Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. A transcript of this week's chat is below. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. Let's get to the questions.
Tampa, Fla.: I'm getting married to the woman of my dreams in three months. I'm excited about our upcoming wedding, but one thing has been a real source of tension for us for the past year. She was raised in a controlling, strict home. Her parents don't believe in privacy, and they (and her siblings) constantly walk in and out of her bedroom. My fiancee tells me that she's sick of being "smothered" and that after we move in together, she wants her own room. Basically, after making love, she wants to go sleep in a different bedroom. Naturally, I'm upset about this because I would like to share a bedroom with my wife. How do we resolve this?
—Don't Want To Sleep in a Cold Bed
Emily Yoffe: So your fiancee is going from her family bedroom to your marital bedroom without a pit stop at having a chance to have her own bedroom. It sounds as if you're marrying someone who may be the woman of your dreams, but in many ways she's still a girl—one who hasn't had a chance to find out what it's like to be on her own. She's so smothered she doesn't even have the wherewithal to get a hook-and-eye combo on her bedroom door to keep the family hordes from invading. (And what's up with the stream of traffic through the bedroom of a woman old enough to marry?) I'm afraid unless your fiancee gets a chance at independence, you will suffer from being perceived as her next oppressor. You two need to have a serious talk about whether you're ready to go through with the wedding. Of course it's perfectly reasonable that you want to share a bedroom with your wife. Also reasonable is that she wants a room of her own.
Dallas:We are having a small Halloween party for our 6-year-old son and three of his friends and their parents. After sending out invitations, one of the mothers asked if her father-in-law could "tag along." She is putting me in a difficult situation. If I say no, I'm the bad guy. If I say yes, I risk making my other guests uncomfortable, and I only have enough seating for eight people anyway! What are your thoughts? Thank you!
Emily Yoffe: I assume a Halloween party for 6-year-old is not actually a formal sit-down dinner. Presumably the father-in-law is visiting from out of town and he wants to spend maximum time with his grandchild and would get a kick out of seeing the Halloween festivities. I don't understand why your other friends would feel uncomfortable if someone's visiting grandfather came for the event. If any occasion seemed as if it would be flexible enough to accommodate another ghost or goblin, a Halloween party would be it.
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: Help! My husband and I just bought our first place. And we can't wait to celebrate with our housewarming party. My dilemma is, I have some family members that are overweight. I am debating whether to invite them over or not. Please do not think of me as insensitive, for I have other guests that are just as overweight and are definitely invited to the housewarming. The problem lies with this particular side of the family. ... They are notorious for coming over to peoples' homes and breaking furniture. And many family members have stopped inviting them. For example, my cousin weighs about 260 pounds and her husband weighs about 230 pounds, and they both like to pick a piece of furniture and sit on each other's laps. That's almost 500 pounds on a single seat.
I don't know if they are dumb or in denial, but when I go to someone's home, I am respectful of their property and behave accordingly. If I see a chair or something that looks flimsy for my weight, I will simply sit somewhere else. I am torn, because I simply cannot just not invite them. Because in that side of the family there are two very innocent, respectful, great individuals that I would love to have over. But I can't invite them and not invite the rest of their disrespectful family. Should I just have the housewarming secretly and not invite that whole side? And then on a separate occasion just invite the two innocent victims over for dinner and never let them know I had a house warming?
Emily Yoffe: I might be willing to sacrifice a piece of furniture for the spectacle of watching 500 pounds of relative sit in each other's laps and collapse it. Is this some kind of performance art—a commentary on America's overconsumption, perhaps—or are they just nuts? In any case, why not have a whole bunch of sturdy but cheap folding chairs available for your soiree. Then when you see the circus act begin, you can indicate the chairs and say, "Marvin, Louise, there's no need to double up, we've got plenty of seating for everybody."
Detroit: Very recently, I started receiving text messages with dirty jokes from an unknown number. Today, I learned that they're coming from my boyfriend's father! I don't know him that well, and to be honest, I don't find it appropriate for him to be doing it. Should I bring this up to my boyfriend? I don't want to cause friction between all of us, but at the same time, I'm going to feel uncomfortable being around his dad if these texts continue. What should I do?
