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, everyone. Let's get to the questions.
Washington, D.C.: Dear Prudence, I recently got engaged to an absolutely wonderful woman. We are now deep into the wedding planning and everything is going great. There is just one little problem with the guest list. We have a family friend that we would like to have at the wedding, but she has a husband that is loud, obnoxious, and generally rude. Is there any way that we can get away with inviting her but not her husband?
Emily Yoffe: It would be more direct if you just informed your friend that she has enough time to divorce her obnoxious husband before your wedding invitations go out. That way, it will solve her life problem and your invitation problem.
Actually, in pursuit of your "perfect day" you don't get to make over the poor choices loved ones have made in their choice of loved ones (I will make an exception for known child molesters, or people who have brandished weapons at previous gatherings). Part of the fun of a wedding is that the guests get to talk later about how horribly Harry behaved, or how overdone Judy's facelift was. If you're inviting your friend, her husband comes along.
Bethesda, Md.: How should you react when you find out your wife of 20 years had an abortion when she was 15 years old? She has always been a committed and loving wife. Should this impact your relationship?
Emily Yoffe: My suggestion is you hug her and say that must have been an awful and frightening time in her life. You're sorry she feels she couldn't tell you all these years, but you're glad it's out in the open now. You're happy to talk about it if she wants to, but won't press her if she doesn't. Oh, and don't forget, "I love you so much."
D.C.: Hi Emily. I was briefly dating a man who told me that, although he felt at ease with me and enjoyed being with me, he couldn't see me anymore because of issues related to work and the commitments of being a divorced, full-time father. I miss him terribly and I very much want to reach out to him to ask if he would reconsider his decision, but I also don't want to open myself up for more heartbreak. Do you think it would be worth it to get in touch, or is everything he said simply guy code for "I don't like you enough to want to keep seeing you"?
Emily Yoffe: Yes, it sounds like a nice way of saying, "This isn't working out." You could send him an email in a few weeks saying you were thinking of him and hoping his life was going well. If he sends a polite, non-committal response, work on getting over him. If he suggests seeing each other, you could give it another try, but be mindful of not getting hurt again.
Park City, Utah: Dear Emily,
Several months ago, my wife and I began to suspect that our neighbor and good friend, who is in her 40s, was taking prescription pain killers from our medicine cabinet. I had received a prescription for 20 Hydrocodon after having a root canal. Our friend, who lives just down the street would "pop-in" to use the bathroom on her way out to go shopping. When we began to suspect something, we counted the remaining pills and found over half of them were missing. I had only taken one of them. We disposed of the remaining pills immediately. After we had disposed of the remaining pills, our friend came by one evening on the way home from work and came right out and asked if we had any Codeine or old pain pills. We said no and that we wouldn't give anything to anyone even if we did.
One time when we were out of town, she told us that she went into our house "to check and make sure that the dog sitter was doing her job." We have the same sitter for quite a while and this was totally unnecessary. We have remained civil with her and her husband whenever we run into them in the neighborhood, but have pretty much broken off most contact with them. They know we're upset about something, but have not approached us to find out what. Should we just leave it as it stands or confront them together about what we suspect was going on?
Emily Yoffe: You've already had a direct discussion with your good friend about the fact that you aren't going to be her friendly, neighborhood narcotics supplier. I think you need to talk to the husband and explain that "Elaine" has asked you directly for pills, and you have good evidence she has stolen drugs from your medicine cabinet. Say you care about her very much, but she is putting herself in extreme physical danger—if she doesn't get arrested first—and she needs a medical intervention for her addiction.
Bay City, Mich.: What do you do when the man you have been seeing for 4 years except for a few months last year tells you that he is the father of a child that was a created during the time you did not see each other?
We were supposed to move in together this summer and start working on a child of our own when he was informed that he is the father of a child due in September.
He is now trying to decide if he wants to be with me and raise his son via a custody agreement or live with the mother of his child so he can have his son with him full-time. He does not love the mother of his child. Their relationship was based on sex, she was seeing someone else at the time and was going to stop seeing my boyfriend when she found out she was pregnant. A paternity test has been done and my boyfriend is the father.
He says now that he is not sure what to do. Make a life with the person he loves or make a life with the mother of his child? I have told him I am willing to help him raise his son. The mother of his child says she has fallen in love with him since she found out she was pregnant with his child and wants to raise their son together under one roof.
I am asking two questions:
Do you have any advice for him?
What do I do?
