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. Let’s get to it.
Omaha, Neb.: I got an invite on Facebook from a close male relative. When I scrolled down, I noticed another picture of him with a slightly altered name. I clicked on that link and found he has a dozen friends who are adults in diapers. I am pretty sure his wife knows nothing about this, and I realize it is not my business, but I feel uncomfortable meeting up with him. (Our families meet up often.) I am especially concerned for his wife’s potential safety given that two of the men are listed as being right here in the Omaha area. As you can tell, I am quite confused about the whole thing, and I am not even sure I should be concerned about anything. Any advice?
Emily Yoffe: Thanks for dumping this loaded question on me! If there was ever a time that people needed to truly understand Facebook privacy rules, it’s probably when they “like” the “Adults in Diapers Sexy Time” Facebook group. I’m not sure the safety of your relative’s wife is in jeopardy—no one has died from having a husband who chafes. But your relative’s reputation is going to be all wet if this gets out. So quietly let him know that you easily found a link to some personal activities he might want to make completely private.
Porterville, Calif.: My father-in-law is a good man. I work with him in our family-owned business. However, I have a deep concern over his driving habits. He has been pulled over multiple times for speeding and other traffic violations, although nothing involving alcohol or drugs. He is constantly on his phone taking and receiving calls, as well as checking text messages or getting ball game scores online while driving. My concern is that he likes to take my 3-year-old on local trips to visit relatives, go to the park, get ice cream, etc. I love that he likes to do this, and my daughter loves spending time with him. However, how do I let him know that when he has my daughter in the car with him, I want his cell phone off or not used while driving. It’s already illegal, so it’s not like he doesn’t know not to do it; he just doesn’t think it’s dangerous for him. I don’t want to embarrass him or seem disrespectful but she’s my daughter, and I’m getting to the point that I don’t want her in the car with him. When do I draw the line?
Emily Yoffe: Your daughter’s life is as risk—as are the lives of innocent people every time your father-in-law gets on the road. This is no time for worry about tender feelings or embarrassment. You just tell him you love that he wants to spend time with your child, but since he won’t stop speeding and texting while driving, you can’t let your daughter be in the car with him. You and your spouse should also sit down and say that his habits are also putting your entire company in jeopardy—what if he kills a family while on the road for work and texting about business matters. You may not be able to stop him, but at least you will let him know he’s not going to play around with his granddaughter’s life.
Brea, Calif.: A couple of months ago, the man of my dreams proposed to me and we have set our date a year from now. The problem? My dad! He is holding my wedding for ransom! My parents divorced over 15 years ago, and he says he will not help pay for the wedding unless my mother signs a waiver releasing all her rights to his pension plan. Not only is this hurting me emotionally, but it’s causing my fiance to be not so fond of my family. What can I do? Say? Any help is appreciated!
Emily Yoffe: Dad sounds like a charmer. What did he say, “Darling, I’m so thrilled for you—and me. Because your finding the man you want to spend your life with has given me an opening to get out financially from the woman I wanted to spend my life with, but who I now wish would drop dead.” Is this a news flash from your father that he’s a bullying jerk? Whether this is out of character or not, you need to sit down with him and explain you will not have your wedding be held hostage by his cruel demands. Say if he’d like to help you with the wedding, you will appreciate it. If he won’t, you’ll plan one you can afford without him.
Easthampton, Mass.: I work in a library and recently had a patron who had had a horrific injury to his face wheeled in by two aides. My emotional response was so strong that it caused me to feel faint and shaky, so that though I tried to maintain my usual friendly and welcoming demeanor as I created a new library card for the young man, I know I was probably not pulling it off well at all. With all the injured coming back from the wars, I expect I am not the only one facing a dilemma. I want the person I am speaking to to feel as at ease as possible. What is polite? Should I try to treat them like everyone else (as I tried but failed to do) or should I say something sympathetic as my inner being wanted to do? If so, what could I say? The young man will hopefully be back, and I know over time my emotional response will abate as I get used to the sight of his injuries, but I would feel more comfortable if I knew a “right” thing to say or do in this situation.
