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 your questions.
Bay Area, Calif.: I love my mom dearly and am not sure how to tell her (or even if I should) that her facial hair is out of control. After she went through menopause (many years ago), I noticed she had a substantial mustache and beard, but she must have started taking hormone replacement drugs because they disappeared. Now, she is in her late 60s, and the mustache is back and very thick and noticeable. Surely she knows she has it; do I need to butt out, or is there a gentle way to suggest she do something?
Emily Yoffe: When Mom is mistaken for Dad, it's time to speak up. I think any woman would prefer to be told by a loved one she looks like Groucho Marx, rather than go through life having people think, "Hey, there goes one of the Marx Brothers!" Before you tell your mother, investigate where some electrologists or laser hair removal places are in her area, so you can simultaneously break the news, "Mom, while you otherwise look great, I've noticed that your facial hair is getting a little heavy," and propose a solution.
Anywhere, USA: I am having some trouble with my son, "Charlie." This past spring, he got married. He and his bride decided to exclude my other son's children, two boys aged 6 and 9, from their wedding festivities. We are a close-knit family, and this was very disappointing to his nephews. I tried to convince him that his actions were hurtful, but he would not listen. Things were said in anger, and as a result, I and my family chose not to attend the wedding if everyone would not be invited.
Since then, he has cut off all communication with us, he won't take or return our calls, and he even "un-friended" his brother on Facebook. My grandchildren's birthdays came and went, and he didn't bother to send a card or even call them to wish them happy birthday.
Prudie, this is not how I raised my son to behave, and it's the kids who are suffering most from this family feud. My heart breaks for them. With the holidays approaching, they're sure to ask why Uncle Charlie hasn't come. They must feel as though he doesn't love them. How do I encourage him to make amends? I just want our family to be whole again.
Emily Yoffe: You say you didn't raise your son to escalate small disagreements into major breaches, but, Mom, you led the rest of the family into a boycott of your son's wedding ceremony! I'd say he's absorbed the upbringing you gave him very well. Your son and his wife didn't want children at the wedding. That is a perfectly reasonable decision to make, even if two of the children excluded were his nephews. It may have annoyed everyone, but what the people with children do is hire a babysitter, keep their complaints to themselves, and enjoy a child-free afternoon.
You can try the politician's passive "mistakes were made" locution, but you and the others who didn't go made a whopper of a mistake. Own up. Write a sincere letter of apology saying you made a bad decision by not going to the wedding, and the estrangement is tearing everyone apart. Ask their forgiveness and invite the newlyweds out for a peace dinner. Your other son should send his own letter if he would like to repair relations. Do it now—maybe this Thanksgiving you can all share a family meal.
New York City: Thirty-five years ago I was traveling in Europe with a fellow college student (who I really did not know that well). About two weeks before we came home (it was a six-week trip)—he asked me one night (on a city street) if I was gay—and I said "probably." He then slugged me (broke a tooth), walked off, and I never spoke to him again.
He has recently connected with me via Facebook - and is quite openly gay and has a long-time lover. (I am currently involved in my own relationship with a woman.) He and his companion are coming to NYC and want to get together for drinks/dinner.
That is fine (I do not hold grudges)—but there is a small elephant in the room. I cannot envision me sitting across from him and his friend all evening and saying absolutely nothing. Should I bring it up ahead of time or wait until sometime we are together? He has made absolutely no mention of the incident so far.
Emily Yoffe: Each week I am forced to revise my original opinion that Facebook is a great innovation for keeping people in touch, to believing that it is merely a canvas for members to act out strange, unresolved conflicts and desires.
You may want to have dinner with a college acquaintance who once hauled off and slugged you because he was projecting his own sexual confusion, and with whom you haven't spoken since he smashed you in the mouth. I would not. If you want to go, say or don't say whatever you like. I would say to the invitation, "Thirty-five years of not seeing you is such a long time, but not long enough. Let's try to get together, perhaps, in another 35."
Washington, D.C.: Prudie, how does one get out of an emotional rut? I screwed up a relationship with a beautiful intelligent woman who I now want to marry (she lives in NY). My attempts to communicate with her have been ignored. But I'm stuck head over heels for her and can't seem to move on. Dating hasn't worked. Being active volunteering hasn't worked. Time heals all wounds, but time hasn't worked yet either. What's my next option?
Emily Yoffe: I'm assuming you screwed up by screwing someone else or by being such a lousy, neglectful boyfriend that your beautiful intelligent woman came to the smart conclusion that she should walk. Perhaps your revelation that she's the one comes not only from the fact that you now realize you want to marry her, but also from your desire not to let her have the last (non)word. How thrilling it would be to trash your relationship, then win her back!
She doesn't want you back.
So accept the fact that life presents us with opportunities to find more than one "one," and that you have learned a mighty life lesson when the next one comes along.
Arlington, Va.: My son has a immunodeficiency condition that doesn't allow him to get a flu vaccine or any of the other vaccines (mumps, rubella, chicken pox, etc.). As a result, we'll have to put him in a private school that requires all kids to have the shots, except for extraordinary conditions like my son. My sister, on the other hand, is a conspiracy nut. She believes, with certainty, that vaccines cause autism and has not vaccinated any of her three children. As a result, I don't let them near my son. My sister is furious with me, telling me that the odds of her kids being sick and passing it on to my son are so low that I shouldn't worry about it. She has rallied my family to agree with her, and they are pressuring me to attend all family gathering with my sister's kids and my son. Should I cave for family harmony, or should I stick to my guns?
Emily Yoffe: This requires a consultation with your doctor, so that you can make your decision—and let your family know what it is—based on sound medical advice. Of course sound medical advice is the thing your sister is probably not willing to hear since there is no evidence that vaccines cause autism. It is people like her who put everyone else at risk by counting on the rest of us to vaccinate so herd immunity protects her kids. As with the letter from the mother who organized a boycott of her son's wedding, it is very unpleasant to be the recipient of a family-wide decision about whether what you're doing is appropriate or not. So try to convey to people that you have a serious medical issue to deal with, and you would appreciate loving understanding as you make it, instead of judgment and pressure.
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