Click here to read a transcript of Prudie’s live weekly chat with readers at Washingtonpost.com.
I consider myself a moral person. I’m lucky to be married to someone caring and attractive, whom I love and who loves me back. We just had our first child. My wife has a sister who’s been married for several years, has kids, and seems happy. She’s also extremely sexy. My wife is beautiful to me, but she doesn’t have the confidence to pull off “sexy” like her sister. A while back, my sister-in-law came over and we shared a bottle of vodka—my wife was pregnant so couldn’t drink. Ever since, I catch glances from my sister-in-law that get my mind racing. She’s paraded her body in front of me in bikinis all summer long. I’m not a cheating person, but I’ve also never been tempted before. I’ve tried to talk about it with my wife since we share everything. Now she feels I don’t want her. She also doesn’t think her sister would ever “want” me (not sure how to take that one). Hanging out with my sister-in-law and her husband is one of my favorite aspects of being a part of my wife’s family. I don’t want to disrupt anything, but I don’t know how to carry this around with me. Would it be wrong to confront my sister-in-law about this and try to clear the air?
I can just imagine how you’d like this “confrontation” to go: “I think we should clear the air about the sexual attraction between us in Room 426 at the Holiday Inn off Highway Exit 22.” You want advice, so here’s some: Stop sharing everything if you think sharing includes telling your wife you’d like to bang her sister, declare pool season over—no more swimming with the in-laws—and throw away the vodka bottle. You gloss over the crucial point that your wife just had a baby. That means that, for many months, she has not been as sexually available as usual, and even when she is, her flesh is distributed in strange and not totally alluring ways. Now think of what’s going on in your marriage from her perspective. She is wondering whether she will ever get her old body back and whether her husband will still find her attractive. Your confession was not reassuring, and you’re lucky it didn’t prompt your wife to suggest busting up your new family. You also seem to be insinuating that you’re insulted that your wife thinks her sister is not interested in you. Which prompts some more advice: Grow up. You’re an adult and a father, so stop acting like a horny teenager. It’s time you understood that not every desire is to be acted upon or even spoken of. Use your intellectual powers to appreciate what your wife has gone through to bear your child and to recognize that while you’re frustrated sexually, you’re not going to say or do something so monumentally stupid that everyone you’ve ever known ends up thinking you’re the biggest jerk they ever met.
My mom has a serious obsession with reading. Every waking moment, she reads—including during meals and even at long stop lights. It seems she never has time for me, her only teenage daughter. She often says that this is an “escape” from her life. Whenever I try to strike up a conversation with her, she says I should leave her alone so she can read or let her finish one last chapter. I can’t take it anymore. We rarely talk, and if we do, it’s some argument about how she reads too much. I’m starting to think this is all my fault and that she hates me. What should I do?
—Her Nose in a Book
Dear Her Nose,
How sad that your mother can’t appreciate what a wonderful gift it is to have a teenage daughter who wants to talk to her. However, since your mother is not listening, reach her where she lives: Write her a letter. Don’t make it about how she’s failing you but about your longing for her. Tell her you’re only going to be around for a few more years and that you want to connect with her and learn from her in the time you have left. Tell her you know she’s busy and stressed out and that books are a necessary escape, but that you would like her to carve out some time most days—sometimes it may not even be more than 15 minutes—when the two of you just talk about what’s going on in your lives. Then when you have her attention and she’s actually talking to you, suggest that you both join a mother-daughter book club. If that’s too hard to arrange, make your own. Maybe you could start with some books that look at mothers and daughters, such as The Joy Luck Club, Little Women, Terms of Endearment, and The Diary of Anne Frank, which should spark some good discussion between you two. And if none of this works, try reaching out to some other adults in your life (Is your father around?) who could talk to her about your distress. Finally, if she’s adamant about checking out as a mother because she’d rather check out books from the library, maybe you can find solace in your own reading about how other people have dealt with neglectful mothers, such as the books listed here.
A few months ago, I accidentally discovered that one of my co-workers, “Beth,” is having an affair with our married boss. Generally, I stay out of office gossip. I have been ignoring the situation, but a supervisory position has recently been vacated in our department, and my boss will determine who fills the slot. There are only three qualified candidates: me; Beth; and another co-worker, “Steve,” who I’m sure doesn’t know about Beth and our boss. I am very interested in this promotion, and I’d hate to lose this opportunity because my boss decides to show Beth favoritism. Should I talk with my boss and tell him what I know about him and Beth? Should I report their involvement to human resources? (Our company policy prohibits “fraternization” between bosses and underlings.) I’m loath to do either, but sitting back and doing nothing seems unacceptable, and in this tough economy, I can’t simply call it quits and find something new.
I hope you’re dead certain about the affair, and if you are, then I’m going to reluctantly recommend the slightly sneaky but self-protective path of writing an anonymous letter to human resources. Confronting your boss is a poor idea—you’re then wading into his personal as well as professional life and implicitly blackmailing him. Since his having Beth remain in a position under him violates company policy, you’re within your rights to want a department that’s not tainted by extracurricular considerations. However, before you compose your letter, you might want to wait until the promotion is made. If you or Steve gets the job, then you should consider continuing to stay out of the office gossip. But if it goes to Beth, be ready to drop your little letter bomb.
I’m pretty nonconfrontational, particularly with people I don’t know well. Almost every day at work, I bring my lunch and eat in the break room with several of my co-workers. I keep some condiments in the refrigerator, such as mayonnaise and mustard, for my sandwiches. They are clearly labeled with my initials on the caps. A woman I work with occasionally also prepares her lunch in the break room but then goes to eat in her office. I have noticed that she frequently uses my mustard, right in front of me. I can understand co-workers using someone else’s condiments occasionally (with the owner’s permission) if they forget something of their own, but she has used approximately half the bottle at this point. I obviously don’t want to offend this woman, as I have to work with her, but I want her to stop using my mustard. What should I do?
—Office Mustard Provider
This woman’s enjoyment of your condiment has put you in quite a pickle. Obviously you feel her behavior doesn’t cut the mustard. I understand you don’t relish confrontation, so you have two choices. One is to conclude that a jar of mustard is a minor expense and that it doesn’t really bother you if your co-workers spice up their lives with it. The other is to assume she’s never realized the letters on the cap stand for “No, you cannot have some of my Grey Poupon!” In that case, the next time you see her dipping in your jar, say in a friendly way, “Eileen, I see we’re getting low on mustard. I brought in this jar, but would you mind picking up another one so we don’t run out?”