Emily Yoffe: It’s almost impossible not to have a response to the sight of someone who has suffered a catastrophic, disfiguring injury, but your responsibility is to recognize your response and do everything you can to contain it. It sounds as if you did that as best you could. You’re right, if he becomes a regular patron, you will get used to him and seeing him will become a normal part of your day. As that happens, do him the favor of treating him like any other patron. He is there to find something interesting to read, or do research, not to hear your reaction or field your questions about what happened to him. Think of it from the perspective of the young man, who now has to go through life seeing shock register on the faces of everyone he meets as he tries to go about his daily life. Since he’s new, when he comes in again, you could ask if he knows the library layout and if he is looking for anything in particular—and also let him know you’re there to answer any of his questions.
Baltimore: I recently had a talk with my older brother, and he told me that when we were younger my father, who regularly abused my mother, had kidnapped both my older brother and myself and taken us to a park where he intended to shoot us and then kill himself. I was about 5 or 6 at the time, and he was 10 and remembered what happened and also spoke to our father about it once a few years ago. I do not remember any of this.
He was going to do it to punish my mother for cheating on him but found he could not go through with it.. My brother told me our mother knew about it, and I’m horrified. My parents are still together and though the physical abuse has stopped, they argue all the time.
What upsets me the most about this is that my mother knew about what he intended to do and stayed with him, putting herself and her children in danger from our unstable father.
My question is how should I approach my mother about this? I’ve never been close with my parents, but I want some answers. I also have children of my own now and I am considering cutting ties with my parents altogether, which will confuse my children and upset them, but it is my first impulse as to how to deal with this.
Emily Yoffe: Since your mother has stayed, you need to accept you probably aren’t going to get too much from her if you say, “Mom, I want to know more about the time Dad tried to kill all of us.” They have a sad, sick relationship, and facing hard truths is probably not something they have a lot of experience with. Your childhood may be something you want to discuss with a therapist, if only to have a safe place just to talk about what you went through and issues that may come up as you deal with raising your own children.
Since that terrifying incident happened decades ago, and your father is no longer physically violent, and you didn’t worry about your family’s safety until your brother told you the story, you have to weigh whether it would be more harmful to your children to completely cut off contact with their grandparents or to continue to let your children see them. If you decide to keep your parents in your life, do not leave your children alone with them—your parents are too unstable to make decent babysitters.
Austin, Texas: I am an avid gamer, with my major form of recreation and relaxation being playing online role-playing games. My spouse prefers TV. Our “unwind” time is spent doing our respective favorite things, and we also have “together” time that may be spent talking, touching, or doing any of the other things married people might find to do.
Inside the game, I have lots of friends. Occasionally the role-playing can turn frankly erotic. I enjoy this, and it tends to stoke the fires. When the computer is shut down, my spouse gets the benefit of the activity in bed.
I have no emotional connection with any of the online players. My spouse is getting all the physical action. But I worry … am I cheating?
Emily Yoffe: I hear from so many frustrated, horny husbands who would be thrilled that their wives get aroused at the computer terminal, and then turn to them for release. What you’re doing is not cheating, but I can see why you feel that you’re perhaps engaging in a kind of virtual infidelity. So be honest with your husband. You can say when you’re starting a session sometimes things get kind of hot in cyberspace, and you hope he doesn’t get too caught up in a television show because you might be needing his services.
Ft. Meade, Md.: What is your opinion on brushing one’s teeth in the office break room sink? Does it really matter if there are dishes in it or not? The washrooms are only a few steps away. Isn’t that the more appropriate place for tending to dental hygiene? Many thanks.
Emily Yoffe: My opinion about going to get a cup of coffee and seeing someone spew plaque all over the cups in the sink—eewwww!
Flossing and brushing at work are fine, because, as you say, there’s a place for it, and that’s the bathroom sink. As with an airplane sink, the tooth brusher should make sure there are no traces of his or her oral hygienics left behind. Someone needs to tell the person with the pearly whites to please take the brushing to the bathroom.
San Francisco: My husband and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our lives in March. I’m white, my husband is Korean, and our daughter resembles him much more than me. That is, she could pass for 100 percent Korean. I have no problem with this—my husband is a very good-looking man—but when strangers come to coo over my baby, they assume she is adopted! I have had several comments about how great it is that I have decided to adopt a baby girl from abroad, or even received questions from people asking me advice on the adoption process for themselves or friends.
I know I don’t owe these strangers anything, but I am often caught so off-guard by these comments and become quite upset. Any advice on dealing with these assumptions?
