Click here to read a transcript of Prudie’s live weekly chat with readers at Washingtonpost.com.
About a year ago, I heard from my first love for the first time in many years. Now we chat every month or so, primarily about our families and recently his job search. It’s casual and friendly. The problem is that I have vivid dreams, and as hokey as it sounds, they are sometimes prophetic. I talk about this only with my husband and sister because it seems weird. The other night, I had a horrific dream about my first love. He was in a setting like Iraq, surrounded by friends from college. I was being shown graphic pictures of him—one was of his head exploding in a car. The next morning, he called to tell me he had a job offer that came about through a recommendation from a college friend. The job is working security in Iraq. I am very upset and can’t shake the feeling that this dream came to me so that I could warn him. But how can I share such a sickening dream with someone who has been offered a job after months of unemployment?
—The Grim Dreamer
First of all, I don’t believe in this stuff—except I admit that I kind of do, because my sister has dreams like yours. For example, years ago we were meeting for a vacation in Los Angeles. The night before, my sister dreamed she was looking in the mirror and had an awful haircut—her hair was long in the back but so short in front that it looked shaved. In the dream, as she gazed at herself unhappily, her eyes rolled to the back of her head. The next day we met up, ran around L.A., and had a great time. The following morning over breakfast, she had a massive stroke—she was 30 years old. After brain surgery, she ended up with her head shaved in front but her hair intact in the back—the neurosurgeon said that before she was clipped, a nurse braided my sister’s long, blond hair out of the way so she wouldn’t wake up completely bald. So I’m not dismissing your dream, but I do have some caveats about it. If your friend had worked in security, or if he had been talking about the possibility of a security job overseas, then Iraq would be a logical destination, and your unconscious was simply worried for him. If your friend had been, say, an insurance adjuster, and the last time you two talked, he had no job prospects, then I’m willing to be labeled a woo-woo and say your dream is truly spooky. I talked to my sister about this, and she felt that you should tell him. If you do, you could preface it by explaining that you feel uncomfortable crossing this boundary, but you’re concerned about him taking the job because before he called, you dreamed he was in a life-threatening situation in Iraq. I also talked to my total skeptic of a husband, and he said you should shut up—that mentioning the dream will uselessly alarm your friend and put an aura of death over a live career prospect. I’m leaning toward my husband’s view on this, but I understand if you feel compelled to say something. Whatever you do, I truly hope your friend doesn’t have an appointment in Samarra.
How can I stop disliking my boyfriend’s son? He is 6 years old, lives with his mother, and comes around a few times a month. My boyfriend does not know how I feel since I treat his son with respect. We recently had a son of our own, and I would be hurt if someone looked at my son as a bother. When I try to talk with his son when I’m alone with him, he ignores me; the only time he talks to me is with his dad around. Even though his mother is remarried and has a new baby, I heard that she’s jealous of me, so maybe she has said negative things to her son about me. Another problem is that my boyfriend now wants to get married, but I’m not sure if I can go through with it feeling the way I do about his son.
I give you credit for recognizing that although this boy does not make it easy, you want to know what you can do about your feelings, instead of how you can ease this boy out of your life. Whether or not you get married, you’ve now had a child with your boyfriend. This means that all of you are irrevocably entwined with one another. If you started thinking of this 6-year-old as your stepson, and your own child’s brother, instead of your “boyfriend’s son,” it might help shift your feelings about him. Even though you’re probably exasperated by his obdurate silence when you’re together, draw upon the empathy you’ve already expressed to see life from his point of view. A 6-year-old is able to pick up that you steel yourself for his visits. In his short life, he’s already endured the breakup of his family and the creation of two new families, neither of which fully include him. So include him. Even if he doesn’t talk to you, you can talk to him. Make a point of spending time alone with him. For instance, ask him to go for a walk with his new brother. Tell him you’re going to need his advice on what little boys like and that the baby is going to love having a big brother. While you’re out, put a hand on his shoulder and say you know that it’s not easy going back and forth between houses, but you want him to know your house is a real home for him. Maybe you two can make a project of decorating his room. Mostly, be warm, consistent, and patient. Keep thinking of how you’d want your son to be treated if he found himself in the same situation.
I work for a small industrial-supply company. As part of evolving from a startup, the company scheduled a mandatory series of seminars on business etiquette. At one, the presenter focused on the importance of a professional appearance. She had a long list of things that are unacceptable, including dandruff, gray hair, a bad complexion, being overweight, and not having “a nice smile.” Our executives nodded as she spoke. Well, most of us have at least one of these physical flaws. Now we all feel insecure about our appearances and resentful that we, unlike the executives, can’t afford expensive clothing, spa treatments, and gym memberships. Even worse, our minority co-workers feel that the presenter was being covertly racist. They heard, “You don’t have a nice complexion” as a way of saying their skin is too dark. Is there anything we can do?
—Not a Model
Dear Not a Model,
You thought that making fun of how people look was just something the mean kids did in high school. Little did you know that was an apprenticeship for being a “business etiquette” consultant. If gray hair is a disqualification for employment, then the EEOC might want to hear about it. According to your consultant, Barack Obama should also be canning Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. If overweight people don’t belong in the workplace, then the unemployment rate is going to be about 60 percent. However, I’m certain the discussion of “complexion” was not about skin color, but skin condition. Of course, many skin problems are beyond one’s control, and decent people—who might even include the clients of a small industrial-supply company—overlook such flaws, knowing they themselves are not perfect specimens. There are two approaches you can take. One is to accept that such seminars are a part of corporate life, extract the message that basic grooming and clothes that fit are a corporate necessity, and forget about the rest of the consultant’s idiocy. If as a group, however, you continue to feel both threatened and insulted by the lecture, then send a representative sampling (a gray-haired person, a large person, a dark-skinned person) to meet with management. Explain that you’re concerned about the consultant’s insistence that only people who look a certain way are considered acceptable, and that all of you would like some clarification that this isn’t so.
I have been unemployed for almost a year. A good friend got engaged last fall, and she’s asked me to be in her wedding in 2011. I tried to say no, because she wants an over-the-top event, so my participation fee could be $1,000. As I laid out my concerns, my friend looked as if she was going to cry. She pleaded, assuring me I’d have a job by then and if I didn’t, she’d help me with the dress (with a loan, I presume). I relented. Now I worry that either I’m going to be labeled the difficult bridesmaid or the employed bridesmaids will resent me, since I can’t pay for extravagant events such as bachelorette parties with limos. I need to start declining invitations she sends to “My Bridesmaids,” and I don’t know what to do.
I think the e-mails to “My Bridesmaids” are mislabeled and really should read “My Subjects.” Your friend is planning a wedding siege longer than some presidential campaigns. As for your “participation fee,” that sounds like something that should be covered by a RICO statute. Since she likes browbeating, feel free to bow out by e-mail. Explain that you wanted to give her plenty of notice, and, sadly, your finances don’t allow you to be part of her wedding party. If she disinvites you from the wedding, just laugh that this queen wouldn’t even let you eat wedding cake.