Slate’s Dear Prudence, Emily Yoffe, will take readers’ questions on wedding etiquette during a live chat today, Sept. 11, at 1 p.m. Click hereto submit a question.
A few years ago my late husband and I made a video of ourselves. It features me performing oral sex on him. It isn’t particularly hard-core, we are in shadow, and there is no “money shot,” but it is obvious what is going on and who is involved. We had a wonderful marriage, and I enjoy watching this video and reminiscing every once in a while. My question is, how can I prevent my children from looking at it after I die? I don’t want to destroy it, but I may not know when the end is coming. I can’t think of any way of labeling it, or even telling them what is on it and asking them not to peek, that would keep them from watching it just out of curiosity. If they did watch it, would it harm them or make them think less of their parents?
—Keep It Private
You do not have to deep-six your Deep Throat video, and it’s a tribute to the erotic robustness of your marriage that you have this memento and that it brings you pleasure. You’re right, we don’t necessarily know when the end is coming, but often we get a warning, and if you do, you should dispose of the video then. But otherwise, keep it in an envelope labeled “Private” that you store with other personal effects. You can put a letter around the video addressed to your children and tell them you don’t mean to sound tantalizing, but the video was just for you and your late husband, and if they are reading this letter, it means you weren’t able to destroy it before your death. Write that out of respect for their parents, you ask that they toss the video without watching it. After that, if they can’t resist this forbidden fruit, at least they’ve been warned of the knowledge that will come from partaking. If they look, your children will surely wish they had heeded that little voice that said, “You’re about to pop a ‘Mom and Dad Sex Video’ into the VCR,” but they will also never forget that their parents were really wild for each other.
I come from a tight-knit family, but a recent incident has caused some serious strain between my brother and me. For the first few months of this year, a friend, “Alice,” and I dated. Things were fairly casual, but I became pretty taken with her, and as time progressed we talked about getting more serious. So I was shocked to hear from a mutual friend that she had been secretly seeing my younger brother, and the two had fallen hard for each other. When I confronted them, they both admitted it and apologized for hurting me; since then, though, they have continued to date. Alice has also continued to try to be friendly with me, and, because we all have a lot of mutual friends, I’m around the two of them often. I can’t help but feel betrayed and creeped out, and have told them that their relationship is hurtful and makes me uncomfortable. They say that I’m being unreasonable and trying to get in the way of their happiness, but it seems to me that they’re being selfish and insensitive. Am I wrong to want my brother and Alice to cool it?
—Burned by Brotherly Love
Although it’s not very good, you might want to rent Dan in Real Life, the Steve Carell movie about the guy who falls in love with his brother’s girlfriend, and she with him. Sure, it’s tense and awkward when the situation is revealed, but in the end everyone understands that, hey, you can’t put the kibosh on love. Or you could contemplate the Blaise Pascal quote, “The heart has its reason which reason does not know,” which Woody Allen paraphrased to explain why he was having an affair with the daughter of his longtime lover, Mia Farrow. OK, all this may not be making you feel better, and you’re absolutely right that your brother and Alice acted like snakes, but they are happy together in a way that you admit you and Alice weren’t. Sure, you’d like to get even by at least making them break up so as not to further remind you of your humiliation. Instead, you could decide that no matter what happens between your brother and Alice, you aren’t going to feel humiliated anymore. You could start joking that Dan in Real Life isn’t nearly as entertaining as your real life. Then you can wish your brother and Alice well and go looking for your own true love.
I am an older college student and I have become good friends with my neighbor, who has a similar background. While we have different perspectives on life and school (I am very grateful to have a “second chance” while she frequently complains about the obstacles she faces), I very much enjoy her company. The problem is that she’s a closet racist—she and her husband have told me so—yet it rarely comes up, and they are not flamboyant about it. We live in student housing, which has a large proportion of foreign students. I love this and am happy that my daughter has the opportunity to play with kids from different cultures. My friend, however, has made it very clear that she does not like a 7-year-old African girl because she was “mean” to her son, who’s around the same age. I witnessed the events that led up to this accusation, and the girl did nothing wrong. The girl is not welcome in my friend’s house, and my friend has even tattled on the girl to me, presumably hoping I would not allow my daughter to play with her, either. How do I handle this? And is there a diplomatic way to point out to her that the “mean” girl is a product of her own racist imagination?
Your friend is not a closet racist; she’s a racist. After all, she and her husband acknowledged to you that they harbor racist views, but they are apparently savvy enough to know that going around campus in Klan wear is only going to make life more unpleasant than it already is, what with the place crawling with people of different pigments. After that confession, I find it hard to believe you could continue to enjoy her company, especially since you have seen her racism in action, directed against a 7-year-old child. You handle this situation by dealing with it directly. Tell your friend—maybe she will soon be only your neighbor—that you were deeply disturbed by her confession to you of her racist views, but you weren’t sure how to react. Because it is unavoidable that you will see her constantly, and because you might get through to her better if you don’t use a bludgeon, convey that you still feel much affection for her but that you find racism intolerable. Say that you can’t keep silent over what you see as her bigotry toward her son’s black playmate. Explain that you saw the interactions between the girl and her son, and what you observed was normal behavior for small children. Then tell her you simply can’t support her in her treatment of this child.
My biological grandmother died young before I was born. Of her many grandchildren, only my brother, who was a toddler when she died, ever knew her. My grandfather remarried shortly afterward. My cousins and I have known our stepgrandmother by only her first name, “Beatrice.” Our parents do not call her “Mom” nor have they said, “This is your grandmother.” My mother has hostile feelings toward her. My uncle told his sons that she is not their grandmother, and they will not call her that. At Christmas last year, Beatrice pulled me and my brother outside and asked us why we don’t call her “Grandma.” When my brother answered without hesitation that it is because she’s not our biological grandmother, she replied that she was the only grandmother we knew. Her question, of course, upset our parents. Neither of them said anything to her because they felt that we responded properly. I understand her wanting to be my “Grandma” and that not every family has biological ties, with adoptions, divorce, etc. But I feel that if I refer to her as “Grandma,” I would be forgetting the memory of my real grandmother. How should I deal with this?
—Confused Family Member
Unless Beatrice put strychnine in your late grandmother’s coffee, you have presented no reason for the long-running hostility toward her. Perhaps your mother and uncle felt your grandfather remarried too quickly—or, worse, maybe Beatrice was part of your grandfather’s life before your grandmother died. Even so, this cold war should have ended long ago. It’s hardly a tribute to someone’s memory to be forever frosty to the person who is making the surviving spouse happy. Beatrice probably should have brought this issue up with your parents before putting you on the spot, but maybe she knew how your parents would react. Your parents and uncle may never like Beatrice, but it is gratuitous for them to pass their animosity to the next generation. You all sound old enough to discuss this with your parents directly. Ask them why they remain so angry. Then ask yourselves, why not honor the only grandmother you have ever known by calling her “Grandma”?