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: I hope everyone's Thanksgiving was good. One holiday down, two more to go!
Houston, Tex.: I just found out my fiance has been cheating on me with men. He denied it and denied it until I presented him with the e-mail evidence I found, and then he admitted he's had oral sex (possibly more? I don't know) with at least three different men he met on a "men seeking men" online advertising site.
Obviously, my first order of business is to get tested for any STDs.
I am having a really hard time letting go of this person. Is it possible for him to get help, and to save our relationship? Or should I just let him go? We're living together with our 4-year-old daughter, and he's currently unemployed, so I feel really bad telling him to move out (to complicate things even more). Thanks for the advice.
Emily Yoffe: Let's see. On the minus side: He's lied to you about being bisexual. He's serially cheated on you with other men. He's unemployed. On the plus side: [Fill in the blank.]
It's a little late for me to ask what you were thinking when you decided to have a child with this man, but you haven't articulated what you are thinking when you say you want to stay with him. Maybe your STD screen will help you realize the risks he is subjecting you to. Ending the relationship doesn't end his role as your daughter's father. But what kind of future do you have with this guy?
Madison, Wis.: Our family consists of our mother and four kids (my brother and sisters—all 40 and up), grandchildren (ages 4, 8, 19, and two 22-year-olds). My mother wants to keep exchanging gifts every year—even if it is for one person (secret Santa). One of my siblings never has money (long story). His/her child (age 22) won't have money, either, and neither one may even come to our Christmas get-together. Another sibling is barely making it due to the job/recession woes (his/her children are 19 and 22). The other sibling has the young ones. We all intend to get gifts for the young ones but don't feel the need to give gifts anymore between the adults. My mother still wants to do this and suggested that we put our names in a hat with an item we want on it. My sister thinks it is stupid. She says, "Why don't we all just take the money we would be buying a gift [with] and just buy ourselves the gift." I have to agree with her. Money is tight for me, too. She won't participate in this secret Santa. I am not sure if there would be many of us who would. My mother, though, is pouting about it all because we don't want to do it. I am fine with appetizers and dinner and visiting with each other. Is my mother being childish, or are we scrooges?
Emily Yoffe: Time for a decision by the grown siblings that all of you will get gifts only for the kids—with a clearly articulated "Get Out of Gift Giving Free" pass for those who can't afford that. Explain to your mother that enjoying each other's company is far more important that buying things you can't afford and that you've all decided not to participate in adult gift exchange. When she starts pouting, try not to sing, "You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout ..."
Atlanta, Ga.: My husband of six months has a daughter from a previous marriage. He was only 18 when she was born and hasn't had contact with her since she was a baby. When his ex remarried, my husband gave up his parental rights so his daughter could be adopted by the new husband. Now the daughter is 12 and has found my husband on Facebook and sent him a friend request. He hasn't responded yet. We aren't sure whether the mother is aware of the attempted communication or, as my husband suspects, has perhaps orchestrated it. I am of the opinion that communicating with his adolescent daughter after over a decade of absence from her life may lead her to invent unrealistic fantasies about him which may undermine her relationship with her mom and adoptive father. What should he do? My instinct is that he should wait until she's emotionally mature enough to avoid idealizing her absent birth father, but I'm not sure if that is fair. For the record, my husband told me about his daughter within the first week of dating. I've always known that she would probably try to connect with him at some point. I just thought it wouldn't be for about six more years.
Emily Yoffe: Besides being a great way to let your friends know your favorite TV shows, Facebook has become a primary means for long-lost or unknown relatives to show up in people's lives. His daughter has made the connection, and it would be cruel to ignore her while you wait for her to become more mature. But because the girl is a minor, you husband should contact his daughter's parents and tell them he has gotten this friend request. He should say he wants to initiate contact in a way that is most comfortable for all involved. Whatever her thoughts or fantasies, she wants to know reality, and she deserves to be able to meet her biological father—then all of you can go from there.
Jersey City, N.J.: I have an aunt who has very strong political beliefs: so strong that she feels the need to ram them down the throats of whomever happens to be in her company. There was a time when she was more polite, but lately she has become a fountain of rage. In the last two years, there has never been a family event in which she has not proceeded to rant and rave about how much she hates the president, all social welfare programs, and all individuals who happen to belong to different ethnic groups. This creates a heated, unpleasant environment. When she is told to please change the subject, she complies for a while, then continues with her rants. Now that she has ruined a second consecutive Thanksgiving dinner (which I worked very hard to prepare), I have had enough. How can I get her to be more civil?
Emily Yoffe: Before Christmas, have someone who gets along with your aunt call her and say that everyone understands her point of view but that all of you would prefer to keep politics out of family gatherings. Then have a family powwow and agree that all of you will take turns politely cutting off the political rants. When she starts, someone should say, "Judy, we agreed, no politics at the table." If she keeps going, ignore her and change the subject. And while she may simply be suffering from Democratically-Induced Personality Disorder, there is a possibility that someone who has gone from polite to uncontrollably rage-filled may need a medical check-up.
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