Due to the July Fourth holiday, Prudie will host her next live Web chat at Washingtonpost.com on a special day: Tuesday, July 6, at 1 p.m. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
I’m in my mid-30s and have been dating an incredible woman for six months. I’m thinking about our long-term future together. I believe in being honest, though I know that some things about one’s past need not be discussed. I’m torn as to whether I should tell my girlfriend about something I did years ago. When I was in college, in order to earn some extra money I became a sperm donor. I don’t have any specific information about the children that resulted, but I do know I have several. The clinic has a policy of strict anonymity, however laws can change, and it’s conceivable that a court could compel the clinic to reveal information about its donors. For a while I’ve had a tinge of worry that the doorbell might ring one day, and I’ll see a teenager who resembles me standing on my stoop calling me Dad. Is this something I should tell my girlfriend about and, if so, when?
—Donor With a Guilty Conscience
You don’t have anything to be guilty about, although your letter does raise seminal issues about encouraging college students (all those young, viable gametes!) to donate their sperm or eggs for financial reasons before they are fully able to understand the potential lifelong consequences. You’re right, even though you are supposed to be anonymous, laws can change, and society is moving toward giving the offspring of donors the right to know their biological origins. I also agree that honesty does not require full disclosure about your sexual past—just about the parts that are relevant to your new love. That would be things such as the fact that you picked up herpes or that you fathered enough children to form your own basketball team. It definitely is conceivable that your progeny could turn up—such a situation is the plot of the upcoming movie The Kids Are All Right. So use this convenient cultural peg to say to your girlfriend, “I’m curious about this movie, because, guess what, in college I was a sperm donor.” If she’s that incredible, and you two are that much in love, she should take it as a good sign that if you both eventually want to have children, you’re up to the task.
I’m an experienced litigator with an appearance problem that’s affecting my work. I just started a new job as a partner with a great law firm. The other partners have been taking me around to introduce me to clients and pitch for business. The problem is the clients’ comments on my appearance. I’m a petite, feminine-looking woman. I dress conservatively, wear little makeup, and try to look as neutral as possible. But the male clients frequently make comments like, “You don’t look mean” and “You look too nice to be a litigator.” (Women clients never say such things.) Even my own partners have made similar comments. It pisses me off and makes me uncomfortable. I’m a good courtroom lawyer, yet I’m afraid of being written off because I don’t look like a tough guy. I don’t want to jump all over these men, but I want to convey that I’m a fighter in court and that they shouldn’t be making inane comments on my appearance in the first place.
You’re a litigator, so you know you have to be unflappable and ready for surprises, and have the ability to turn a seeming setback to your advantage. As ridiculous as the potential clients’ remarks are, it’s much better that they’re actually saying them to your lovely face, so you can address their troglodyte concerns. Look them in the eye, let an enigmatic smile play across your lips, and say, “As you know, looks can be deceiving. If our opponents choose to underestimate me, that will be to our advantage.” As for your partners, if they continue to make these comments, don’t get defensive, but do get direct. Tell them that they brought you onboard because they know how skillful you are in the courtroom. Say that you’re sure they don’t mean to imply that a petite woman can’t be as effective a litigator as a large man. End with the observation that now that this issue has been thoroughly litigated, you’re sure the topic can be considered closed.
My eldest daughter, “Susie,” is turning 10, and her father and I are allowing her to get her ears pierced. We were talking about this in the car when her 6-year-old sister, “Jasmine,” asked, “Can I come watch?” Susie responded, “No! I don’t want you there!” making Jasmine cry. Susie has told me that sometimes she wishes she didn’t have a sister, and that she thinks I favor Jasmine. I try not to play favorites, but there definitely are times when I am harder on Susie since I expect more from her because she’s older. I want Susie to let Jasmine come, because I want them to have fun together as sisters and to be friends for life. My husband has recommended that I go along with Susie’s wishes. He is the older of two brothers, and his perspective is of the older sibling who gets tired of having the younger one always tagging along. I was the younger sister who always wanted to do things with my older sister. I want to teach Susie that even though it’s her birthday, she needs to think of other people besides herself. What should I do?
At least when Susie gets the stud gun shot in her earlobe, she’ll have an excuse for her own tears. I’m assuming you’re not going to be very sympathetic to her despair that you’re turning her birthday into a forced lesson in empathy. Allow your husband’s wisdom about being the older sibling to help guide you with Susie. I agree that Susie has to be called out on her rudeness to her sister. But you can tell her that while you didn’t like the way she talked to Jasmine, you understand that sometimes she wants to do things without having her sister along—and that her ear piercing is going to be one of those occasions. You leave the impression that you tend to identify more with Jasmine and have a shorter fuse with Susie. If I’m picking this up, so is Susie. Of course you want your daughters to be friends. But imposing your childhood longing to be wanted by your big sister on their relationship is just going to increase their resentment of each other. You need to spend more time noticing when Susie does something you like and carving out one-on-one time with her. I also recommend you read the excellent The Sister Knot. It will give you a perspective on the intense feelings of love, jealousy, protectiveness, and exasperation that are the natural result of having a sister.
My cousin “Bill” is getting married next month to his fiancee, “Jane.” They live out of state and have had a short courtship, so most of my family hasn’t met Jane. After they set their wedding date, my older sister “Tammy,” who has not met Jane, sent Jane a message on Facebook introducing herself and asking Jane to change her wedding date because Tammy had a conflict. Jane declined, there were subsequent hurt feelings, and Jane decided not to invite my sister to the wedding. This has caused a problem in my family, as other people are now refusing to go to the wedding because my sister is not invited. I thought what my sister did was selfish and rude, but also that Jane’s response was a little much. I talked to my sister about apologizing to Jane to smooth things over, and she refuses. She says she didn’t do anything wrong and Jane is crazy for being upset. My concern here is that this is going to be a feud that will last for years. Can you please help my sister understand why what she did was unacceptable and that Jane’s response is not crazy?
—In the Middle
Dear In the Middle,
A key here is what took place to cause the “subsequent hurt feelings.” You’re right that your sister’s request was completely, almost comically, out of line. It would have been best for Jane to keep it in her “You won’t believe this” file and to answer politely that she’ll regret not having Tammy at the wedding, but unfortunately the date can’t be changed. It sounds as if Jane, understandably taking umbrage, upped the rudeness, thus allowing Tammy to play the offended party. The situation now calls for two interventions. Someone—Bill perhaps—needs to tell Jane to be the big one and to send Tammy an invitation. She should include a note explaining she’s sorry they got off to a bad start, but she hopes that Tammy will be able to attend, and if she can’t, she looks forward to meeting her soon. Yes, it’s a bunch of lies, but that’s what good family relations are built on. Instead of trying to explain to your sister that she’s nuts, you should acknowledge to Tammy that Jane’s disinvitation was unacceptable, but say brides can be wacky. Then tell her the entire family will be forever grateful if she would let Jane know she’s sorry about this spat and wants to put it behind them. If Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston can patch things up, Tammy and Jane should be able to, too.