Dear Prudence answers readers' questions live at Washingtonpost.com.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Aug. 10 2009 2:59 PM

Should My Son Meet His Mentally Ill Uncle?

Prudie counsels a woman torn over a family reunion—and other advice seekers.

(Continued from Page 2)

Emily Yoffe: Of course it's up to the person to decide how much information to give to how many people about her prognosis. But sometimes it can be liberating and gratifying to let the word out and find out how much people around you care and how much they can do to ease your burdens.

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Swimming Upstream, Colorado: I have been given the wonderful opportunity of opening my own used bookstore in a relatively small town. I've opened the doors as a community gathering place, work 70-80 hours a week, and donate a small portion of the proceeds to a local charity. All of my book prices are $4 or less. While I've enjoyed a lovely reception from the neighborhood, I'm finding that I can no longer endure the constant complaints of customers. Many ask me for a "discount," and when I politely reply, "I keep all of our prices low, so it's a discount for you everyday!" people are offended. I had one gentleman in particular point his finger in my face and tell me I'd never make it. Incidents like this occur on a weekly basis. My idea was to provide an open, welcoming space for the community. Instead, I feel like I'm a dumpster for anger and bitterness. Is there a better response so that I don't lose customers, yet let people know I have bills to pay too? Thank you for your response.

Emily Yoffe: Apparently you haven't heard that "Content wants to be free!" and anyone who supplies it for a living is supposed to do it for altruistic reasons. (Not that journalists are resentful or anything over the fact that people hate the idea of paying for the work we produce.) I assume your patrons do not go into Wal-Mart and demand the checkers take off 10 percent of their final bill or that they tell the gas station they want the last four gallons free. I assume anyone who opens a used book store has alternate in mind for a way to make a living. So just keep smiling, providing your excellent response, and knowing that if this doesn't work out, you have an escape plan

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Cleveland, Ohio: Thanks for taking my question! My wife, who works very hard in a job that requires a lot of public speaking, frequently lapses into a childlike voice when we are alone. I find it very disturbing, in part because I love her for her strength, wisdom, and independence, which she abandons when talking in this voice—and in part because it's just creepy for a 30-something adult to adopt a childlike voice. When she does this, I just cut the conversation short and go elsewhere. However, I hate having to do this. When I ask her to stop talking in that childlike voice, she becomes defensive, tells me that she is unaware that she was doing it, and that, anyway, she is free to talk however she pleases. I never want to appear controlling, but this is abnormal behavior, and when she starts using the childlike voice I miss talking with her as adults. Is childlike speaking by adults a pathology for which there is a known treatment? If not, what else can I do, when asking her to be mindful of it fails, and avoiding her when she starts talking that way makes me feel guilty of abandoning the woman I love?

Emily Yoffe: Of course people are free to talk however they please, they are just not free to do it to other people. Even with our most intimate partners—if we want to keep them as partners—we have to restrain our anger, our clever put-downs, or our annoying vocal habits. I can see that you're wife talking wike a wittle, biddle baby would make you want to scream. It sounds, however, as if her professional duties are sometimes a psychological burden and that her way of retreating from them is to adopt a child-like persona. This is not good for your marriage, but instead of saying you just can't listen to her little-girl chatter, why not open up a dialogue with her about how she's feeling, about her need to let go of adulthood for a while to refresh herself. Offering your sympathetic understanding might allow her to drop the baby talk. She might also benefit possibly by volunteering with little children so she could enter in their world for a while. Maybe some kind of arts and crafts class would allow her to find a comfortable way to retreat from her responsibilities. If none of that works, then before you leave the doll house, try marriage counseling.

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Bookstore: Sounds like a nice place. Practically speaking, can you put up a friendly-looking sign that says just what you wrote? If you answer the question before people pose it, maybe you will cut them off at the pass.

Emily Yoffe: This is for the owner of the used book store who gets abused because at $4.00 some people think the books are too expensive! That's a great idea to have a friendly sign that explains the store's policies. Patrons who don't like them have been given fair warning.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Hi Prudie, Hope this isn't too frivolous. On Saturday I was in a dept. store and a woman was there giving makeup demos. She stopped me to ask if I wanted her to "brighten up" my look—I'm 60+ with gray hair. I said sure and she put some makeup on me—I did look better. Then she asked if I wanted to buy any of it. I didn't want to. She didn't get angry, exactly, but I could tell she wasn't happy. My question is: is it rude/inappropriate not to purchase expensive makeup in this situation? I am loath to spend money on the incredibly expensive stuff in dept. stores. Thanks.

Emily Yoffe: She should have remained gracious—she is offering her services gratis (as seems to be the trend lately) so she should accept that some people are going to take her at her word and give nothing in exchange. However, since you did take advantage of her offer, and she did make you look better, buying a lipstick or eye shadow would have been a relatively small price to pay for a good makeover.

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Falls Church, Va.: re: used bookstore

Q: How does a used-bookstore owner end up with $1 million?

A: They start with $2 million!

Emily Yoffe: Applies to a lot of businesses these days.
Thanks, everyone, talk to you next week!

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