Emily Yoffe: It’s true that you owe strangers nothing, but as you’ve experienced, you have to have some way to deal with what’s a constant annoyance. First of all, try not to get upset. As your daughter gets older, she will pick up that you have some discomfort over strange questions about where she came from. You can simply say, “Actually, she looks just like my husband,” or, “I don’t know anything about adoption, I’m afraid. Our daughter looks just like my husband.”
Chicago: I work for my father. He is president of the company and is over 70. He is still very sharp and knows more about the business than I ever will, but a) his short term memory is beginning to go and b) he forwards e-mails without thinking. On several occasions he has forwarded things that are inappropriate or conservative falsehoods/racist. I’ve spoken to him about it before and tried to explain that I’m concerned about him and exposure to lawsuits, but he always goes back to doing it. Memorywise, he’s forgetting recent business things that have already been discussed or acted upon.
I love him and respect him, and I’m not sure how to handle these lapses. I’m both worried about him and embarrassed for him. Any suggestions?
Emily Yoffe: You need to get your father an immediate, comprehensive physical and neurological examination. Perhaps he has a condition that can be treated—maybe conflicting medications are harming his memory, for example. But he may be in the early stages of dementia. If so, that means he is no longer going to be able to run the business, and it will be run into the ground unless a new management structure is put in place. You are both his child and his employee, and so you have to act with both compassion toward your father and with hard-eyed realism about his capacity to keep at the helm of the company. As painful as this all is, and while your father may resist and rebel, know that if he were in good health, he would appreciate that you are stepping up to take care of the business he has nurtured for so many years.
Anywhere, USA: I have a small problem with tears. I’m a female in my late 20s, and I find myself welling up not only at touching commercials or hallmark cards, but just about any time I experience conflict in my work or living environments. It’s really frustrating for me, because I feel rational, yet my eyes are stinging, and I’m trying not to cry while discussing pretty minor issues, like edits to a project or whose turn it is to clean the toilet. Any advice for how to keep the waterworks in check?
Emily Yoffe: If this is a new problem, you might want to get an endocrine check to make sure your hormones aren’t out of whack. If this is a lifelong problem, it’s possible cognitive therapy, which will give you exercises to deal with this, could help. While you’re trying to figure this out, if the waterworks start, you can say to your co-workers, “Please ignore the tears, I’ve unfortunately got overactive tear ducts, but I’m actually perfectly fine.”
Otherwise—readers, any ideas?
Portland, Ore.: A close family friend of mine is getting married in about a month, and I am a bridesmaid. I wasn’t so much asked as assumed into the role due to our close relationship. As seems to be the trend, it will be a fairly extravagant event, a multiday event with several hundred guests. I feel that I have been very helpful in the planning but am burdened by the immense costs. Not only are there multiple destination events (showers and such), I am expected to host another shower, plan the rehearsal dinner, house out-of-town guests, and pay for multiple bridesmaids dresses (for each day). I was laid off several months ago and have yet to find a steady paycheck. The bride’s sister kindly loaned me the money for a dress, but I am at a loss for how to handle everything else. Is it too late to back out? If not, how do I do it? If yes, what should I do? Many are feeling the strain of this event, but all refuse to back me when confronting the couple.
Emily Yoffe: Your letter makes me think maybe it’s time for bridesmaids to form a Bridal Tea Party, and in protest of the escalating costs of weddings, you could dump crinoline into a harbor. (Maybe crinoline would be good at sopping up oil in the Gulf!) Since the wedding is a month away, hasn’t all the planning and purchasing been done? You say you’re expected to host “another” shower. This means the bride has already had a shower, so you can tell her it’s not raining gifts and one shower will have to do. As for the rehearsal dinner, that is the responsibility of the couple getting married, so explain to them that you’re unable to underwrite that or even plan it. If you’ve agreed to have guests at your home, that shouldn’t cost you anything but some coffee and bagels, so keep that obligation. But what’s with the “multiple” bridesmaid dresses? Is this bride getting married on successive days? You’ve already got one dress—that’s got you in hock—so that little number will just have to cover all the extravaganzas.
San Antonio, Texas: I had a miscarriage a few years ago. I’ve dealt with it pretty well and just get a bit sad on Christmas Eve (the day it happened). This year though, I was a bit surprised on Mother’s Day to be given gifts from a couple of family members. One said she didn’t want me to feel left out; the other said I’m a “future” mother. This really just served to remind me that I’m not a mother, and if I hadn’t miscarried, I would now have a beautiful child. I’m trying to figure out whether to say anything to these well-meaning but misguided in-laws. I have a good relationship with them. I just don’t want to be reminded anymore than necessary, especially on emotionally loaded holidays, what my life is missing.