Emily Yoffe: Gee, he sounds like a real prize. "Oh, Honey, what should I do? Be with you? Be with her? Be with you and have you help raise the kid? Hey, maybe we can all live together and save a lot of money—and when I have sex with her it will only be about the sex, because you're the one I really care about." I know you've invested four years in this guy, but you took a break for a reason. And what's with the "We were going to move in and start working on a child of our own"? I know I sound like a troglodyte, but what about deciding to get married, establishing a stable life together, and then deciding to have kids? Stop drifting through life's big decisions and be with someone who wants to be with you.
Out there: re: first question
My sister is having a family gathering in the fall and wants to know what to 'do' with dad. He's not speaking with her at the moment (not unusual)—but she's more upset that he's not speaking with her kids. In any event, she wanted a pow-wow with me regarding what to 'do.' I told her there is nothing to 'do.' You invite him (because it's the right thing to do) and you hope for the best. You can't be responsible for other people's actions, no matter how much you want them to behave the way you want.
Emily Yoffe: I agree in general that trying to control other people is a losing game. And trying to keep people from behaving oddly at events like weddings reduces the fun for everyone else. But I don't really agree with you about having a father over who ostentatiously is not speaking to his daughter or her children. How miserable. I think she should break through the communication barrier and say there's an event coming in the fall and she'd like him to be there, so she's hoping to get communication going again. Have her explain it would be too painful for her and her children if he came but refused to acknowledge them.
Surprise party: My in-laws will soon be celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. My father-in-law is in the mid stages of Alzheimer's but is still able to go out and remembers his kids. I want to surprise them with a small party with a renewal of their vows on the anniversary. My husband thinks it is a terrible idea—that his dad would be confused and that his mom wouldn't care about going to the church. I am disappointed that he feels this way as I feel that, after 27 years of marriage, that I know her pretty well and think she would be touched. Do I try to plan it without his help or give up on what I think would mean a lot to her?
Emily Yoffe: This has to be a new twist to the surprise party. You invite the guest (or guests) of honor and spring a religious or legal ceremony on them. Most people would be deeply confused even if they didn't have a pre-existing medical condition. If people want to renew their vows, that's their business. I dislike turning it into a revival of a show with the same cast of characters—only older—that others are expected to sit through again. Your husband is right. Forget the "surprise" and just put together a lovely, low-key dinner.
Arlington, Va.: My best friend and I have both had children in recent months. The first for both. I enjoyed my maternity leave, and then had to return to work. Whereas my friend and her husband have decided that she become a stay-at-home mother.
I will admit I am jealous. What new mother wouldn't want to spend more time with their new baby? The problem is she expects my child's hand-me-downs. Since my child is a few months older than hers, she expects that I should just give her the clothes I spend my hard earned money on. She and her husband spend their money on extravagant gifts for her, so why not their child?
I would feel differently about giving the clothes if she didn't expect it. Every time I mention that I may be visiting, she mentions the baby clothes. In this time of economic crisis, I am sure there are many other people out there that would benefit from the baby clothes. People who have lost their jobs, not decided to stay home. I'm just not sure how to let her know that I'd rather donate the clothes than give them to her, and not sound so ... catty?
Emily Yoffe: Does she say, "Oh that little truck outfit will look just darling on my Jason in a few months?" Yuck. How about telling her that you hope you'll be lucky enough one day to have more children, so you're keeping the outgrown baby things.
Virginia: Me: Working single mother of three, going to college part time. Have been divorced 4 years, have not dated since divorce, thought I would wait until I am finished with school. Him: The kindest, most decent man. Great dad to his kid, divorced also. Wants to date me, wants us to get to know each other better. Problem: My days, weeks, minutes, are full with little to no room for error. But it is so tempting to date this man. We have that "it" or "chemistry" thing that you can't explain but know when it's there. What do you think? Should I stick with my goals/plans which leave a social life out of the question, or should I try this?
Emily Yoffe: This is called "life." It has a funny way of interrupting you just when you had put together the perfect plan. Don't let this guy get away! Probably one of the things that has attracted him to you is your focus and determination. He should understand what it's like to have many obligations, and that maybe some dates will be a quick dinner, then a return to the books. But don't squeeze out the possibility of love just because you've got exams. Believe me, you can find the time for someone who could possibly make the rest of your life so much richer.
Santa Monica, Calif.: Dear Prudie:
I recently got married and have a problem concerning thank-you notes. Someone got us a wonderful wooden photo box and filled it with photos from my childhood and my parents wedding that I had never seen. The problem is that the person put the gift in a large gift bag, and many other gift cards ended up in the bag. There were six likely people who might have given us the photo box(all of them my aunts and uncles), but I don't know how to figure out who gave it to us.
