Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. An edited transcript of this week’s chat is below. (Read Prudie’s Slate columns here.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Boston: I have been dating my boyfriend for two years, and on the whole, I have no problems. We are attracted to one another, enjoy intelligent and witty conversations, and are very open with one another. I come from a very private and conservative culture, so being able to share anything with someone else is completely new to me!
One thing has recently been bothering me, although I’m not sure if it’s worth starting a conversation about. If it is around “that time of the month,” my boyfriend seems to think that all my behavior is a result of the hormonal changes I am going through. If I am upset, even at something I find justifiable, he claims it is Mother Nature’s gift. He even started a journal (which he since stopped, at my request once I found it) documenting how my behavior coincided with my cycle—writing things like “admitttedly cranky today,” “irrational crying fit.” Lately, if I tell him I want him, or if I have a sexual urge, he uses this same reasoning.
When he makes these comments, I feel simultaneously hurt and disrespected. It makes me feel gross, because I am unused to talking about these things, don’t have a PMS problem, and think that my behavior shouldn’t be treated as if it is “irrational.”
I love my boyfriend and even when these things happen, they don’t bother me for long. Should I bring it up and talk to him or just leave it alone?
Emily Yoffe: I suppose finding your partner is keeping a spreadsheet titled “My Girlfriend’s Crazy Hormones” is better than finding Tiger Woods-style text messages on his phone, but I am deeply creeped out. You say this guy is open, witty, and intelligent, so you need to tell him his obsession with your cycles is sending your relationship into a destructive cycle and you need it to stop. Ask your boyfriend to cast his mind over the males and females he has known in his life. I would bet there have been plenty of males whose moods he simply ascribes to their personality, not their hormonal status. His reducing you to an estrogen level is depersonalizing and disturbing. When you have this conversation, try to present your case calmly for maximum impact. If you get emotional and he ascribes it to “that time of month,” the conversation may turn into a relationship ender.
Here’s a 21st century kind of question.: As a caring parent of two 6-year-olds, I subscribe, on the internet, to a service that tells me whenever a convicted sex offender moves into my neighborhood. The service provides only a minimum of information, so I am not privy to the actual details of the case or the basis of the conviction.
Recently, I was e-mailed the news that a convicted sex offender moved in next door to a friend of mine. That friend has a 5-year-old son. The information has me in a quandary—I am thinking that they might be interested in the information, but I don’t want to paint the scarlet letter on a neighbor if the conviction was based on something that might not be repeated. I am unsure where to take this. Your thoughts?
Emily Yoffe: Wouldn’t you want your friend to tell you? It’s true that these days a convicted sex offender can be a teenager who got caught in the legal system for sexting. But these ridiculous cases are not what anyone’s talking about when they hear “the sex offender next door.” Because the information provided is so minimal, your friend should do some further sleuthing. She should start with Google and Bing. She can see if the local newspaper where the crime took place wrote anything about the case. She should investigate the online criminal records of the jurisdiction where the offense was committed, and if that turns up nothing, make some phone calls to the court to get details of the case. I’m not suggesting surrounding the neighbor’s house with a pitchfork-wielding mob. But anyone with a young child would want to know if there’s something alarming about the guy who just moved in next door.
Colorado Springs, Colo.: After six years of dating, my fiance proposed several months ago and our wedding is planned for July. I was ecstatic and blissful. We discussed a prenup before the engagement and both agreed it would be beneficial … until he actually presented it to me. Now I feel slapped in the face. For background, he is wealthy (upward of $3 million). I am employed and stable (worth about $75,000). Neither of us has children. This prenup states that neither of us will be executors of the other’s estate, that I agree to receive no life insurance benefit, and that in the event of divorce I will accept a total sum of $2,000. Essentially, after 20 years of marriage, he could leave me with about 0.1 percent of his current worth. I know I need to speak with an attorney, but I am mortified to tell anyone what my fiance thinks about me. When I attempt to discuss the issue with my fiance, he calls me a liar and a gold digger. This hurts because I am neither, but it feels like this prenup prevents us from ever building a life together. Should I run from the man I love?
Emily Yoffe: Who’s the beneficiary of his life insurance policy, the dog? It’s rather odd that after six years together you are just finding out that your fiance is financially controlling and punitive, but there it is. Maybe once he sat down with a lawyer, his brain switched from romance to litigation, and he lost sight of the fact that you two hope to never have to exercise the divorce contingency. Yes, you need your own attorney, and maybe a couples counselor, since your justifiable objections to the prenup have your boyfriend calling you abusive names. Put the wedding on hold until you resolve all the issues that have been stirred up.
British Columbia, Canada: I’m the only male in an office of women. Generally, this is not a problem—and is actually very educational and helpful in my marriage. However, there are a few times when I have felt excluded. On a few occasions—there have been some birthday lunches that were “ladies only” and baby showers, where I have contributed to the gifts but have been specifically excluded from the party. Not that I feel I’m missing much—and I know it can be off-putting. Part of me thinks I’m being oversensitive, but part of me feels like I’m not a full part of the team. (That’s probably a too-male feeling, now that I look at it.) Am I being a doormat? XY in an XX place.