Emily Yoffe: I don't know which is more to be hoped for: that Dad is losing his faculties or that Dad has always been a pervert. Uncomfortable though this may be, you must tell your boyfriend. He needs to then initiate a medical check-up or have a very unpleasant conversation with his father.
Houston: I am a 42-year-old adoptee who's known all her life that she's adopted. When I was 25, I found my birth mom, had a happy reunion, and we still have a friendship today. My birth father learned of this through the grapevine and contacted me with the instructions that I not ask other people about him. If I had questions, I could ask him. We decided that since I was caught off-guard by the phone call, I would write to him. I did and had the one request that I meet my half-sister who was 18 months younger (she was 23). He never responded; basically, I had my answer. Well, 17 years later I have found my half-sister on Facebook. Should I go around his wishes and friend her? The last thing I would like to do is upset her, but if the situation were reversed, I would want to be contacted.
Emily Yoffe: Whatever "agreements" your biological father may have tried to force upon you, he can't. You're an adult and so is your half sister, and you are entitled to contact her if you'd like. Before you do, think through the fact that this is going to be a revelation that will forever change her understanding of her family—but so be it. However, as a way of letting her know that for her entire life she's had a half-sister who's been kept secret from her, "friending" her on Facebook simply doesn't seem the way to go. When Facebook asks how you know a potential friend, at least for now there's no box to check that says "newly discovered family member." At the very least, use the "message" function on Facebook and write her a note explaining who you are—or get another e-mail address or a street address. This is information you want to keep private.
Anonymous: My husband won't "friend" me on Facebook but won't say why. Give me some reasons other than he's trying to hide something from me. My overactive imagination is getting the best of me!
Emily Yoffe: It's amazing how quickly Facebook has gone from something college students used to check each other out to the primary way people offend each other, initiate affairs (and say, "Hey, you may not know me, but I'm your sister/mother/father/child"). He's your husband, so I'm not really equipped to come up with the reasons he doesn't want you knowing what he's up to on Facebook. Maybe he's a bass fisherman and he's trying to save you from the almost terminal boredom of reading the posts of his bass-fishing buddies. Or maybe he's fishing around in the old high-school pond, and he doesn't want you to see that some of the ex-cheerleaders still look pretty good. It's one thing if your husband won't friend you on Facebook; it's another if your marital communication is so wanting you can't even have a conversation about why.
Fairfax, Va.: Why do so many people respond "no problem" when they are thanked? This has become a real issue with me, and I've noticed that rarely does anyone say "You're welcome" anymore. What do you think of this?
Emily Yoffe: I agree "You're welcome" is going the way of "I do beg your pardon" and "If it pleases you, my liege." Maybe a linguist can explain why some expressions persist and some fade. I've noticed on broadcast interviews, when the interviewer ends with "Thank you" the interviewee is more likely to say "Thank YOU" than "You're welcome." However, I have no problem with "No problem," and your day will go much better if you automatically translate "No problem" to "You're welcome" in your mind.
Seattle: To "Don't want to sleep in a cold bed": My long-term boyfriend and I both keep separate bedrooms (a decision we made after we shared one room in a group living situation that went bad and we were basically stuck in it together whenever we didn't want to deal with the conflicts with other roommates). Most of the time, we do share a bed, but it's a comfort to know that we each have a space we can call ours if we need some space.
Emily Yoffe: Everyone needs their own mental and physical space, and there are many ways to create zones of privacy within a marriage. But unless a couple mutually and enthusiastically agrees on separate bedroom, a marriage seems off to a very rocky start if one partner wants to decamp once the lovemaking is done.
Washington, D.C.: How do I tactfully tell my mother-in-law that I do not feel comfortable with her baby-sitting our not-yet-2-year-old? She is constantly offering to baby-sit and is becoming increasingly annoyed that our son's day-care teachers baby-sit instead. Though she is not elderly, she is not as mobile as one needs to be to take care of an active toddler (in my opinion). For example, she can't sit on the floor because she can't get up without assistance. She needs time to get off the couch. And she can not bend down to pick him up. So, I'm not sure how diaper changes would work or how she plans to get him in his high chair for meals, let alone have fun with him! My husband is in agreement with me, but their entire family tends to avoid topics of discussion that might cause any tension. But I feel she needs to hear my thoughts so that I'm not constantly ignoring her offers. Unfortunately, we do not have a close relationship; we are cordial to each other. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.
