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: Good afternoon. Let’s get to it.
Q. Baby Blues: My husband and I are expecting our first child in four months, and we’re really excited. The problem? My brother and his girlfriend are expecting their second baby two months after us, and we’re both really angry about it. I know I should be happy, but this particular brother has a history of constantly trying to one-up me and do things just because I’m doing them. I really think he planned this so that they could try to do a dual baby shower and cash in on our gifts (which would not be out of character). So, my question is twofold: How do I get over the anger about this and how do I politely tell my brother, since I know he will ask, that I do NOT want to do a dual baby shower?
A: It sounds as if you’re getting well-prepared for dealing with a toddler. You and your husband are already having tantrums, refusing to share, and stomping your feet and screaming, “Me, me, me!” Your brother may be an attention-hogging jerk, but you’re a petty, attention-hogging jerk yourself. You’re angry because your brother’s second child might impinge on your baby’s hour in the spotlight! You and your husband are spending a lot of time stoking each other over what you’ve both concluded is the malign purpose behind your brother’s reproductive choices! Wow and wow.
Since your brother and his girlfriend have a young child, it’s assumed they already have the baby equipment needed and a second shower is not necessary. I don’t know who’s throwing your shower, but usually it’s a friend, so all your friend has to do—if your brother tries to horn in—is to explain she’s just doing a shower for you. But why don’t you stop obsessing over a so far nonexistent problem, and start trying to open your heart to your new niece or nephew.
Dear Prudence: Fear of Heights
Q. Cat Person With a Dog: About a month ago, I adopted a dog from the local shelter. I have always loved animals and it seemed like a good time for me. I did months of research, read Cesar Milan, looked at dozens of dogs, etc., before finding one I wanted to bring home. Well, now that she is here, I don’t like her. More accurately, I don’t like having a dog. She is sweet, smart, and well-suited to my living situation, and yet I still have a hard time getting enjoyment out of the situation. I take her for long walks, play with her, and train her, but I do it all out of necessity and not out of love. Her constant seeking of approval and attention bothers me. I do not look forward to coming home to her. Even though I thought I was prepared, she demands even more time than I expected. I don’t know what to do—I truly feel that both she and I would be happier if she were in a different home, but I hate to be a person who backs out of a commitment I made, especially when there is a life involved! I feel like a terrible person. As a former reluctant dog owner, do you have any advice?
A: After a month many people might be tempted to say, “Gee, this baby is a lot more work than I thought. I need some time to chill and watch TV, and she’s just crying, and pooping, and demanding food 24/7. I should have gotten a cat!” Many animal rescue agencies advise people that it could be many months before the pet owner and the pet settle into a routine. Your dog sounds pretty wonderful, and if I didn’t already have a full house (I now have two dogs and two cats) I’d be tempted to take her. This poor creature just got out of a shelter, so of course she needs attention and reassurance from you. I hope you have a dog walker come for her during the day, so that she has attention and exercise. If she’s cooped up alone all day, that might just add to her nighttime neediness.
You don’t have to love her now, you just have to take care of her. I’m sure that as you settle in with her, you will start to appreciate what a little gem of a dog you chose. I bet in six months you will write to me and say, “Guess what, at the end of the day, I can’t wait to get home and see Fifi.” But if your resentment only grows, then do this pup a favor and let the shelter know how great she is but that being a dog owner is not for you. If this dog is everything you say, she should find a new home, pronto.
Q. Simple: I’m in my early 20s, recently married, and in love with my husband. I know this is one of the most simple questions but: What do I do about this feeling I have been getting lately that I want to sleep with every man I meet?! I just can’t stop thinking about sex! It’s driving me nuts! And I’m afraid it might affect my relationship with my husband.
A: The fact that you’re overwhelmingly horny is good for your marriage. You go through the day getting aroused, then you get home and jump your husband. What a pleasant surprise for him. Please don’t tell him that while you’re ripping off his clothes, you’re thinking about the UPS guy with the great biceps or your boss. Let your free-floating desire affect your relationship with your husband in a mutually gratifying way.
