Click here to read a transcript of Prudie’s live weekly chat with readers at Washingtonpost.com.
I have been out of college for a year and have a great job doing contest promotions for a radio company. A very nice co-worker of mine co-hosts a popular morning show. I’ve found out a secret about her, and I don’t know what to do. She appears to be 25 or 26 years old, but I discovered she’s really in her late 30s! This is very disturbing. From the way she jokes around, walks, and looks, you would never know she’s an older lady. Her audience is mostly college-age kids, and she does appearances at campuses and bars. That’s so creepy! Her birthday is next week, and she has invited me and a few others my age to lunch. Since news of her age spread like wildfire through my department, some of us have bought her gag gifts—an inflatable walker, denture cream, etc. She’s in a youth-oriented business, and I don’t think she understands how pathetic and out of place she really is. I can’t help staring at her like she’s some strange creature. Should I confront her with what I know? And how do I maintain a professional relationship with someone who’s a huge phony, desperately clinging to youth?
—Young and Able
What you describe is disturbing, creepy, and pathetic. I also find you to be silly, snarky, and ungrateful. But since you’re writing to me for advice (and I assume you know I’m so old that I make your colleague look like Miley Cyrus), I suggest you stop worrying about how your colleague acts and start figuring out, now that you’re an adult, how you should act. This means you stop gawking at your co-worker as if the Gorgon Medusa walks among you. Also, confronting her with her date of birth is ill-advised as a career strategy. Since you appear to be the source of the “wildfire” news about her age, it would be a good idea for you to shut up about how inappropriate it is that a successful, popular radio host appears around town promoting her show. (I don’t even want to know how you think a woman pushing 40 should walk.) It’s probably not a widely shared opinion around the office that it would be more suitable if she retired, wrapped herself in a shroud, and began moldering. Have you ever heard of J.K. Rowling? Bruce Springsteen? Tina Turner? These are people who are great at what they do, look fantastic, and connect with much younger people. An older colleague at the top of her profession has been welcoming to you. See this as an opportunity to learn something about your field, instead of acting like a catty twit.
A little more than a year ago, I witnessed a horrible accident. I was hauling my horse and driving the speed limit. A young woman behind me became impatient and attempted to pass a car, a bus, and my trailer around a blind curve. When she realized there was oncoming traffic, she tried to squeeze back in between me and the bus but got broadsided by the car in the other lane. She died on impact, and the couple in the other car was seriously injured. I pulled over and went to see whether I could help the couple. The first words a bystander said to me were, “This is what happens when you drive too slow.” I have suffered tremendous guilt over the death of this young woman. I know it was not my fault, but I still blame myself. I often need to pull over when I drive because I sob uncontrollably. I obsessively run over what I could have done differently to prevent her death. I have told no one about my part in the accident, aside from my husband and therapist. I am so ashamed. How can I move on from this tragic event?
This was a terrible event, and you were not the cause. Everyone should be driving the speed limit, and you would have been reckless in the extreme to be hauling a horse and speeding. The speed limit is not a suggestion; it’s a legal decree. It’s outrageous that someone tried to blame this on you, but you cannot let a thoughtless comment fester inside you. Your only part in all of this was to be a law-abiding citizen who witnessed a horrific accident. You appear to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. You are mentally running over the events in an endless loop; the thoughts of the accident interfere with your ability to engage in normal activities; you are consumed with guilt. Since this has been going on for a year, you need to discuss with your therapist how stuck you are. Even if you like your therapist, for the time being you need to see someone else who specializes in PTSD. Treatment, which might include medication, should start bringing you significant relief. You could also consider performing some kind of ritual to help you deal with the young woman’s death. For example, her obituary might have mentioned that contributions in her name could be directed to a particular charity. So make a donation and write a letter mentioning your sorrow that her life was cut so short. I suggest this not because you had anything to do with her death, but because it might help you to concretely acknowledge her loss. This tragedy illustrates the fragility of life, and it will only be compounded if you let it keep you from living yours.
My boyfriend and I are in our late 20s and live together in a small town. This weekend, we hosted some out-of-town guests: my boyfriend’s college buddy and some of his friends. They all went to a party together, and one of the friends-of-the-friend hit it off with a girl there. I found this out at 3 a.m., when I heard some weird sounds and walked into the living room to find them having loud sex on our sofa! I was so shocked and angry that all I could do was glare and say, “Excuse me!” I got a half-assed apology from him the next day. Not only am I too grossed out to sit on my couch now, I never want either of them in my house again. The problem is that the girl is the younger sister of one of my boyfriend’s close friends, so I know our paths will cross. I’m tempted to put a message on the Facebook page of her older brother and hope that shames her into acting better in other people’s houses. Is that overreacting? How do I act toward these people next time we see them?
—Not in My Living Room
Yes, it was rude and crude of this temporary couple to think the phrase “Get a room” meant your living room. However, when you accidentally stumble upon a houseguest having sex, unless it is with your spouse or child, you are supposed to pretend you got lost on the way to the bathroom and quickly stumble out, without commenting on the appropriateness, enthusiasm, or technique. It will say something terrible about your manners if you post on the young woman’s brother’s Facebook page, for everyone he knows to see, that you consider his sister to be not only promiscuous, but to have no respect for upholstery. What you do now is act as if nothing happened. Of course, you have no obligation to play hostess to this pair again, but maybe someday you can come to see this as an entertaining tableau. As for the couch, spray it with some anti-bacterial room freshener, and forget that for one night it was a making-whoopee cushion.
My husband, wonderful man that he is, has a number of interests that I don’t share. I support him in spending money on these interests. I will even listen to him wax rhapsodic over, say, the details of his new knife-sharpening system, or ask questions on his progress in the hunt for a new bike. However, there is a limit, so when he wants my opinion about color or fender style, I turn snappish and annoyed. I know nothing about bikes, don’t care about them, and don’t see how my opinion could help. He is baffled and upset that I won’t do something as simple as give him an opinion. Is caring about him sufficient reason for me to just suck it up and feign interest?
—Yes, Dear, the Black Looks Nice, Too
If when you were planning the wedding, you asked for his input on the china pattern (does anybody still buy china?) or gifts for the bridesmaids, maybe this is your penance. If you didn’t do that, then maybe sometimes you go on and on with stories about work, or qualms about the guy your friend Jackie is dating, or questions about whether your jeans are looking too snug. Yes, part of caring about someone is letting that person bore you sometimes about the things he or she cares about. It’s rather sweet that instead of using his hobbies as an escape from your marriage, your husband wants to find a way to include you. So when he asks for an opinion, indulge him by giving one—random though it may be—most of the time. That will buy you the ability to say, when it just gets to you, “Dear, I’m reading my book, but I’m sure whatever you choose will be perfect.”