Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. Next week's chat will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 1 p.m. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon everyone. Let's get to it.
Southfield, Mich.: Thanks to Facebook, a woman I used to be friends with in elementary and middle school has reached out to me. The problem is that when I was in 7th grade (she was in 8th), she decided that she didn't like me anymore and starting threatening to beat me up. I was a passive person back then and she was bigger than me, so the threats lasted for about two or three years. Finally, when we were both in high school, it came to a head and we were both suspended for three days for a heated argument in the hallway. I have moved on since then and have forgiven her (since the forgiveness is really for me anyway). I have a wonderful life now, and I don't want anything to disrupt it. I spoke to my mom, and she told me that I was living in the past and to get over it. She also said that I need to give her the benefit of the doubt and that I should talk to her. I do not have any ill feelings toward this woman. I just don't want her back in my life. This is mainly due to the fact that while people are very capable of change, I don't want to take the chance on "re-friending" her only to find out that she hasn't changed at all. The only positive thing that has come out of this is the fact that I have become a more assertive person because of that fateful day in high school.
What do you suggest that I do about this situation? What (if anything) should I tell this woman and also my mother? Thanks for your help!
Emily Yoffe: Thanks to Facebook, everyone with a computer now has to relive their school years in a Groundhog Day-like loop. Of course, for many people it has been wonderful to reconnect with lost classmates, even if reconnecting means you have to read of their daily restaurant choices and favorite TV shows for the rest of your life. For some, it has meant the opportunity to relive the assignation under the bleachers by sneaking out to hook up with former flames. For others it has meant having to remember the torment at the hands of their former bullies.
You say this woman has "reached out" to you. Does that mean she has simply sent you a "friend" request? Or that she has sent you an e-mail saying she is sorry for the misery she caused you, but she would like to apologize and make amends? If she's simply friended you, you can send her request into cyberspace by deciding to put it in the "ignore" category. If she's offered an apology, you can write back that you are truly grateful, and you appreciate hearing that. Then you still don't have to friend her! There is no reason to be bullied into having this woman privy to what you post, or seeing her daily feed. Tell your mother you are hardly living in the past, and one way to keep yourself in your happy present is to keep former tormentors out of it. Don't let this former classmate or your mother guilt-trip you into being "friends" with someone you don't want in your life.
Holy Moley!: I have met a wonderful man through the civic organization I have been a part of for years. We are both in our mid-30s and at that stage in life where we are looking to settle down and perhaps start a family. We have put off having sex because we both share common stories of how "sex too soon" really caused problems in past relationships. This summer we went to the beach together. As we "stripped down" to our swim suits, I was in utter shock to see my dear boyfriend COATED, I mean COATED, in moles. I had seen a few on his face, neck and arms, but ... he is covered in them. He looks like a mushroom farm. When he asked me to put sun screen on his back, I about vomited. Here is my awful moment of decision. I really, really love this man, but the thought of making love to such a "moley" person is more than I can bear. Should I ask him to get extensive cosmetic surgery? Should I get therapy to get over all the moles? If I break up with him because of the moles, I will live with guilt and regret. If I marry him, I will have to deal with extreme intimacy issues. Help!
Emily Yoffe: Some moles are attractive—think Robert Redford and Cindy Crawford—but as superficial as it is, I understand that slathering sun block on a "mushroom farm" was a desire killer. Although I'd love to play one on the Internet, I'm no doctor, but having a trunk that looks like it's covered with fungi doesn't sound normal. You can certainly say to him that since you went swimming you've been concerned about the amount and type of moles he has, and you think he should get this checked out by a dermatologist. (Don't mention the thought of touching him makes you want to vomit.) Once you know more about this medically, that can help you discuss whether he needs treatment. Knowing what this is can even make you feel more comfortable. After all, if you really love him, you may start to see him less as a mushroom farm and more like your darling guy sprinkled with chocolate chips.
