Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, was on Washingtonpost.com Tuesday to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. She will return to her regular chat schedule next week: Mondays at 1 p.m. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.) An unedited transcript of this week's chat follows.
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Bowie, Md.: Dear Prudie, I have a great boyfriend of 2 years, and there are no major problems between us, except that he rarely brushes his teeth. When I can see the plaque on his teeth, I usually end up pulling away when he kisses me. The other thing about it is that if I can see the plaque others can, too. How can I gently tell him to pick up a tooth brush?
Emily Yoffe: For two years you have been watching the Great Wall of Plaque build on your boyfriend's teeth and you can't think of a way to tell Mr. Gingivitis he's repulsing you? I'd say that's a major problem. Forget gentle hints. Tell him it's not a moral issue that keeps you from kissing him, but an oral one. Say he needs to visit a dentist immediately and start regularly brushing and flossing or else your commitment to him is going to be as loose as his teeth.
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St. Louis, Mo.: My best friend got diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma. She talked to me about how she wished she had gotten pregnant before she got sick, and now the doctors are telling her she has to wait at least 3 years before she can try to conceive, due to chemotherapy and radiation. We are both in our mid 20s, and while I got married before her and have a young son, her situation made me want to get pregnant. I had been waiting to have a second kid until time was "right" which it never has been, due to school, work, husband's unemployment and so on. I decided no time was perfect, and now I'm eight weeks along. I don't know how to tell my best friend without hurting her. I know she will be more hurt if I don't tell her soon.
Emily Yoffe: What you don't do is tell her that her struggle with mortality has prompted you to have another child. You're right, since you are best friends and this is something you would have told her if she hadn't become ill, you do have to let her know. Surely, not all your conversations revolve around her illness, and when you're talking about normal things, you should simply tell her, "I have some exciting news—I'm pregnant." Be sensitive to her response. Sure, she might burst into tears and say she fears this will never happen for her. To which you say that you long for the day when she has a child of her own, you are so sorry that she has to endure this ordeal, and you admire the way she is facing it. Be understanding—not defensive—about her pain. And don't get backed into a corner having to explain why you chose this time. What you said here is right—life rarely offers perfect opportunities.
London, Ontario: I'm from Southern Ontario, where weddings involve a minimum of 3 events for female guests: a shower, a phenomenon that I believe is unique to the region called a stag-and-doe, where one is expected to purchase a ticket and drinks and to pay to play games, all to defray the costs of the wedding, and the big day itself. Each event involves an outlay of cash, of course, a minimum of $100 for all 3.
I've managed to avoid the circus for the past several years by living abroad, but now I'm back and getting ready to start grad school in September. Between now and then, I've been invited to 4 weddings, 4 showers and umpteen stag and does, which are not limited to guests. All of the couples already live together and have much nicer homes and incomes than I do.
I intend to go to the weddings, and have already purchased modest gifts for each. I have turned down the other events. In part, I don't have the money. But the larger part of my reluctance is my belief, which I keep to myself, that the wedding industry is out of control. However, I am facing a lot of questions as to why I'm not going to this or that stag and doe or shower. Can you suggest a good, neutral response that doesn't sound old the 12th time?
Emily Yoffe: I often wonder where the idea that your friends are supposed to defray the costs of your life events got started. I guess we should be grateful that it's mostly confined to weddings and we all don't get regular grocery bills or requests to help with the annual vacation from our married friends. The way to stop being part of this is to do what you're doing: just give something appropriate that you can afford. You don't have to have an original response as to why you aren't doing more. Just keep repeating, "Unfortunately, I can't make that event."
Washington, D.C.: Dear Prudence, I have been dating my boyfriend for a little over a year now, and he is absolutely fantastic. Very attractive, very loving, very kind—the list goes on and on. The issue (and of course there is one), is that he is a bit older than me—I'm 28 and he's 45. Most of the time the age difference doesn't bother me, since we get along so well. However, when I think about the long-term, I worry about the issues that may arise, such as him dying well before me. Am I crazy to be dwelling on issues that are so far down the road (he is in excellent health), or should I seriously consider that our age difference may be too great a barrier to overcome?
Emily Yoffe: What's crazy is for people who are considering spending their lives together to not address the issues that are bound to come up, such as whether to have children, religious differences, etc. Sure, this age difference may not seem so dramatic now, but 17 years is a big gap and you have to think through the implications. That said, there is no guarantee that even a person closer to your age will live a long, healthy life. And many couples with big age differences have long, successful marriages. If you do want to spend your lives together, your age difference, and what it will mean to your work lives, reproductive lives, etc. is something you should feel open about talking about.
Anonymous: Dear Prudence,
I am married to a wonderful man who is tolerant, patient, and kind. He's generous to me, and I adore him. The problem is my stepson, who still lives at home. The boy is 21 years old and has never held a job, had a driver's license, or done a voluntary chore around the house. He sits in front of his computer all day or sleeps. My husband doesn't seem inclined to make him get a job or support himself in any way. I know his reluctance has to do with guilt about their childhood (some mutterings of abuse by his ex). While my stepson isn't a bad kid (no drugs, drinking, etc.), I can't help but want him to move out start his own life and leave me and his father to ours. We've talked about this issue before, and it leaves us both unhappy. How can I nudge this bird from the nest?
Emily Yoffe: Your husband's guilt and indulgence, as it tends to, has crippled its recipient. There is obviously something wrong with your stepson—despite a difficult childhood he lacks even the most basic human drives for independence and self-respect. Your family needs professional intervention. Your stepson needs a full medical and psychological work up to get to the bottom of why he's missed the basic milestones (friends, work) of becoming an adult. And you two need someone to help you figure out how to start giving your stepson the tools to fledge.
Dayton, Ohio: Dear Prudie,