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

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Jan. 4 2010 2:44 PM

Dress Me Up, Dress Me Down

Prudie counsels a woman whose sister's snide remarks are driving family members away—and other advice seekers.

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.)

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I am getting fearful of leaving our daughter with my wife as she has told me she has come close to hitting her or shaking her several times.

I do what I can to ease the burden on my wife. I do all the cooking, dishes, washing of bottles and pump parts, and cleaning. I also do half of the picking up from day care and taking to day care. My wife works some evening shifts and weekend shifts, so I get lots of one-on-one time with my daughter, which I greatly enjoy. Please help.

Emily Yoffe: Your wife sounds as if she's suffering from postpartum depression and you need to act immediately. You should call her gynecologist and have a talk with her or him explaining that you are alarmed about your wife's condition, especially the fact that she herself is worried about harming the baby. Your wife needs to go in NOW for a complete evaluation—medication could be a lifesaver here. Also contact Postpartum.net and get information so that you can understand your wife's situation better. Do this today—your wife is in crisis, but fortunately good help is available. Brooke Shields also suffered from this and wrote a book about her recovery; reading it might help your wife feel less alone.

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Chicago: We have a close friend who is prone to embarrassing malapropisms that surpass even the best Norm Crosby bit. These are not innocent and simple mispronunciations—but ugly mangling of words including misuse and lack of understanding of the meaning of some words. I know that many words have multiple pronunciations and meanings, but this is beyond brutal. Some of them are funny, some are faux pas that make you wince and want to help. We used to try to help by repeating the word correctly in conversation after she had mangled it. No success. We have tried the direct approach—like a teacher—but this was rebuffed. We never did any of this in public but in private, away from others. And we picked our spots—only bringing up the worst cases. But she takes offense and continues mispronouncing words and inserting them in conversation where they don't belong. Recently, my wife used the word adept, and now our friend mispronounces it and uses it like apt. It is like she has her own language. My wife has stopped trying to correct her. Her husband is no help and does the same thing on a smaller scale. I refuse to throw in the towel as I can't understand why anyone would not want to expand their vocabulary—correctly. I would want to know if I was saying tenor for tenure and FOIL-AGE for any of the many accepted versions of foliage. We are 57 and of sound mind. She does not have a hearing problem.

Emily Yoffe: Your friend probably has some sort of language processing disorder (there was speculation that the George Bush's malapropisms, "I know you want to put food on your family," etc., might have come from such a disorder), and all the schoolmarmish corrections in the world won't "cure" her. It's good you mention Norm Crosby, because he built an entire career on amusingly mangling language. I don't know why you consider being with your friend "brutal." It sounds as if you usually understand what she means, and when you don't, you can ask for more context. Trying to keep a straight face seems like the biggest problem you face in socializing with her. So just be compassionate and let it go, and when you get in the car, you can laugh at her best neologisms.

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Chicago, IL: Regarding the donor who gives the gift to the Heifer fund each year—the cause is great, but the letter writer has a point: The donor has chosen his/her own charity to which to make the donation. My daughter—who loves animals—would love to have a gift made in her name to the ASPCA, or to the Humane Society, or to a local (to us) animal shelter.

Perhaps this year's thank-you cards to the donor can include a request that such donations made in the kids' names should be made to the kids' choice of (responsible) charitable organizations? This would truly personalize (to the kids) the gifts made by the donor.

Emily Yoffe: If someone is making a donation to the Heifer fund for a vegan, that might be a problem. And I agree the donation gift is best targeted to the recipient's interests, but the Heifer fund and others of its ilk do fabulous work, and it's hard to imagine who wouldn't agree with the idea of helping the world's poor become self-sufficient. So the recipient should show her kids the Heifer Web site and say, "Aunt Deborah donated to this group in our name, and look at the good things the money will do." In this case, it seems like a good thing to look a gift cow in the mouth.

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New York: I'm a graduate student who has recently moved to a new city. Often on the weekends, I find myself with a group of friends at bars. Several times, I've had a very pleasant conversation with a stranger at the bar, only to have him ask for my phone number and/or a date at the end of the chat. I'd love to go out with these men as I'm new to the city and enjoy making new friends and seeing new things. Here's the problem—I'm not looking for a long-term relationship, even though I'm single. I feel bad accepting their offers of dinner or a drink if I know that nothing romantic is going to come of it. (Even if I split the check with them, I don't want them to feel as though they've wasted their time.) Is there a tactful way to let them know that I'd love to go to dinner, but I'm not interested in dating?

Emily Yoffe: You don't say why you aren't interested in a long term relationship—is it because you are involved with someone else, or because you don't want romance to distract from your studies? If it's the former, that's something you need to make clear before you go out with someone of the opposite sex. But if it's the latter, well, the person you meet at a bar who asks you out for drinks may not be envisioning walking down the aisle with you, either. There are no false pretenses in getting to know people in a new city, so go ahead for that drink or dinner, then as you talk about your lives, you can make it clear you're looking for friendship, not romance. But, again, why rule out romance entirely?

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Clarksville, Md.: You are simply wrong about the supposed "gift" of a charity donation. The donation to a charity is between the person who donates (which is the person who can receive the tax deduction) and the charity. The third party, in the case the supposed "gift" recipient, has not received any type of gift. Such a gift is offensive. It is simply not a gift. This has nothing to do with the value of the charity which receives the donation and everything to do with the definition of what a gift is.

Emily Yoffe: Clarksville, I hope everyone on your list knows you'd rather get a puce scarf from the sale rack than a donation to a worthy cause in your name.

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