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.
Lake Worth, Fla.: I am not the type to normally keep secrets, but I am faced with a dilemma. I was sexually abused by my older brother when we were both younger. (He was 13, and I was 11.) I went to the authorities, and he was put into a juvenile detention center until he turned 18. We both attended counseling (as well as my parents), and he accepted full responsibility for his actions. Over the years our bond of brother and sister has been rebuilt, and I have forgiven him for what he did. This is something that our family will never forget, but since it has been dealt with and my brother's punishment was served, we don't talk about it.
My brother and I are now both in our late 20s, and I have been in a wonderful and loving relationship with a man for almost three years. We have recently started taking about getting married in the next year or so. My question is, after all this, time do I tell my future husband about what happened, or should I let this family secret remain?
Emily Yoffe: This is the kind of secret that will fester if you don't tell your husband. There must be some strange, awkward pauses when at Thanksgiving there's a discussion of what high school was like, and your brother falls silent. Just because an issue has been "resolved" and isn't talked about anymore does not mean it doesn't leave any traces. I think this is the kind of thing a husband deserves to know. Yes, you can't predict his reactions, but if you explain it with as much emotional fullness as you've indicated here, he should be able to sympathize with you and understand why you've forgiven.
As for forgiveness, I was slammed because in last week's column I questioned why a young woman who had been molested by her unrepentant grandfather should have decided to forgive him. This letter writer gets to the heart of the point I was making. Yes, forgiveness is possible and good but is best with the crucial steps here: Her perpetrator was punished, acknowledged his crimes, and earned her forgiveness.
To Dothan: How I empathize with your plight! When I was the new hire at a place where I long ago worked, one day the guard came around with a football pool sheet and asked if I was interested. Since I wasn't and had been informed during orientation that gambling was against company policy, I very politely said, "No thank you."
What I didn't realize was that in this corporate culture, the newest hire in each department was responsible for handling the department's participation in the pool (i.e., taking the sheet around to each other department member, collecting their bets, etc.) and that one of the pool participants was the very same HR director who had informed us newbies at orientation that gambling was not allowed.
Some days ya can't win fer losin'!
Emily Yoffe: So the HR person responsible for explaining that no gambling was allowed participates in the office pool. At least this HR person did not put together the office orgy.
New York: I see my siblings only once a year or so but am having regular problems with one young nephew, now 8 years old. He gets too physical with my husband, hitting, swearing, biting, etc., on more than one occasion. My husband doesn't feel right disciplining a child not related to him, so I usually do (verbally/time outs, etc.) but the nephew then runs screaming to his mom, who wonders what we did to upset him. I finally sat down to have a heart to heart with her, and she got so upset claiming I was calling her a bad parent! It's really put a damper on our relationship. I just keep hoping he'll have matured next time we visit ... but I now dread seeing that part of the family. Any advice?
Emily Yoffe: It's not overstepping your bounds if you tell any child that he is not allowed to hit you, bite you, or swear at you. It's important not to lose your cool, but someone surely has to let this child know there are some basic rules. Given how out of control he sounds, however, I'm wondering if there are other problems here besides lack of discipline. You need to have a nonaccusatory talk with your sister explaining you are concerned that "Bobby" seems unhappy and out of control, and maybe they need a professional to assess what's bothering him.
re: college roommate and politics: I have to disagree about your advice with regard to the roommate who likes to talk politics. I think the daughter should develop articulate talking points and anticipate responses in an attempt to have a good dialogue. If the roommate is still combative and argumentative, then she should quiet the conversation. If this were an office situation, I would agree with your advice to immediately quiet the conversation. One of the reasons college is such an important and valuable life experience is the dialogue that takes place in dorm rooms, not just classrooms—particularly because you are randomly paired with roommates. I changed a lot in college, for the better, I think, and so did my roommate.
Emily Yoffe: Sure, but rants are not discussions, and when you live with someone, there is no escape. The ranter, too, needs some lessons in how to get along.
Same ole story: I was dating someone I thought was a great guy. We were doing all the mushy love stuff, really getting to know each other, taking the physical stuff slow but not too slow and then he just stopped calling. Hasn't returned my one phone call and it's been five days. I know he has revealed to me that he's unkind and a coward, so I'm happy to know that now. What I need to know is how to stop my mind from racing. How to stop myself from hitting the refresh button on my computer, from checking my voice mail every second. Please don't tell me to continue to live my life, to reach out to my friends, to go to the gym. I'm doing all that. But I'm not sleeping because my mind is racing. That is hard to stop. It's like telling someone to stop worrying. Or to make their heart stop beating/beating so fast. Please help me because my molecular structure is changing as I write this and it's not getting any better. And I know this guy did me a favor! But I can't make it stop.
Emily Yoffe: If you were rather seriously dating, it might help for you to get an official recognition that it's over. You can write an e-mail saying that you assume his silence means he doesn't want to continue the relationship anymore, and that a simple acknowledgment of that would be beneficial to you. If he won't even do that (assuming he hasn't been kidnapped), yes, what a cowardly jerk. However, right now you can't believe your mind won't ever stop racing, but I'm here to tell you that I've been in the same situation and that people I thought I'd never get over I probably wouldn't recognize now if they were opposite me on the Metro.
