Click here to read a transcript of Prudie’s live weekly chat with readers at Washingtonpost.com.
I’m married to a wonderful woman who has been everything I could ever want in a partner. There has been only one recurring issue between us that has ever caused strain: thespianism. I didn’t find out until after college and we had moved in together (she gave it up for four years to study) that she is a local-theater nut. It frequently keeps her out of the house four to seven nights a week. This isn’t a once-in-a-while thing, either; she’ll do four shows a year, meaning she’s in a show more often than she isn’t. I’ve tried doing shows with her, but it just isn’t my thing. All this drama has me feeling like I’m a second priority in her life, and it constantly means we’re not doing things together. What’s really brought this to a head is that she has decided to start auditioning for summer shows (she’s a teacher and has summers off) that will possibly have her away from the house for 90 days straight. I’m feeling conflicted—this isn’t what I want in my marriage, but I don’t want to stand in the way of her dreams.
—Another Opening, Another Show
Your drama queen’s dreams are putting a scrim between your expectations of married life and reality. If a consuming hobby means someone is out almost every night, then the left-behind spouse is either going to be filled with resentment or, worse, construct a life that assumes one’s beloved is usually missing or, worst, possibly start looking for an understudy. This is not to say people who are passionate about golf, or biking, or pottery, or theater should just give it up so they can spend their free time with their spouse working on that exciting project re-grouting the shower. But a successful relationship requires weighing the longing to play Miss Hannigan in Annie with recognizing that you can’t make “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow” the theme of your marriage. Tell your wife you want her to fulfill her thespian desires but that you miss her, and you need a better balance between her independent pursuits and the time you spend as a couple. Ask if she’ll both cut down on the overall number of productions she’s in and figure out if there’s a way she can be in summer stock without leaving you to star in your own version of The Bachelor.
My father died in surgery when I was 20. This was painful, but we had a loving relationship, and I grieved and worked past it. My mother committed suicide when I was 21. It was terrible, and getting over it was compounded by the fact that we had had a difficult relationship. My problem is with people I meet at work or new acquaintances. I’m completely comfortable with the inevitable “So what do your parents do?” question, since I’m still young and it’s a reasonable assumption that they are alive. However, when I calmly state they have been deceased for many years, some people follow up with asking how it happened or other probing questions. Until I know someone to a certain degree, I do not want to open this subject. I find I completely lack the words or resources to deflect this question. One of the first people who asked me, before I learned to be vague, actually asked how my mother killed herself. What do I do?
Person You Don’t Know Well: So, where do your parents live?
You: Unfortunately, my parents are both deceased.
PYDKW: I’m so sorry. That’s terrible. What happened?
You: They died—and it’s a painful subject so I hope you understand I’d rather not talk about it.
PYDKW: But you’re so young! How old were you when they died?
You: I’m so glad winter’s finally over—aren’t you? I saw some daffodils yesterday.
PYDKW: Did they die in an accident or something?
You: You’ll have to excuse me. I’ve got to get back to my desk. OR: You’ll have to excuse me. I need to freshen my drink.
Twenty-odd years ago, I was a painfully shy art geek at my small high school, where a group of girls went out of their way to bully me and make my life a living hell. Then I would go home to my alcoholic father, who was physically abusive to me and my mother. After years in therapy, I have since gone on to have a successful career, a group of amazing friends, and a life filled with travel and love and the usual ups and downs. Recently, I found my only friend from high school via social networking and was thrilled to be in touch. That has led to his contacts from high school wanting to connect with me as well. Some of them were part of the gang of cruel girls, which has brought that horrible time back to my consciousness. What is an appropriate response? I don’t want to be mean, but I also don’t believe that I need to welcome everyone into my life just because I set up an account online.
—Bliss in Exile
Hit your networking site’s “ignore” button or its equivalent to send your mean classmates off into the deep freeze of the unfriended. The good thing about online social networks is that they can put us back in touch with people from our past. The bad thing about online social networks is that they can put us back in touch with people from our past. Perhaps Herman Melville was anticipating Facebook when he wrote, “The poor old Past, the Future’s slave.” You may find your online network encouraging you to give the bullies of your poor old past a chance because they’ve probably reformed, or regret their behavior, or are oblivious about how they treated you. But your present, real-life friendship queue is full, and pretending to cheerily welcome contact from long-ago jerks is only going to stir up unnecessary pain. As Robert Frost, another writer you must have read in high-school English, wrote: “But if it had to perish twice,/ I think I know enough of hate/ To say that for destruction ice/ Is also great/ And would suffice.”
I’m a legal secretary at a small bankruptcy-law firm, which is extremely busy in this bad economy. I have lately been working two to four hours of overtime each day, working through lunch, and coming in on Saturdays just to keep up with the workload on my desk. I don’t mind working overtime—I’m extremely grateful just to have a job when everyone around me is laid off—but I’m the only one of the support staff who does work late. For my overtime, instead of an hourly rate, I get paid per item that I complete. My work is very time-consuming, so this rate usually equals less than my regular hourly pay. I feel that the free time I sacrifice so that the office runs smoothly is worth more than I am receiving. But I don’t know how to tactfully ask for an increase in my overtime pay.
Dear Worn Out,
I am hearing from a lot of people who are expected to pick up the slack for a half-dozen laid-off colleagues and then be snivelingly grateful that they still have jobs. Getting a paycheck is a wonderful thing, but the lousy economy doesn’t mean a return to feudalism. You’re being taken advantage of, especially since economic disaster means good times for your firm. Sit down and explain to your boss how keeping up with your expanding duties means your workday now stretches late into the evening and through the weekend. Tell the boss that you always strive to work efficiently, but your job requires meticulous attention, so you need to be reimbursed for overtime at your regular hourly rate. * You should add that while you want to do everything you can to keep up with the demand, it’s not possible for you to continue to work these hours indefinitely and that the office needs at least another part-time legal secretary. Your firm is one of the lucky few to be raking it in. The people who run it need to remember what our president once said (if in another context): “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”
Update, March 19, 2009: As many astute readers have pointed out, Worn Out’s employers may be violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, and she may be entitled to time-and-a-half pay when she works more than 40 hours a week. Before talking to her boss, she should check out both federal and her state’s labor and wage laws—she may even be owed back pay. When she has her discussion, she can point out that she’s sure her law firm would want to stay within the law.