Q. Ignore Innuendos?: My daughter and her boyfriend (mid-20s) recently invited us (parents, siblings, and significant others) to dinner at their home to celebrate a special occasion. Much thought was put into the meal and it was lovely. Throughout the evening, her boyfriend created any number of awkward moments by popping in to every conversation with some sexual innuendo. While mostly of the “that’s not what you said last night” variety, one comment was enough to silence everyone for several seconds. Beyond the weirdness of constantly bringing up oral sex in front of his girlfriend’s parents, it was just rude to disrupt people trying to talk. This probably happened 25 times during our time there. Our daughter was kicking him under the table, giving him the eye, etc., to no avail. My husband and I are trying to be careful not to do anything that will make our daughter defensive and drive her away. I generally try to ignore his behavior, but I was really uncomfortable by the end of the evening. Any ideas how to handle this—a mantra to keep reciting to myself when he goes off like this?
A: You seem to indicate it’s “normal” for your daughter’s boyfriend to turn innocent comments during the meal into lip-smacking, eye-rolling references to other delicious activities he likes to indulge in. He’s obviously got a head full of loose screws, but what’s wrong with your daughter that she would be with such a specimen? You say you don’t want to drive her away, so obviously you have brought this up before. But if the dinner is as weird as you say, you might want to take your daughter out to lunch and gently say that her boyfriend’s behavior seems to be escalating and you’re concerned about their relationship.
Otherwise, the best thing for you to do in the future is to act as if you don’t understand what he’s saying. Underplaying your response might help your daughter see the dreadfulness of the situation she’s in.
Q. Mother-in-Law and Baby Shower: My husband and I are adopting an infant domestically. Because of the uncertainty of some things, my husband and I are opting not to do a baby shower (we don’t really like them anyways—mooching is not our thing) but rather a “meet the new member of the family” get-together after the baby is home. My mother-in-law wants to throw a shower for us with her co-workers. This will be with just her co-workers (whom we are not close or friendly with) and none of our friends or family. We have politely declined twice now, and she’s still insisting. She did the same thing with my wedding, throwing me a shower (even though I didn’t want one—I’m terribly shy and hate being the center of attention) with her co-workers and none of my friends or family. It was horrible. My friends were considerate enough to just take me out for dinner and drinks. This is causing me a considerable amount of stress and we don’t even have our baby yet! She seems to be making this all about her (again). Is there a way to get her to realize how inappropriate this is without being mean?
A: Today’s is the whacked-out baby shower day. Although your mother-in-law may think of her co-workers as family, they must despise the fact that she presumes they will pony up for gifts for her loved ones who are virtual strangers to them. Her shower idea is completely inappropriate and all you have to say is that while you appreciate her gesture and her good wishes, you don’t know her colleagues, you don’t want them to feel obligated to give you gifts, and if she insists on throwing a shower at work, you will not be there.
Q. Excluded on Birthday: My birthday was Saturday and I was mostly alone. I filled my day with random errands (the gym, dry cleaners, grocery shopping, etc.) just because I had nothing to do and no one to do it with, and if I stayed at home I would’ve felt depressed. I had plans to go to dinner at night with a bunch of friends, and at dinner I found out that two of my friends went shopping together that day … and didn’t call me. On top of that, I mentioned to one of the friends the night before that I was contemplating a trip to a specific mall, and that’s the mall that she and the other friend went to. I’m deeply hurt, the three of us are supposedly really good friends, so I don’t know why they would’ve excluded me on my birthday. Am I being a big baby (I did turn 28) or should I say something to them?
A: Your friends went out to dinner with you on your birthday, so stop moaning that they didn’t dedicate their entire day to this momentous event. Actually from your letter, it’s not clear people knew it was your birthday. If they did, they felt dinner was the celebration. If they didn’t know, that’s your fault. Two of your friends had plans to shop together at the mall and they didn’t make it a threesome—so what? Maybe they didn’t invite you because, well, you can be kind of a drag. Next year, if you want a big blow-out for your birthday, throw yourself a party.
