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.
While a lot of us genuinely enjoy working with him the majority of the time, he seems to enjoy these games a bit too much. It's really not his role, and he's not a supervisor to anyone.
What do you think is the best diplomatic way to get pseudo-boss co-worker to back off?
Emily Yoffe: "Thanks, 'Elmer', but I understand what I'm supposed to do, and you'll excuse me because I have to go do it."
Seattle, Wash,: Dear Prudence,
I am nearing the 6 month anniversary with my new boyfriend whom I love very much. He and I work so well with one other and have been great at understanding difficulties in one another's past. I have been honest with him in telling him about how I struggled with being overweight for several years. He is very proud of the fact that I've lost over seventy pounds and encourages me constantly. Unfortunately, I struggle with wearing certain articles of clothing (i.e. sleeveless shirts, swimsuits, and such) because I am ashamed of the extra skin that just hasn't tightened up. I fear this will hinder my ability to express my love for him in physical ways. What should I do? Is this something we should discuss, should I have a procedure done, or should I just get over this?
Emily Yoffe: He knows you've lost 70 pounds, so surely he also has realized—even if you do wear long sleeves and haven't gone swimming with him—that you don't have the fanatically toned body of Madonna. He loves you, and it's likely he's not going to care very much about loose arm skin. One thing that makes a woman appealing and attractive is confidence. So take pride both in your body, and that you've found someone you feel is worth knowing intimately. You might ultimately want to get the loose skin fixed surgically. But your decision about whether to become sexual with your boyfriend should not hang on plastic surgery.
Albuquerque, N.M.: Is it possible to start over with a clean slate with relatives? I lived in Manhattan for many years, and never really cared for my in-laws. (Yeah, it was mutual.) My husband died 8 years ago, and things got quietly ugly between my husband's family and me.
I left New York a few years ago and am now getting ready to move back. I'd like to start things clean with the extended family for my kids' sake. I still don't LIKE them (I -really- don't like them), but they are my kid's aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.
Is it possible to start clean? Do I talk to them and say "let's start over" or will that make things worse? Do I just try to start over on my side and not say anything? Is it a pipe dream?
Emily Yoffe: This is a great idea. Even if you want to keep your contact to a minimum, it will surely mean a great deal to your kids to have connections with this side of the family. They will have the kinds of stories, photos and other memorabilia about their late father that will mean so much to them. Even if the problem was because of bad behavior on both sides, or even primarily their side, you should be the big one and start by making a gesture. Put together a photo album of the kids, or some other small but meaningful gift your in-laws would enjoy, and send it with a note saying you are sorry relations became so strained, and you regret many things you said and did. This is not because they weren't equally or more at fault, but you are trying to get past the past and provoke a reciprocal sense of generosity and forgiveness on their part. Say that now that you are moving back to town, you and your kids would really enjoy being more a part of their lives again.
Chicago, Ill.: Prudence,
I've always been the sort of person that doesn't hang out with others a lot. If I had to guess I'd say I spend 80 percent of my time alone. This has never bothered me, I prefer to stay home and read, but it has had an unfortunate byproduct: I'm incredibly rude. On more than a few occasions I have been rude or mean to perfectly innocent people at airports and bookstores, and I often don't realize how rude I've been until after the fact. I guess I'm trying to figure out how to recognize I'm rude in the moment. How do I recognize when I'm being rude? What are the signs that I am? And when I am rude and realize it, do I acknowledge this fact by saying something or apologizing, or does that sound like excuse making?
Emily Yoffe: It sounds as if you might be somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum and social interaction has always been difficult and somewhat baffling for you. It's great that you recognize that you are behaving in ways you don't like, or are offending people without meaning to. So build on that awareness and take some action. Look up support groups for Asperger's and find out how you find out just what's going on with you, and where you can get help. It really can make a difference to get training in how to respond in social situations. You may even find that you want to spend less time alone! And reading the etiquette books of Miss Manners, Emily Post, etc. can help give you a better understanding of how to behave in everyday interactions with others.
Monroe, La: Thanks for the advice. You would be surprised at the things that shock some people. Some actually were shocked to hear that I don't plan on hosting many parties (just doesn't appeal to me). I was also surprised at the number of people confused as to why I continue to work despite my husband's ability to support me. It takes all kinds I guess.
Emily Yoffe: (This is from the woman whose husband's family won't accept she's kept her maiden name.) I know that even when you cross the Mason-Dixon line it is still 2009. Southern states have women governors, representatives, business leaders, etc. People cannot be that shocked. However, you should surprise them and yourself by hosting some parties, even if you're not a natural hostess. You will have more fun than you expected, and will create a lot of goodwill.
