Click here to read a transcript of Prudie’s live weekly chat with readers at Washingtonpost.com.
My 13-year-old son, a well-behaved, sweet boy, already has what I perceive as a strange fetish. He loves and is fascinated by latex gloves. When he was little, he would stop in front of the rubber glove display at the supermarket and just stare at the packages of dishwashing gloves. He wanted me to buy them for him, but he would never tell me why. Now that he’s older, he goes online to medical supply Web sites and “shops” for rubber gloves. Recently, I found out he had been visiting glove fetish Web sites with pornographic glove pictures. I installed content filtering software to block him from being exposed to such images. He was horribly embarrassed and guilty, and he promised to give up gloves forever. Apparently, it’s not so easy. He still asks me to buy latex gloves for him when we go to the drug store, and he keeps piles of them around his room. He worries that he might not be able to find a girlfriend or wife who will be interested in sharing his glove love. Should I try to stop him, or should I just chalk it up to a personality quirk and worry no longer?
—Hand in Glove
You’re right to be concerned, because you don’t want your son’s future romantic prospects to be limited to women who really enjoy dishwashing. Fetishism is a type of paraphilia, a disorder of deviant sexual arousal and behavior. People with fetishes are attracted to inanimate objects—women’s shoes and rubber are two common ones. No one knows what causes it, but it usually begins in childhood or adolescence; some fetishists can remember the moment they first became aroused by the object of their desire. I talked to an expert in paraphilias, Dr. Martin Kafka (here’s a fascinating article about him), a psychiatrist at the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. He said you should take action because your son’s fetish is already overwhelming him, and, as your son worries, it may interfere with his ability to have normal relationships. Kafka says your son needs a complete psychological workup. In his experience, frequently people with fetishes have other psychiatric ailments, such as ADD or mood disorders. Getting treatment for that underlying problem often has the result of reducing the intensity of the fetish, because the person overall has better impulse control. While it can be difficult to fully extinguish a fetish, Kafka says behavioral therapy can make it less engulfing. He says patients are greatly relieved when they come to feel they control the fetish instead of having it control them—which may be what your son is experiencing now. To find the right therapist, Kafka recommends contacting the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers—not because your son is or will be an abuser, but because these professionals are knowledgeable about paraphilias. Ask for someone with experience treating adolescents. With help, your son has a chance to free himself from the grip of rubber gloves.
Dear Prudence Video: Hot Friend Leaves Me Cold
I have a best friend whom I love. We’ve been close for nearly 20 years, and she is easy-going and mellow; we share the same sense of humor and have always been comfortable in each other’s company. I have a boss whom I hate. She is overbearing, micromanaging, forgets the directions she gives me, and yells at me when I produce work that doesn’t incorporate changes she hasn’t told me about. My problem? They are the same person. I cherish the relationship I have with my friend and would feel a great loss if we should part ways. The worst thing she does is, after a day of chewing me out, texts me to ask if I’m mad at her or if she was being a [bleep]. Of course I’m mad, and yes, I think she was being a [bleep], but I certainly can’t say so! I resent having to take her bad behavior and then be burdened with absolving her of it as her friend. Finding a new job is next to impossible in this economy, and there isn’t any opportunity now for a parallel move that would get me a new boss. How do I keep my job but save this friendship?
—Tired of Dealing With Two-Face
It’s too bad your best friend can’t give you advice on how to handle your awful boss, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to deal with your boss directly at work and try to leave the friendship out of it. You and the boss have major communication problems, so you need to take the initiative to improve things. Have a talk with her about creating a better system for knowing what she wants, and for updating what you’re doing. For example, tell her that when she gives you verbal instructions, you’d like to take notes, then send her an e-mail summary of what her expectations are, so there is a written record you can both refer to. To get her off your back, you could also suggest that you send her a short report at the end of each day about what you’ve accomplished. Then as work progresses, you’ll both know things are on track. You can also tell her that you understand she is under a lot of stress, and when things aren’t as she wants, it’s exasperating, but when she raises her voice it just shuts down your dialogue instead of helping you to improve. It sounds as if your friendship long predates your work situation, and it would be a shame for it to be a victim of her being your boss, but naturally your feelings for her are going to be affected by having her harangue you all day. You need to put a barrier between your work and personal lives. An evening text message is not an appropriate forum for her to try to redress the problems of the day. The next time she sends one, call her back and say that because you’re friends, you’d prefer to discuss your workday issues at work, so that outside the office you can enjoy her company without talking about the company.
I live in a small apartment with my dog, Sammy, a Boston terrier, and my roommate. My dog is nearly perfect, and my roommate seems to enjoy him. But my roommate constantly verbally abuses my dog. He never yells or speaks in a harsh tone, but he seems to get a kick out of hurling insults at Sammy. He’ll say things like, “Oh, you are such an ugly, smelly little rat,” but in a baby-talk voice, so Sammy has no clue he is being insulted. I think it’s strange, and it’s beginning to irritate me. Is there an ethical dilemma here?
—Confused and Abused
We love our cat Biscuit, but because of his weight issues, he has certain hygiene problems. I can’t say he’s ever taken umbrage, however, when we refer to him, in the most affectionate way possible, as Sir Stinkbottom. We also like to get nose to nose with our young cat, Zev, and whisper to him that he is the world’s nastiest boy, and if you could see what he did to our jigsaw puzzle, you’d know why. Yet from the confident way our cats tear up the couch and laze by the heat vent, I’d say their self-esteem is unaffected. What your roommate is doing is teasing. The fortunate thing about teasing a Boston terrier is that you never have to say, “I was kidding! I think you’re extremely attractive, smell delightful, and in no way resemble a rodent.” Even if Sammy has a surprisingly sophisticated understanding of English, I’m sure he knows that the real meaning of what your roommate says is conveyed in his tone.
I am a happy introvert, and I earn a living writing mathematical pedagogy books at home. I do, however, have a few wonderful friends. For my upcoming 30th birthday, my husband told me that he would like to throw me a party. I have not celebrated my birthday with a party since high school, but I thought his offer was lovely and accepted it. He asked me for a guest list, and it wasn’t long: two married couples, one dating couple, one single woman, and two single men. I realized that, unfortunately, none of these people (aside from those who are coupled) had ever met one another. Is this the recipe for a horrible, awkward party? Should I forget about it and spare my friends the suffering? If I go ahead, should I warn them that they will be in a room of mutually unacquainted strangers?
—A Shy Person With Shy Friends
Dear Shy Person,
It will be a horrible, awkward evening if your attitude is that all of you must endure a few hours of celebratory suffering before the blessed release of being able to return to constructing quadratic equations. It’s a good thing that you are bringing together your favorite people—it’s about time!—each of whom you find delightful. But the math of having 11 people means you lack the mass for the kind of party in which everyone just stands and circulates. But given your description of your friends, if everyone tries to flee to separate corners, having 11 celebrants means the corners will be uncomfortably crowded. The solution is to have a structured affair. You could have a game night—divide everyone in teams and play Pictionary or Trivial Pursuit. Or, if you want to have a dinner party, gather everyone around a single table and prepare a bunch of ice-breaking questions for the group: Everyone tells their first childhood memory or lists their favorite book or movie. Or you could bring in a wine expert and begin the evening with a tasting. That would have the salutary effect of both appealing to your friends’ intellectual nature and lowering their reserve.