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. I look forward to your questions.
Q. A Ticket to Rudeness: I have some dear friends who went to visit my old hometown on the coast. Because they are avid nature lovers and expressed some interest, I managed to secure some tickets to the local aquarium. Imagine my horror as they “live tweeted” and Facebook-posted their utter contempt for the place. They criticized the exhibits as chintzy, pathetic, and dull, even posting photos of themselves pointing, laughing, and being bored to tears while ridiculing the animals. The aquarium is small, funded via donations and grants, and is dedicated to rehabilitating injured animals. They managed somehow to find fault with this, stating that they found themselves stuck watching “retarded, gimpy things” and how grateful they were that they didn’t have to pay to see them. I have been to this aquarium many times and applaud the efforts they undertake to help animals. I have no idea how to respond, if at all, to the drubbing my friends inflicted. I feel personally ashamed for some reason and don’t even want to talk to these people again. My partner said I should let it go, but I can’t help but think these people should have handled their disappointment, and my gift, differently. Advice?
A: Who knew that the wonders of social networking would allow guests to live broadcast their insulting commentary on the hospitality of their hosts! What a clever way of getting out of the need to write a thank-you note, since the hosts have already been able to read what a rotten time they provided. Your experience makes me doubly angry since I’m one of those people who loves small, local enterprises such as your aquarium. Their charm is their intimacy and dedication. How awful that you have found out that your “dear friends” are actually ungrateful boors. I don’t think you should let this go. How can you, since they virtually baited you to respond to their denigration? I think you should tell them that since you are Facebook friends and follow their tweets, you couldn’t help but see how much they disliked their experience at the aquarium. Say that you expected they would enjoy the excursion and are sorry they didn’t. But you were hurt to read their stream of commentary about how bad a time they were having. If they aren’t abashed and don’t apologize, then I agree, you may have to rethink this friendship.
Dear Prudence: Meddlesome Matchmakers
Q. Boulder, Colo.: How do you know when someone is gold-digging? I went out on a first date last week and the woman said to me that if a guy doesn’t lavish a woman with expensive dinners, gifts, vacations, etc., he’s just showing her how cheap he is. Throughout the meal she was trying to subtly determine my income. She also let me know that she’d never date a guy who didn’t drive a Mercedes, Audi, Cadillac, or comparable car. I’m not going out with her again, but she seemed to be digging for gold big time. I do pretty well for myself (I own my own business), so what other signs should I look for to make sure someone’s dating me for me and not my money?
A: Beyond the neon dollar signs that flashed each time your date blinked her eyes, another good sign that she’s a gold digger is if she shows up with an auditor who requests your latest tax statement and the password to your 401(k). Look, this woman was worth her weight in gold as a great story to tell about your adventures in dating. Who in the world fixed you up with her?
Q. My Boss Wants Me To Let My Students Draw My Blood! Help!: I have a fantastic job teaching at a local career college. Faculty at my school are encouraged to foster relationships with students outside the classroom by getting involved in student groups, fundraisers, etc. I’m all for it, and I actively and frequently participate in such events. However, my boss often asks me to participate in one activity that I don’t care for: blood draws. Our nursing students are required to draw blood on a set number of people in order to pass a particular class. They practice on each other, but my boss will often drum up volunteers among the faculty and staff to help the students reach their blood draw quotas. My boss is a fantastic person, but she can be fairly persistent when it comes to getting faculty to volunteer for this. I’ve reluctantly agreed a few times, but I’m generally a little uncomfortable having my students stick me. In past, I’ve had students incorrectly draw my blood, which left bruising and soreness for a week or so afterward! A friend of mine (who’s a doctor) told me that it’s not in my best interest to continue to allow nursing students to practice on my arms, as repeated injury to the veins can make it difficult for professionals to draw blood and insert IV’s when I actually need it done. However, every few weeks, my boss strongly encourages me to help my students meet their quotas by rolling up my sleeves. How can I best tell my boss that this activity makes me uncomfortable, and that I don’t want to participate anymore?
A: I know vampire stories are all the rage right now, but actually having to have your blood taken at work is taking things too far. I know some offices demand so much you feel you’re giving blood, but this is ridiculous. You are justifiably sick of your boss sticking it to you, and I hope you don’t feel threatened in your career if you say you’re now drained. I know these students have to learn, but an incorrect blood draw can do damage, and you’ve suffered enough. If you feel you have to give an explanation beyond, “No, thanks,” say a physician counseled you about the dangers of scar tissue and your days of giving at the office are concluded.