Butte, Mont.: I am a mother of three boys. My oldest, who is 16 years old, had his first job working at a grocery store. He was recently fired for shoplifting (about two months ago). He says he messed up and is really sorry. I can't get over it, I think about it all of the time, wondering if my child will ever be able to work (if he can get another job) without worrying that he will steal again. It was a good job. He was able to still do homework and be involved in sports. Why can't I get past this?
Emily Yoffe: Be grateful that he messed up at a time it really doesn't matter, yet it matters enough that he can feel the sting of doing something stupid and experiencing the consequences. He acknowledges he was wrong and he feels terrible about it. That's great news! You'd have to worry if he was blaming other people and saying he was treated unfairly. He's a good boy who made a mistake. Just think of what it would feel like if the person closest to you went into an emotional tailspin every time you did something dopey. Tell him you appreciate his recognizing what he did was wrong and not making excuses for it. Tell him you have faith in him, and you're all going to forget about it.
Indianapolis, Ind.: My husband thinks that, given our close relationship, he should be able to "let it all hang out" in front of me. I feel that his profanity, burping, and other noisy bodily functions are inappropriate, especially since I have said many times that I would prefer he keep it to himself (like he used to when we were dating). I wish I could make him understand what a turnoff it is! Any ideas?
Emily Yoffe: But this is the primary reason people get married—the pressure of holding it in is killing them! There is no way that over the course of the next 50 years you two are not going to be aware the other has expelled gas. That said, each couple has to work out what's comfortable for them. If you can say you understand it's never go to be as pristine as when you were dating, but you'd prefer not to feel like you were living with Mount Vesuvius, maybe your husband will try better to keep a lid on it.
New York: I have tried to live up to one of my husband's many admirable traits, which is to keep other peoples' matters private, even trivial stuff. If you tell him something, he really is a "vault," and I respect that.
What is bothering me is this: My mother, who has never adhered to this code, many years ago told me something about my sibling's health that I shouldn't know. I've never let on about that to my sibling.
It is something that would bother my husband and that he would want to know about—not because he would treat my sibling differently, but because we are both hygiene freaks and he would want to take precautions after any close interactions.
I'm torn because I love my husband dearly, we tell each other everything, and I want to tell him this, but I know it would violate "the code," not to mention my sibling's privacy. I'd like to think he would understand my not telling him based on these reasons.
For the record, it is not a particularly dangerous issue, because I lived under the same roof with the sibling for many years and I'm fine, but it still leaves me (and I know it would him) a bit squeamish. Should I say anything at all to him? Thanks for your help.
Emily Yoffe: I'm wondering if this condition involves being covered with lots of moles? I believe in cones of privacy, but usually when you grow up if a sibling has a medical condition, everyone in the family knows about it. Privacy is wonderful, but taboo subjects can just make the sufferer feel shame when none is necessary. That said, this is the kind of thing spouses tell one another, especially if the spouse you're telling is known for his Sphinx-like posture. However, if your sibling has a slightly contagious condition, and since you two know you are germ nuts, make sure you don't bizarrely run for the hand sanitizer every time you greet your sibling.
Shoplifting: I messed up once, too, when I was 13. I felt terrible. Truly terrible. But my parents forgave me, and moved on quickly. I never stole anything again and I am a fine, upstanding citizen now.
Kids do stupid things. Hopefully, they learn from them. It doesn't mean you messed up, or that he's a messed up kid. It's just a mistake. People make them all the time. There's no reason to fret yet.
Emily Yoffe: Hear that, Mom? If everybody who shoplifted or did something equally stupid as a teen chimed in here, we'd run out of bandwidth.
To Southfield, Mich.: You have nothing to lose.
I had a person who bullied me in high school contact me on Facebook.
This person is now working with at-risk kids and is ultra religious. I have not even thought about the past because that is so obviously not who either one of us is anymore.
So ... relax. It is only Facebook. Not the lunchroom.
Emily Yoffe: Your bully is now making the world a better place. That's great, but that doesn't mean that everyone's former bully is an Albert Schweitzer, or even that you have to friend Albert if you don't want to.
