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

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
May 18 2009 3:34 PM

Shear Betrayal

Prudie counsels a woman who fears angering her stylist husband by visiting another hairdresser—and other advice seekers.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, chats with readers weekly on Washingtonpost.com about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. Next week's chat will take place on Tuesday at 1 p.m. due to the Memorial Day holiday. The chat will resume its regular Monday schedule the following week. (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 and comments.

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Burlington, Mass.: I have a problem that needs very careful decision. My husband is a hair stylist and I am not happy with my hair color and the way he cuts it. We know a very famous friend/hair stylist close to us and I want to go to him. Do you think it is a mistake or embarrassment for my husband or the other hair stylist if I decide to take the steps? I am very, very dissatisfied with my hair color/cut as it is now. I want a change of style and color and every time I beg him to do something different he just does the same thing or worse. Please understand that I am not putting my husband down or anything just want to look little bit different from how I've looked for so long.

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BTW—I never gone to others since we've been married, over 20 years now.

Please help!

Emily Yoffe: Clearly it's a mistake and embarrassment for you to continue to go to your husband. If you are the spokesmodel for his skills, your unflattering results can't be good for business. I wonder if he's just not good at what he does and makes everyone look awful, or when he goes to work on your roots, it gets to the root of some hairy psychological issues. Unlike the rest of us, you just can't just go to a new stylist and come home and say, "How do you like my hair?" Tell your husband just as doctors don't treat their family, you two should stop mixing your personal and professional lives, and that you're going to try Mr. X. Maybe when he sees how good you look he will be inspired. Let's hope he's big enough not to take someone else cutting your split ends as a betrayal worthy of a split.

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San Diego, Calif.: Dear Prudie,

I've been living in the U.S. for a little over 10 years now, and I still have a British accent. I've found that people get the urge to mimic my accent—sometimes when meeting for the first time—and it's rather irksome. I'm not sure how to react to these people. Do you have any suggestions? I understand that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I'd rather just carry on conversations like a normal person. Thanks.

Emily Yoffe: When babies are born, within hours if an adult sticks out a tongue at them, they will imitate and stick out a tongue back. So this urge to mimic, which lays the groundwork for empathy, is really basic. Of course, being a civilized person means that you learn to repress this urge, and do not sound like Eliza Dolittle every time you hear a British accent. You could either answer, "Oh, brilliant! Your accent is spot-on. I'm gobsmacked!" Or you could, stiff upper lip and all, ignore the Masterpiece Theater attempt until your companion's urge to imitate passes.

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Plainview, N.Y.: I have a very close friend who has recently been diagnosed with cancer. She has a great deal of stress in her life—an important job, many family members pulling her in many directions, a young son to raise and she has recently moved in with someone. I am the only person she has told of her diagnosis. She says she will deal with the radiation therapy on her own as it can be done somewhat discreetly and only wants someone to know to occasionally talk to. I am trying to be as supportive as possible and have also encouraged her to talk to her newly moved in boyfriend at least. She refuses. She is also stalling on scheduling the therapy. I have been a pleasant but persistent nudge but am concerned that if I continue to nudge she will shut down and then stop communicating. What if anything should I do?

Emily Yoffe: This sounds awful and very much like the "April" plotline of the excellent, "In Treatment." In the HBO series a young cancer patient refused to get chemo and her therapist finally took her himself to the oncologist to get her to start.You could do something similar and offer to go with your friend to her appointment to get her radiation scheduled. Of course, you don't want to be a nudge, but this is life and death. If she keeps stalling, you can tell her that you want her to be able to confide in you, but you fear for her life and feel you need to take more action. You could possibly tell her that you want to include her live-in boyfriend in on this information.

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Dallas, Texas: Whenever we go out to eat, I am irritated whenever someone asks if they could have a bite of what I ordered. I believe that I shouldn't have to do so. What does proper etiquette dictate when someone asks to sample your meal? (Didn't you used to write for The Dallas Observer?)

Emily Yoffe: No, you shouldn't have to, but if you don't, it's awkward. But if you eat out enough with the same people, they will learn not to put their paws up and beg for a treat from you. You can say, "I'm sorry, I'm really looking forward to devouring this whole thing." Or if your issue is their fork in your food, you can cut off a piece and put it on their plate. And I used to work for Texas Monthly.

