy in New York to see if we could stay with him and his wife for four nights, his friend said we could only stay three. No matter the reason (small apartment, they're newlyweds, they have something to do that fifth day...), and none was given, this just feels like a big "you're not welcome." My husband and I agree that it's a strange thing to say. What if we had asked to stay five nights? I'm left with this sick feeling in my stomach about the whole thing, like I don't even want to see them or stop in NYC now. Should we just not go? Is it passive-aggressive to say, 'you know guys, we didn't want to impose so we'll just get a hotel'? (which we can't afford). Or should we just go with a smile and be gracious guests to people who seem like they don't want us there? It's weird because at their wedding about two months ago, the groom was asking continually, "When are you guys coming? You think you'll come up soon? Let us know when you guys wanna come up," etc. I know I should be thankful for the prospect of three free nights in NYC, but they're not running a hotel and I would expect better hospitality from someone my husband calls a best friend. This seemed like a no-brainer that got complicated for no discernible reason.
Emily Yoffe: Maybe they should have asked if the 300 thread count sheets would be suitable and inquired as to whether you like asparagus with your Eggs Benedict. Four nights of imposing on people -- especially in an apartment -- is a lot of imposing. Your friend told you forthrightly that they could put you up for three nights. There is absolutely no obligation on their part to offer an excuse why three is more than enough. In addition, this isn't a visit you're arranging at a mutually convenient time for the four of your to be together -- you're asking to use their place as a crash pad from which to conduct your social life with other family and friends. You need to think about how you came across. If you do stay, be gracious, take them out for dinner, get a lovely house gift, stay out of their hair. And if you don't stay with them, don't let it affect their friendship -- you are the ones who have been behaving presumptuously.
Chicago: This is for my sister, who just called me in tears. She came home from the hospital yesterday with her second kid. My mother is there helping out. According to my sister, my mom and my brother-in-law have spent the last day snipping at each other, from my BIL losing his temper at something my mom did to my mom giving treats to my nephew after my BIL said no. My sister is ready to kick both of them out of the house. She talked to her husband and he apologized to her and to my mom, and even though he's irritated I think he'll stop picking at my mom.
But my mom! Even after my sister talked to her, she's being a little passive aggressive, saying things like "I guess other grandmas can spoil their grandkids, but not me". Or reprimanding my 2-year-old nephew by giving him the silent treatment. My sister is just fed up. She's called me crying three times in the last day. I have no idea what to tell her -- I have no kids and I'm not ever going to have our mom come visit me for two weeks! I told her to call our dad and have him talk to our mom, but she doesn't want to do that (my dad adores my sister and my mom is a little sensitive about their closeness). Any ideas?
Emily Yoffe: If everyone has a hard time getting along with Mom, a two-week visit after the baby is born does not sound ideal. It sounds as if BIL has to just let it go as far as treats, etc. are concerned. Sure grandparents shouldn't violate parents core child-rearing beliefs, but beyond that, let grandparents do their thing. But if Grandma likes to give the silent treatment to a two-year old, what an ordeal she must be. If she's going to stay, she should be given tasks. Go grocery shopping, cook meals, take the 2 year old to the playground, etc. And if it becomes intolerable, Grandma can always be told that with no one sleeping, it's just too stressful to have someone else in the house, and that it would be better to cut this visit short and do another one later.
Arlington, Va.: Three words for the bride-to-be: Pick your battles. If there's something that really matters to you, draw a line in the sand. But if there's something you don't care as much about, give a little and let your mom have her way. This worked like a charm when I got married and had to deal with a very loving, but "involved" mother-in-law-to-be.
Emily Yoffe: Good advice. As long as Mom is going to be involved, decide on some things you don't really care about and she does that she can "win" at. This is why I'm hoping the bad economy will put a lid on wedding planning.
Watham, Mass.: Dear Prudie, I work in the office of a construction firm and, for the most part, greatly enjoy my job and the people I work with. The one issue I do have a problem with is the fact some of the other people in the office use profanity while talking with the clients and when I have brought up the language in a meeting, I was told I need to "loosen up." I have always been lead to believe that it is inappropriate to use the "f-word" in a business environment and that it makes you less-than-professional. What are your thoughts? Am I being too uptight?