Q. Office Etiquette—Scooching Professionally: Here’s an office etiquette question I am curious about. A few days ago, we had a big office meeting in our company’s auditorium. The room was pretty full when I got there, and as I was looking for a seat, a group of male colleagues offered me an empty seat in their row. It was really very nice of them. But, the seat was about six people in. No one stood up to let me in, so, I had “scooch” through the row to get to the open seat. I scooched facing the front of the auditorium, trying to stay as close as possible to the seats in front of me but am now embarrassed that my behind was pretty much at their eye level during what felt like a very long, slow process of getting to my seat. Should I have faced backwards for the scooching? Less butt-in-the-face for my colleagues, but also pretty awkward and fraught with potential for knocking into the heads of the people in the row ahead. Any advice? What would you have done?
A: I wonder if they are just a bunch of clods, or if they were deliberately enjoying a little show by forcing you to rub past them. If there is not enough room for a newcomer to comfortably squeeze into a seat, then it’s the obligation of the seated to rise so the new person can get in. They also could have all just moved over one seat, freeing up the chair along the aisle for you. If things were too close for you to comfortably scooch by, especially since you knew these guys, you could have said, “I hate to make you all stand, but I’m afraid I’ll trip over your feet.” There’s nothing to do now. But if you find yourselves in the same situation with these guys again, stand your ground until they stand for you.
Q. Thanksgiving With the Crazy In-Laws: My mother-in-law has suffered from a serious mental illness for the past 20 years and has been in intensive therapy during most of that time. She is reclusive and anti-social, and her feelings are very delicate. Over the past year or so, she and her therapist have been working on her “re-entry into society.” She now goes out of the house, attends church, and has a job, which is great! But now after a lifetime of absentee parenting, she wants to assert herself into our (adult) lives and tell us what to do. I usually host Thanksgiving for both sides of our family because it avoids a lot of family drama, and everyone has a good time. This year, she sent out an e-mail stating that Thanksgiving would be at her house this year, and ordering us to bring certain sides. I get that this is probably a big deal for her in her “recovery,” but we don’t want to go: We really don’t like visiting her house, and the thought of spending all day there fills us with dread. She also didn’t invite my side of the family, which means they won’t have anywhere to go and probably will not be capable of doing a Thanksgiving by themselves (most of them have undergone major surgery in the last six months). How do I get out of this pickle? Do I bite the bullet and go to her party, or do I pull a coup and throw my own Thanksgiving anyway? Maybe we should go on vacation? But then what about my family, who I want to see?
A: It’s great that your mother-in-law is getting help and becoming a productive citizen. It’s not so great that her new assertiveness means you preferred her when she was an agoraphobic hermit. If she knows you have taken on the annual Thanksgiving duties, it was abrupt and high-handed of her to announce her intention to host, and exclude your family, without discussing this first with you and your husband. This bludgeonlike reassertion of her “authority” is something she needs to work on with her therapist. There’s no reason for you to go along with her demands, especially since it would strand your family. You or your husband should talk to her and explain you expected to host again this year, it’s important that you do that because you have both sides of the family, and you hope she can attend. If she won’t back down, then let her have her party, and you have yours. Giving in to her unreasonable demands because they seem like part of her recovery will only mean you’ll be hoping for a relapse.
Q. Family-Owned Engagement Ring: My boyfriend just proposed with his grandmother’s ring (not her engagement ring, just a ring that had been passed down). It’s very nice and I like it, not what I would have chosen for an engagement ring, but it is what it is, and I’m happy with it. I am worried, however, about how to handle his family, who act like it is their ring, or still her ring (she passed years ago). I understand the importance of this ring to them, but (in my mind) it once was hers, but it’s mine now. My engagement ring. Comments like “Don’t lose Nana’s ring,” or “Nana did this or that with it” (took it off to wash her hands?) definitely make me feel like it’s on loan to me rather than belongs to me. How do I respond in a way that lets them know while respecting where it came from that it does belong to me now, symbolizing the love between me and their son? Sitting them down for a chat seems formal, and going one by one to parents, aunts, uncles, etc., would be daunting. On the other hand, snapping, “Well its MINE now” is totally out of the question (and out of character!).