Just back from the AT: and it's sorta a symptom of my issue. My husband and I don't do anything together anymore. WE just coexist quietly or stressfully, but never anything together. He refuses any suggestion to talk, communicate or plan. I'm ready to give up. Maybe I'd have a fraction of an iota of a chance if he was gone. I do things to have fun on my own with friends and family (like go hiking), but he never wants to do it. He makes less than half than I do, and I'm tired of supporting a mean, uncooperative, dependant, angry, immature burden. I do all the finances, pay taxes, do the taxes, make sure every bill is paid on time, organize work on the house, pay for that work, arrange for the dog to go to the vet, pay that vet, plan, buy and cook every meal. I can't believe this is my life. Any advice?
Emily Yoffe: Thank you for an Appalachian Trail question, although I was hoping for one in which the hike ended with a tango session in Buenos Aires. Since you say you arrange for the dog to go to the vet, but not the kids to go to the pediatrician because there don't appear to be any, what are you doing with this dog of a husband? You could make one last effort and say you're going to be out of the marriage unless he goes to counseling and your relationship changes. But your situation sounds both miserable and unnecessary to me.
Falls Church, Va.: Prudie,
Don't you think the writer who is so upset by her husband's family calling her by the "wrong name" was being a little too sensitive? What is she going to do when her (hypothetical) children's friends call her Mrs. Y instead of Ms. X as she would prefer? Chastise them as well?
Emily Yoffe: As I said, people are entitled to choose their own names. But I agree, in these kinds of informal settings it's not worth it to make a big deal or take offense. I didn't take my husband's last name, but often get called by it by my daughter's friends or her teachers. I don't feel any need to correct them because in those situations it is easier and it doesn't bother me.
New York, N.Y.: Dear Prudence,
An old and dear friend of mine recently moved back to our hometown. She's unemployed and looking to establish herself as a freelancer in web design. I happened to have another friend (friend B) who needed a website made, so I recommended friend A. Problem is, she's been terrible! She missed multiple deadlines, was clueless about contracts, and was generally disorganized and uncommunicative. I thought this girl was brilliant—we went to high school together, where she did better than me in every subject, but since then it seems she's turned into one of those people who's great at school and terrible at the real world. Friend B recently fired friend A from the project. Now I don't know what to do—I feel embarrassed in front of friend B for having recommended someone so inept, and I feel bad for friend A since she lost this project. Should I pass along friend B's complaints to friend A as constructive criticism, or should I just butt out of the whole thing?
Emily Yoffe: Since you brought them both together, you should say something to each of them about what went wrong. To Friend B, who had to fire Friend A, apologize for recommending A. Explain what you just said here, that this woman is very intelligent and has a lot of ability, and you were distressed to hear that she has not been able to use those qualities in a professional manner. To Friend A, tell her that you're sorry the job with Friend B didn't work out, but unfortunately you heard from B that she wasn't able to perform in a timely and reliable way. Tell her you know she has lots of skills, but perhaps she needs to take some business classes or otherwise address why she can't use her abilities more professionally.
Alexandria, Va.: I recently went home to visit my family and while I was there I stopped in the old neighborhood deli. The woman behind the counter recognized me as the older daughter of a local family who had left to join the Army. I told her that I was out now and living in Virginia. The first thing she asked me was, "so are you married?". Now that I'm in my 30's, I'm used to this and I have no problem saying no. But then she said, "Oh don't worry, you'll find someone." At first I was struck speechless, and then I managed to mutter something like, "well, my life's going pretty well, so..." and I thought about telling her about my wonderful boyfriend, but then decided it was none of her business and I just trailed off and left. But I left feeling embarrassed and wondering if the crowd of guys in line behind me were thinking that there was something wrong with me.
Did she really think that without her words of pity/encouragement that I was fearful of dying an old spinster just because I'm not married yet? And what's the deal with the general attitude that single people are just in a holding period on the way to marriage, as though we're somehow not complete on our own?
Yes, I would like to get married someday, but I'm not in a desperate rush, and I think her comment was a bit obnoxious.
Emily Yoffe: And if you were married to your boyfriend she'd grill you on why you didn't take his last name! Put this exchange in the bin for "well-meaning comments by acquaintances that got taken the wrong way." She was just making conversation, not very felicitously, but she also wasn't intending to make you feel like Miss Havisham. I bet the people behind you waiting for the turkey club on rye didn't give your love life a thought.