Q. You Have Something In Your Teeth: What is the best way to tell someone they have something in their teeth? Especially when they do not have a mirror handy.
A: If it’s just the two of you at the table, you say matter-of-factly, “You’ve got a piece of spinach on your front tooth.” If you’re with a group, you try to do it sotto voce, or catch the person’s eye and indicate your own tooth, which usually gets the message across. Anyone will be grateful not to find out, upon going to the bathroom and looking in the mirror, that they’ve had a green tooth for the entire meal.
Q. To Cat Person: Try doggie day care! Going a couple of times a week provides our rescue pup with a wonderful outlet for her energy and allows her plenty of social time. The first few months with a new dog are rough, but you will find a routine, and as the dog gets used to her new home, she will gain confidence and be happy to settle down with a bone in the evening vs. needing constant attention. Don’t give up!
A: Doggie day care is a good idea. As the axiom goes, a tired dog is a good dog.
Q. Taking Sides in a Divorce: I’m a young adult, oldest of six kids ranging in age from 24 to 6, and my parents are getting a divorce. It’s relatively civil—but the older adults in my family do one thing that is completely unacceptable. When my siblings and I are at my dad’s family’s houses, they badmouth my mom with no regard to my 6-year-old brother sitting in the same room. The same thing happens when we’re visiting my mom’s family—they trash-talk my dad. The families both live in the Baltimore-Washington area and we see them often. I feel that this is completely inappropriate—I understand that they might not like my mom or my dad in this situation, but the bottom line is my siblings and I still love both of our parents and don’t need to hear the trash talking. Since I’m a young adult and the oldest of my siblings, I feel like I should say something to both sides of my family—my youngest siblings probably won’t, but I know they’re upset about the comments we’ve all had to hear. However, since I’m still “a kid” and not from my parents’ generation, is there a way to lay down the line assertively but respectfully to my aunts, uncles, and grandparents?
A: Out of earshot of the youngest, do take the family members aside and say you know divorce is painful and sometimes ugly, but the trashing of your other parent is dispiriting to hear and truly damaging for the younger kids. Say that because of the divorce all of you need your family more than ever and you’d appreciate if they were able to put their feelings aside for all of your sakes.
Q. Possible Spousal Abuse Through the Floorboards: New neighbors moved in above us recently and we have become friendly. My husband and I have shared meals and our daily commute with them. They seem like lovely people. However, we have heard the wife, “Stacy,” frequently scream hysterically. We cannot make out what she is saying, but she is crying, sobbing, and clearly worked up. We have never heard “Dan” raise his voice, but once or twice we have heard slamming and a general commotion. There has been no evidence of physical abuse, but we find this severely unnerving as this has been occurring at least twice a week since they have moved in. We are genuinely concerned for their safety. Maybe she is a yeller. Maybe their marriage is on the rocks. We do not want to intrude into someone else’s business unnecessarily. But at what point do we have an obligation to intervene into a possibly physically, emotionally, or psychologically abusive situation? (I can hear her yelling as I write this.)
A: Since you’ve become friendly, I’d be inclined to say something like, “Stacy, I’m very reluctant to bring this up, but I’m afraid I’ve heard screaming frequently from your apartment and I’m concerned.” Then see what she says. You’re right, maybe there’s no abuse and she’s just a screamer—if so, she needs to tone it down. But if there’s abuse, and the screaming and slamming doesn’t stop, call the police.
And readers—do you think the letter writer should say something, or remain anonymous and call the police as a first step?
Q. Chance of Showers: Why doesn’t the mother-in-law throw a shower for Baby Blues’s brother. Happy ending for all!
A: Great idea!