Emily Yoffe: Now you know how women have felt for decades when the guys met on the golf course to do business or went out for drinks after work. That doesn’t mean that what the XXers are doing to you is right. So speak up. The next time you feel excluded, explain to the gang that despite your chromosomal status, you would like to join them for officewide celebrations. But have you ever been to a baby shower? Unless you’re good at saying, “That’s sooo cute!!” over and over, it might make you reassess how much gender education you actually want.
Rochester, NY: My boyfriend comes from a warm, loving, close-knit family. They’re one of a kind, and I look forward to visits, when we can manage them. My boyfriend and his brothers love to play board games, which I find fantastic and great fun … at first. Things start to get heated when one of the three brothers starts losing. He’ll complain that people are plotting against him, that the game is rigged/stupid/unfair/against him, etc. Eventually, he erupts in a fit of anger and temporarily storms out of the room. My boyfriend has decided that when his brother does this, it’s best to abort the game entirely, which only seems to take the man from simmering to boiling over faster. I’m very uncomfortable when this happens, and I dread the inevitable disaster whenever we visit. Any advice on what to say/do when this happens again this weekend when we visit?
Emily Yoffe: The emotions aroused by watching one’s brother get triple points for zombify could make Cain and Abel look like the Bobbsey Twins. It’s true part of being a grown-up is being able to accept the Scrabble set is not rigged against you. But for your boyfriend’s family, board games are sibling rivalry through other means. So what you do is go into the game knowing that by the end there will be some Sam Shepard-like primal scene, and just sit back and enjoy that you have a front-row seat.
Negativity: I have had a bad couple of years—intermittent employment, moved twice, lost a sibling. I’m a pretty positive person, but I’m having trouble keeping my chin up, since that mainly results in me taking it on the chin.
I have a friend who asked if I was feeling a little down, and when I admitted it (something that is hard for me), she basically said it was my fault, and my negative energy was attracting negative events. I would not find happiness or get my old lucky life back until I could learn to accept what fate was trying to teach me.
I don’t know what’s worse, her idea of comfort or the idea that she’s right. She didn’t used to be crazy, but this New Age stuff has been her reaction to being unemployed and living on credit cards. What should I have said?
Emily Yoffe: The Secret and other garbage of that ilk suggests people abandon friends with problems so that they don’t get “infected” by their negativity. So you could have said you understand her new set of beliefs mean you two have to keep your distance and that you wish her all the best.
Chicago: My husband and I socialize, on a regular basis, with several couples who older than us by a couple of decades. We’ve been friends for several years. (I am in my mid-30s, my husband in his 40s.) My parents, close in age to several of our friends, have recently moved nearby from out of state and have been spending quite a bit of time with our group. I have no issue with this; it’s nice to spend time with them again. My issue is with them telling all of my childhood business to my friends. I have repeatedly asked them, in private, not to reveal every last detail of my adolescence (including how messy, spoiled, and disappointing I was as a teen) and early adulthood. (“Did Janie ever tell you about the time she was arrested for streaking through the college quad?”) I think I’ve turned out to be a pretty decent adult, wife, mother, friend, and DAUGHTER, and I feel like I’ve become the butt of the joke and I’m losing the respect of my friends. I don’t want to ground my parents from my friends, but I am at a loss. Please help.
Emily Yoffe: You need to try one last talk with your parents. Tell them multigenerational socializing can be hard, but their constantly bringing up your youthful indiscretions is making it impossible. Explain you wouldn’t dream of mentioning the number of polyps Dad’s colonoscopy turned up, or the fact that Mom got lost in the mall. So they need to stop talking about private things that make you uncomfortable. If they can’t, then you need to go your separate ways when you entertain and simply see them at family events. There is a bizarre, hostile undercurrent to their characterization of you, and they need to understand that when anyone acts like an insolent teenager, no matter what their age, there are consequences.
Fairfax: Last Halloween, I came to my office in full “office girl” drag. Dress, heels, makeup, wig. … It went over pretty well (although it was NOT a dress-up day for the rest of the office). People still mention it.
Well, I did that because I do cross-dress occasionally. When people kid me about it, I REALLY want to say, “Well, it was nice to show the office what my days off are like” or something like that. I’d really love to be “out.” It’s lonely in the closet, but I know the cat doesn’t go back in the bag. Should I keep my mouth shut or share with my co-workers?
Emily Yoffe: I bet they still mention it. And I’m not sure it went over as well as you think, just that the rest of the uncostumed office didn’t know what to say except, “Nice skirt.” When you talk about the closet—and I assume you don’t mean your clothes closet—if you’re saying you’re hiding the fact that you’re gay, then, yes, you should feel free to let people know you’re homosexual. However that doesn’t mean that anyone, whatever their sexual orientation, should then subject the office to a tour of their sexual proclivities. You don’t want the cubicle mate who is into S&M showing up in bondage gear—it’s just not something that belongs in the office. So keep your off-hours wardrobe to yourself.
