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.)
Emily Yoffe: Good end-of-summer afternoon. Let's get to it!
Wilmington, Del.: Texting: How do you have a group dinner, with conversation, when some still have their phones on and are checking texts and e-mails? It's easy when these are my progeny, but acquaintances? Dirty looks seem too parental to me and talking when you KNOW they are not paying attention is a waste of my time. Is there a graceful way of handling this?
Emily Yoffe: You could pull out your own phone and start texting people at the table. It is astounding that most of the population now thinks it socially acceptable to sit at dinner with people and ignore them in favor of more important texts from their other acquaintances about what they're having for dinner and who they're at the table ignoring. If this is strictly a social event, you can say in as lighthearted a way as possible, "Can we make this a text-free evening?" If that doesn't work, if you're speaking to someone who is busy exchanging messages, stop your conversation and say, "Oh, I see you're busy. I'll hold my thought until you're done."
Alexandria, Va.: After being separated for a few years, my parents are now working on reconciling. However, I recently came across evidence that seems to prove my father is seeing someone else. I am much closer to my mother, and he and I have a seriously strained relationship already. Should I confront him with this evidence? How? Or should I take it straight to my mom? Or is it more appropriate to ignore it and stay out of their relationship?
Emily Yoffe: Normally, I'm in favor of staying out of your parents' marriage. For one thing, staying out of your parents' marriage enhances the quality of your own life. For another, most adult children don't know the explicit and implicit understandings their parents may have worked out. However, in this case your parents are not together but working toward a reconciliation. If this were two friends, you would probably tell the woman that there's something she should know before she takes her former back. I think you should tell your mother that you have evidence, but no proof, that your father's cheating. Tell her you come to her reluctantly not only because this is so disappointing, but because you don't want to get in the middle of their relationship. Say you don't want to do any more detective work for her, but say you wanted her to know all the information before she proceeded with her reconciliation.
Re: Texting: I feel your pain. I've established some boundaries for this recurring problem. If it's a first or second date, I do not go out with this gentleman again. If it becomes excessive, as it did on one date, I will leave, citing that clearly he has more pressing issues to attend to. If it's friends, I just wait and say, "I'll wait until you're finished." If it's someone I don't know, I grin and bear it. If it becomes excessive, then I might suggest putting off whatever we're doing until a more convenient time.
This gives the offender the benefit of the doubt without being rude but without wasting your time.
Emily Yoffe: A good set of principles.
Bennington, Vt.: I work for a small, family-held company as a financial manager. One of the owners, my boss's wife, is a nightmare. She is completely unprofessional in her business demeanor (door slamming when she is angry, leaves her phone on speakerphone all the time because it's "easier" for her, etc.). Last week, she grilled me three times over as many days for a mistake I made. I admitted my mistake, apologized, and hoped to get on with it. She did not just lambast me in private on the first occasion, she also called one of my co-workers in her office and berated me some more while she finished up. Over the next two days, she kept harking back to this mistake (which, by the way, caused the company no harm, money or resources—she simply did not like the way I handled an issue with a vendor). My responses to her were polite, direct, honest, and truthful with good eye contact; it seemed the more rational I became, the more irrational she became, and I feel like there is a screw loose somewhere. The MOST disturbing part of this was that she kept saying over and over in each conversation, "I am a therapist (which she is), and I have no clue why you did this!" How do I get her to stop psychoanalyzing me when she feels like it? What is the best way to shut her down without losing my job?
Gratefully, The Whipping Post
Emily Yoffe: You give me a chill because every time I recommend someone see a therapist, the specter of your boss's wife looms over this recommendation. Yes, she sounds like a lunatic who is using her power to work out her psychological issues. Your situation is further complicated by the fact that if you complain to your boss, you are getting involved in his marriage. You are handling this exactly right—keep professional, don't escalate, stick to the point. But that doesn't solve the situation because she is an unhinged person with unlimited power. When she interferes with your work, you could go to your boss and say, "I just wanted to clarify this situation with you because Mrs X has spoken to me several times about it." But he may not want to come to your rescue because whenever she's going after someone else, that means she's not going after him. I know this economy is terrible, but ultimately, what can you do except do what you're doing plus one other thing—start looking for another job.
Los Angeles: My fiance' and I have entered the swingers lifestyle. We had a terrific time. What is the proper etiquette after a weekend of hosting a "friend"? Is it the same as a regular party? Should the guest call or send a note or e-mail, etc. and thank the host? Should the host extend an open invitation for another visit or what? Is it like regular dating where you sweat out who calls whom first? How much contact is warranted or even advised in an NSA (no strings attached) friendship?
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