Dear Prudence answers readers' questions live at Washingtonpost.com.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Nov. 16 2009 5:00 PM

Must We Bear Hugs?

Prudie counsels a woman wary of her father-in-law's inappropriate embrace—and other advice seekers.

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Sacramento, Calif.: I have been dating a man for almost a year. Before we became sexually involved, we both got tested for some STD's and the results were negative. But I have never had the guts to tell him that I have had genital herpes for many years. I take daily medication so I won't have outbreaks or pass the virus on to him. The problem is, I feel really guilty for not being honest. At this point, is it better to tell him later than never, or just let sleeping dogs lie?

Emily Yoffe: How is it when the two of you were getting tested for STDs that you neglected to mention, "Hey, guess what, I've got one!" This isn't a sleeping dog, this is a sleeping virus, and yes, while you've got it under control, wouldn't you rather be the one to tell him, then have him stumble on a bottle of your acyclovir and wonder what else you haven't told him. This isn't going to be a pleasant conversation, but the good news is that you've demonstrated how low his risk has been because of the care you've taken. Nonetheless, you need to come clean, even if doing so puts your relationship at risk.

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Mexico: Hi Prudie, I hope you take my question as I have been struggling with this issue for years without finding a solution. I am 29 years old and my boyfriend of six years and me have been wanting to get married. The problem is my father. He is a very traditional, macho Mexican man who won't have his daughters marry anyone. I understand he is being unreasonable, since I think is normal to get married but the problem is should I tell him and risk him disowning me and having my entire family suffer his rage (I know he will take it out on my mother and siblings) or should I get married secretly and not tell him. I want peace in my family but I am not willing to sacrifice my own happiness. What am I missing here? Thanks!

Emily Yoffe: If such a tradition was truly traditional, the human race wouldn't have lasted long enough to pass on this tradition. I find it hard to blame on your father's culture, because every culture expects their offspring to find someone suitable and celebrates when that happens. There's something seriously wrong with your father and all of you need to stop letting him hold you hostage. You're 29, you don't need his permission to wed. If he will "take it out" on the rest of your family, they need to flee. Read the story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her monstrous father didn't want any of his children to marry, but she wrote some of the language's most beautiful love poems when she defied him, and ran off to Italy with her poet, Robert Browning.

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Arlington, Va.: Re: Long Hugs from FIL. I bet you get a lot of responses to this! This kind of person knows you will try to stay polite at all costs. The best thing to do (perhaps after the sons' talk) is to say loudly, Stop. Don't do that again please. (I would include the please only the first time, and maybe not even then).

I had a great-uncle do the same thing to me and all my cousins, and we were all too young and respectful of elders to say anything. I've often wished for a time machine to correct that. This guy is being slick and is not participating in a social behavior. Standing up to him is paramount.

Emily Yoffe: I like your suggestion that after the grabby father-in-law been warned, to call him out and stop him if he persists. You're so right, many people get away with horrible behavior by taking advantage of others' natural instincts not to cause a scene.

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Fairfax, Va.: Re: eating at cocktail parties. Husband sounds like he's been told at some point in his life that he was eating too much, hogging the good stuff or whatever, and has over-reacted. Yes, it is inappropriate at a cocktail party to try to make a dinner of the food that is passed, but you certainly can and should eat some of it. Anything else insults the hosts.

Emily Yoffe: I remember now that a variation on this was a recent Curb Your Enthusiasm episode. Larry David rebuked Christian Slater for violating the rule about hogging the caviar. The answer for the caviar hoggers is to take less, not put a "no food" injunction on everyone.

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New York, N.Y.: I got married to a great guy a little more than 2 years ago, and received many wonderful gifts. I wrote about three quarters of the thank you notes, but never finished that last quarter. I still feel very guilty about this, but my husband says that it's too late to write the remaining letters and it would just be more embarrassing to do it now than to not do it at all. Do you agree? Is there anything I can do?

Emily Yoffe: What a perfect opportunity to turn a late thank you note into an early Christmas card. Sit down and finish the notes. Apologize for your tardiness, tell the gift-givers how much you've enjoyed the gift, fill your friends in a little on the past year, and wish them the best for the holidays.

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Washington, DC: Can you give me advice on how to get my Blackberry-obsessed boyfriend to a) put the phone down more when we're together and b) to call me more rather than texting? He's driving me batty! Thanks so much for your help.

Emily Yoffe: I'll take B) first. If he needs to communicate something to you, what difference does it make if it's a text or a call?

As for A) you need to say something like, "Darling, I love being with you, but we're really not together if you're texting the entire time. Let's put away our PDAs when we're out for the evening." Then if he keeps thumbing, keep your cool, get up and say, "I see you've got a lot of important texts to deal with. So I'm going to go home now. Let's get together when you're not so pressed."

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