Emily Yoffe: Don't cut your mother-in-law out. As your son gets older and needs less constant physical attention, you will have wanted to lay the groundwork for a close and loving relationship between him and his grandmother. Since you have a cordial relationship, use it to have an open, honest conversation. Explain to her that you really want her to be part of your son's life, but he is at the stage where he is incredibly physically demanding—both you and your husband sometimes feel worn out—so you want to figure out things she and your son can do together that won't tax her too much. Maybe you can drop the two of them off at the playground for a couple of hours, or for a trip to the zoo, etc. Surely she would welcome some creative thinking on this, rather than the uncomfortable impression you just don't trust her.
Austin, Tex.: I've recently converted from the religion I was raised with to another after several years of soul-searching and prayer. I'm happy with my choice, but my family doesn't know about it yet, and I'm not sure how to tell them. I'm afraid they'll kick me out of the house when they find out. Since I'm a student right now, I've decided to wait until after I've graduated and found a job to tell them (which could take several years). Do you think this is OK? Or should I tell them now? And if they find out sooner than I would like, how should I handle their wrath?
Emily Yoffe: Ah, the wrath of family makes you wish for the comfort of the wrath of God. Despite the fact that there are many people who won't be satisfied until they try to get you to worship as they do, what religious path you choose is an intensely personal choice, one that you are entitled to keep private. You have no obligation to spread your news to your relatives now, while you're still financially dependent, or even later when you aren't. When you tell, or they eventually find out, try to strike a beatific pose and say you respect their religious choices and hope they can do the same for you.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Four years ago, the 30-year-old daughter of a close friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. This was a huge shock for all concerned, and at the time I was very supportive of both my friend and her daughter. I was faithful with cards, visits, phone calls, flowers, little gifts, and casseroles. The daughter went through a rough time of chemo and radiation, and today we all rejoice that she is well and there is no evidence of cancer.
The mother, my friend Linda, has now made it her mission in life to raise funds for breast cancer research, which I acknowledge to be a very worthy cause. I get together with Linda every few weeks, and she always arrives with some kind of fundraiser to sell. It can be pink soap, cupcakes with pink icing, pink mittens, requests to sponsor a run, or tickets to attend an event.
I don't mind contributing to this cause, but I prefer to do this once a year with a generous donation sent to the charity. I do not need or want pink soap, cupcakes, or the like. I've told Linda this, but she does not listen. If I tell her I have no use for pink mittens, she says, "But surely you can afford $10 as a donation. I knit them myself." Then the next time I see her, she is selling something else in pink.
The real bomb hit last week. Linda called and invited me to dinner at her home. I said I was free that evening and would be happy to join her. I was then informed that the cost of the meal, with wine, would be $50, proceeds to go to breast cancer research. I do not want to pay $50 to eat at a friend's house.
How do I get my message across without being seen as cheap and uncaring. I do know Linda is well-intentioned, but I am feeling used.
Emily Yoffe: I agree about getting pinked out, and your friend has crossed a line from working for a cause she believes in to ruining your ability to pleasantly socialize with her. Tell her that her daughter's recovery has meant the world to you and that you are happy to be a generous supporter of breast cancer research. However, say you make a yearly donation and simply don't want to be asked to contribute small amounts constantly. Tell her you want to enjoy her company without having to think of disease. Then you can explain you'd love to have dinner together sometime, but you're at your charitable maximum for the year and you cannot attend her fundraising event.
