Got a burning question for Prudie? She’ll be online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers each Monday at 1 p.m. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
I am a man in my 50s who has been married for more than 25 years. For financial reasons I have been living and working about 200 miles from home four days a week for the past several months. I’m renting a furnished basement with a private entrance in the home of a single, professional woman in her early 60s. Until recently I saw her in passing once every two or three weeks, and I have never been invited upstairs. Then about a month ago, early one morning, I was naked in the bathroom shaving. I finished my shave, turned to get into the shower, and there she was, standing at the bathroom door! I froze. She simply said, “Good morning. I’m driving in today. Would you like a lift to the office?” I managed to squeak out, “Sure. Thanks.” When I went out to the car to meet her, neither of us mentioned the incident. Since then she has begun to visit me and reveal personal details of her life. I now close the bathroom and bedroom doors, and I am much more cautious about my stage of dress at all times. Should I say I’m sorry I was naked? Should I be angry with her for invading my space? Should I look for another apartment? Should I just forget it?
—Nothing Left To Hide
I bet she’s wondering whether the etiquette of being a landlady-with-benefits means giving her tenant a break on the rent. It makes sense when opening one’s home to a stranger to do appropriate due diligence, so she probably had a background check run on you. What’s unfortunate is that she later decided to run a full-frontal check herself. Clearly, she liked what she saw because after offering you a ride, she’s apparently waiting for you to offer her one in return. You’re paying rent, which entitles you to be naked in the bathroom without getting sized up by the landlady. If you’re going to stay, you need to get back to being friendly strangers, if that’s possible. Tell her: “Madeline, I appreciate the lovely apartment and your hospitality. But I really need my privacy and I’m very tired at the end of the day, so it’s not a good idea for us to socialize.” Let’s hope she is suitably chastened and becomes distant again. If she doesn’t, then you need to get out. And tell your wife what’s going on; this is the kind of thing a wife should know.
Dear Prudence: Bipolar Boyfriend
I had an affair eight years ago, and from that affair came my daughter. Her biological mother wanted little to do with her, so my wife adopted her when she was a baby, and we have raised her together. My wife is fantastic. She eventually forgave me, and looks upon our daughter as something wonderful that came out of something that was devastating. We haven’t told our daughter directly how she came to be, but we have always taken the approach that children come to families through all sorts of ways. She does know, as much as a preteen can, that she is biologically mine but not biologically her mother’s and that that doesn’t matter to either of us. But people often ask probing questions when they learn that our daughter is not biologically my wife’s: Did we use a surrogate? Was I married before? Where’s her real mother now? The questions confuse our daughter and hurt my wife. How do we address questions and comments? And how and when do we explain the circumstances of our daughter’s birth to her?
—Dad Fed Up With Nosiness
It sounds as if you two have done a great job so far letting your daughter know the basic circumstances of her birth. Her coming to understand her biological origins is not a one-time conversation but a process that will unfold over the years. What matters most is that you and your wife make clear that you are comfortable talking about it and she is entitled to ask questions any time. Then do your best to answer them honestly. You can also tell her that the answers to some questions may be a little confusing, and that you wonder if you can give her more details when she’s older—which may be all she needs to hear. That you’re comfortable talking to her about this does not mean, however, that your private lives should be the topic of prying strangers and acquaintances. However it came about, your wife is your daughter’s mother, and that’s all anyone needs to know. In response to inappropriate questions, you can say: “I’m sorry, I don’t care to discuss my family with you. Now please excuse me.” And I hope every day you appreciate how rare and amazing your wife is.
I’m a 25-year-old dude and have wanted a tattoo for six years. I want to get one that memorializes my mother’s parents. I have the design in mind and have the money saved up. The problem is my mother. She absolutely hates tattoos and tells me and my brother that if we want one, to stab her in the heart first. My brother got a small one on his thigh, and when he showed my mom she screamed, pulled a knife out, and placed it to her chest. She would never actually harm herself, but I just don’t want the drama over a little tattoo. If I decide to get the tattoo, should I tell her first, or at all? Should I just ditch the whole plan?
—Want To Be Inked
I know I run the risk of offending a large percentage of readers under 35, but I’m with your mother on tattoos. (That is, I hate them, not that I’d head for the cutlery drawer if my daughter got one.) Here’s what I don’t understand. Let’s say I get a pair of pants that I think look great. That doesn’t mean I want to wear them every day for the rest of my life. And even if they look great now, they won’t when I’m 70. So why are all you young people putting permanent decals on yourselves without considering that years from now you’re going to be looking at them and thinking, “Was I an idiot?” You’re 25, so you don’t need your mother’s permission to get inked. But for goodness’ sake, if you want to pay tribute to her own parents, don’t do something that makes her want to sever her aorta! To honor your grandparents, raise money for their favorite charity, dedicate yourself to making them proud, find a nice girl and someday have their great-grandchildren—just don’t put some permanent picture on yourself to remind you of them.
Over a year ago, a co-worker began eating oatmeal at her desk every day. Before putting it in the microwave, she mixes in a can of tuna. If it sounds gross, it is. Her office abuts mine, and some days the odor is nauseating. It’s been bothering me more and more, but I feel awkward saying anything because it has been going on for so long. To add to the problem, she has some mannerisms that I dislike intensely. This has nothing to do with the offensive odor, but it makes it more difficult to talk to her. How can I complain after it’s been so long? Should I just use air freshener in my office in the morning?
—It Stinks in Here
It wasn’t all that long ago that food preparation and eating where consigned to specific places and times. Now the nosh-fest goes on all day and every place is a potential kitchen. If your co-worker wants a cooked breakfast that makes the surroundings smell like a cat-food factory, it would be nice if she got up a little earlier and ate at home. It will be awkward to bring this up after a year, but I’m gagging at the thought of an oatmeal and tuna fish combo. (Does she put maple syrup on it, or mayo, or both?) Put aside her weirdness and get to the point: “Denise, I know this has been going on for a long time, which makes it seem strange for me to be bringing it up now. But the smell of the cooked tuna every morning is seriously bothering me and making it hard for me to work. I’m hoping that either you can change your breakfast or eat it elsewhere. Thanks so much.” If she won’t stop, you have to weigh whether this is worth bringing to higher-ups. But definitely invest in a supply of room deodorizer.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“A Cornucopia of Crises: Prudie takes on Thanksgiving quandaries involving uninvited guests, the ghosts of holidays past, and exiled smokers.” Posted Nov. 18, 2010.
”Bob & Carol & Ted & Malice: My parents’ swinger friends are trying to blackmail our family after Mom and Dad’s tragic deaths.” Posted Sept. 30, 2010.
”No Debt of Gratitude: I borrowed cash from Dad to care for my dying mom. Now he’s demanding payback.” Posted Aug. 12, 2010.
”Dirty Pretty Things: My girlfriend has worn the same undergarment for weeks. Isn’t that disgusting?” Posted Aug. 27, 2009.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“The Grinch Who Stole Thanksgiving: Prudie counsels readers on Turkey Day predicaments, such as flying solo for the holiday, hosting irritating in-laws, and attending multiple dinners. Posted Nov. 22, 2010.
”Baby Mama Drama: Prudie counsels a sleuth who uncovered a baby-trap scheme—and other advice-seekers.” Posted Nov. 1, 2010.
”The Family That Bathes Together: Prudie counsels a mother who wonders when the time is right to stop bathing with her little boy.” Posted Oct. 12, 2010.
”Help! I’m Too Hot for My Age: Prudie counsels a woman whose youthful looks bring her nothing but problems—and other advice seekers.” Posted Feb. 8, 2010.