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Anonymous: A mutual friend and I had a long talk, and after I opened up, this person gave me direct evidence of an innappropriate relationship I suspected my spouse of having. I don't think it is a physical relationship, but I can't be certain. I've read many articles on emotional affairs but am confused. I would appreciate your definition of an emotional affair and the warning signs. If it is an emotional affair, what do I do? How do I break it up? Is it the same as a physical affair and will lead to divorce? I need help with this.

Emily Yoffe: You already know the warning signs, because you've realized something is going on with your husband that you're not part of. He's distant, distracted, he can't account for missing time, he's secretly calling or texting, he just feels "not there." I'm afraid you can't just break it up, because it also requires fixing something that's broken in your marriage. You need to sit your husband down, tell him he hasn't seemed to be in your marriage for a while, and that you've come to understand he's involved—either emotionally or emotionally and physically—with someone else. You can say you want to save your marriage, and that requires his being honest and present.

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For the accent: Please don't say anything. Most people don't mean to lapse into an accent, and if they realize they're doing it, they'll just be embarrassed. Just be kind and understand that it's easy to fall into speaking like others do. Sincerely, the girl who picks up an accidental Southern accent every time she visits her in-laws.

Emily Yoffe: Good point. It's likely that the majority of people are doing it unconsciously. I lived in Texas (I'm originally from Massachusetts) and at the end of four years there I was definitely saying, "Well, thank YEWWWW!"

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Boston: My fiance goes to maybe the most prestigious grad school in the country/world. I go to one that is far less prestigious. People at both programs (not close friends of either of us) have suggested to me that he's likely to move on to someone "more like him" or "in his income bracket" once we're finished in a few years.

I don't believe this, and the one time he heard someone say it he went ballistic on them, but how do I deal with these remarks, which seem to come up pretty casually and often?

Sometimes they actually get me worried that this will happen, although when I'm with him that worry goes away.

Emily Yoffe: Stop worrying. It will only be an issue if you accept the idiotic snobbery of the assumption (and your fiance obviously doesn't) and act as if your degree—and you—have been judged inferior. You could deal with it directly and say, "That's awfully insulting" or you could just fix these social critics a look and say, "Thank you so much for your concern."

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Indianapolis, Ind.: Dear Prudence,

I will very soon be graduating from a four-year college program in just three years. I am very proud of the amount of work that I put in to receive my bachelor's degree one year early. My problem is, when I tell others what I have done, nearly every single person regards the fact with disdain, each of them asking incredulously, "WHY?!" I am continually shocked at this response to such a seemingly good piece of news. How should I respond to these people?

—Fast track to the future

Emily Yoffe: First of all, congratulations, and congratulations on saving yourself or your parents buckets of money. The reaction is based on the notion that you have just short-changed yourself a year of contemplative walks along the quad and thrown yourself into adult life too early. You can respond with good humor and say, "I wanted to get a head start on entering the non-existent job market."

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Dinner with a side of unsolicited opinion: Dear Prudie, My mother and I are both petite, average-sized women. In preparation for summer, I've upped my workout and dropped some weight while mom is still struggling. Any time I eat more than she'd like (more as in having one popsicle for dessert, not as in having a whole family sized bag of chips) in her presence she adds commentary like "do you really think you should eat that?" or the even more subtle "you're going to get fat." She's definitely preoccupied by her own weight loss goals and adamant about keeping her food diary and couting calories while I've chosen to go the eat sensibly/exercise route. What is a good way to encourage her to keep her own negativity/weight frustration out of my direction while I figure out my own healthy lifestyle?

Signed,

—Will now be dining in sound proof booth

Emily Yoffe: You need to let her know that you are each going to deal with your eating and weight privately. When she starts commenting say, "Mom, I'm comfortable with what I choose to eat. No one wants to hear a running commentary while they're enjoying a meal." Don't engage beyond that if she tells you why the popsicle will ruin your life. Just keep telling her you want to put caloric intake off the table.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Hello, Thanks for taking my question - Quickly, I am a cancer survior. People (friend and family) will ALWAYS but me something with the pink ribbon on it. I HATE THAT! Believe me, I know these people are being nice, and I have expressed my concerns to them more than once (in a nice way). I STILL get the "Pink Stuff"! What am I to do besides keep telling them I HATE IT?! NO PINK RIBBONS FOR ME

Emily Yoffe: Everyone deals with major illness in their own way, and for many people putting cancer out of their minds and resuming their normal lives is the most theraputic way to move on. For people who are close and keep doing it, explain that for you these reminders of cancer just drag you back to a very painful time and that you'd appreciate no more pink ribbon gifts. If they won't stop then, then it's weirdly hostile and when you get another "gift" you can say, "I'm afraid I won't be able to use this. You keep it for someone who would appreciate it more." For others who are just being well meaning, say thanks and then toss or pass on the gifts.

