Prudie counsels a woman whose mother won't stop badgering her son-in-law about his religious beliefs—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. I'm looking forward to your questions.
Phoenix, Ariz.: Dear Prudie,
I am recently married and am having a difficult time. My husband and my mother do not get along and I feel as though I am being pulled in many different directions. My husband is very religious and my mother feels the need to make sure he knows she does not believe in God each and every time she sees him. Of course this always leads to an argument and her being angry with me. She then brings up everything she has ever done for me financially and says she wants it all back. I can't take the constant arguments. Should I just try to give her some of the money back?
Emily Yoffe: Your mother wants you to reimburse her for raising you because your husband believes in God? Don't give into this emotional blackmail and keep your checkbook shut. She obviously is an atheist with a fundamentalist streak. It's awful you need to be the referee here, but you can start by asking your husband to ignore her provocations. If she starts in a simple, "Marie, I understand you don't share my beliefs, so let's talk about something else," should become a sort of conversational mantra. You also need to tell your mother that you all need to talk about less controversial topics than religion -- say, the U.S. policy on torture -- because talking about religion is torture. If she keeps it up, drastically reduce the time all of you spend together.
San Diego, Calif.: Everywhere I go, people seem to think I am their therapist and feel it is appropriate to tell me their problems. I am particularly resentful when I am paying for a service -- e.g., a facial, a haircut, a pedicure -- and am a captive audience. How do I politely yet firmly and in no uncertain terms let these service providers know I am not their therapist/captive audience and I do not wish to hear their problems while they are providing a service I am paying for? Thanks.
Emily Yoffe: There's nothing more interesting than having people tell you their problems! Okay, I understand your dilemma, but there's something about filing people's foot corns that just invites confession. A book or magazine is a useful way of diverting the conversation. After exchanging pleasantries, bury your nose in one. And nowadays everyone is plugged into an iPod. Before you put your earbuds in you can say, "I have had such a stressful week, I'm just going to listen to music and relax while you work your magic."
Brooklyn, N.Y.: This morning I did something unconscionable for which I nevertheless had a good reason. I am in a 6-month, long distance relationship with a recently divorced woman. This morning she left her email open on my laptop, and unable to resist the temptation, I found an email from two days ago wherein she reached out to her ex-husband, most likely in retaliation to an argument we had that day which we have since gotten over. About six weeks ago, she confessed to me that three months into our relationship, while she was having doubts about starting something serious with someone new, she had slept with her ex-husband. We have since gotten over that hurdle, and she has fought hard for my trust and forgiveness, and being in love with her, I had no choice but to grant it. But this new development creates a dilemma for me: I know reading her emails was wrong and inexcusable, but I can't ignore the proof that her ex-husband is still a liability. Should I confront her about it, casually bring up the subject without mentioning the email to try and catch her in a lie, or ignore it and give her the benefit of the doubt?
Emily Yoffe: I have an ambiguous stand on snooping. I think everyone, even married people, is entitled to a zone of privacy. However, I also accept there are times when people feel there is just cause to pursue their suspicions that something is going on. But when you are using your loved one's laptop for your own email, and you leave the file open, you have sort of lost the expectation of privacy. More important, I think the snooper, having found something suspicious, should end the deceit and go to their loved one and say, "I found this. I can't pretend I didn't, and we have to talk about it." If the other person wants to make the discussion about the snooping, say that's a legitimate issue -- but one for another time.
Washington, DC Politics, again: Dear Prudence:
I am on the Board of a DC-based non-profit that provides social services to low-income DC residents.
During our Board meetings, there are several Board members who have made comments that are either critical of Republicans, former President Bush, Senator McCain, etc. or that praise President Obama and the new Congress. The first couple of times it happened, I discreetly mentioned to them after the meeting that, while I could understand if they thought that everyone on the Board was of the same political persuasion, I was sure that everyone was not since I am a Republican and actually voted for Senator McCain in the last presidential election. Two of the people took my comments to heart, and have since refrained from making overt political statements that make me (and perhaps others on the Board) uncomfortable. The third Board member, however, not only laughed in my face when I took her aside the first time, but, even though she thereafter apologized for laughing in my face and for making her statements, she nonetheless continues to say things during meetings (and now puts things in emails to the Board) that are politically charged. How should I respond, if at all?
So far, I've not responded to these statements during our meetings or to her emails, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to remain quiet. (I should also note that I also find this person to be a name-dropping bore, so I am admittedly more attuned to her inappropriate political commentary than I might be otherwise).
I've thought of just responding during meetings with something along the lines of "That's an interesting comment, though you know we're not a political organization and there's at least one Republican amongst us!"
Or should I remain quiet? I would appreciate your advice.
Thanks, in advance.
Emily Yoffe: This may be a problem that's particularly acute in Washington -- that is, if you agree with people about certain things, or if you live in a certain zipcode, people just assume they know your views on everything. You did the right thing by pulling the people aside and saying the political comments were off-topic and uncomfortable -- and it's nice that two of the three got it. Since the third won't stop, it sounds like it's time for you to talk to the the chairperson and ask that he or she clarify at the beginning of the next meeting that personal political views are distracting and not appropriate to the issues you're all there to work on.
Rockville, Md.: My boyfriend of 3+ years recently broke up with me, stating that he needed time and space to figure out his life. This was about two weeks ago. We live(d) together, and now I am staying with my parents. We still talk on a regular basis, and the conversations still end with "I love you" and I get regular text messages that say "I miss you, come back home." I guess my questions is: how do I know where to draw boundaries for him so that I'm not more hurt in the long run? I love him and want to be with him (we had talked about marriage) and I don't want to not have him in my life, but these mixed messages are creating such havoc on me emotionally. I don't know what to do or how to react. I know for my own sake I should cut him off at least until the fresh wounds heal, and I just need someone to tell me so.