Guns: My husband and I own two handguns and three shotguns, no ammo is in the house and all have gun locks. We have taken a safety course (mandated in our state) to get our license, and it was taught by a career soldier and sharpshooter who said anyone who doesn't treat his or her guns this way, if there is any chance anyone but the gun owner him or herself can get to them, is a fool. If the father-in-law places his "convenience" in having guns easily accessible above the life of his grandchild, forget visiting him. (And the gun course instructor also told us that 99 percent of the time, people who have guns for "self defense" end up shooting themselves or loved ones or having intruders take the gun away from them. People seem to think it is easy to wake up in the middle of the night and whip out your gun and accurately shoot an intruder. Nonsense—even police shoot the wrong people because of adrenaline, fear, confusion and they are trained and ready for it.)
Emily Yoffe: Hear, hear for responsible gun ownership.
Chicago, Ill.: Hi Prudie! I have a question that has plagued me for many years. I am happily married, mom to a 3 year old, and expecting my second child. My husband is a great father and a fairly loving husband.
My first boyfriend and I have never really fallen out of touch, and it has caused problems in my marriage in the past (I've been married for 10 years, and he's been married for about 7). My husband recently found out about the continued contact because he went through my emails. The email he found wasn't to the guy; it was to a girlfriend asking her what I should do with the feelings I still have, although I have no desire to end my marriage or break up his. I guess the affair could be categorized as emotional.
Part of me feels that he preceded my marriage by many, many years, as did our feelings, so one does not have anything to do with the other. When I ask myself how I would feel if I found out my husband was doing the same thing, I thought I could honestly answer that it wouldn't bother me because I know what it feels like. But I found flirty texts and emails with a woman who works in the same location as he, and it didn't feel so good. The lack of trust is surely eroding what could otherwise be a great time in our lives. Any thoughts from you would be most appreciated. Thank you so much!
Emily Yoffe: Ah, another Gov. Sanford question! I have long advocated that people stop being unreasonably jealous because their spouse has friendships with people of the opposite sex. But the governor opened up the dark side of having a "dear, dear friend" because of it possibly leading to "that sparking thing." You're sparking. This isn't a case where a former boyfriend has become a strictly platonic friend. You and the ex are playing around with infidelity by keeping the emotional—and possibly physical—possibilities open between you two. You and your husband are about to have two children. You both are keeping up outside flirtations (maybe his is a defensive response.) You need to end the friendship with your ex, tell your husband you're doing so and why. Tell him you want to recommit to your marriage—say you two have got a great thing and it's time for you both to give up flirtatious games with others.
Weekend away: Hi Emily,
My husband and I are going through a rough patch and we have a high-energy toddler. Recently, I had a weekend to myself. I slept in, pampered me (generally at the bottom of the list),relaxed. Now I can't stop thinking about that. I love my family, but I'm keep thinking about leaving. It's so selfish, and I don't know that I'd actually do it, but the thought is tempting! Where do I go from here (mentally, if not physically)?
Emily Yoffe: I think there is a middle ground between abandoning your husband and child and realizing, "Hey, I need some time in which I'm not responsible for others 24/7." Your weekend away is telling you you need to build more breaks into your life. Maybe you need a babysitter or your should put your child in day care a few hours a week. Maybe you and your husband have been neglecting to take time together and just enjoy each other. Having a child completely changes the dynamics of a marriage, true. But two people who recognize they're going off track can take steps (short of running for the hills) to right things.
Boston: I recently found out from a guy friend of mine that he's only interested in skinny women. I had been interested in him romantically, but since I don't really fit that description (but I'm not overweight) I kept my mouth shut about how I felt. Now I feel awkward and self-conscious around him, and I am a little stung by his revelation because I think we'd make a great match otherwise. What to do?
Emily Yoffe: Let him search for his stringbean while you look for someone interested in and attracted to you.
Washington, D.C.: Re: Rudeness and Asperger's Syndrome: I have this condition, and the only support I've found was for parents with kids who have been diagnosed with Asperger's or young adults in outlying suburbs. Do you think that there are support groups for older adults like me?
Emily Yoffe: You're right, most of the support in the autism/Asperger's community is for children, but there is a growing awareness that these kids are growing up and will need continued support. Go to your search engine and type in "aspergers adult support"—and I'm sure you will find resources. There are also a lot of adults who have only recently discovered that they have Asperger's—there may be listservs of others who are dealing with this.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. And all you hikers—try to stay on the straight and narrow.