Chicago: I am in my mid-20s and have been blessed with success, wonderful family and friends, and a great relationship with my live-in boyfriend of three years. One problem: I can't seem to shake his family's closeness. He has a large and closely-knit immediate family, and while he spends every night with me, he likes to spend virtually all of his free time with his family in the suburbs. He even spends Valentine's Day with his family (luckily, I'm like you, Emily, and I don't put much value in superficial holidays and anniversaries). He has three sisters, one of whom tends to be very rude to me, to the point that I fear seeing her at family get-togethers. I have a feeling that she dislikes the fact that I often skip out on family events altogether, which I do, not only because of the sister but because of the sheer dread involved in spending great amounts of time with the family. I love my boyfriend and want to spend the rest of my life with him. In order to show my commitment to his family, am I required to go over there every time my boyfriend does (about every other day), or can I stick to my once-a-month visit? Also, do you think my future with him is doomed because I want to create my OWN family with him, not simply procreate to expand his?
Emily Yoffe: I bet your boyfriend's family liked to barge into one another's bedrooms unannounced—and he liked it! If you want to spend the rest of your life with your boyfriend, you'd better accept that this is a package deal. Anyone in his mid-20s who goes to hang out with his parents and siblings every other day, who has a live-in girlfriend and thinks Valentine's Day is for mothers, not lovers—well, he's let you know what life with him will be like. You're already living with this guy, so before you invest the rest of your 20s in this relationship, you need to have some serious talks with him about your need for more time away from the gang and his level of comfort with that.
Washington, D.C.: I've been married to my wonderful husband for over a year now. It may be a little early to worry about this, but I'm a little concerned he's "letting himself go." He exercises when he can, but he still eats like he's 20! My comments are starting to get out of hand and borderline mean. I need help reining myself in while also encouraging him to think beyond himself. He doesn't have to have a six pack or even a one pack—but sit-ups couldn't hurt. Thanks! I love your column!
Emily Yoffe: It's good you recognize the person with the problem is you. Would it be a big motivator if at every meal your husband said, "Do you really need seconds?" or "Your jeans are starting to look a little snug?" If after a year you fall into a habit of being a constant nag, try to imagine what your marriage will look like in 10 years (or even if it gets there). That said, staying in shape together is something that is a great goal for a couple and can be something you both enjoy. Maybe you can go running or hiking together, or meet each other at the gym after work, or go to an early morning "boot camp" together. And make one of your workout resolutions that you will work out your mouth less.
Northeast: My husband and I have a good friend who recently cheated on his wife, causing her a great deal of pain and probably ending their marriage. We have both been close to him and less close to her, though we both like her very much.
We very much disagree with his actions, and I no longer want to be friends with him. Is this an overreaction? I mean, he didn't do anything to me or my husband; he's always been a great friend to us.
We've both been friends with the "cheated on" before but never the cheater. Do you have any thoughts on what might be an appropriate course of action?
Emily Yoffe: There are things that friends can do that forever change your perception of them and may necessitate ending the friendship. I'm not condoning cheating, but this may be one of those things that makes you realize your friend is not exactly who you thought he was, yet his cheating is not enough to end a friendship of long standing, either. If you are going to continue the friendship, one important thing to do is continue the friendship with his wife—you do not have to choose sides here, and you like them both. And I am also going to recommend something that your husband would probably never do, but you could if it would help you. You could just say to your friend that you don't want to get into what happened to his marriage but that you are sorry to see it in such disarray and to see "Carol" so hurt, but that you've always cared for him and will continue to do so.
You're welcome: I have a friend who always responds to "Thank you" with "My pleasure."
Emily Yoffe: I like that one (maybe because I say it, too, sometimes).
Rhode Island: I have a theory about "You're Welcome" vs. "No Problem." I wish people wouldn't get so upset about it, because I think the responder is just being modest. "You're welcome" is a tacit way of saying, "Yes, I did just do you a favor." Saying "No problem" downplays the size of the favor, along the lines of "It was nothing; don't mention it."
As for news interviews, I've noticed the same thing. But if you are an author being interviewed about your book, or even a journalist whose story was selected for the broadcast, maybe you have some gratitude for the exposure.
It doesn't seem that odd to me. I wish people would just chill.
Emily Yoffe: I think your theory is a good one. I also agree with you about chilling over this.
So THANK YOU, everyone, for your letters and insights. Talk to you next week.