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Chicago: Dear Prudence

What do I do about a spouse whose handwriting is so atrocious that I'm embarrassed when s/he writes a thank-you note on the behalf of the two of us? Both of us are fastidious about writing thank-yous; and we each have the responsibility for writing the thank-yous to "our" family and friends. However, my spouse's handwriting is so bad, it looks like s/he doesn't care about sincerely expressing gratitude for the hospitality we've enjoyed together as a couple—it looks like we're just "going through the motions". I've pointed this out, and my spouse's reply is to the effect of: "So few people write thank-yous anymore, they'll be pleased that we acknowledged their kindness at all." Unfortunately for genteel society, my spouse is correct.

Don't even suggest that I take over the duty for the both of us—first, it's not fair; second, my spouse won't hear of it. Do I simply have to bite my tongue while my spouse makes the collective "we" look bad?

Emily Yoffe: He's writing notes! Surely his handwriting can't be so bad that your friends can't decipher that he's expressing his thanks. Yes, such notes are supposed to handwritten, but a legible typed note would be perfectly welcome. But why are you proofreading his work? Just be glad he willingly does his share.

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St. Louis, Mo.: Dear Prudence,

Last year I was involved in a very short lived "relationship" with a man I barely knew. Long story short, we met, spent all of our free time together, and a month later I was pregnant. I suddenly hated him (I'm guessing due to being hormonal) and decided to dump him and terminate the pregnancy. He was not happy about either decision. He has continued to try and communicate with me from time to time during this past year. Fast forward to now. He's back and I regret ever letting him go. He wants us to try and work things out and possibly be together for real this time. I haven't talked to him in about 3 weeks now. He doesn't call and doesn't answer when I call. I sent a text yesterday asking if I should continue on with my life and forget about "us". His response was that he was trying to "clean up" some things in his life so that he could devote meaningful time to me. Should I hold on or am I grasping at the wind hoping for something that may have already passed?

Emily Yoffe: First of all, get some information about reliable methods of birth control. Then be scrupulous about using it. This "relationship" sounds like a total loss, but you don't sound ready for a relationship yourself. You should consider counseling to try to figure out how to get more control over your erratic moods and behavior.

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pink phobic cancer survivor: You could also say that instead of buying a cancer gift they could make a donation instead as a way of honoring you.

Emily Yoffe: Good suggestion!

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Santa Monica, Calif.: I moved here recently, and am just starting to get involved in the community. On a volunteer project, I met this very nice woman and asked her out. She was dressed in baggy sweats so I didn't get a great sense of her "looks"; I just thought she seemed sweet and reasonably attractive.

Turns out she's a model and looks absolutely fabulous "dolled up". So much so that I never would have asked her out, as I would have assumed she is completely out of my league. I can't tell you how weird I felt being out with her as heads turned all over the place. Things clearly went well, but how do I deal with my insecurities? I never thought I'd be with someone like this.

Emily Yoffe: She said yes to you! You two had a great time! She was probably thrilled to meet someone who was clearly interested in her because you took pleasure in her as a person, not a body. Just because she's a model doesn't mean she expects to be dating Donald Trump (God forbid). Keep being the nice, confident person you were when you met her so that she doesn't start thinking, "He seemed so sincere at first, but now he's just like all the heavy-breathing jerks I hate."

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Also from Boston: My husband has a doctorate from MIT, while I earned an MBA part-time from then-much-less-prestigious Northeastern Univ. 20+ years later, we are very happily married with a beautiful family. I outearn him by over a third and no one cares. Ignore dumb comments and focus on what's important to the two of you!

Emily Yoffe: Here we have it from the front lines: It is possible to find love and success even if you didn't go to the most prestigious schools in the country. It is even possible to find more success than people who did go to the most prestigious school (and it is still possible to love your lower-earning prestigious school grad). Thanks for the report.

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Knoxville, Tenn.: Dear Prudence,

I am a 40-ish married female. I have a very good friend, male, who is a 12-year military veteran, including overseas service. He has various physical (not service-related) and mental (probably service-related) problems that have kept him out of work for over four years. The "help" he gets from various organizations wouldn't keep a cat alive. So, last year—with my husband's full cooperation—I invited him to live with us. He doesn't pay rent, but does chip in for food and electricity when I ask. He has been absolutely no problem for us, except for the finances being a little tighter than usual.

