Slate’s Dear Prudence, Emily Yoffe, will take readers’ questions on wedding etiquette during a live chat Thursday, Sept. 11, at 1 p.m. Click here to submit a question.
I met my sweetheart when I was 14 and unexpectedly became pregnant at 16. There was no question that I would keep the baby. After much discussion, my boyfriend and I decided we wanted to get married before the baby was born. Our parents were understandably cautious but supportive, and they didn’t stand in our way. Eleven years later, we are still married and have three beautiful children. Our marriage is strong, our kids are thriving, and our household is a happy one. My problem is other people. When they find out how old I am and how long I’ve been married, it seems that their perception of me changes. Their response is always “Wow!” and then they just clam up. The feeling I get from people is that I should be ashamed. This comes up often, since I am the youngest mom at my child’s school. I find myself reluctant to tell people my age or how long I’ve been married. By the way, I am not advocating teen marriage. The first few years were very difficult. Thankfully we grew together, and I understand just how rare our experience is. What should I say to people to convey that we are just a normal, happy family that began a little sooner than most?
If you feel judged, you must have a lot of sympathy for Bristol Palin, the pregnant teen who’s getting married with an entire nation acting as if it should be in the pews whispering about the bride’s belly. I hope her story turns out to be as gratifying as yours. Unfortunately, as you know, yours is a rare outcome. Only 20 percent of pregnant teens do get married. And people who marry under the age of 18 have the country’s highest divorce rate, with about 60 percent of the marriages ending within 15 years. That said, the statistics leave plenty of room for delightful exceptions such as yours. Yes, you’re right, when people find out how young you are, they are doing the math and realizing that, “Wow!” you were a teenage bride. But there’s no reason to assume that “Wow!” is a synonym for “Shame on you.” It’s just as likely a simple recognition of your unusual situation. (In my circle, the “wows” over parental age are usually about the fact that the parents are as old as the Bible’s Abraham and Sarah.) Since no one’s asking you to explain your family situation, you certainly don’t have to come up with anything to say to convey how happy you are; your happiness conveys itself. If someone does comment, you can just say cheerfully, “Yes, we got an early start.” Try to let go of your lingering sense that there is something embarrassing about how your family began, and be confident about the success you and your husband have worked so hard to achieve.
My girlfriend and I have been going out for close to a year now, and it is quickly becoming serious. We are both in our early 20s, and I am in love with her and am considering taking it to the next level, except there is one recurring issue that I am not sure how to deal with. I am worried that she is showing tendencies toward physical abuse. It all began once we started getting close. I would get the occasional “playful” shove or hit, and I thought nothing of it or that she was being cute. However, more recently these playful hits have become less benign. When she gets upset or frustrated at me she sometimes punches me forcefully in the arm. She’s even slapped me hard across the face. In the subway once, she was frustrated that I was taking too long to sit down and shoved me; I was off-balance and flew into the window. This is really embarrassing for me to think about, as I am more than twice her size, but it seems that the way she vents her anger or frustration is by hitting me. I never imagined, as a male, this would happen to me. Why is this happening to me and what should I do to stop it?—Bruised and Confused
If you go ahead and take your relationship to the next level, you might want to make sure the elevator to that level makes a stop at the trauma ward. Your girlfriend is not showing “tendencies” toward physical abuse—she is physically abusing you. There is nothing playful or cute about being shoved into a window on a moving subway. Yes, most domestic abuse is of the male-to-female kind. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t abuse of men, and often it’s hidden because, as you know, it’s not only humiliating but can seem faintly ridiculous given the physical disproportion of the parties. But a large man who has restraint and decency in the face of being physically attacked by a smaller female partner is no less a recipient of domestic abuse than a woman attacked by a large man. The reason this is happening to you is that you are continuing to stay in a romance with someone who has proven she is dangerously out of control. What you should do to stop it is swiftly and completely end this relationship.
I dated a man for a couple of months who is kind, generous, hardworking, handsome, and fit. He’s perfect, except for the fact that he is not my intellectual equal. I simply found our conversations to be too limited and would cringe inside every time he would misuse or mispronounce a word. Of course, I did not mention this as my reason for breaking up with him; I simply said that we didn’t have enough in common. He has maintained sporadic contact with me over the past few years and has now asked me “in all honesty, as a friend,” why I think he is still single at the age of 50. Certainly, I can only speak from my own perspective, and I don’t see how I can help him by bringing up something hurtful that he cannot change. Unfortunately, he won’t accept the vague answers I have given him. What more can I say?
Perhaps your friend’s problem is that he dates only women who belong to Mensa. I find it hard to believe a kind, generous, hardworking, handsome, and fit man who happens to be of humble intellectual accomplishment hasn’t been swarmed by women with similarly modest vocabularies. Just because someone has a way with words reminiscent of our current president doesn’t mean he’s condemned to being a lonely, malapropism-spouting bachelor. It’s likely that the reason you broke up with him and the reason he’s still single are two different issues. It’s a little creepy that after you’ve given him a vague, friendly answer to his question, he keeps pestering you, years after you dated briefly, to tell him why he’s not married. That itself is perhaps indicative that he has bigger problems than the need for a word-a-day calendar. You could tell him that you personally go for more bookish guys, and then close the book on the subject.
I was recently invited to a friend’s wedding. Enclosed with the invitation was a slip of paper listing the stores where the couple is registered along with the message: “Please include a gift receipt.” Am I right to find this message a bit rude? I feel like my friend is announcing, “We have picked out exactly what we want you to buy but still think you’ll screw up the job, so we want to make sure it’s returnable.” Or maybe they already know that they don’t want the crap they registered for and are just looking for a way to get cash? Frankly, I’d rather skip the middle man (and the shipping fees) if they don’t trust me enough to buy what they have already indicated they want. Am I out of line? (And isn’t there a better way for them to ask for cash if that’s what they need most?)
—Presumptively Incompetent Giver
I always enjoy hearing about the ever-escalating ways engaged couples seek to chisel the goods out of their friends and loved ones. The innovation here is that the couple clearly doesn’t want the stuff they’ve designated, but they feel they’re too classy to come right out and say, “Just give us cash.” Here’s a tip for engaged couples: The invitation should announce the where and when of the wedding and say nothing about the “What I want.” For that, you wait until your guests start inquiring, and then, as Peggy Post (heir to Emily’s mantle) advises, you graciously say anything they feel like getting you would be delightful and that you’ve also registered at Crate and Barrel if they want some guidance. If what you want is cash, Ms. Post advises saying you’re saving for a big purchase and a check would be most appreciated. (Miss Manners demurs that there is no polite way to say, “Show me the money.”) What couples like your friends don’t realize is that people who care about them actually enjoy the act of getting them something meaningful to mark the occasion of their starting their lives together. But these couples are killing that pleasure by acting as if they are collection agencies calling in their friends’ debts. So, sure, go ahead and write this couple a check—maybe they’ll even surprise you and send a thank-you note.