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.)
Brooklyn, N.Y.: My loving if not crazy in-laws call my husband incessantly. If we do not pick up the phone at home, then they leave long, saddened messages and continue to call until we pick up or turn our phones off. They have very little to do as they are both retired. Because I want to respect them, how do I lovingly suggest that they cut the phone cord?
Emily Yoffe: This is for your husband to do. He needs to explain that he's happy to talk to them on some specific schedule—be it every other day or once or twice a week, and that unless there's an emergency, the two of you just don't have time for long, daily chats. Their son can express his concern that they seem bored and at loose ends and suggest that they look into taking classes or doing volunteer work so their days are more fulfilling. Beyond that, if they continue to call, continue to ignore them. If you don't reward their behavior, you have a better chance of stopping it.
Washington, DC: I have finally lost it and don't know where else to turn for advice. I am a 31-year-old single female. The problem is that I do not have breasts. It's not that they are small, but the problem is much worse—they look like a man's flat chest. I have been to doctors, and they have told me that everything is fine, and my breasts just didn't develop. So I have become accustomed to wearing padded bras.
My problem is with men. When I date them and the time comes for them to see me without clothes, they literally freak when they see me and I never hear from them again. Same thing happens when I get the nerve to tell them about it before anything physical happens. I never hear from them again. I cannot afford to get implants. How can I go on and approach these men in a different way so that I can actually have a physical relationship with someone?
Emily Yoffe: I'm no doctor, but it doesn't seem to me that "everything is fine" if a woman never develops any breasts at all. I think you need to find some new doctors—perhaps an endocrinologist?—who can try to unravel why you missed this developmental step. Then, if there is no medical treatment for this, don't give up on the possibility of plastic surgery. Perhaps breast implants for you could be covered by insurance because this is not cosmetic, but due to a medical problem. No, I don't think everyone should have to conform their body to some ridiculous standard, but with all the available medical fixes, there's no reason for you to have to go through life feeling terrible about something that could be fairly easily fixed.
Salem, Ore.: At times when I've worked retail and office jobs, customers or co-workers have told me how red my face is. All I know is that it's heat-related, and I have no money for a diagnosis. I found a tinted cream to cover the redness somewhat. With a co-worker situation, I feel comfortable giving replies I can't in a retail case. I see these remarks as rude and would like to tell people so but can't. Sometimes I ignore them; sometimes I look at them without saying anything. If they ask about a sunburn, I simply say no. What do they expect me to say, "Really?! I "had no idea!" It's like telling someone, "You're fat!" or "You're bald!" What would you tell people?
Emily Yoffe: I wish there could be a blanket New Year's resolution that gets people to resist the temptation to point out unusual physical aspects of others. The amount of mail I get on this is astounding. If you're dealing with a customer, not saying anything is a good strategy, or could you simply say, "Yes, I know" and refuse to say anything else.
And I am sorry to get yet another letter from someone with a medical condition that makes life unpleasant but who says seeing a doctor is just too expensive. A chronically red face is something that may be quite treatable. I suggest you contact your nearest medical school, explain your financial condition, and see if you can get discount treatment. You shouldn't have to suffer with an undiagnosed condition.
Burlington, Vt.: My partner's family is totally wonderful in a lot of ways. However they have a custom that I find pretty intrusive and unhygienic. They all kiss each other on the lips! I was introduced to this when meeting his uncle, and he put his arm around my neck, and drew me in for a big, wet one. Now when we go to family gatherings, I obsess about how I'm going to avoid kissing a dozen people on the lips. My partner seems to think this isn't a big deal. I try to avoid it by turning my head quickly so the kiss lands on my cheek, but that doesn't always work. Is there any way I can avoid this custom without awkwardly announcing that I don't like it?
Emily Yoffe: Blech!! You could try to explain you're just not a kissy person, but by the time you open your mouth to say this, Uncle Harry could already have his tongue in it. So why not try a defensive maneuver by announcing at the door, "I think I'm coming down with something, so no one should kiss me!" If anyone then moves in for the kill, you could put your hand out and say, "I don't want to give you my germs!" They can ponder over that years that whenever you visit, you are always on the verge of a cold.
Postpartum: I recently helped a friend through this, so perhaps anecdotal stuff might help a little. First, congrats on being there for your wife. A thought—your wife might react better to discussion of it being medical, a hormonal imbalance that can be addressed. To me, it is obviously postpartum depression as the symptoms are the same with my friend. The docs who helped her were wonderful and sympathetic—far from being an added stress, for my friend it was like having a weight lifted off. Half a year on, she's a different person from the one who told her husband, "I don't think I'm safe with the baby."
Emily Yoffe: As distressing as this situation is, it is so amenable to help that you're right, in a few months, the mother may feel like a totally different person. Good idea for the husband to emphasize his wife is going through a medical crisis, and he should take the initiative in getting her help immediately.
To Ms. Malaprop:: My ex-husband used to have some dreadful pronunciation issues (pacific for specific, escarole for escrow, acrossed for across—you get the idea) and used the word abruption once, saying that he did not want to "be the blunt [he meant brunt] of my abruption" (meaning an argument). Correcting does little, and she probably sees it as your lording a better vocabulary over her. Be patient and kind and continue re-repeating the word in correct context or with correct pronunciation—it is much kinder than pointing out the mistake. It used to make me wince during a conversation with others that my ex used to make these faux pas, but I realized it had more to do with me than with him!