Today’s Chat: What is the deal? Two people have already written about their seemingly perfect partners except for one glaring problem, which ends up being a major relationship flaw. It’s as if both posters are equating their partners’ flaws with socks being left on the floor. Wake up people!
Emily Yoffe: It’s not necessarily that easy. Lots of times the relationship is good 80 percent, even 90 percent of the time, so is one big, glaring problem enough to end something you have invested years in? In general, I think it’s a gut call, and you can’t ignore when the terrible feelings from the glaring problem are undermining everything else that’s good.
Toronto, ON: My husband—God bless him—does not realize that a laundry hamper has ever been invented. I assume when his eye travels to that part of the closet, where all my dirty clothes sit in the hamper, he must assume that “hey, that large container sure would be handy for storing dirty clothes before they make it to the wash. Too bad I must cast mine all over the floor in giant mounds, so much so that I can barely make it to my side of the bed.”
How do I convince my husband—remember, God bless him—that the laundry hamper really does exist, and that his clothes belong in it? Oh—and we have a strict no nagging rule in the house!
Emily Yoffe: And speaking of socks on the floor! Do you feel better about your husband that despite his hamper phobia, he is not keeping a diary of your menstrual periods or planning to leave you destitute upon his death? However, this doesn’t mean socks on the floor aren’t also maddening. You could say something like, “Darling, as I make my way to get into bed with you, I want to feel excited to be near you, but if I have to pick up your dirty laundry to get there, it pisses me off.” I recently read that for a recurring annoyance like laundry, instead of giving lecture after lecture, say in a neutral tone a short phrase, such as, “Hamper, please” and see if it doesn’t help. You could also try to “reframe” the problem. Instead of seeing it as a chronic offense, recognize that your bending down to pick up laundry instead of burning you up is burning calories and keeping you supple. (OK, that’s a stretch.)
Dilemma: My friends are furious with me because I refuse to be tested to see if my kidney is a match with someone in my circle of friends. I despise this woman! She has hated me for 20 years because her husband was in love with me when we were in college. I think what bothers her most is that I had zero interest in him and he only dated her after he finally realized it would never happen with us. She has made my life hell since then—mainly by spreading awful lies about me. I only see her a few times a year so I can deal with it. Some of my friends are still close with her and now that she is ill they expect me to be gung-ho to be tested to see if my kidney is a match. Honestly, I will NEVER donate a kidney to her, and she probably wouldn’t want mine anyway. If it were something less invasive, like bone marrow, I’d probably consider it. But I’m not willing to take a big risk with my own health for someone who will not be civil or mature in my presence. My friends think I am being awful, but I’m not budging, nor do I feel remotely guilty. Your thoughts? Am I horrible?
Emily Yoffe: Is this what happens when the characters of Gossip Girl grow up? “Oh, Lindsay is SO self-absorbed, she won’t donate her kidney to Brittany, just because Brittany’s husband once had such a big crush on her. I mean, Lindsay has TWO kidneys, for goodness sake! Just donate one. I let Brittany wear my Manolo Blahniks, and that was after we had a big fight!” You are under no obligation to donate your body parts to anyone. If your “friends” harass you about this, just keep saying you wish “Brittany” a full recovery and leave it at that.
Fairfax, Again: I’m not gay. Gay is (comparatively) easy in today’s workplace. I’m talking about cross-dressing. It’s something I do sometimes. And, yes, I do wonder what the rest of the office REALLY thought. But I’ll never know.
Emily Yoffe: To all the readers who are chiding me that most transvestites are not gay—yes, I understand the cross-dresser may well be heterosexual. I was just dealing with the ambiguity of his using “come out of the closet.” This letter makes the nice point that cross-dressing is something some people “do.” It doesn’t matter what your office mates might think about what you do in private—the point is to keep it private.
Chevy Chase, Md.: Virtually all of your questions today affirm my decision to remain single. Whew!
Emily Yoffe: Happily coupled people don’t write into this chat! Don’t extrapolate that all relationships are built on dirty laundry and periodic tables.
Washington, D.C.: Aah, the eternal hamper issue. My resolution was to recognize that I am just a neater person than my boyfriend and to simply tell him he could leave his clothes on the floor if he liked, but I reserve the right to 1) kick them to the side of the room when they are in a footpath and 2) only do the laundry that ends up in the hamper. After about two weeks, BF saw the light and put most of his clothes in the hamper, although he still has more piles around than I would care for. My view now is that the less there is in the hamper, the less laundry I have to do! This somewhat Zen-like attitude probably comes from the fact that I had a mother who was militant about cleaning and I spent many a weekend in junior high and high school inside vacuuming the baseboards instead of outside with my friends. I vowed never to make housekeeping an issue in my relationships. Just not worth it for me.
Emily Yoffe: Excellent points about who does the laundry and letting things go. If the wife does the family laundry, she could say, “I’m only going to wash the clothes in the hamper. The ones on the floor I’ll leave you take care of.”