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

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

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

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
May 4 2009 3:14 PM

Pocketbook Persecution

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.

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Phoenix, Ariz.: Dear Prudie,

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Thanks, in advance.

Sincerely,

Frustrated Republican

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.

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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.

Emily Yoffe: I'm telling you so. He wanted to be free to explore his options, but he'd like to keep you on the string in case it turns out you're the best option (is he actually saying he wants you to live with him while he does his exploration?). The contact only keeps you confused and in constant pain -- as you are now. Next time he calls or emails say that he broke up with you and it's been terribly hurtful. Now you're calling for a moratorium on your contact so that you can explore your options too. Then stick with it -- unless he can clearly say he made a mistake and wants to get back together. Which you shouldn't rush to do, anyway.

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?: How do you "unfriend" someone, not on Facebook, but in real life? This is a person who is also friendly with someone I know well, so it is not unlikely that we might all get together through our mutual friend. However, it might seem odd to the mutual friend that I no longer wish to associate with this person. I see both of them at work and we often eat lunch together. How should I handle this? My main reason for unfriending this person is a serious lack of boundaries on their part (constant evangelizing me to her religion, constant "invitations" which are hard to say no to, bad manners, etc.).

Emily Yoffe: You can't completely remove this person from your life. What you need to do is reestablish that you have a professionally friendly relationship. Remain cordial, limit the lunches, and when you find yourself in situations with this person, as with the evangelical atheist mother above, learn to say, "I'd rather not get into that, thanks" or "I appreciate the invitation, but I'm busy."

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Hotlanta: Prue,

Out drinking with some guys, and one of them says he could never be happy with just one girl. Foolishly, I agreed -- all in front of my girlfriend! Now she's giving the silent treatment. I groveled and I think she's over it. But I actually agree with my buddy! So do I just lie to the GF in the hopes of keeping the peace?

Emily Yoffe: What's your question: Do you lie to your girlfriend about the fact that you could never be happy being faithful to her? Or do you lie about being faithful to her and cheat on her so you can be happy?

Many people struggle with monogamy -- it may be a particularly acute struggle in "Hotlanta" -- but you have to clarify for yourself what you want out of this relationship before you decide what you want to be honest about.

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Arlington, Va.: Dear Prudence,

Do you believe that love is meant for everyone? I am starting to believe that love will never be in my life. "Friends" claim this will come across to a man. Frankly, I am just so tired of rejection and being hurt. No one discusses this side of dating, just "get back out there". Well, I don't know how to when I am still hurting over past pain. I see people fall in love and date all the time, but it seems to continue to elude me. I'm cynical. What do I do? Thanks.

Emily Yoffe: Obviously love doesn't happen for everyone. But most people have a good shot at it. I disagree with your friends about "getting back out there." You sound emotionally drained and unhappy, and they're right, that will come across. This isn't a race in which you feel you have to stumble, bruised and bleeding, to the finish line. Why not take a hiatus from the search for love, and search for things that make you happy? This could be volunteer work, travel, taking classes, etc. Therapy might usefully help you figure out if there's been a pattern to your past unhappy experiences

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Arlington, Va.: So, is it wrong to expect friends, even if not particularly close friends, to stay away from exes with whom you're still friends and the exes to do the same -- particularly when you share many mutual friends? My feelings are that while dating can be tough, the world is big enough that you don't need to date someone when you KNOW it will hurt a friend's feelings. That's how I operate but (obviously) I'm finding that not everyone else does. Oh -- and no heads up from either.

Emily Yoffe: Single adults who are mutually attracted don't have to ask you for permission to pursue that attraction. If someone is an ex, you can't still have dibs on him or her. Sure, I can understand if a good friend suddenly looks at your discard and says, "Hey, he looks pretty good to me!" that that can be awkward. But it's awfully presumptuous of you to declare that people in your social circle have to look for strangers to date, instead of other people in your social circle.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Dear Prudie,

My husband and I live on a lovely street with kind and friendly neighbors. My husband and I have yet to have kids. The neighbors down the street have two young children. I adore kids and enjoy playing with them. But the problem is that they, with mom or dad, will stop by frequently, unannounced.

The kids will come in and run around, while the parent talks with us. The kids will sometimes rummage through drawers, climb on and stand on the couch in their shoes. One day they even ran into our bedroom and climbed on our bed! The parents do little to police them. And I don't know how to handle it. Sometimes I feel like the visits are so we can babysit for a few minutes. What do I do? I like my neighbors, and their children -- but sometimes it is too much.

-- Afraid of being a bad neighbor.