- Preferably Polite
Emily Yoffe: In general, you can't go wrong NOT using profanity in the work place. But there was the case of a woman who worked as a secretary for the writers of a raunchy sit com who filed a lawsuit saying their dirty language created a hostile working environment. She lost because a raunchy working environment was the whole point. Obviously in your firm for certain people with certain clients the F word works. You don't have to use it, but you've brought up the issue and been told it's not an issue. So forget it.
baby shower dilemma: Dear Prudence,
I have received a baby shower invite for a coworker. Second baby (first girl). For presents, books are requested (yes, it says that right on the evite).
My boyfriend and I used to get together with her and her husband often, but they dropped us last year. Coworker is kind of a jerk/manipulative (even while not pregnant). I don't particularly want to go, but don't want to anger the beast either. Do we just suck it up, buy some books, and lose two hours from our weekend, or is there another option?
Emily Yoffe: This is why work-based friendships can get so messy. Normally, if you've been uncerimoniously dropped by someone you can just move on. But you can't if you see that person every day. So decide if for the sake of office expedience it's worth the two hours. If not, simple decline and say you are sorry you have another engagement that day, and sent along a couple of lovely board books.
Chantilly, Va.: My husband and I have argued for years over the housework issue. Our solution: We divided up all the regular housework that needs to be done regularly and we each took on the items we were willing to tackle and then split up what was left evenly (i.e. he does the dishes every night, I cook dinner, he vacuums, I sweep and mop). That way, if something isn't done, it's clear who was supposed to do it, and no one is doing more housework than the other person. If one of us can't get our chores done due to other commitments, then we ask each other nicely to help and expect that the favor will be reciprocated. It's saved us a lot of time and arguments.
Emily Yoffe: The key seems to be the agreement that this is a joint enterprise between the two of you, and then working it out NICELY. But my mail reflects the fact that many men don't see this domain as theirs, then literally don't see dirty dishes or piles of laundry. Maybe this is an ophthalmological issue.
Newark, Ohio: I sometimes get jealous of my husband. He has friends like no other, and well... I don't see or hear from mine too often, since I got married. How do I stop these feelings? I feel ashamed of being jealous of him. I want to be happy for him.
Emily Yoffe: Why don't you see or hear from yours? Are you waiting for them to get in touch with you? Plan a girls night out, take a class with a friend. Put together a dinner party. Marriage didn't end you personal social life. It's good you aren't trying to separate your husband from his friends, but instead learn from him -- see that he values his friendships and do more to value yours.
Detroit, Mich.: I recently started wearing a wig, for medical reasons. It's obvious to some of my acquaintances, but not to others. What should I say when people compliment me on my hair? Just saying "thank you" makes me feel like a fraud, but I know I shouldn't have to tell everyone it's a wig, either.
Emily Yoffe: "Thank you" is perfect. No need to elaborate.
re: "instead of helping": My wife and I made a list of who does what around the house to keep it clean early on. We both know that it is stuff that neither of us wants to do, but need to do. When I am not holding up my end of the deal, I can expect to find a vacuum cleaner on my reclining chair when I come home from work. Likewise, I can pile the random dishes and bowls she leaves in the bedroom on her side of the bed. We give each other "the hint" that we are slacking instead of nagging each other.
It sounds like Michigan needs to make a list for each other and either give each other "hints" or have "penalties" for not doing something. If he always watches TV and is slacking, his penalty can be that you take the cable boxes and remotes with you when you go to class/work/shopping. Come up with a penalty for yourself on the same scale of seriousness as well.
Emily Yoffe: I'm glad this works for you -- and again, you accept the fact that maintaining the house is a joint task. But taking the cable box sounds like the first step in the War of the Roses -- not the historical event, but the Michael Douglas Kathleen Turner movie about a couple that ends up literally destroying their house.
Chantilly, Va.: For Detroit: It IS your hair. You just bought it, that's all. Now go smile at yourself in the mirror and buy yourself a treat. You've earned it.
Emily Yoffe: Great point!
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next Monday.