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. Note: Emily will be on vacation next Monday, July 13.
Emily Yoffe: I look forward to your questions!
West Coast, USA: For about a year now, I have been dating an awesome guy who is an officer in the military. I met him about a year or so into a three-year tour. Everything is going very well, we've moved in together, and for the most part we get along without any issues. At the end of this current tour, he will transfer to another location. This has been known and understood since we began dating. On this next tour, he will be deployable. I should mention that his job is relatively dangerous and has little room for error without serious consequences. In any case, I feel confident that our relationship will last until and through the next tour. Oh, I should also mention that he has said explicitly, on more than one occasion, that he "will not marry anyone until they have gone through at least one deployment."
However, I have a fair degree of anxiety about moving, deployment, etc. knowing that I am not a dependent, and if something happens to him, I have very few options for support. As it stands now, his family stands to be the main beneficiary of any death benefits. They're lovely and we all get along fine, but it still leaves me in an awkward place. I want to point out that this is only partially about money. Something that worries me even more than life insurance nonsense, is that if something happens, I will be the last to know. Yuck.
So, am I completely out of line in worrying about this? We're still more than a year away from any sort of major decision, but it's something that I think about every time talk of the next set of orders comes up, which is more often than you might think. How do I bring it up without making it seem like I'm making a play for a ring on my finger (which I'm not)? I hardly think that I'm the first person who's had to face this, but I don't know anyone else who has, so I'm not sure where else to go for advice ...
Emily Yoffe: I can almost assure you that the way to hurry the ring is not to say, "I want us to spend the rest of our lives together, and if yours is particularly short, I'm going to be completely cut out of your insurance benefits unless we legalize this relationship." Your situation is a good example of why living together is sometimes a bad idea. You're just kind of drifting along, not sure if you'll ever get married, but racking up a sense of entitlement and resentment. Since your boyfriend has made it clear he's not ready to get married, you should have clearer boundaries. Perhaps you want to get your own place, while still remaining committed to each other, until you both feel ready to discuss marriage. In any case, you should maintain your own financial independence so that you don't even need to think about what you are owed in case he doesn't come home. And as far as being notified of his untimely death in a timely manner—well, that would seem to require that you continue to develop a warm relationship with his family. A good way to do that is to not discuss with them your desire to be the first to get word of his death.
New Hampshire: Dear Prudence, I have an old friend from college who lives in NYC. She often comes to visit, using my or another friend's house as a sort of vacation home—announcing her planned stay with very little notice, coming and going as she pleases when she is here, not helping with meals (financially or otherwise), and not contributing to the stockpile of booze that she expects will be waiting for her when she arrives. I had been weaning her off these visits, claiming that my husband and I were busy or going out of town (to which she has said, "No problem, leave the key for me"), but she still shows up and doesn't seem to be surprised when we are home. Additionally, she now has a boyfriend. They show up together, he complains about the air mattress at our house or the cats at our friend's, grimaces at the food we cook, and, horror of horrors, they think nothing of having sex (loudly!) at all hours of the day and night. How do I tell her that I'm all set with all of this mooching (and screwing around)?
Emily Yoffe: On Halloween if you don't want trick-or-treaters you leave the house dark, and don't have a pumpkin on your porch. You need to treat your friend like an unwanted Halloween ghost—and there is only a small chance she will egg your house when she finds out it's no longer her permanent crash pad. When she calls to tell you she's coming, you tell her, "Sorry, Hank and I can't entertain you this year, but have a lovely summer." If she shows up on your porch, leave her there while you go inside and print out directions to the nearest motel.
McLean, Va.: I just bought a house with my husband. My mother, a lifelong smoker, wants to smoke in the house. I told her that she could smoke outside, but she refuses and says that as my mother, she should be able to do what she wants.
She now refuses to speak to me and when she does, she says that I am being disrespectful to her.
I don't see how I am, so can you please tell me? Am I wrong here?
Emily Yoffe: She can do what she wants, as long as it's not at your house. Just because she gave birth to you many decades ago, she is not entitled to marinate your house in her smoke. If this is the way she behaves about this subject, surely she is irascible on many other topics, and you need to accept what you can, and draw the line at what you can't. If she refuses to speak to you over this perfectly reasonable request, then enjoy the peace and quiet.
Raynham, Mass.: Dear Prudie,
I'm a teacher and work on a team with four other teachers. I'm new to the school and the profession, so I usually look to them as role models as well as co-workers. I'm a little baffled as to one practice done by every one of them: When students give small gifts for holidays, teacher appreciation week, or end-of-the-year thank-yous, the teachers all insist on writing thank you notes to each child. I was always taught that outside of more formal occasions like weddings, showers, etc., you wrote a thank you note only when you weren't able to say "thank you" in person at the time you received the gift. When a student gives me a gift, I say a very sincere thank you and let them know how much I appreciate it, but I can't see wasting time writing out thank you cards to 11- and 12-year-olds who, frankly, I think don't really want them. Am I being rude and going against proper etiquette by not writing them thank you notes, or is this overkill on my co-workers' parts? Thanks!
Emily Yoffe: I often wonder if teachers really want a collection of 25 coffee mugs a year, or a bakery's worth of goodies. I know there are some schools that ban individual gifts, or encourage one class gift, and that seems like a much better solution. But as onerous as it sounds, your colleagues are right. First of all, the gifts are from the parents, and they need to know the present actually got to you. And second, you are a role model. So your students' parents can show them your card and say, "How thoughtful of your math teacher to write such a lovely note."
Boston: I recently called off my wedding. My fiance is a wonderful man, but has anger issues that were escalating into the realm of verbal abuse. These incidents are unpredictable, sometimes public and getting scarier every time (this last time was enough to get us chased into the car by a random street thug who was trying to come to my defense). My fiance is taking responsibility for his problem and seeking treatment. My questions: can anyone with a problem like this really change? Is it more beneficial to both of us to stay with him and help him get through it or to move on?
Emily Yoffe: Of course there are people who have been able to get abusive anger under control. You should give your former fiance your best wishes that he becomes one of them, then RUN.
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