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 Writes: Good afternoon. Let’s get to your questions.
Q. My New Wife, the Former Bridezilla: I just got married a few weeks ago. When we opened our wedding gifts, my wife was startled to find a book on bridal etiquette. The book came in a package enclosed with no name, just a note saying, “For next time, you might need this.”
Inside the book, there were things highlighted that my wife should have done, like paying for the rehearsal dinner and sending thank-you cards. My wife is FURIOUS. She knows it must be one of her close friends, because some of the things that were highlighted in the book were things that only our close friends and family knew. She’s on the warpath.
Here’s the catch—I know exactly who sent the book. It was one of her bridesmaids, in fact it was her “best friend.” I am torn between telling my wife and keeping it quiet, because truth be told, my wife was the DEFINITION of a bridezilla when planning out our wedding, and I felt bad for her attendants. There were times when even I was doubting our relationship. The girl who sent the book obviously has no intention of telling my wife, but I don’t really WANT to tell her either. I want her to think about how crappily she treated her friends and family, including her new in-laws. Am I obligated to tell my wife about her “friend?”
A: Your wife may be on the warpath, but I wonder if you’re on the divorce path, given the revelations about her character. I’ve often wondered what the grooms are thinking when they see their beloved turn into a demanding shrew because it’s “her” (never “our”) day. If you truly are going to build a life together, the conversation you need to have is not about who sent the book but why the book was sent. You can agree it was an insulting, underhanded thing to do (and her best friend should have spoken up, not sent the book). But then you need to segue into, “Honey, I know planning a wedding can be very stressful, but I think you actually do need to make amends to some people for the way you treated them.” Sure, she’ll probably respond badly, but if she can’t eventually calm down and look at her behavior, if she goes on the warpath against you, you really need to think about who you married.
Q. Bizarre Child’s Name: What can you do when your daughter has given your grandson a completely weird first and middle name? I am so upset that she and her husband gave this child a name that will be a detriment his whole life. I can’t even use his initials to call him by. Do I attempt to talk to them about this? Heartbroken Grandmother.
A: Even if your daughter has named her grandson Lady Gaga Rabinowitz, that’s her choice. I agree an embarrassing name will be an impediment to your grandson, but making a breach with your daughter now over it won’t help him. (And is it possible that the name, while ridiculous to you, is actually not as weird as you think?) While there are letter combos that may carry dual meanings— M.F., B.M., F.U., for example, I can’t believe any letter combination is unutterable, as you imply. Lighten up, rejoice in your new grandson, and maybe someday he’ll turn to his mother and say, “I want you to call me Pete!”
Q. Adult Adoption Ruining the Family: Six months ago, my parents adopted a 30-year-old man they have known for years. He is not disabled in any way, is married, and has three children.
While I am a big supporter of adoption, this adult adoption is not good for my family. This man is everything that my mother used to warn me about—sexist, racist, shoots guns for fun, and is always a jerk. He was stationed in Iraq six years ago, and that is when my mother became obsessed with him. She would drop anything for him, even doing things she would never do for her biological children.
When he returned, he moved into my parents’ home, and it got worse. He taught her to shoot, although she always told me to stay away from guns. She would plan family events (like Father’s Day) with him and his new wife/children, and exclude my sister and me—even inviting him to my grandfather’s funeral though they had never met.
When my parents told me they were adopting him, I told them that if they adopted him, I would distance myself from them. That was six months ago, and I have not spoken to them since.
My problem is, now I am getting married, and I am unsure of what to do. I am still angry and upset over their choice, but I am unsure if I should involve them since they are my parents. Is there a proper and possibly less hurtful way to inform my parents they are not invited or needed, or should I just get over it?
A: You usually read about this kind of thing—an older person with children who adopts an adult—when the older person is very rich and losing his or her marbles, and the younger person would like the inheritance. I don’t know what’s going on here other than, if it’s as you say, it’s utterly bizarre. Given the profound personality change you describe in your mother, it has the hallmarks of mental illness. Has she been evaluated by a professional? And what’s up with Dad that he’s participating in this folie à deux?