Emily Yoffe: What you say is, "It's lovely to see you, but I'm afraid now is not a good time, so we'll have to socialize sometime soon. Bye!"

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Washington, D.C.: I can relate to the person dealing with the inappropriate political chatter of their board. I work in a non-profit organization devoted to children (can't say more than that!) and routinely get barraged by e-mails from the CEO about his political preferences. Editorials, jokes, "don't forget to vote, and the right way (wink, wink)", etc. It has definitely been oppressive at times. It offends me, and I actually share most of his persuasions! However, I am in no position to do a pull-aside and say something. It would be the last thing I ever said in this building! I would say ignore and realize that more people are annoyed than you know about and it only makes the idiot spouting off their views look bad, not you for being quiet. If we lead by our professionalism, things will change.

Emily Yoffe: I wonder if this can't be part of a wider discussion about keeping politics out of your mission as there may be donors who don't share individuals' political views, but who do believe in the goals of the organization.

What would be nice if people stopped assuming everyone who seems like a "normal person" agrees with them politically.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: I am a 24-year-old first time mother. On several occasions, complete strangers have approached me while I am with my three-month-old son to chide me for having a child so young, getting tied down at an early age, etc. I'm offended and tired of these constant remarks! How can I respond to let these people know it's none of their business?

Emily Yoffe: You might be tempted to say, "Egads, you're right! What have I done? Well, you certainly look old enough -- you take him!"

What an awful thing to hear. You do not have to respond in any way. A cold stare and moving on is plenty.

Congratulations on becoming a mother. Forget the idiots and have a great time on this wonderful adventure.

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Boston: Prudie, Can we get a more nuanced take on friends dating exes? Could we agree, for example, that the more recently a relationship ended, the longer it lasted, and the closer the friend, then the more caution is required on the part of both parties? I.e., I would not want a good friend going out with my ex-boyfriend of two years a month after he and I broke up. But she'd have my blessing to see a guy I went out with once or twice a couple of months ago. Does that make sense?

Emily Yoffe: I understand what you're saying, but sorry, everyone's free and on the market, and if attraction strikes there no reason to ignore Cupid's arrow.

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Beasley, Texas: My husband of 10 years had an emotional affair with his female co-worker. Even though I suspected something was going on between them for quite sometime, he denied any wrong doing and basically accused me of "being crazy."

One day I bought a digital voice recorder and hid it in our bedroom. The very first day I used the recorder, he was recorded talking to his female co-worker (who is married also) exchanging "I love yous" He told her that she was beautiful, that he was only with me because of our daughters, etc. Needless, to say I was very hurt. I told him to leave and I contacted the co-worker's husband to let him know what was going on.

The bottom line is that my husband and I are back together but I am struggling to overcome his infidelity and trust him again. Also I should mention that this is not the first time he has carried on with a female co-worker. This happened once before but they both claim they were only friends. Both times he has talked very harshly about me to these women. He makes me out to be a monster. He has also been caught once instant messaging a woman he met online. He says that he loves me and that he regrets what he has done. However, he is not understanding at all about my struggle to trust him again. He thinks it's all water under the bridge and we should move on with our lives. How can I trust someone who I feel has not been trustworthy? I love my husband but I don't know if my marriage is worth saving. Should I stay or should I move on with my life?

Signed, broken hearted

Emily Yoffe: If in order to protect yourself - and to find out what a monster your husband thinks you are -- you have to hide recording devices in your bedroom, the answer to "Can this marriage be saved" may be "No." You don't mention children. If there aren't any, why are you staying? If you are, you two need a neutral party to help you establish new rules for your relationship to see if it can be salvaged. But your husband sounds as if deceit is a leading personality trait, and that's not promising.

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you don't need to date someone when you KNOW it will hurt a friend's feelings.: Why should the friend's feelings be hurt? No, seriously -- you're exes, right? Sooner or later both of you will find someone else; why does it matter to you who that someone else is? You can't control other people's lives this way. Grow up and get over it.

Emily Yoffe: I agree. I do understand the instinctive sense of violation if a good friend is suddenly dating your ex -- but you have to then step back and realize that this is a primitive sense of possessiveness and jealousy and work to let go of it.

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What you say is, "It's lovely to see you, but I'm afraid now is not a good time, so we'll have to socialize sometime soon. Bye!": And when it IS a convenient time but the kids are behaving badly, what you say is, "Please don't do that." Walk over and stop them physically if necessary. And let the chips fall where they may.

Emily Yoffe: I agree it's very important to make clear the rules of behavior in your own home. You absolutely must say, "The bedroom is off limits," or "Sorry, you can't touch the things made of glass." But I would advise against physically stopping the kids -- except in the case of imminent danger. If the parents won't step up, then you have to ask to whole bunch to leave. You can say you'd be happy to see them when the kids are feeling less rambunctious.