Emily Yoffe: The key is, as you say, they are well-meaning but misguided. I hope you just said, “I appreciate your thinking of me.” If you want to make sure it doesn’t happen again, your husband could pull them aside and thank them for their thoughtfulness and add that Mother’s Day is so hard for you that you prefer not to be reminded of your loss.
West Palm Beach, Fla.: I am the receptionist in an office where different companies share the same workspace. We all get along well, and there is always some little party going on: birthday, new employee welcome, etc. My co-workers are nice and bring me a piece of cake since I can’t leave the front desk. While I’m glad that they’re thoughtful and think of me, my problem is that when I say, “No thanks,” they never take no for an answer. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood for cake. Whenever I say, “I’m really not hungry now but thanks for thinking of me!” they make comments hinting that the reason I don’t want the cake is because I want to stay thin. This is annoying because while I eat healthy, I have no problem eating a piece of cake if I’m in the mood for it. I’ve eaten things they’ve brought me in the past, so it’s not as if I am always saying no. When they keep insisting, should I just take it and toss it in the trash when they’re not looking? How can I get them to accept that I’m not in the mood for sweets without having them make comments?
Emily Yoffe: Have a bunch of empty food containers in your bottom drawer. Then when they want to make you eat cake, thank them for thinking of you, pull out a container, and say this is going to make a yummy desert for you this evening (then you can take it home and toss it). It’s true people should not comment on other people’s eating habits. But you also feel a bit silly if you bring someone a cake and she, even politely, waves you off.
Unwanted tears: Hope I’m not too late with this. I have this problem, too. While I can’t stop the impulse, I have learned a trick to stop my voice from cracking and that’s to clear my throat. It physically interrupts the “lump in the throat” that makes my voice break. I can sound a little annoying at times with the throat clearing, I suppose, but it’s far preferable to sounding like I’m crying.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks for this advice!
Los Angeles: Two good friends are getting married. I introduced them. I counseled her through relationship doubts and helped him plan the proposal. Independently with each of them, I proofread résumés, listened to familial gripes, picked up the phone at 2 a.m. when something had gone wrong.
I thought that they would ask me to be involved in the wedding, but despite each of them having five attendants (both are only children) and multiple readers, speechmakers, etc., the most they’ve asked me to do is pass out programs.
I know that their wedding has everything to do with each other and nothing to do with me. I’ve tried to gracefully accept the fact that my two dear friends were now closer to each other than they were to me, and be nothing but happy for them.
But I’m really, really hurt. I know saying something to them is not appropriate, but how else should I manage my feelings?
Emily Yoffe: I understand this hurts—but you could still hold a place of honor in the toasts. And think of it this way, you have saved money on planning the shower(s), the bachelor or bachelorette parties, and buying a closetful of bridesmaids dresses (which should be an especially welcome savings if you’re a guy). Don’t hold a grudge; these days, only being expected to pass out programs is a gift from the bride and groom.
Portland, Ore., (again): Thanks for the help. I’m pleased to host the guests and even transport them to the various events. I’ve been asked to organize the dinner since I will have the free time that everyone else will be spending at out-of-town parties. The multiple dresses are for something like successive wedding days. Bachelorette party outfits, ceremony, reception, and after party. The other bridesmaids have already purchased these, but I have been putting it off and just stressing. Is it OK not to participate to the extent of the other ladies?
Emily Yoffe: It’s OK for you to say, “About the rehearsal dinner, I won’t be planning it. I wanted to let you know so that someone else can do it.” As for the dresses, I’d be temped to wear a sandwich board that says, “Will work for bridesmaid dresses,” but you can wear something nice that’s already in your closet. If as a result you lose this couple as friends, it’s sounds like it will be a plus for your bank account.
Re: Tears: I’ve heard that when you feel tears coming on, pinching the skin between your thumb and index finger (that little webby area) can stop the waterworks. I’ve tried it if I get upset while sitting at my desk, and it’s worked, but I’ve never tried it around people. And I’m sure it might not work for everyone. Worth a try, though.
Emily Yoffe: Worth a try, thank you.
And I hope everyone has a week without a reason to cry. Thanks, all.