How should I deal with this? I am afraid that if I start calling them, it will sound like I am demanding a gift from the five couples who only gave us a card. But I am anxious to get this person a thank you card, because it was an incredibly thoughtful gift.
Emily Yoffe: Sounds like it's time to call in your mother and father to play Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. They can query their siblings to see who put together the lovely box—all they have to say is that the card came off, not that the other gifts weren't as thoughtful.
RE: Park City: Before you do anything else, change the locks on your doors! If she comes in again when you're not there, tell her that it's trespassing and she is not welcome.
(Assuming she got in when you were away because she has a key; if she broke in, that's a whole new issue.)
Emily Yoffe: Good point about the neighbor who likes to "drop in" and empty the medicine cabinet into her mouth.
Prescott, Ariz.: What is your feeling on younger female food servers (in their 20s) addressing older female customers (53) as "hon" or "sweetie"? I eat lunch out by myself frequently and am amazed at how often this occurs. Today my server called me "hon" no less than 10 times—each time she came by my table. She gave good service otherwise and I left her a little more than a 15% tip, but I was tempted to very politely point out that I found her addressing me in that manner to be condescending and that she might have gotten a better tip had she refrained. Should I just continue to suck it up and ignore it or would I be doing a service to the next server who does this? I'm sure I'm not the only one at there who feels this way. Your opinion, please?
Emily Yoffe: One of the lovely things about living in Maryland is being addressed as "Hon"—the state honorific—in that inimitable Maryland accent. I like it, but I understand that you don't. But think about it, the people calling you "Hon" and "Sweetie" are doing so with a smile and trying to deliver good service. It's one thing to complain about surly service, but think how your rebuke will go over to a young person in a minimum wage job just trying to do her best. Forget the lecture, and keep leaving a nice tip.
Cranky Town: Hi,
I have chronic insomnia and often feel like I do today, which is to say ridiculously short-tempered. I know I need to avoid people today, but I'm at work and trying to stay as even as possible. I'm getting "Wow, you look tired" today, which I thought everyone knew was rude. I don't want to yell at anyone. What's an appropriate response that changes the subject back to the other person?
Emily Yoffe: "I am tired. Unfortunately I've been having insomnia. So is Caitlin excited about starting college in the fall?" (And I am one of those dark-circle, baggy-eyed people who has gone through life being told how tired I look, which I agree is tiring.)
Gaithersburg, Md.: My husband and I recently became parents for the first time. Our child's only surviving grandparent is his mother with whom we have we have a rather difficult relationship. We are trying to figure out how to involve her in her grandchild's life while maintaining healthy boundaries that are important for our little family's well-being. Unfortunately, she resists what we think are healthy boundaries, no matter how diplomatically expressed. And she is beginning to label her tiny granddaughter as a bit of a problem child when she cries or fusses in front of her. I am exasperated and protective of our child and my husband. He, on other hand, understandably feels torn by guilt and loyalty at times, even though he seems to know when his mother's behavior verges on the inappropriate.
By the way, my mother-in-law is not someone to have a direct, frank conversation with, as my husband and I know from experience. We would appreciate any advice you care to share. Thank you.
Emily Yoffe: You're right, she won't understand if you explain to her that her behavior tends toward the inappropriate, so she needs to start behaving better. Taking action to draw those boundaries is the key with someone who doesn't understand such things as the fact that all babies cry and are fussy sometimes. What you should do is get together with her in limited circumstances that you can stand. Family dinners instead of weekend visits. Letting her take the baby for a short walk in the stroller instead of asking her to babysit. Train yourself not to let her remarks get to you, i.e. say something like, "Yes, the baby's a little fussy today, but that's normal and the doctor says everything is fine."
Annapolis, Md.: Dear Prudence, I have been seeing a woman for about 9 months. We started as friends, and we really get along fine.
My problem is, while I find her funny and likable and occasionally sexy, I don't really find her "attractive." I hate myself for this, but there's just something missing.
I am hesitant to take our relationship to the next step, because I can see myself leaving her if/when I meet someone more "my type."
Should I break it off now?
Emily Yoffe: The wonderful thing about falling for someone you didn't expect to fall for is that you start to realize, "How didn't I see right from the beginning that she actually is very sexy and really pretty?" You haven't fallen that hard. If after nine months you are wondering what you're going to do when you find someone you're actually attracted to, yes, you should stop wasting her time.
