Dear Prudence answers readers' questions live at Washingtonpost.com.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
May 11 2009 2:28 PM

Nice To Meet You. Please Don't Touch Me.

Dear Prudence counsels a career woman whose religion forbids her from shaking hands with men—and other advice seekers.

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. Let's get going.

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Arlington, Va.: Prudie, I need your advice. I have figured out, for a while now, that I get my self-esteem based off of the amount of male contact I have. The more men I have interludes with, the better I feel about myself. If I am having a day where I feel rejected by men, I go off in search of any sexual contact I can get. I need to know how to stop this. One thing to add to the equation is that I am fat. So, being rejected is common. How do I believe I am okay in who I am, and that male attention isn't the answer? Thanks.

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Emily Yoffe: If someone wrote, "Alcohol is how I boost my self-esteem. The more I drink, the better I feel about myself", you'd see the obvious flaw in the self-analysis. You feel bad about yourself, so random sex blots out your feelings for a little while, then makes you feel worse, so you need another encounter. I always think that the best booster to self-esteem is not reciting a bunch of aphorisms about self-worth, but actually going out in the world and doing something that makes you feel valued, whether that is putting more into your work, deciding to get that master's degree, becoming involved in a volunteer organization, pursuing your love of painting, etc. Also, consider cognitive therapy—that will give you tools to direct your behavior elsewhere other than meaningless (and possibly dangerous) sex, when your mood starts to slump.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Hi, Prudence.

Due to religious reasons, I don't shake hands or have physical contact (hug, etc.) men who aren't related to me. I plan on entering the work force soon and would like to know if there's a respectful way to inform a guy that shaking my hand is not okay. I don't want to be rude. In the past, when meeting colleagues or friends, if they don't know this about me, and outstretch their hand, I just say, "Hey, I'm sorry I can't shake your hand. It's nothing personal, okay? Hope you're not offended" or something like that. If they ask why, I'm happy to elaborate but I don't volunteer that information unless they ask. Is this okay? I don't want to negatively influence any future job interviews, etc. Your advice would be much appreciated.

Emily Yoffe: Directness seems the best way to go here, otherwise your refusal of a normal business greeting is just inexplicable. Explain that your religion (and say what it is) precludes contact between men and women who are not married, so you're unable to shake hands. Smile in a welcoming manner when you explain this. At your job interviews the comfortable, confident way you explain this will show them that this will not be an issue in the office or when meeting clients.

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Lothian, Md.: My dentist acts like a used car salesman. He is always trying to push me into tooth whitening and braces. His attitude is that the only reason I would refuse is lack of money. His hygienists even demand that I give reasons for refusing these treatments. How can I convince him to stop this behavior?

Emily Yoffe: Say that you've considered their pitch and you are not interested in cosmetic improvement of your smile. Add that if the infomercials don't stop, unfortunately you are going to need to find a dentist who understands that some patients are happy with their teeth—crooked and yellow though they may be—the way they are.

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D.C.: My husband wants to give our unborn son a family name—the name shared by my husband, his father, and his grandfather. I'm not into it. I find the "Junior, III, IV" thing kind of creepy already, and probably wouldn't be into it no matter what the name. That being said, my biggest objection (which I haven't told my husband) is that I really, really dislike his name, and I can't imagine bestowing it on a child. What should I do? I can't imagine telling my husband this reason, as it would only hurt his feelings. But since his request outwardly isn't that unusual, I feel I should have a really good reason for objecting.

For what it's worth, we're not talking something truly unusual or bully-baiting, like Hezekiah. It's more something along the lines of "Arnold." A fine, if stodgy and square, name that I just happen to not like.

Emily Yoffe: I assume at your wedding you didn't say, "I 'Melanie' take you 'Arnold'—although I really wish your name was Kevin." Just keep the "I hate your first name" out of the discussion, and out of your mind so you don't blurt this gem out in your sleep. It's perfectly fine for you to say you respect the family tradition and that your husband embraces it, but that you have always felt it seemed like it could be a kind of burden to carry so many names and expectations around with you. Explain you'd prefer to give your son a new name. Possibly your husband would compromise with Kevin Arnold. You could also use Arnold IV and come up with a nickname that everyone agrees to and is more to your liking.

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Herndon, Va.: How much is too much cleaning ahead of relative visits? My girlfriend hides the toothbrushes in her bedroom so that guests won't see them. Is this too much, or I am mistaken?

Emily Yoffe: It's a good idea to put away intimate items—birth control devices, the French maid's outfit, etc. Also cleaning out the medicine cabinet from prying eyes is useful. But it's a little odd to try to leave the impression that the two of you don't have bodily functions—or you don't regularly clean your teeth. This may not be about cleaning, however, but about the fear that anything you leave out will get a psychological x-ray from the relatives.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Dear Prudie,

Years ago we drove up behind a funeral procession on a divided four-lane highway. When we realized we were passing a funeral party we dropped back, fell in line, and paced them—for MILES!

When a large number of non-funeral vehicles, including commercial trucks, etc. accumulated behind the party and it became clear they were not turning off any time soon, people began passing, very slowly, to continue on their way. Then some guys in the funeral party took offense at this perceived slight and blocked both lanes to keep anyone else from passing the procession which went on for several more miles.

What would have been the proper procedure for this circumstance? Please rule on funerals on the interstate, too.

—Confused in Georgia

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