New York: My wife and I are expecting our first child. My mother keeps saying how excited she is to be a grandmother for the first time—except that it's not true! Yes, this will be her first biological grandchild, but she has been a step-grandmother (and a doting one, at that) to my (half-)nieces and nephews for over a decade. Should I risk being a huge buzzkill by saying something to her before she potentially hurts someone's feelings?
Emily Yoffe: Yes, tell her you understand that being a grandmother to the biological offspring of one of her children is thrilling to her but that you admire what a devoted and loving grandmother she has been to the grandchildren who came into her life through marriage. Explain that if she keeps talking about her "first" grandchild she is going to cause pain to your sibling and to the children who have long known her as their grandmother. Someone who has been sensitive enough to be a wonderful step-grandmother should understand this.
State of Confusion: Help! My four-year relationship ended because my boyfriend needed to explore his sexuality. We have mutual friends in an open marriage, which apparently means to them that everyone's sex life is perfect fodder for small talk. This means that if I spend time with them, I end up hearing the explicit details of my ex's current exploits. Hooked up with a guy on Craigslist but kept it strictly to oral sex? Apparently this is something to tell me. I can't seem to make it clear to this couple that while not a prude, I am grieving for the end of this relationship, and learning things like this exacerbate, my hurt, even though on a level I'm happy for my ex discovering himself. I can't seem to make it understood why this would be hurtful and unwelcome. Obviously, I'm about to drop our "mutual" friends, but I also want to alert my ex to the fact that his every encounter is coffee talk for this couple to anyone who might slightly know him. Should I?
Emily Yoffe: I would think that the kind of news they are passing on would help cut short the mourning for your relationship. If your ex is telling the swingers he knows his exciting adventures via Craigslist, he has to assume he is not talking to people with Sphinx-like capacities to keep the news to themselves. It sounds like you want to alert the ex because you're having a hard time letting go. Your guy is gay and the relationship is over. Maybe down the road you can be friends, but for now, let it go.
Boston: I'm having a destination wedding in the Caribbean but will have the reception at a five-star hotel ballroom. After attending weddings where I've seen guests wear jeans and flip flops, I've contemplated adding a dress code on the invitations: "Formal wear and black bie invited. Exclusively no T-shirts, jeans, shorts, sneakers, flip flops." Am I being a bridezilla by doing this? The guests are mostly family and some our close friends, yet I don't want to offend anyone. I just want to keep the beachwear where it belongs—at the beach, and not at my wedding!
Emily Yoffe: I don't want to start a wedding war, but here's part of the problem when you force people to use extensive vacation time and money to go to your wedding: They start to feel they're on their own vacation. This is why honeymoons were invented—so married people can go to the Caribbean without worrying about what all their friends are wearing. But destination wedding it is. There's nothing wrong with putting a dress code on the invitation—it's helpful for when people are packing. But you don't phrase it in terms of, "No shirt, no shoes, no reception." And surely you don't want your male guests to have to travel with rented tuxedos. Why not skip the idea of black tie and simply note that for the reception the attire should be dressy.
shoplifting: I did something more arcane and probably more thought-out than shoplifting when I was 17. I had to appear before a local judge and ended up with probation. After probation, it disappeared from my record, which allowed me to fill out my law school and bar admission applications honestly many years later. It definitely shook me up, and my only other interactions with the police have been for the occasional speeding ticket and when my apartment was broken into. Sometimes a little juvenile misbehavior can serve as an inoculation.
Emily Yoffe: Mom, still listening? People can make big mistakes as teenagers and go on to have exemplary lives. The mistake can even help!
Woodbridge, Va.: My husband and I have been married for several months. I have long heard that the first year of marriage is the hardest, but it has been harder than I thought. We frequently fight to the point of tears (me) and yelling (him). Part of me knows this is because I am prone to overreaction and can be somewhat controlling, and because he can be too laid-back and stubborn. I think we are learning a lot about each other, but the fighting is hard on us—and bad. Is this what the first year is like? Or do we need help?
