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

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Jan. 11 2010 2:35 PM

Grandma's Prison Pen Pal

Prudie offers advice on what to do when an elderly relative is looking for love in all the wrong places—and other dilemmas.

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.)

(Continued from Page 1)

Emily Yoffe: You did go out with "them" twice, so even though "them" is into you, and you're not into "them," you owe "them" the courtesy of an explanation: "I really enjoyed meeting you, but we just didn't click romantically. I wish you the best."

_______________________

Oregon: My brother and his daughter have a volatile relationship. She recently had a baby girl and has cut off all communication with her heartbroken dad. She says he is too controlling and critical. I love them both (they are both wonderful people) and feel torn about what to do. They just don't seem willing to listen to each other. I don't want to take sides, and I don't want them to get upset with me while I try to stay neutral. Is there anything I can say to them that will keep me out of the turmoil?

Emily Yoffe: Your niece just had a baby (is she on her own?) and so needs support. Go and see her and do helpful auntie things with her, and for the time being stay away from the topic of her father. You can, however, report how she's doing to her father; say you are trying to help her in a difficult time and that you hope eventually you will be able to persuade her to resume contact.

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"Writing '2010' on the checks": What's a "check," grandma? Don't you pay your bills online?

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Emily Yoffe: You mean that Interwebs thing the young folks keep talking about? I'm too busy crocheting antimacassars to get into that.

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New York, N.Y.: I am a 19-year-old from New York who has a brother in his 30s, and we share the same father. He has lived in Pennsylvania for about seven years. He is married and now has two girls, 7 and 4. Throughout that time, I have only seen him about once, and that was for a funeral. I also have never met my nieces. He recently called over the holiday season and asked me to come visit him, as well as reminding me that I have nieces that I have never met. I have mixed feelings about going to visit him because I do not share the same relationship with him like I do with my other siblings. On one hand, I would love to go visit him and his family. But on the other hand, I don't because we went this long without seeing each other, so why start now? But for some reason I feel so guilty for not going to meet my nieces. And for me, it has been out of sight, out of mind. Now I don't know what to do. Should I visit or not?

Emily Yoffe: I'm going to infer from the letter that your father started a second family that perhaps has gotten a great deal more time and attention than the child or children of his first family. But now that your half-brother has children of his own, he's feeling that he wants to connect more fully to his missing parts, both for himself and his children. It's usually difficult and awkward to start a new family relationship between long-estranged members, but you're not far away, and it seems worth it to at least make a gesture toward reconnecting this lost brother with the rest of you.

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Boston: Is it OK to stay married to one's spouse "for the sake of the children"? My spouse of almost 20 years and I (we're both professionals) have a comfortable lifestyle, but spouse exhibits extremely controlling behavior—tells me what I should or shouldn't eat, drink, wear, etc., and demands constant attention. Constantly calls me at work, calls to check on me—almost hourly—when I'm doing errands in the car. Calls me when I'm on a weekend away with college friends, etc. I've never given Spouse any reason to doubt me or my fidelity. Spouse refuses to join me in counseling (with clergy or professional), even though I've suggested it many times. Spouse can't admit that spouse has control issue. If it were just I and spouse, I'd be long gone.

However, we have two wonderful, smart teenage kids. Both Spouse and I adore them and don't want to see them hurt. However, our kids are savvy enough to recognize Spouse's controlling behavior—they should, because they are on the receiving end of it as well. Spouse is strong-willed and simply won't recognize the problem. We (kids and I) are feeling suffocated.

The younger child is still five years away from college and leaving home. I've pretty much decided to stick it out until this happens—I'll be just 50 years old. Should I gut it out or upset the apple cart sooner?

Emily Yoffe: What's with the pronouns, or lack of them today? First someone was dating "them," now it's you and "Spouse." Living with your spouse sounds intolerable. I wonder if it's always been that way, or if Spouse's behavior has escalated over the years. Since Spouse won't join you for counseling, you need to tell him, I mean Spouse, that you are going by yourself to help you clarify your situation. Explain that you've reached a breaking point with the constant monitoring, dictating, and distrust, and your marriage is falling apart. Say you are reluctant to break up your family, but you no longer can live under the current conditions, and it's Spouse's choice whether or not to recognize what's wrong and try to address it.

_______________________

Re: 2010: Who still writes checks?

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