The problem is with some of our friends and family. They look on him as some sort of freeloader, and constantly tell me that we have to get rid of him. Not that it is any of their business, but I do often have friends and family over to my house, and I'm afraid that they will say something to insult him to his face.

How do I explain to them that this has been a rewarding experience, and to MYOB? In fact, I hope I'm starting a trend of people helping people. Thanks.

Emily Yoffe: What a wonderful thing to do. When people aren't at your house, you can say that you and your husband feel blessed to be able to help your wonderful friend, who has sacrificed for his country, to get back on his feet. Then move on to MYOB. If people start asking awkward questions when they're over, have some statements that shut down the discussion. "We're lucky to have Joe living with us—he's been a great friend." If people are outrageously rude you can pull them aside and ask them to desist or else you'll have to cut the evening short.

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D.C.: I received a wedding announcement from a friend who had a small family-only wedding. As I wasn't included in the wedding, I don't feel like I have to acknowledge the announcement at all. I've read that it's polite to send a card, but I really feel like if my friend chose to leave me out of the wedding, she was also choosing to forgo any congratulations from me. Am I right?

Emily Yoffe: No, you're not right. You know that your friend had a small family wedding and that most friends were by necessity left out. Considering the days-long extravaganzas many weddings have become, be grateful to your friend for not dragging you through a weekend worth of events. You can acknowledge her note with a gift or not as you like. But if you wish to remain friends, you should extend your best wishes.

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Washington, D.C.: Dear Emily,

I've been married for almost a year now and while there have definitely been some adjustments to make, we've been mostly happy and I love my husband very much. the problem is that he exhibits some behaviors that I see as sometimes being controlling. While he never 'prohibits' me from doing anything I would like, he questions how many times a year I want to see my family, how often I want to see friends, and why I stack the dishes a certain way, etc. This is very irritating to me because I see myself as a reasonable person—i.e. we don't see my family more than we see his (if anything it's the other way around), I make time for my friends, but not at the expense of my spouse, and I don't see why he should care why I stack the dishes a certain way. To me, being married is about making adjustments and I've made quite a few to the way he is accustomed to living, so I feel that he should do the same for me. Am I being unreasonable?

Emily Yoffe: Your husband is scaring me. You've got to get this contol issue under control now, early in your marriage, because someone with these tendencies tends to escalate—especially when children are involved. No husband should be in the position of "prohibiting" his wife from doing things she enjoys, unless it's along the lines of sex clubs, or walking into oncoming traffic. You need counseling to help him see that despite the fact you're his wife, you are still a free individual.

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Scaryville: Dear Prudence,

Two weeks ago I was diagnosed with a rare cancer. Had immediate surgery, tumor is now gone, no further treatment is indicated, doctors say my prognosis is great. So - how do I shake the feeling that all is NOT well, and that I could die and leave behind my two wonderful children (toddler and infant)? I need a good "snap out of it!" slap to the face. By all apparent measures I am very lucky to have been diagnosed and treated very early. I'm having a hard time focusing on the "I am so fortunate" part and instead am stuck on the "I am so scared" part. Suggestions?

Emily Yoffe: You need to start by being nice enough to yourself to understand that you had a near-death experience two weeks ago and no one is going to snap out of it that quickly. You have just been through a trauma, and even though you will get back to your normal, happy life, you can't just turn off the emotions that come out of this experience. You may want to look for support groups that focus on people who have survived similar diagnoses so that you can work out these feelings with others who have been there.

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D.C. via Text: Hi Prudie,

I wrote in a few months ago about my hatred of the phone, which I was trying to get over so that I could get to know a new person in my life. Well, it's been a few months and we talk pretty regularly. I wouldn't say I have an accent in the traditional sense, but I talk really quickly and on the phone, it makes it pretty hard to understand what I'm saying. Recently I discussed this with my new phone partner, and we found a way he could understand me—if I speak in what to me sounds like a robot voice. If I didn't want to speak on the phone before, now I dread it with every fiber of my being. He, however, is happy because he can finally understand me, and just wants to talk more. How can I dial back our phone conversations and stop the robot madness? Thanks.

Emily Yoffe: If he starts calling you "R2D2" and telling you you look really good in metallic clothing, run! Next time he calls you tell him in your normal voice that you're ending the robo-calls. If he insists he enjoys them, you might have to unplug this relationship.

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