Since you sound torn about no longer being in touch with your parents, you could contact them and ask for a rapprochement. Explain this whole thing has been very confusing and difficult for you. Say you would like to understand better the thinking behind the adoption and hope you can express the feelings you and your sister have about the adoption. Tell them you’re getting married and the pain of your estrangement is particularly acute. If they can’t have a reasonable discussion with you, or even understand your difficulties, then perhaps you have no choice but to continue the break.
Q. Unrequited Love: I’m in love with my married boss. He’s a smart, kind, and intelligent guy, and I’ve had feelings for him for a few months now. I consider him one of my best friends, and we’ve shared a lot with each other.
He’s confided in me about family issues, career concerns, and occasionally about general marriage issues. Although nothing inappropriate has happened between us, I’d bet that his wife wouldn’t be happy to know that her husband is this close to a younger, reasonably attractive woman. I honestly don’t believe he would ever actually make a move, but through our conversations and the way I catch him looking at me sometimes, I don’t think I’m the only one who has had these feelings.
I’m at the point where I look forward to seeing him every day, and I miss him whenever he’s not around. I imagine what it would be like to be in a relationship with him, and there’s nothing I want more. I know this is an extremely unhealthy “relationship,” and if he does feel the same way, I’d be in even bigger trouble, but I don’t know what to do.
A: Sure Jodie Fisher, late of Hewlett-Packard, hired Gloria Allred and got some kind of compensation for the CEO of HP having a “personal relationship” with her. But usually these things don’t have a pot of gold at the end of them, just the wreckage of career and family. You already know you’ve both crossed some implicit lines, so pull back now while you don’t actually have anything to regret or explain away as you look for a new job. You’re wrong that nothing inappropriate has happened. Discussing his marriage with you is inappropriate, as is turning to a subordinate to confess his deepest emotions. End the intimate conversations. Next time he drifts into one, you need to say something like, “Mark, we’ve been talking about things that aren’t appropriate for work, and we should stop.” If you or he can’t stop, then you need to seek a transfer to another department.
Q. Re: Weird Names: I think “weird” names are annoying and lame … but she’s “heartbroken” and “so upset”? Isn’t that a little over the top? If baby Skywalker is otherwise healthy and happy, leave it alone.
Q. Forced Relations Not a Marital Right: I’ve been married 20-plus years and with the same man for more than 30. I’m just tired of being coerced, guilted, and emotionally forced to submit to relations two or three times per week. I’ve no interest in him and none in anyone else. I’m worn down and just sad that it’s come to this in order to keep a balance of happiness in the relationship.
Husband knows of my feelings but says that he’s “entitled” and he’s already “settling” for less than he should get. I have been called a poor excuse for a wife.
I do care for him and feel loyal and can’t see myself with anyone else—although I can see myself alone, although it would be an adjustment. I know he loves me and is not happy either, but I know my emotional and physical attraction has been killed.
How do you know if you no longer “love” someone and are just staying because it’s comfortable and you know he couldn’t make it on his own? I’ve always been the major breadwinner in the family (my health insurance buys his “blue pills”)—and don’t want to tear apart our home, at least not until our college-age kids are on their own.
A: You’re providing the means for him to gobble enough Viagra so that he can force you to have sex, and you feel “loyal” to this guy? Your kids are in college, so they’re already out on their own, and there’s no reason for you to endure his disparagement and “entitlement” for their sake. Sure, you can do some couples counseling, but I would also be on a parallel track with a lawyer. Your husband sounds like an abusive loser. Think how sweet it might feel to let him find a sex partner, and a job that covers his Viagra needs, on his own.
