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. Fickle Fiance: In February 2009, my live-in boyfriend asked me to marry him, and I happily accepted. We set a date in the summer of 2010, but due to financial hardships, we had to postpone the wedding indefinitely. I was really disappointed but understood why it had to be done. When our financial situation got back to normal, I began asking my fiance if we could set a new date, but he was reluctant to do so. A few months later he admitted that he was scared, didn’t want to end up divorced again, and didn’t think he was quite ready. I was devastated, to say the least. He says he loves me with all his heart and doesn’t want to lose me, but I don’t see how I can just go back to the way things were before the proposal. But I love him, we have built a family (he has two children from his first marriage, I have two from mine, and we have one together), a home, and a good life together. I don’t know what to say when asked when the wedding is, or why I’m not wearing my ring anymore. A part of me thinks that I should just move on, that if he’s not sure after five years, then he never will be. But my heart says to hang on, and eventually he’ll get over his fear. What do you think?
A: It probably would have been a good idea for you and your boyfriend to assess each other’s readiness for a permanent relationship before you two procreated. He needs to recognize that whatever happens, you two have a child together and whether you marry or not, divorce or not, you will be in each other’s lives. I also don’t understand how finances play into the wedding question. Surely you can afford a marriage license and the parking fee at city hall. Given that there are five children between you and finances are tight, a big wedding is the last thing you need. However, it would be a good idea, since you have a child, to have the protections that marriage brings.
You seem to have a somewhat backward approach to this relationship. Unless your boyfriend makes it legal, you are willing, in effect, to get a divorce and wrench apart another family. If your goal is to be together—which you are now—that doesn’t make sense. Since you two are at an impasse, invest the money you would have spent on a dress and reception in some short-term counseling. You both need help discussing your goals and fears with each other and figuring out a way to stay together that makes both of you happy.
Dear Prudence: Hard-Partying Parents
Q. Work: I work at a university student health center and I recently received an email from the university that somebody nominated me for an achievement award. I proceeded to forward the email to a friend of mine with the comment, “Who did I sleep with to get this award?” Well, instead of forwarding the email to my friend, I accidentally sent it back to the awards committee. My question to you is, do I just pretend it did not happen or do I send another email with an apology?
A: Last week I had a letter from a woman who accidently sent a photo file of the grandchildren to her mother-in-law that contained some sexy photos of her and her husband. In that case I advised that everyone just continue to pretend they know nothing. But that approach is not going to work here.
You sent the email, they got it, and you’ve got to deal with it. I suggest you send another email to the awards committee. Maybe your subject line could be, “I should have stayed in bed.” You then explain you were so taken aback and flattered by the award nomination that you wrote a cheeky, self-deprecating, and really stupid email to a friend about it. Unfortunately, as they know, you hit “reply” instead of “forward,” and they got your idiotic email. Apologize for your rudeness and say you understand if they choose to honor you with the “Dumbest Employee of the Year” award.
Q. To Be or Not To Be … Loyal: I have a question concerning loyalties. One of my very best friends broke up with his girlfriend about nine months ago. He was really hurt by the break-up, and it took him a while to get his life back in order. He’s now dating a great new girl, and they seem really happy together. My problem is this: My friend told me about a week ago that he still knows his ex’s Facebook password and will occasionally log on to her account to see what she’s up to. I happen to be friends with his ex on Facebook. Is it my responsibility to tell her that my friend is logging on to her account? I told my friend that it was shady business what he is doing, but he doesn’t seem to see any harm. I don’t want to lose him as a friend, but I would want to know if any ex of mine had access to my Facebook or email account. Do I speak up? His new girlfriend has no idea he is doing this. Any advice?
A: Let this be a warning to everyone with an ex out there with whom you once exchanged such intimacies as your passwords! What your friend is doing is creepy. Sure, you can decide not to get further involved in this, and yes, it is the girlfriend’s obligation to remember that her ex knows her password. But now that you know what’s going on, I think you should tell the ex that she needs to tighten up her electronic security. The problem is that if you tell her, and she gets back to your friend about this, then he is going to feel blindsided. So I think you should tell your friend what he told you has been bothering you and you’re thinking of giving his ex a heads up. Sure, he could get angry, but why did he tell you in the first place?
Q. Clueless Husband: This past Wednesday was my husband and my 10th wedding anniversary. I had saved for two months (I only work part time for “my” spending money, so I don’t make much) to buy him a watch and then had it engraved with a personal message. I had told him several times (because he asked) that I was purchasing a somewhat expensive gift. I made a wish list at our local jewelry store where I purchased the watch and told him that I did so. We both had brought up our anniversary over the last few weeks and what we should do; we never made any concrete plans. So when the big day arrived, my rather expensive, well-thought-out, personal gift was met with a $50 gift card to a place I like to shop (he gave me the same thing for Christmas), which he purchased two hours earlier along with the card. We have plans to go out of town this weekend to stay at a hotel and go out to dinner, but I made these plans. I guess my question is, should I tell him how hurt I am? In the past, he has said that I’m hard to buy for, but since I made a wish list, I don’t feel like that would be an excuse. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I really can’t get over how much his gift said “I don’t care.” I should add that I know he loves me, he tells me every day, and his “gift-giving” skills fluctuate, but I really expected more for such an important milestone.