Surprise vow renewal: Don't do it. My cousin's husband did this for their 10 year anniversary and she was mortified. She thought they were going to dinner so she'd dressed up in a sexy outfit, had a couple of glasses of wine at the house, and instead they drive to their church where their minister and entire family were waiting to watch them walk down the aisle again. It's definitely an anniversary she'll never forget, but for the wrong reasons.
Emily Yoffe: This actually happens?! Okay, I take back my sentiment that I don't want to be invited to renewal of vows. I want to be invited if the "bride" didn't know it's happening and she's tipsy, showing too much cleavage and in shock. That would be worth seeing.
Is this prying?: Prudi,
Many times while in conversation people will give generic statements about what could be potential private issues, i.e. "I'm having surgery tomorrow." Often I'll follow up with the question, "May I inquire about what kind of surgery?" This gives the person a yes or no option and clearly define the boundaries of the topic. I'm never sure if people don't wish to talk about a topic and are being vague purposefully or desire a little prompting to start a conversation because it may be difficult. I don't want to assume people don't wish to talk in the chance they do. The asking of a yes/no question seems the easiest. Would you consider this rude or prying?
Emily Yoffe: That kind of opening is ambiguous. You can respond with something also ambiguous, "I hope it's nothing too serious." Then the person can tell or not. Some people won't want to talk about it, and some will be delighted to let you know about every twist and turn of their colon (and won't you be sorry you asked).
Herndon, Va.: The other night my husband, daughter and I went out for dinner. There was a line to get inside, so we had to wait a bit outside on the sidewalk. Our 1-year-old daughter was fidgety and didn't want to be held, so my husband let her crawl around on the sidewalk. I noticed another woman watching my child and heard her faintly say to her party, "That baby's crawling on the ground. That's so gross." I immediately saw red ... I'm still furious with her. Is something like that worth responding to? (Please note that we washed her hands before eating, of course...)
Emily Yoffe: It certainly would have gotten everyone's attention if your baby had started crawling up a wall. Learn to ignore or laugh off the dumb remarks made by strangers.
RE: Bay City, Mich: About four years ago, my then fiance found out via the local Child Support Office that he had to pay support for child he fathered eight months before we met (he was friends with the mother). He has taken responsibility for the kid, seen her on a regular basis, etc. But there was no question in his mind and it shows from his actions that he had doubt who he wanted to have a life with. We have been married for two years now. For our friend from Bay City, if he is so undecided, don't walk away, RUN! before you waste more time.
Emily Yoffe: Exactly. Your husband clearly didn't have more than a passing relationship with the woman (and I will interrupt this column to throw in a word about the wonders of using birth control for those times when you are having sex with people you hope to never see again), and then he stepped up and honored his responsibility to the child. That's very different from the flake described in the previous letter.
Avoid trouble at the wedding...: Have a groomsman keep an eye on the obnoxious guest and step in if he starts ruining the event.
I've done this on request of the bride and groom to an overreaching step-parent. The couple was very thankful.
Emily Yoffe: Good advice, thanks!
"Sweetie": For what it's worth, our server (young, female) called my 88-year-old mother-in-law "Sweetie" the other night, and my M-in-L could not have been more tickled. And this is a woman who lectures servers when they address a table of women or a mixed group as "guys" because "women are NOT guys, young lady/man!" She thought it was lovely to be called sweetie.
I think people should probably lighten up a bit and realize that not everything is worth being offended over. Life is too short, and blood pressure doesn't need to be raised!
Emily Yoffe: Hear, hear.
Nose tw, Ind.: Hi Prudy, I know this is a bit out of left field, but I don't know who else to ask. Is there a term for when somebody has the exact same nose as you do?
If you have the same parents, you're siblings. And if you have the same job, you're coworkers. If you play basketball together: you're teammates. Same nationality: compatriots. Same house: roommates. But what's the term when you have the same nose?
I ask because I have the exact same nose as Roger Federer.
Emily Yoffe: If you had the same swing as Roger Federer, then the resemblance might be worth talking about. I think this is one of those things that's best being your little secret.
Somewhat related to "hon": What does a older person call a younger female (20's or so) when trying to get her attention (a waitress or shop assistant or someone who dropped their gloves on the street)? I used to just call anyone "ma'am" but now that I'm older than some of the people I'm trying to call to, it feels awkward. Plus, younger people generally don't acknowledge the call of "ma'am".
Emily Yoffe: "Excuse me, Miss!"
And thanks for all your questions. I will miss you next week, but be back the week after.