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: It's back-to-school, back-to-work day.
Orange County, Calif.: Our daughter recently got married (three weeks ago), and we were surprised to see just how many people attended the sit-down wedding and did not bring a gift (including the bridal party). Is this the normal thing to do now? One girl who did hair and makeup for the wedding party, which we paid for and gave a healthy tip to, attended with her husband (they were invited guests). What is protocol? Maybe if you attend the shower, you don't bring a gift? Needless to say, we were very surprised.
Emily Yoffe: But who's counting, right? Why are you even involved in this? Are you checking to see who "reimbursed" you for your hospitality? I hope the wedding was lovely and that your daughter and her husband are at the start of a long, happy life. One good way to make a good beginning is for her to write all the thank you notes for the gifts she received and to not keep a mental list for the next 50 years of the people who didn't pony up. The wedding's over, Mom. Time to get another cause.
Dothan, Ala.: I recently took a new job. They're very enthusiastic about their office games, traditions, contests, etc. They have office pools for everything you can think of—every sport (down to the Olympic biathlon—really), every reality TV show (Survivor, Top Chef, Big Brother, etc.). EVERYONE participates, from the head boss to the part-time secretaries.
Another not technically but sort of required cost is the "gift fund." Everyone is expected to add $5 per month to the gift fund in order to buy flowers for condolences, deaths in co-workers' families, hospital stays, etc. The problem I'm having is that it's not "$5 toward Jimmy's sister's death," just a stock $5 required donation every month. I find this sort of morbid, and I really think it defeats the intent of sending condolence gifts (which, in my opinion, is that you're sorry to hear the bad news and that you're moved to send a gift). I'd be happy to give $5 to the cause if I hear somebody is unwell or that a co-worker's loved one passed away, but I hate that you are pressured to blindly give money every month, whether there's a need or not. It's creepy. I thought I'd just opt out of the whole affair, but they have a CHECKLIST of who hasn't paid posted in the break room and read the names of nonpayers out at the staff meeting! So is there an acceptable way to beg out of this without looking like a cheapskate?
Emily Yoffe: You sound more like you're writing from a Communist re-education camp than corporate America, although I suppose some of the rituals of corporate America—certain trust-building exercises or overzealous "sensitivity" training—have a Cultural Revolution feel. At least this company has not instituted mandatory kidney donation. What an annoying, intrusive place to work.
I suppose if your employer is off-track betting then all the office pools and money changing hands makes sense, but if not, is anyone getting any work done? However, you're new, so you don't want the odds-makers to mark you as odd man out. As far as the "voluntary" donations are concerned, it might be less annoying to just write one $60 check to cover the year and accept that as a cost of employment. As for the betting pools, pick one or two that interest you to participate in. Then for the rest just smile and say you don't follow reality shows, or that your Gamblers Anonymous sponsor has told you to swear off wagering.
Rockville, Md.: I'm a 24-year-old female, two years out of college, working full time, and engaged to a great guy. My best friend is a male a year younger. He has just started dating a girl who's 19 and beginning her second year of college. Here's the problem: If I want to see my best friend, I now have to also spend that time with someone who I consider to be practically a child. I'm not much older than her, I know, but those five years make a tremendous difference, and I feel like I'm baby-sitting whenever I have to spend time around her. Explaining this to my best friend or trying to see him without her around are bad choices for all the obvious reasons. I don't want to pin my hopes for renewed sanity on the notion that he'll quickly tire of a girl who giggles over Twilight and can't launder her own socks—that would make me a terrible friend! How do I handle this with grace and without losing a friend?
Emily Yoffe: And she may really feel like you're the babysitter since she's probably wondering why you're tagging along on so many dates. Yes, it's hard when a best friend is no longer so available because he or she is pursing a romantic interest. That's why it's good to have a circle of friends to do things with when one is otherwise engaged. And is it possible no one he dates will measure up because you would like him to be more than a friend?
Tallahassee Fla.: My daughter is in her first year of college and has two roommates. She and roommate one have hit it off. But roommate two is the opposite of my daughter regarding political opinions. My daughter said she doesn't know what to do. She would like to give her opinion and wouldn't mind a spirited discussion, but she feels that roommate two would get angry and snarky. After all, they all have to live together and get along. She says she has tried being noncommittal or changing the subject but that doesn't seem to work. She says roommate two goes on rants about politics and other things as well. My daughter says that this is stressing her out, and this is only the second week of school. Do you have any suggestions on how to handle this situation?
Emily Yoffe: It sounds as if roommate 2 is a generalized ranter and politics is just one of the triggers. Your daughter is going to need to have a bunch of polite statements that end the harangues. "Yes, that school policy is annoying, but I don't think it's worth getting all upset about." "I agree the drinking laws should be changed, but I can't talk about it now because I have a paper to write." "Let's agree to disagree about Sarah Palin." Then she has to stop responding even if her roommate goads her or go to the library if she won't stop. And, yes, these are the first few days your baby is away, but you, too, Mom, are going to need to develop some ways to both be a sympathetic sounding board for your fledgling and encourage her to work out her problems herself.
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