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—looking forward to your questions, especially those of anyone just back from the Appalachian Trail.
Louisville, Ky.: Hi, Prudence!
I have an in-law problem that I really need advice on. First, my father-in-law (I'll call him Paul) is a big gun nut. He loves his weapons. Paul and my mother-in-law really want to our pre-school twins over to spend time with them. I've asked about making sure that the guns are all locked up, and have been assured that all the weapons are in the basement, where the kids aren't allowed to go. My husband says that although Paul's a nice guy, he doesn't trust him not to have loaded weapons somewhere. And, knowing my boys, they can and will go anywhere in an instant. My in-laws refuse to lock up the basement because of the cats. They swear they can keep the boys away from the guns. But they've promised things and failed to follow up on them before. What do I do?
Emily Yoffe: Curious boys, distracted grandparents, and loaded guns. Need one say any more other than, "calling the Lifetime channel." You need to tell your in-laws that of course you want them to have a great relationship with your children. And you want to feel calm and comfortable when you leave your kids with them. That's why they need to invest in a gun safe and promise that every weapon will be unloaded and locked in the safe before the kids visit. Tell them unless they agree—and show you that the firearms are completely secured—then they are welcome to come see the kids at your house, but the kids will not be visiting theirs.
Pittsburgh, Penn.: Hi Prudie, Last year, I was a bridesmaid in a friend's wedding. She kindly let all the bridesmaids pick their own dresses and I found a beautiful, albeit really expensive, dress that I love. The bride whose wedding I wore the dress in is now going to another friend's wedding in July and has asked to borrow the dress I wore to her wedding. Help, Prudie—I didn't volunteer to let her borrow the dress and I don't want to lend it to her. She's a heavy smoker, and this is the type of dress that is likely to be ruined when dry cleaned which I'd pretty much have to do after she wears it. How do I politely and firmly turn down her request without hurting her feelings?
Emily Yoffe: Even if you wore this dress to celebrate your friend's nuptials, she does not now have some post-marital claim to it. Tell her you love the dress and treasure the memory of her wedding whenever you wear it, but you have a policy of not lending clothes because it so often ends up badly.
Monroe, La.: Dear Prudence,
I recently married into a prevalent southern family, however; I retained my own last name. He is very supportive, and his parents have not actually voiced any argument. The issue is their friends and other family members who are shocked and horrified that I would be so tacky and offensive as to not take his name. They ignore my polite requests that I be addressed both professionally and personally by my real name. The passive aggressiveness of this southern community I have moved into astounds me. Some of them claim "it's too confusing to know how to address you".
My husband backs me up, but he's never around when it happens. I do not wish to embarrass myself or my new family by being rude to these people, but I'm at the end of my rope. Being called the wrong name and receiving mail addressed to Mrs. His Last Name is like a slap in the face to me, especially when coming from people who know what my name is. Advice??
Thank you for your consideration.
Emily Yoffe: Are they shocked and horrified that you aren't spending your time buying white gloves and organizing lovely teas? Perhaps they've heard, in the last 30 or so years, of women who have happy marriage but retained their own last names? Surely in work settings you are not having this problem—whatever name you do business under should be the name your colleagues address you, period. It sounds as if the problem is with his extended family. Everyone is entitled to being called by the name they prefer, and yes they are being passive aggressive in not recognizing your wish. So just kill them with kindness, keep very politely correcting those who still may not understand. But for the ones you know are just doing it to annoy you—start ignoring it. It's only a slap in the face if you feel the sting. If you can shrug it off, their behavior has no power over you.
Dayton, Ohio: My father molested me for many years. I stopped seeing him and my mother, and it made me less crazy not having to see them. My aunt, my father's sister, has always been very sympathetic to me—until recently. She wanted me to go to my father's 80th birthday party. I hadn't seen him for a long time, and I had no intention of going to his party although my husband and daughter went. Ever since I refused to go to the party, she has been cold to me—not returning calls, not inviting us up to her house for a week in summer, although my sister, my father, and others have been invited for visits. My aunt does not know the full story—I have only told her that there was "abuse." She knew he was verbally abusive while we were growing up (she witnessed it) and has apologized for not intervening.
Now my Aunt is having an 80th birthday and I was planning to go until I found out my father is going to be there. What do I do? Do I go to the party and avoid my father or be superficially cordial (which takes a toll)? Should I write her and tell her what really happened or just let her live out her life without inflicting the ugly details on her? What I want to say is, "He could have gone to jail for what he did. I don't feel like discussing the details and I'm sure you don't want to hear them. I want nothing more than to be left alone by him and not have family members attempting a 'reconciliation'." By the way, he has never acknowledged the abuse or apologized, and I don't expect or need that he will do that.
Emily Yoffe: You've done enough protecting of your father. You're right, it's too bad he didn't go to jail. I know your Aunt is 80, and you don't want to shock her so much she doesn't make it to 81, but I think you should tell her. Call or visit and say you have something painful and difficult to say, but it will help her understand your situation better. Then tell her your father sexually molested you for many years. Not having contact with him has been an important part of your healing, so if he's going to be at her party, you won't be able to come. Be prepared for her not believe you, or to be cold—often stunning news like news provokes strange responses. But at least it will be out. Two other things: I hope you have gotten therapy to help you deal with the horrible abuse. And you say you sent your husband and daughter to celebrate his birthday. But they should have a united front with you by staying away from this monster.
Alexandria, Va.: There is a non-supervisory co-worker in my office who seems to enjoy "playing manager."
For example, if our real boss says that he wants a memo to follow a certain format in a meeting, this co-worker will go around the office post-meeting and either quiz you on whether you know the correct format or not (and if you don't he will definitely correct you) or explain the new procedure to you in a less than tactful way, often grinning and snickering as he does, and clearly proud of himself for knowing the rules so well.