Dear Prudence

A Pointed Debate

My nipples show through my blouse sometimes. Is that a faux pas?

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Dear Prudence,
I find myself at the age of 31 wondering what proper nipple etiquette is. I recently read an article that led me to realize that some people are offended by the sight of the outline of a woman’s nipples showing through her clothing. I own a variety of bras, some padded and some not. I know that if I wear an unpadded bra and it gets cold, the outline of my nipples will show through my top. My mother never mentioned anything about this when I was growing up (she didn’t object when I sometimes went braless as a teen), and the only person who has ever said anything about my nipples is my boyfriend. I am inclined to think that it is not improper, and I have never been offended by the sight of nipples. Would you please educate me?


Dear Nipply,
To educate myself I turned to the women of Slate, who enlightened me on their bra-washing schedules the last time bra etiquette came up. This time the responses ranged from, “No nip. Never” to “What can you do—sometimes nipples are visible” to “A little nipple is fine. Women have breasts, people should get over it” to “It feels rude and intrusive, demanding everyone look” to “Some nippage is inevitable, though I wouldn’t expect men to behave like adults and divert their gaze.” So I will anoint myself the nipple arbiter and say, particularly at the office, keep your nipples under wraps. This does not mean wearing a Kevlar bra; it means finding one with enough lining or tensile strength to make sure that if you’re cold, or if you’re thinking about Mark Ruffalo, the rest of the office won’t know. If you want to wear lingerie that’s sheer and silky, then make sure you’re wearing thick enough layers of clothing so that your colleagues can’t see if you’re standing at attention. It will improve office productivity; you’ve probably noticed that when you’re talking to male colleagues and your nipples are straining at your blouse, the men tend to forget the point they were trying to make. After hours, it’s your choice. But remember, if you release your nipples, some people are going to have a hard time remembering to look you in the eye.


Dear Prudence: In the Closet at Work

Dear Prudence,
I grew up with parents who taught self-sufficiency and used tough love. My older sister and I toed the line and grew into successful, motivated adults. My little brother “Rex,” whom I adore, never got with the program. He struggled every step of the way and, now in his 40s, has a low-paying job he hates and is deeply in debt. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer and, because I am single, my siblings flew in to help take care of me during my treatments. Rex has been a rock for me, and my fight isn’t over yet. I pay his expenses when he comes to help and have given him a little extra along the way. I want to help him out more regularly, but I am nagged by a voice (it sounds a lot like our parents) that says my money would only allow him to further postpone owning up to the causes of his dire situation. Would it be so bad to open the purse strings? Chances are pretty good that he would do things like go on tropical vacations with his girlfriend.

—Life Is Short

Dear Life,
Wait a minute, I have just been reading that if you use high-expectation, tough-love child-rearing methods, your offspring will be guaranteed to get into Ivy League schools and go on to have successful careers. How could this not be universally true? I wonder whether poor Rex was ever evaluated for what might be at the root of some of his troubles (ADHD, dyslexia, etc.). Sure, it’s very late now, but let’s say there is some underlying problem that’s amenable to treatment—finding out about it and getting help could make the rest of his life better. Since he’s been there for you through your illness, maybe you can gently bring up that you’d like to pay for him to talk to a professional. In any case, although much of his life is a botch, he is also a total sweetheart. As you’ve experienced, that is of incalculable value, and I don’t see anything wrong with tossing some money his way. You could say that you hope it will help him get out of debt. But even if you speak to him in the voice of your parents, it’s not going to do much good—it never did. So accept that there are worse things in the world than lying in the sun with someone you love.


Dear Prudie,
I’m a newlywed and have a great life. My husband and I have a loving relationship, great jobs, our own home, and supportive families. The problem is that for the past several months, I have felt like I’m not meant to be married. I’m in my late 20s and want to date, move to a big city, and live on my own, things I have never done. I care about my husband deeply, he is a wonderful person, but I can’t see myself spending the next 50-plus years in domestic bliss with him. I know I should have realized this long before getting engaged or married, but I didn’t, and now I feel stuck. I hate the thought of hurting him to make myself happier. To make matters worse, I love his family and loathe the thought of them hating me. I know him well enough to realize that if I made the decision to leave, he would never take me back, so whatever decision I make is permanent. He doesn’t believe in therapy, but should I try going by myself before I come to any big conclusions? Am I just longing for the greener grass on the other side? Perhaps I need to suck it up and live with my marriage.

—Ready-To-Run Wifey

Dear Wifey,
You know if you end this marriage you will cause a lot of pain and rupture, and you are making a case that, emotionally, you have already departed. But don’t act precipitously. While you’re not all that young to be getting married, it sounds as if you’ve been with your husband forever. Of course, there are many happily married couples who meet young, know they are right for each other, and go into eternity content with their choice. But ending the possibility of alternate romantic futures so early in life can also send some people into a desperate longing for adventure. You probably are imagining that if you leave your husband you’ll be living a version of Sex and the City for the 2010s. So spend some time imagining yourself in a tiny apartment, being hit on by guys who are either cheating on their girlfriends or who have STDs that they forget to tell you about. I want you to be aware that if you leave you will have adventures, but not all of them will be good. I also think you would be wise to find a therapist to discuss all this before you drop a bomb on your husband. A good therapist can help you pinpoint the causes of your dissatisfaction, help clarify a plan of action—which might not mean leaving, but figuring out how to put more adventure into married life—and, if necessary, talk you through telling your husband how restless you are. You got into your marriage without exploring what you really wanted out of life. If you conclude that what you want is to get out, at least do it with maturity and self-insight.


Dear Prudence,
Our company has a “Social Committee” that collects money every year to pay for things like staff lunches; treats in the break room; and flowers, cards, and gifts for people who become pregnant, are getting married, suffered a loss, etc. I’m heading the committee this year, and we asked everyone for $40. One member of our staff refused to pay, saying it was too much money. This is his choice, but he still expects to come to luncheons and eat the other food provided in the staff room. I don’t think he has a right to eat the food he didn’t pay for. He is in a higher position in our office, and none of the other committee members wants to talk to him about it. I’m new on staff and feel uncomfortable approaching him. It also seems really petty to take this matter to my boss. What should I do?

—My Co-worker Is a Cheapskate!

Dear Co-Worker,
Everywhere you go in life there will be jerks. If this is the worst jerk at your new place of work, you are very lucky. If your plan is to go up to the cheapskate, take the cream puff out of his hand, and say: “This is for paying customers, mister! And your name’s not going on the card congratulating Maureen for her baby, either!” you will be wrestling with him for the biggest-jerk-in-the-office crown. Also, I assure you, your boss doesn’t want to hear about this. As people file in for the next catered event, you can pull him aside and say, “Philbert, I know you felt the $40 tariff from the social committee was too high. But we would appreciate whatever amount you felt was appropriate.” If he won’t pony up anything, just be satisfied that everyone on the committee knows about the cheapskate and has the same thought you do (“Moocher!”) when they see him dig in.


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