Q. FMIL Thinks I’m a Spoiled Rich Brat. I’m not: My future mother-in-law thinks I’m a spoiled brat. My fiance and I have had very different upbringings, and he’s had to help his parents out with bills and things since he was 12 years old. I’ve never really had to worry about money. Since I was 18, I’ve been paying most of my own expenses. My parents DID pay for my undergraduate education, but I’ve paid all my bills and insurance payments since I was 18, and I work three jobs now to get myself through grad school without their help. I don’t expect to live the lifestyle my parents have just because I’m their daughter. The other day, we had a lunch with my parents, my fiance, and his parents. It was at my parents’ house. I thought it went well, but afterward I heard my FMIL telling her son that he shouldn’t marry me because I’m a spoiled rich brat, and “girls like her just DON’T fall in love with boys like you.” What do I do? I actually LIKE my FMIL, but I didn’t know she thought this about me. How do I show her that I’m not just another Paris Hilton?
A: Stop being so defensive just because your future mother-in-law has a cinderblock on her shoulder. Instead of enjoying your parents’ hospitality, she used it as an occasion to undermine your relationship with her son because of her own insecurity. That’s really nasty. Tell your boyfriend you overheard her remark, and it was not only clearly untrue but deeply wounding. What’s important is that your fiance knows how wrong and unpleasant his mother is being. As long as he does, just ignore her sniping. You don’t have to show her your pay stubs to try to prove something to her that’s none of her business.
Q. A Noisy Ostomy: I am a Stage IV colon cancer survivor. The repair work that surgeons did was a disaster (through no fault of their own), and nine years after the original surgery the only apparent solution was a colostomy. I am careful about my diet, but sometimes this ”little guy” releases gas—almost always at the worst possible times (sigh). Yes, I am lucky I am alive and I have decided I can help others through a second career in nursing (at age 60). But I am in classes with 18-20 year-old females and, well, the ostomy occasionally makes gaseous noise. Any suggestions on how to handle this?
One suggestion was an “announcement” explanation before the class (cringe). I hope you have a better idea than that!
A: How wonderful that you’re starting on such an exciting adventure—congratulations! As Miss Manners, et. al., have pointed out there are noises we acknowledge (a sneeze) and those we don’t (gaseous emissions). However, as I recall the wonderful etiquette writer Letitia Baldrige also went through colon cancer surgery and wrote about being at meetings where her insides were loudly making their presence known. She thought it was best to deal with this directly and said something like (I paraphrase), “Please excuse the noises, my internal organs are rebelling after surgery, and we’ll just have to live with it,” putting everyone else at ease. I don’t think you need to stand in front of the class and make an announcement. But if your “little guy” is acting up, you can explain, “Ah, sounds from the deep. I had colon cancer many years ago, and sometimes my body wants to let everyone in the room know about it.” You will be doing your young classmates a favor by being so upfront and comfortable about some of the medical issues they will be confronting.
Q. Weird Names: I have a “weird name,” and while growing up, I wished I could be called “Jane.” I love it as an adult. It is certainly not a detriment, but a bonus. It sets me apart and makes me unique.
A: Great point. This is why Susan Weaver became Sigourney Weaver. For many years, I loved being “Emily” because I was usually the only one around. Now every female under 25 is required by law to be named Emily.
Also, for the future, a “weird” name will mean the baby won’t have a Facebook page with a name shared by hundreds of users.
Q. HIPAA Law Help: I am in the health care industry. I work in a clinic. I treated my cousin’s boyfriend for an STD which could be very harmful (not AIDS). I know who he is, but he does not know me. It is illegal for me to share medical information with anyone, but I am 100 percent sure that my cousin does not know. I feel some sort of responsibility to tell her. Is there a way?
A: Haven’t you answered your own question when you say it is illegal for you to share this information? If you see this patient again for follow-up, surely you can say that this STD can be very harmful to a partner and his girlfriend must be tested and treated for it. Beyond that, readers, is there any way to get this information to the cousin?
Q. In-Laws Like To Kiss: My in-laws like to kiss hello and goodbye. Sometimes on the lips, sometimes on the cheek. I feel extremely uncomfortable with this and don’t want to be kissed by my husband’s father or his uncle. However, I feel if I tell them this, it will make everyone more uncomfortable, and I will be seen as “weird” and unsociable.