Q. Baby Blues Follow Up: I really am looking forward to my new niece or nephew. It’s not that at all. It’s just that this brother constantly asks for money and other things even when he can afford them himself and literally tries to take the spotlight on almost EVERY occasion … including other family members’ birthdays (which we celebrate as a family). I love my brother very much, but I’m not kidding about this being something he would do. By the way, our dad is throwing my shower.
A: You need to concentrate way less on your brother and instead focus on the new family you’re making. It would be much more appropriate for a nonfamily member to throw your shower. This would have the added benefit of your not having to worry about your brother doing something he hasn’t done yet but it would be just like him to do.
Q. Where Are You?: While I like the new layout, the maneuverability of the website lacks something. To the people in charge of the discussions/website, it could be more user friendly. It took me 5 minutes to locate this discussion.
A. Andrea Caumont (Chat Producer): You can find a live updating schedule of the current day’s chats about halfway down the homepage in the right rail. We’re working on updating our weekly schedule page to make it more user-friendly, but you can find it here.
Another reader suggests liking Dear Prudence on Facebook to get a weekly reminder of her chat.
Q. M-i-L Upset About Lack of Wedding Invitation: What is the proper etiquette regarding whom to invite to a wedding? My sister is getting married in April. She has had to exclude many of her friends from the guest list in order to accommodate her fiance’s large family. This is not the problem. My in-laws are very upset that they were not invited to her wedding. Did my sister commit a major faux-pas by not inviting them? My parents are not close to my in-laws; neither am I, for that matter. But they can not get over this. Every time I see them they ask if there might be room for them to attend! Fortunately, the wedding is in a different city—otherwise I’d be worried about them crashing. Please help!
A: Your husband’s parents are distraught that they aren’t invited to the wedding of your sister, whom they hardly know? Let’s add them to the guest list of the baby shower the greedy mother-in-law in throwing at work that the brother with the impending second child is going to try to hog.
Your husband needs to say to his parents, “Mom, Dad, my sister-in-law is having a very small wedding. They are not dissing you, they just don’t know you. We must drop this now and not discuss it again.”
Q. Ball Magnet: I have a silly question. I live at the bottom of a hill in an upper-middle-class suburb. It seems like frequently a basketball shows up in front of my house, apparently having rolled down the hill from one of the many houses up above that have hoops and kids. Sometimes these balls sit out in front of my house for multiple nights. So, how long do I need to leave them there before I can claim them as mine? I let the last one sit for 24 hours, then I got it because we needed a full-size one. My wife thinks I should let them sit there for longer, but I’m guessing if it sat there for 24 hours, it is highly unlikely the rightful owner will be the one picking it up. I would really like your view on this, because when I get home, I want to pick up the nice looking full-size one that has sat out there since Saturday morning.
A: How about if you get a little exercise and walk the ball up the hill and leave it in an obvious place near the homes with the hoops. It’s not your ball, the kids just didn’t know where it went.
Q. Can’t Get Past It!: We recently had our second wonderful home birth. It was 15 hours of hard work, but it was exactly what I wanted and I couldn’t have been happier—until my husband mentioned a few days later that I was sort of a “baby” and that I wasn’t as “in control” of myself as the last time. He also imitated the face I made while pushing. This is a man who lies around and moans anytime he has a tiny sniffle. He says he’s sorry but—it’s not what he said, it’s that he felt that way. (P.S., he slept through the worst part of my labor because he was “sleepy.” HE was tired! Who cares how I felt?) How do I forgive him?
A: It’s good you don’t still have the umbilical cord because you might be tempted to strangle him with it. You just had your second child with this man, so you need to find a way to work this out. You’ve brought it up and he apologized, but it’s still nagging at you—understandably so. When you two have a few minutes between attending to two small children, explain to him that you appreciate his apology, but his mockery of how you looked during labor cut so deeply, it’s still hurting you. Say you don’t want him to get defensive and give you an explanation for what he said. You just want him to understand how much it hurt. And say that now that you’ve said it again, you are going to drop it. Let’s hope he’s big enough to take you in his arms and apologize in a way that helps you forgive.