Emily Yoffe: Next time you feel you're about to overreact or say something to "improve" him, think to yourself, "At least he's not farting." For some people, the first year is hardest; for some it isn't. But you're right to be concerned about getting into a destructive pattern that will dog your marriage or make you consider ending it. Sure, you might benefit from counseling, but before you do that, why not concentrate on curbing the faults you know you have? Just do this because you want to be a less overreactive and controlling person, and see if that doesn't significantly improve the dynamic of your marriage.
Washington, DC: I'm 24 years old and have recently decided to stop talking to my father. (I live in D.C.; he lives in the Midwest.) He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 14 and refused to get treatment. He is verbally and physically abusive with me (when I'm around) and my mother, but my mother does not want to leave him. I haven't talked to him for over a month. My mother says that he rants about the fact that I don't talk to him and that it is taxing for her. She's asked me to call him once a week. I've tried, for her sake, and I really don't have anything to say, nor do I have any desire to speak with this man. Is it selfish of me to tell her that I don't want to talk to him?
Emily Yoffe: Your mother has decided she's stuck—but fortunately you're not. Bipolar disorder is a terrible disease, but it can be helped enormously with treatment. Your father is responsible for his destructive decision to let the illness run its course. You could have a phone conversation with him in which you tell him you love him, but unless he gets treatment for his illness, you will not be able to have a relationship with him because he acts abusively toward you. Then continue a separate relationship with your mother, but don't let her guilt-trip you because you don't call. It is up to her to draw her own lines with him.
Atlanta: I can't believe people write you to ask about destination weddings. Don't they read your column on a regular basis? Prudie don't like! I am astonished by people's unmitigated gall. I simply refuse every destination wedding I'm invited to, and I've been invited to some beauties.
Emily Yoffe: I don't think a blanket refusal of the destination wedding is necessary. I have friends who've been to ones they've loved. If you've always wanted to go to a place, and the wedding gets you there, why not? But you're right, I think generally this is a most unfortunate trend that only adds time and expense to an event that has become the marital Long March.
Pittsburgh, Pa.: My mother has mild to moderate dementia manifested in short-term memory loss. My sisters and I visited her attorney with her in the beginning of the year to help her make some updates to her will (at her request). After her will was redone, the attorney sent copies of my mother's will to my sisters and me. I was horrified—I believe this document should remain private until after her death—so I chose not to read it. My oldest sister did read it, and she and her husband are now upset about its contents. According to her, the will says that if she predeceases our mother, the money that is left to her will pass to her two children. Here's the part she is mad about: My mother does not want her husband to have control of the funds if their children are under the age of 18—my mother has requested that I (and I am the executor of her estate) distribute the funds for education, health care, etc., until they come of age. Her husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, nearly drove his family to bankruptcy, and has had a spotty employment record over the past five years. My sister and her husband are so mad at my mother that they will not be coming to Thanksgiving, which is the only time of the year that our (rather small) family gathers. Naturally, our 82-year-old mother is extremely upset, and my sister will not tell her anything—she just keeps making lame excuses about missing our family's annual traditional gathering. They have said they will not travel at Christmas or Easter, either, because of their deep faith and religious activities with their church (I know, ironic, huh?) Also, none of us lives near our mother. It's beginning to sound like my oldest sister will not see our mother ever again. My other sister and I don't know what—if anything—we should do. Any advice?
Emily Yoffe: What an awful situation, which unfortunately vindicates your mother's assessment that the money for the children should be protected from the whims of their parents. You and your sister can sit down with your oldest sister and acknowledge that you understand that she and her husband are upset, but that it is very common for money that is to go to the next generation have limitations put on it. Say that this was not meant as a slap at her and her husband but a way of making sure the grandchildren get help with their tuition, which will benefit the whole family. Impress upon her that if she becomes estranged now, the time will be short to heal this breach, and that the entire family will suffer. Then let it be. If they choose to reject the family, make sure the rest of you work extra hard to make your mother's life filled with love.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.