I'm a firm believer that "daddy" is a title that's earned because it means more than just "father." At what point in her life do I clue her in on the fact that she's not biologically related to my husband? My husband says to wait until she learns about sex and explain things to her then. I've seen and heard so many people who have found out that kind of news at various stages of their lives, and no age seems to be a good age to reveal that information. I know she'll be crushed, but am hoping that she'll know that she's luckier than most children because I found a man who not only was willing to take that role but wasn't simply "stuck" with being her parent. When should I tell her, if ever?
Emily Yoffe: This is something your daughter has to be told. There's no covering up that she was 2 years old when her "Daddy" came into her life. This is information that should be given out in stages as she asks for it. She might have questions about when you and Daddy got married, and you can show her pictures that she was there at the wedding. You can say something like, "We're so lucky that we met Daddy and he came into our lives." Then take your cues from her. If she says, "Yes!" that's all she needs to know. If she's old enough to ask a question about her "other daddy," you can say you aren't in touch with him. And if she wants to know more than she can handle right now, you can say, "This is a subject we will talk about a lot of times. But some of it is confusing, so why don't we wait until you're a little older to talk about more details." And you need to be more comfortable with this subject yourself. Whoever the man is, he is your daughter's father, you chose to have sex with him, so dismissing him as a "sperm donor" will only hurt your daughter.
Minneapolis: Prudie, I have a situation and I'm not sure if it's my problem or not. My husband and I are very good friends with another couple—I'll call them Beth and Larry. I have known them for more than 15 years, and my husband has been close friends with Larry for even longer. In recent months, I have noticed that Larry is giving some signs of being attracted to me, maybe even having a crush on me. (God knows why. I'm not exactly the catch of the day.) I know this happens in even the strongest marriages, and so I haven't worried about it, figuring it would pass with time. I have continued being friendly with both of them and made a conscious effort to convey my commitment to my own husband. In the past few weeks, though, I have seen signs that Larry's crush—if it is one—may be causing problems between him and Beth and that Beth may be insisting on putting distance between all of us. I would hate to lose them as friends, and it would be especially heartbreaking if this caused problems between Larry and my husband. Right now I'm maintaining my laissez-faire approach, basically assuming that any signals I'm getting are not signals and that anything amiss between Beth and Larry has nothing to do with me. Is this the correct approach, or should I be more proactive?
Emily Yoffe: At least Larry is not your father-in-law! Since your presumption of Larry's crush is all about subtle signals, you would be taking things to another realm if you were to voice your conclusion: "Beth, I want you to know that when Larry lingered a moment too long at the last goodbye hug, and gave me a meaningful look as he handed me the wine spritzer, it meant nothing to me." Even if you're right, the right thing to do is ignore these little signs unless the goodbye hug becomes a bear hug or the meaningful look turns into an attempted kiss. If Beth is making it hard to get together as a couple, you could each meet your same sex friend separately for lunch. You can even ask Beth if something is wrong—she's seemed distant lately. But since you've never given Larry the slightest encouragement, hope that this episode of middle-aged craziness will soon pass.
Boston: Thanks for the response. Unfortunately, I think I've known that I need to leave. I'm just having a really hard time doing it, and I know that many other women in my situation feel the same way. I'm 32, have a graduate degree, a great job and a supportive family. Abuse does not discriminate.
Emily Yoffe: (This is from the woman with the fiance with "anger problems.") Of course it's hard to realize that the life you thought you were going to have is not going to happen. But it's harder to be married to someone who bashes in your face. End contact with him—that will make it easier to find someone worthwhile. And get some therapy to figure out why you put up with this.
Spokane, Wash.: Dear Prudie,
I have a delicate question. I am what is known in polite circles as the 'new wife.' We have a difficult relationship with my husband's former wife, as their divorce was tense. They have an adult daughter, whom I am delighted to call a family member and friend. As we all live in different faraway cities, we do not have to interact much, but recently my stepdaughter became engaged to be married, and there is a joyous occasion to be attended in a few months.
We have all agreed to be civil for the sake of our girl's special day, but I am on the horns of a dilemma. She made a point of extending a special invitation to me to be sure that I could be there, and I wish to give her a gift that represents how special she has become to me and my family. Her father and I are paying for the reception dinner, and her mother will be giving her the wedding night in a nice hotel. Is there some way I can acknowledge her in a way that will not hurt her mother's feelings or offend her? I wish this gift to say "I know I'm not your mother, but I'm grateful to be your friend." Is there a middle ground where I won't offend anyone? I already know my job is to melt into the wallpaper at the event, but I don't want my new daughter to think I forgot her.
Emily Yoffe: Even in impolite circles a new wife is referred to a "new wife." And your purchasing a lovely gift for your stepdaughter is not going to be seen as your way of encroaching on her mother's territory. What you should do is have it sent to the bride before the wedding—you don't want to arrive at the ceremony with a gift-wrapped sports car. It's nice to hear from a stepmother who is sensitive to the difficulties of blended families, but you may be oversensitive. Unless there was a compelling reason otherwise, you would be expected to be invited to your stepdaughter's wedding. And your job at the celebration is to be charming and enjoy yourself—which doesn't require you to be a wallflower.
Linn, Mo.: I'm a 65-year-old woman. In six weeks I will have pelvic surgery to repair a rectocele and to remove scar tissue that causes painful sex. I need an easy answer to give people who ask why I'm having surgery. You know they're going to ask!
You: "I'm having pelvic surgery."
A friend: "Oh, what are you having done?"
You: "You don't want to know."
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you in two weeks!