Q. General Courtesy: I am in a quandary! Let’s say you arrive home to see your neighbor outside having a conversation with someone. Is it more rude to interrupt and say “Hi” as you pass or is it considered more rude to just walk past without interrupting the conversation?
A: This is a situation made for the wave and the nod as you keep walking.
Q. Putting in a Good Word for My Husband: I want to send an email to someone in a different unit and department about my husband, who has applied, and is qualified for, a position under that person’s authority. I have never personally spoken with this person in the few months that I have been there. I know I can put a thoughtful email into place better than a face to face. This supervisor is somewhat intimidating to me. Knowing all this, would you recommend I go for it to put a bug in her ear at all? Should I email or knock on her door? It would not be a problem for us to work for the same organization. I just want her to notice his résumé.
A: If there’s someone else at the organization who also knows your husband and his qualifications, it probably would be best for that person to go into the supervisor and vouch for him. If that’s not possible, you should ask for a few minutes of the supervisor’s time and say it’s about a personnel matter. Then sit down and explain that while you may not seem like the most objective party, objectively speaking, your husband would make a great addition to her department. List a few of his qualifications (you can jokingly add, “And he makes great spaghetti carbonara”). Then say he is sending (or has sent) his résumé and a letter, and you really appreciate her giving it a careful look.
Q. Another Reader Suggests Liking Dear Prudence on Facebook To Get a Weekly Reminder of Her Chat: That’s not the point; I don’t need a weekly reminder of this chat. I like it enough that I look forward to it on Mondays. What I need is to be able to go straight to washingtonpost.com and click on it.
A. Andrea Caumont: Then give the other two options I mentioned first a try. Look for it in the new schedule in the right rail of the homepage, or check our weekly schedule page.
Q. Re: Possible Spousal Abuse: I would talk to one of the upstairs neighbors before calling the police, myself. Floorboards can often be misleading; I thought my neighbors were beating the crap out of each other every night for a few weeks until I discovered they had a Wii. With the final piece of the puzzle in place, the banging and yelling finally had a much better (and relieving) context.
A: Very funny! However, I doubt Stacy’s screaming and crying is because she’s hating her workout routine.
Q. Body Odor: As my mom has gotten older, she’s acquired an odd, sharp smell. It’s not your traditional body odor, and her hygiene is good (and the same as it’s always been). She asked me once if she “had B.O.” and—I hate to admit it—I lied and said no. I didn’t want to tell her something hurtful that I wasn’t sure she could do anything about. But now I’m rethinking the lie—I’d want to know if it were me. So, any suggestions for A) how to bring this up in a graceful manner, and B) actions my mom can take to smell better (short of wearing perfume, which she’s allergic to)?
A: She needs a check-up. Having a new, odd body odor could be a sign of many different disorders. Tell her that you’ve been thinking about her question, and no she doesn’t have traditional body odor, but you have smelled something off, and you think she should take her concerns to her physician.
Q. Birthday Problems: My friends missed my birthday. Is this as bad as being hit by an earthquake, tsunami, and radiation? Almost?
A: Oh, it’s so much worse. It doesn’t even compare!
Q. Birthday Exclusion: Well, you’re wrong. They are friends that I’ve had for over 10 years, talk to daily, and they knew very well that it was my birthday. So the exclusion was shocking and unexpected because this is something they would normally call me about. (The goal isn’t to have my entire day be celebrated, I just didn’t want to be alone on my birthday.) Thanks for your help anyway.
A: One reader wrote in that perhaps they were buying you a present. Did you get a gift? And since you wrote back in for my help, anyway, I still say stop nursing the wound of this “shocking” exclusion.
Q. Screaming/Crying Neighbor: Is it possible the noises are being misheard or misconstrued and are of an, um … more intimate nature?
A: That’s a possibility that’s even better than a Wii!
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. And I hope all your sobbing is over the fact that, well, it just feels so good.