A: It’s too bad you can’t say, “Hold on, I’m hearing something from the beyond. … My goodness, it’s Nana, and she’s telling you all to mind your own business because it’s my ring now!” Just smile and say, “Oh, I treasure the ring. Believe me, I don’t want to lose it.” In time the newness of the ring having a new owner will pass, and the remarks should cease.
Q. Prudish Texter: I went to a rather small, conservative, Christian high school, and while the partying and general social culture was much the same as it is in college; the dating part was pretty different. I find that when I meet guys here who seem interested in me, they automatically revert to texting, which ends up getting too steamy. After analyzing my sent messages over and over again with the help of some friends, I’m pretty sure that I don’t do anything to lead them into that line of conversation. I try to shut them down with a straight forward, “Sorry but I’m just not that type,” but it doesn’t seem to do very much. How do I make my stand clear without being too harsh (especially because I don’t want to alienate myself from my friends circle)? And whatever happened to asking a girl out for coffee instead of blowing up her phone with overly flirty texts?
A: More wonders of technology. What a clever way to impress a woman you’re interested in—send her a pornographic text! I’ve been dinged before by saying I don’t find it completely out of bounds for a guy to ask a woman out by text. But that requires a predicate of actually having talked to each other at some point first. So if someone you’re interested in texts you, respond by saying, “Let’s talk about a plan. Please call.” If a request for a date also comes with raunchy commentary, that’s a good way of weeding out the jerks. You can just reply, “No, thanks.”
Q. Slovenly Little Sister: I grew up in a home that was in every way filthy—dirty dishes, dirty clothes, dirty floors. Nothing ever got picked up or wiped down unless company was coming over (which was rare, because there was usually too much that had to be done). Now that I’m grown and married, I keep my own home much cleaner. But my little sister seems to think that the disgusting conditions we grew up in are normal. I recently went to visit her at her new apartment, and it was like my parents’ house all over again. Dirty dishes and food scraps covering every surface of the kitchen, clean laundry mixed with dirty laundry on the floor, junk on every soiled surface. The bathroom hadn’t been wiped down in weeks—and she knew I was coming for a visit. My sister often complains that she is ready to settle down, but can’t find the right guy. I’m worried that when she finds him, he’ll run the other way when he sees her living conditions. Should I say something and risk ruining our relationship, or should I just mind my own business?—OCD Older Sis
A: You do not have OCD just because you don’t like living in a cesspool. You have emerged from your foul nest, so help your sister do the same. Gently discuss with her how when you grew up you realized that the way your parents kept house was not normal. Explain you know that it’s hard to break out of longtime patterns, but you saw that her place was very reminiscent of your childhood home, and that’s going to be a turn-off to any date. Tell her cleaning up her act will make her feel better about herself and more comfortable with guests.
Q. Boss on a Diet: My Boss is on an extreme diet and her lunches are small, light, and likely unsatisfying. To keep herself on track, she has taken to scheduling lunchtime meetings nearly every day! I can eat at my desk before or after, but those are usually times when I have other calls, meetings, etc., making eating awkward. Also, I used to go out to lunch a couple of times per week or just walk or run errands. Prudie—I want my lunch time back! Help!
A: Ah, bosses. This week they are draining their subordinates’ blood and starving them. So because she’s trying not to eat midday, everyone in the office is supposed to suffer. Nice. I understand she may be particularly cranky because she’s she hungry, but she cannot prevent her staff from having lunch as a way of keeping herself on track. Explain to her the lunchtime meetings are making it impossible for you to actually have lunch, and you would appreciate returning to the previous schedule. Without going into the fine points of employment law, in general employees are legally entitled to a lunch break. So if she won’t back down, go over her head.
Q. My Neighbors and Their Dogs: I live in a large condo building and often end up in the elevator with people and their dogs. I am often dressed up for work in dry-clean-type clothing. People seem to think it’s OK to let their dogs bump up next to me, rub their wet nose on my pant leg, etc. This has happened to me a handful of times with different owners. I think it’s the mindset that everyone must love their dog as much as they do, but I feel it’s extremely rude, especially when I’m dressed nice for work. What do I say in this situation? I usually try to convey it by a look of disgust, but at that point I’ve already received the dog slobber.