I’ve tried to avoid this by keeping my face as far away from his mouth as humanly possible when I give a “half hug” hello. I have also spoken directly to my husband and told him that I do not like this. Finally, I have already told his father that I do not like to kiss hello or goodbye. Yet it continues, and it is incredibly disgusting. How do I deal with this situation?
A: Your message is a little confusing since you say you don’t want to tell about your desire not to be kissed, but it also sounds as if you’ve explained this to the offenders in a respectful, adult way. If you’ve made you’re discomfort at kissing absolutely clear, your next step is to take action. The next time your father-in-law moves in to plant a big wet one, put your palms out and hold his shoulders away from you while you say, “No kiss.” Unless he’s an idiot, you shouldn’t have to do this more than a few times. If it just won’t stop, tell your husband that you’re going to be tempted to escalate from palms-to- shoulder to knee-to-groin, and you’d like him to explain to his father that you’re not the kissing kind.
Q. Brother-in-Law Starting a Family. Oh, No: Let me begin by saying I love my sister, and my brother-in-law is a very nice guy, so this is painful. They are both in their late 30s and have been together for seven years. Recently, they announced that they are going to start a family. Normally this would be good news, but my sister has zero clue what that really involves, and I fear she may be making a mistake.
They both value their personal time far too much to raise children, and neither one of them actually seems to like children. They go out to eat and party with other single/childless friends five or six nights a week. They travel extensively and have said they have no intention of giving up any of these things. They “value their personal time and friends too much and will NOT allow children to interfere with their fun.”
I’ve thought about letting them “borrow” my 2- and 4-year-olds for a weekend just to see how they deal with it, but honestly I’m too concerned about my kids’ welfare. What do I do?
A: You sit back, wait for them to have children, and then you and your husband laugh your heads off when they say they haven’t gone out in a month because they’re so sleep deprived and the last time they rented a movie they fell asleep during the opening credits.
Or maybe they will be the kind of people who swaddle the kids, stick them in a backpack, and hike the Rockies—if so, good for them. There’s no need to call in child protective services to protect kids who haven’t been conceived.
Q. Bridezilla-To-Be?: I’m engaged and planning a wedding, and my most fervent hope is that my “best” friends and family call me on any obnoxious behavior. Gently and tactfully, of course—but still, NONE of the bride’s friends saw fit to stand up to her? Not even the groom? No wonder the bride went over the edge—how can you fend off any queen-for-a-day tendencies if no one will be honest with you?
A: It isn’t the job of your loved ones to monitor you when you become a monster. Everyone understands that people sometimes get short when they’re stressed out (and if the wedding planning is so stressful, maybe it needs to be scaled back). But it is any bride’s responsibility to put the whole thing in perspective and understand it’s just one day out of her life. The point of the wedding is to launch an exciting new phase while surrounded by one’s nearest and dearest. This should not cause the bride to develop a new and wholly obnoxious personality.
Q. RE: HIPAA Law Help: I work in the health care industry, and there is absolutely no circumstance in which HLH can share this information. The most she could do is tell the boyfriend who she is, explain that she cannot under any circumstances share the information, and implore that he shares it himself. And how can she be 100 percent sure her cousin doesn’t know? That’s information I wouldn’t go around telling people, even if the subject came up in conversation.
A: Thanks. Another reader writes in that some STDs are required to be reported to the local health board, which will then seek to identify the people exposed, and that’s something the clinic may need to do. I can’t verify this information in this chat, but it’s something for the person at the clinic to look into.
Q. RE: Bizarre Child’s Name: Maybe you can just make up your own nickname for him. My mom calls my daughter “Sweet Pea.” She’s made it clear she doesn’t like the name we picked for our daughter, but she hasn’t said that outright, and I’m glad she hasn’t. The name isn’t going to change. And I have no problem with her using a cute nickname. Now that she’s learning to say sentences, my daughter sometimes smiles and says “I’m Grammy’s Sweet Pea!” It’s a solution I can live with.
A: What a lovely solution for all!
Thanks, everyone. And thanks today to the Washington Post producer of the chat, Paul Williams, who tells me he knows all too well the pain of having a common name!