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.

(Continued from Page 2)

Bern, Switzerland: Hi Emily, totally love your columns! I have a problem concerning flatulence: I've been with my boyfriend for 6 years now and get along quite well with his parents. So do they with me, to the point that my boyfriend's Dad apparently considers me to be enough a part of the family to loosen up on his manners. What I mean is: He's farting when I'm around. Quite often. Loudly. Extensively. Last summer, we spent two weeks with them in a cottage on vacation, and I was totally stressed out, constantly waiting for his next fanfare. They have invited us for next summer, and this is already ruining the anticipation for the vacation. Not going isn't really an option, since my boyfriend would be devastated. In addition, his Dad recently has started farting around in OUR flat when he's over.

Now, I know you are quite lenient when it comes to reigning in one's bodily functions, but I'm from a family where this was a total no-go, and it really stresses me out. My boyfriend considers it totally disgusting, too, but of course got accustomed to it during the last 30 years, and it's his dad.

I feel totally awful because otherwise, he's a very nice and generous person. Any suggestions?

Emily Yoffe: Tell Dad to come on over to my house, he'd fit right in. So Dad's a wonderful guy who's been free-farting all his life. I'd say time to break out the Febreze, light the incense, plug in the fans, possibly invest in some gas masks. Your boyfriend should also have a private talk with his father explaining that not everyone is comfortable with his constant rendition of "Breaks Like the Wind." Have your boyfriend say that when Dad's with company it would really help if he acted as he would in any social or work setting, and exercised some sphincter control. But Dad's been at this for decades and he obviously considers you one of the family. Maybe you can wear a pomander ball around your neck.

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Re: New York, N.Y.: Why is it whenever I see these letters about forgetting to write thank you notes it's always from the woman? Does this woman know that her husband was a recipient of the gift as well? The burden to write thank you notes falls on the COUPLE, not just one party. Perhaps if this were a dual responsibility, more thank you notes would cease to be forgotten.

Emily Yoffe: Good point. The remiss thank you note writer should not be listening to her husband when he tells HER it's too late for HER to write the notes. She needs to say, "Honey, here are half the notes. We'll finish them tonight while we watch the game." Man up, men and say thanks!

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: How do you deal with a girlfriend's racist family? I'm Jewish and black (I'm Ethiopian, if you're thinking that combo is unlikely), two strikes against me. Her family detests me and makes of point of making racist and anti-Semetic jokes whenever I'm around. My girlfriend has confronted them about this, but they just laugh at her. The other person in the family who isn't a bigot, is the mother, who gets furious with her husband and sons when they belittle me. I limit my time with these people to a minimum, but sometimes I do have to attend a family reunion. Is there anything I can do to at least get them to shut up about how bigoted they are?

Emily Yoffe: Limiting to the point of complete absence sounds ideal. But for those times when you feel obligated to go to something with your girlfriend and you are the recipient of their racist, anti-Semitic bilge, give a stony look, a sad shake of the head, and turn and walk away.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Re: Blackberry obsessed boyfriend. Also, this woman should realize that if this is anywhere near the beginning of the relationship, it shows that he is way more interested in checking his options than being with you. I dealt with a man like this. Save yourself the heartbreak and end it. He should want to be focused on you, not have to be told to be focused on you. My current boyfriend will ignore his phone for days when we are spending time together. Maybe this a 2009 sign of love.

Emily Yoffe: Ah ha! This is that David Brooks column in which he says people who are on actual dates will continue to check possible better options throughout the night! And you're right, in 2009, ignoring the Blackberry is better than reciting, "How do I love thee?/ Let me count the ways."

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Boston: To the person embarrassed about not writing thank-you notes—I neglected to send a sympathy card several years ago to a family friend whose son died. I've felt awful about it ever since. Recently I screwed up the courage to talk to her about it and apologized. I feel MUCH better now. If you never send the notes, it will nag at you for a very long time. Just swallow your embarrassment and send them.

Emily Yoffe: So right. Even if a lot of time has passed, it's always worth it to make the gesture you wish you'd made.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Re: farting. Or, do what my family does: Next time he farts, say loudly, "Phew! Who farted?" Say it in a way that makes everyone laugh. Then we he 'fesses up, say, "You really gotta warn us next time so we can open the window." If this doesn't make him cut down on farting, at least you'll get some fresh air.

Emily Yoffe: Actually, they should rent my beagle. Half the time it is her, the other half we blame it on her.

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re: Sacramento: This is a good reminder that many STD's are not tested for, or don't show up on tests.

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