Los Angeles: I wrote you years ago looking for advice about whether or not to have children. Your advice was helpful then, and now I have a new, larger issue. I recently discovered that my 18-month-old daughter is severely disabled. She may never walk. She will never talk. In terms of mental development, she will never advance beyond the skills and comprehension of a 2-year-old. Since we got the diagnosis, my family has really pulled away from me. After the initial round of tearful hugs and calls, my parents have basically stopped calling and never ask about my daughter when we do talk. Any thoughts about how to address this with them? Anger doesn't go over well in my family, so telling them how hurt and angry I feel (which is worse because of my daughter's condition) may not make things better.
Emily Yoffe: What a heartbreak. I'm so sorry for your daughter's diagnosis. You are going to need so much help in years to come. First of all, join a support group, both in person and online, of other parents who are struggling with the same issues. They will have practical and emotional advice for you—many of them will have dealt with the issue of family members who run in the other direction. But don't feel your family has permanently abandoned you. Everyone is in shock, and though it would be so much better if they were rising to the occasion, some people sink. But it doesn't mean they will never come through. You are justified in your anger, but that's not going to get you what you need: their help. Tell your parents you understand that they don't want to deal with the sadness of this diagnosis, that it is in a way a death of the hopes they had for your daughter's life, but that you still need them in your life and her life. Say that with their support all of you can help each other and make the decisions that are best for your daughter. And, please, find a therapist who specializes in families with disabilities. You are going to need as many outlets as possible for your own anger and fear. Again, I am so sorry.
Slightly trivial question but important to me: I received an expensive gift for my birthday with no gift certificate enclosed. Unfortunately, the gift is not to my liking—it's a perfume whose scent I just wouldn't wear. Should I mention it to the gift giver or just say thanks (which I already did) and toss it? I feel bad as it is an expensive gift. Please help!
Emily Yoffe: Unless the gift-giver is your boyfriend and he's going to wonder why you never wear his favorite Chanel No. 5, you should just say thanks for the lovely gift. And unless you've ripped open the packaging, go ahead and re-gift.
Re: New York: Having the you-should-see-a-professional conversation with the sister whose son is a problem will kill the relationship; it happened in my family. I would bet the LW has very little knowledge of the boy's usual behavior, given the infrequency of visits, and is an overbearing know-it-all.
Emily Yoffe: Why would a boy who's usually lovely turn into the kid from The Exorcist on family visits? If the boy is just rude, then the aunt should tell the mother that she can't allow "Bobby" to hit and bite. But doesn't a hitting, biting, swearing 8-year-old indicate something is wrong? And if after having a concerned discussion, the mother wants to pack up her tent and withdraw from the family, at least the child will stop drawing blood from the rest of the family.
Maple Grove, Iowa: I love your columns. Small question. What do I do about a boyfriend, whom I love very much, but who is constantly getting jealous too easily. He is eight years older than me and thinks every man we meet is trying to sleep with me.
Emily Yoffe: Glad you like the column, but you probably won't like this answer: Dump him. That kind of obsessive jealousy is a demon that will ruin your life.
Suncoast, Fla.: I have been dating two different men for a while now, and both are starting to head in the direction of an exclusive, committed relationship. So the time has come to choose, and I'm having the hardest time doing so. One would seem to be completely wrong for me. He's a science fiction/fantasy enthusiast, which I don't care for at all. He also hates television and loves card games, while I like to watch TV to unwind every once in a while and don't care for games. But he makes me feel totally adored and goes to great lengths to plan really terrific dates for us. The other guy seems so much better suited for me. We have very similar backgrounds and interests, and I feel like he really challenges me intellectually. We also have many of the same friends. But he's much more subdued about his feelings and is less likely to have a thought-out plan when we decide what to do together. So which is more important in a long-term partner, someone who makes you feel really special or someone who shares common interests and challenges you as a person?
Emily Yoffe: You need two, two, two boyfriends in one! If only you could pick the favorable qualities from boyfriend A and boyfriend B and come up with Mr. Perfect. Of course, as you know, no one is perfect. Instead of answering this question, I'm going to ask you a question. If you were Prudie, who would you tell the letter writer from Suncoast, Fla. to pick?
Arlington, Va.: We have neighbors in our apartment that we have never met, and I feel at this point it is too awkward to go over and introduce ourselves. The problem is, on several occasions, when they leave town for the weekend, such as today, they leave the alarm in their bedroom set, and we can clearly hear it going off through our bedroom wall really early in the morning. My girlfriend wants to write a note, but I feel that's tacky. What do you think?
Emily Yoffe: It's never too late to introduce yourselves to neighbors. You can decide whether to make this two separate visits. One at which you say you've been meaning to introduce yourselves and save the alarm clock issue for later. Or two, you apologize for not introducing yourselves and say you have a rather trivial issue that you wonder if they could address. It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship (that allows you to sleep in).
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Hope your alarm clock didn't have to go off too early this morning. Talk to you next Monday.