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Arlington, Va.: A little more clarity to the dating exes. The friend and I don't just run in the same social circle -- we have vacationed together, spent four hours talking about personal issues recently and my best friend is also one of her best friends. Change the analysis any? And given the tight social circle, wouldn't it have been nice for one of them to tell me, rather than have to hear it from someone else?

Emily Yoffe: Yes, it would have been nicer for one of them to tell you. But they didn't, and now you know, and you're still in the same circle. So instead of trying to divide the circle by getting others to agree with you about the lack of notification, etc., show just what a generous, confident person you are by acting as if you're fine with the whole thing. That will enhance your chances of everyone wanting to find someone great for you to date.

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Waltham, Mass.: Regarding Harrisburg, the new mother:

Who ARE these people who approach you? And why do they make the assumption that you're the mom? You could be the nanny. On the other end of the age spectrum, people shouldn't assume someone's the grandparent.

FWIW, my mom always says that 24 is the perfect age to have a baby, and she had them at six different ages, so she had some basis for her thinking.

Happy Mother's Day to you!

Emily Yoffe: Are YOU the baby who was born when Mom was 24? She may have told your five siblings that the age she had them was also perfect. And you're right, unless the guardian is wearing a "I'm Grampa" or "I'm Grandma" tee shirt, don't make the assumption that old looking people can't be the parents.

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You don't mention children. : Um, she did mention children. The husband got caught saying he only stayed with his wife because of their daughters.

Emily Yoffe: The curse of speed reading. Thanks for the catch! Yes, this becomes much more difficult then.

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For the good neighbor: It is important to be able to set boundaries. If I have friends or acquaintances that drop by with children, I keep an eye on the children while the parents chat with me. If the children aim for something like a drawer or shelf that they aren't supposed to be by, I ask them to please leave that alone as it isn't for children to play with. If they get on the furniture, then I say, no jumping on the furniture in this house. And if there is a room that they aren't supposed to go in, I close the door. If they go in before I get to the door, I say, "no kids in the bedroom, come on out...and then close the door. It's easy to set boundaries and once you start setting them, you'll notice that a number of parents who visit more than once will remember some of those boundaries and help you enforce them the next time. Just be firm and friendly.

Emily Yoffe: Excellent advice. And "firm and friendly" is so important.

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Washington, D.C.: Re: dating friends' exes.

Maybe the friend who dates her friends' exes immediately after a break up should do a self-esteem check and figure out why, out of all of the guys/girls in the world, she wanted to date the friend's ex.

Emily Yoffe: Sorry, no self-esteem check needs to be done if someone terrific in your social circle has just become available and you want to act on that. There's no mystery why you would prefer dating someone you know to looking for a stranger.

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Phoenix, AZ: Dear Prudence: I once had a very close relationship with my dad, until he got married about a year ago. His wife has successfully driven a wedge between my father and his children, which includes my two brothers. She instigates problems by name calling, sending unsolicited e-mails about issues things that don't concern her, and being outright rude by ignoring us or making snide comments when other people are around. It's very childlike. We're all in our late 20s and prefer not to be around her, but we really miss our father. Things really started to crumble after my husband responded to a rude e-mail she sent inquiring about a late Christmas present for my dad. My husband's response included some savory words which she didn't appreciate. I can understand why. However after that, my father refused to speak to me. It's been going on for over two months now and I've called him but he won't return my calls. He recently cornered my husband and demanded that he apologize to his wife, but I feel it's completely out of line. She has been causing deliberate pain in our family for more than a year without so much as acknowledging an issue, and now she is demanding an apology for an e-mail. I feel that if anything, my brothers and I deserve the apology first, and that the e-mail was mild compared to some of her past behavior. How can I mend things with my dad and help him understand that despite her wishes, his kids will always be a part of his life? -Distraught about Dad

Emily Yoffe: It is sad and maddening when a parent marries someone who feels her biggest job is to try to obliterate the fact that he has a family. You are going to have to accept to some degree that your father has made his choice and no one will win this war. She sounds like a head case. However, it would be great if you husband, not because he means it but for the sake of family unity, apologizes for his intemperate words. It will cost him nothing and it might gain a lot of good will.

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Arlington, Va.: Re exes -- that's why I'm bringing it up here instead of talking to the "group" about it.

Emily Yoffe: Good -- keep that up. And I hope it feels better just to have gotten it out and made your point. Now forget about them. If you want to really confound them, be pleased for them!

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Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. And Happy Mother's Day to mothers young and old.

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