A: Looks of disgust to dog owners just mark you as a horrible person who doesn’t appreciate little Foo-Foo. Since this involves multiple dog owners, talk to the condo board and have them send out a notice to people to please keep their dogs on a tight leash when riding in the elevator. As you begin to recognize the offenders, try smiling and speaking up: “Your dog’s adorable, but please don’t let her rub against my clothes. Thanks.”
Q. See Through: My retirement-age mom wears blouses and sweaters that leave little about her bra to the imagination (thin white blouse and white bra, dark sweater with eyelet pattern and white bra, black sweater with white bra). She’s not a secret exhibitionist, she’s just clueless. Although there’s no reason to be clueless. At a family gathering a few years ago, I lent her a camisole top to wear under her blouse (after my father remarked that her attire was inappropriate). At that time, she remarked that she’d have to buy some camisoles for herself. She doesn’t seem to have done that, though. Do I give her camisole tops for Christmas or decide she’s old enough to decide for herself how she wants to appear in public? Thanks!
A: I’m going to save this letter for my teenage daughter to let her know that perhaps someday turnabout will be fair play on commentary about clothing choices if I start running around looking like your mother. Your mother’s sartorial offenses don’t sound as if she’s running around looking like Madonna. If you realized she is now always dressing inappropriately, that might be a reason for general concern. If it’s just that occasionally a sweater may be more sheer than she realizes, speak up and say, “Mom, I can see your bra.” Why not be straightforward with her and ask if she would like some camisoles for Christmas? If she wouldn’t, then accept there’s not much you can do about how your retirement-age mother looks when she leaves the house.
Q. Marrieds vs. Singles: I am an early-30s single woman. I am excited to attend the wedding of a good friend and former co-worker this weekend. Another friend, C.D., just asked me if I wanted to go in on a wedding gift with her and her husband. She was at the store, told me the item’s price, and I happily accepted. My problem is that when she later texted me the final tally, my portion was half of the total—not the third that I had been planning on! Half is more than I was planning to spend, but not completely unaffordable. Should I just pay half and keep quiet? I don’t want to seem miserly, but I really thought that since three of us were going in together, the bill would be split in three. We are all employed, and I am only three years older than them, so it is not like I am their older, rich friend. What should I do?
A: If the three of you are going out to dinner and each pay for your own meal, that’s a three-way split. But if you’re sharing the cost of a gift with a married couple, sorry, that means 50-50. Next time you do this, make sure the gift is something you can afford half of.
Q. Politics as Usual: For the last year, I have been dating a wonderful man who makes me enormously happy. He treats me with love and respect and is an all around great human being. My worry is how people react to his occupation upon meeting him. He is a politician who was recently re-elected to office. When people (friends or family of mine who first meet him) learn this, the first question is inevitably asking what party he is affiliated with, and then many people feel inclined to start political debates. Many of my family members supported political candidates that my boyfriend did not, as they are members of the opposite party. I worry that when we join my family for the holidays certain people may use it as an opportunity to voice their less-than-friendly opinions about the current state of Maryland and monopolize his time with complaints and whining. I know that in his line of work this comes with the territory, but I feel as though he has the right to a relaxing, nonconfrontational holiday. What can I say to certain family and friends that will help them think of him as “X, my niece’s/friend’s/sister’s loving boyfriend,” instead of “X, the politician”?
A: He’s a successful politician, so he should have many ways of deflecting political conversations at social events. If you see he’s being cornered, feel free to step in and say, “Uncle Louie, Dan is a guest in our house, not on Meet the Press, so please stop grilling him.”
Q. Teacher Gifts—Help!: It’s getting close to the holidays, and the guilt gift season is upon us. Am I obligated to get gifts for my kids’ teachers? Everyone at our school does it, but I can’t afford it. It seems a cold shoulder will be coming my way and possibly the way of my children if I don’t follow the “tradition.” What to do?
A: Any teacher who would punish a kid for this belongs in another profession. Surely there are teachers who would be happy to forgo another coffee mug or fruitcake. You can give a meaningful gift without spending any money, however. I’ve heard from teachers that one of the best things they can get from a parent is a card in which you write how much what she does has meant to your child.
Q. Emily Yoffe writes: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.
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