A: I know what you mean because for our 10th anniversary, my husband forgot. But it didn’t hurt too much, because so did I. When we remembered, we decide to celebrate with a belated anniversary dinner. We’ve been married 16 years, and we still haven’t scheduled it.
There are gift people, then there are “Oh my God, it’s our anniversary, I gotta get my wife something today!” people. You say your husband tells you he loves your daily and you seem to have no other complaints about him. He didn’t forget your anniversary, he got you a perfectly fine gift. If you wanted a specific piece of jewelry, given his proclivities, you probably should have gone to the jewelry store together and chosen gifts for each other. Yes, it would be less romantic, but you wouldn’t be left feeling dissed. And as thoughtful and caring as your gift was, maybe he sees it as somewhat foolish. If you have to save for two months to buy a watch, there are better ways to spend your money.
Surely there are things about you your husband wishes were different, but he shrugs them off. That’s what I think you should do about your anniversary. And for the next one, don’t expect him to respond to heavy hints about what you want. Take him by the hand, point to the jewelry case, and say, “That one.”
Q. Entertaining: I invited a very helpful neighbor and her husband for dinner, and she accepted. Later she called to say that a former neighbor and her husband (people whom I would not have invited) would be in town, and I could “kill two birds with one stone” by waiting and having both families in together. Rather than admit I didn’t want to invite the second couple, I invited them, too. A day before the dinner, I told the second couple’s husband that I was looking forward to seeing them the next day. The wife then called to say that they had friends visiting them, and, “There will be FIVE of us.” We have space for only six at our table; there would have been nine people—three I didn’t know, and two I invited only as a courtesy. I replied that I was very sorry, but I didn’t have space for everyone. When I called my neighbors to say that the other couple wouldn’t be coming, she replied, “I don’t know, but I think my husband is working tomorrow and can’t come.” Shocked (much preparation was done), I answered, “I’m sorry—we’ll reschedule dinner for another time.” Now both couples are angry at me. Am I at fault, and if so, what should I have done?
A: Apparently, these people think your dining room is that clown car in which you can stuff ever more passengers. It was marginal for your neighbors to get their guests included. Obviously, the polite thing for them to do would have been to explain the So-and-Sos would be staying with them at the time you were suggesting for dinner, and unless you wanted to include them also, you should get together another time. But it was utterly rude to be told the day before the party that your guest list was increasing by one-third. It was perfectly understandable for you to say you simply couldn’t accommodate everyone. Your once-helpful neighbor’s behavior was atrocious.
If you want to try to salvage the relationship, once things simmer down, you could say to your neighbors you’re sorry about all the confusion over dinner and you’d like to try again. But if they’re permanently busy, do your best just to stay pleasant to them.
Q. I Need Help: I submitted a question last week and so I am hoping to get lucky today. I am 52 and getting married in about six months (first), my best friend, whom I love dearly, is assuming I want her to be my matron of honor. I have not asked her because she weighs about 400 pounds. I hate myself for not wanting her to be in the wedding, because it would just break her heart. People stare at her and point as she is very short, so it looks worse (if we can say that). I feel awful, but I am just being honest. How can I handle this?
A: Since you’re just being honest, I’ll be honest, too. I find your sentiments repulsive. How sad that your best friend has a best friend who actually is one of those people who would mock and stigmatize her. It’s one thing if you conclude, “Hey, I’m 52, so I’m a little old for matrons of honor and all that frou-frou.” It’s another if you want to exclude her because she’d ruin your wedding photos. If you’re coming to me for a polite way to tell your friend she looks appalling, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Q. Wedding Ring: I read the story about Prince William not planning on wearing a wedding ring with interest. My husband of five months also does not wear a ring. It still bothers me, but he is very stubborn. He owns a ring but hates wearing it. The few times I have gotten him to wear it (to places like church with me), he fiddles with it constantly and is slightly grumpy. He says he’s not a jewelry person. He also works in construction and says it could be dangerous to wear a ring on the job. His father never wore a ring, but mine always did. Both sets of our parents are still married. Should I drop it or try to insist he wear it more often?
A: Your husband is right that given his line of work, wearing a wedding ring could leave him minus a finger. Wearing a ring is no guarantee a man won’t cheat. (Check out the left-hand ring finger of our 42nd president.) There truly are people who don’t like jewelry and find rings particularly bothersome. Forcing your husband to wear it, and watching him twist it as if he’s being tortured, is counterproductive to the message of the ring. Let him drop the ring in the jewelry box, and you should drop it from further discussion.
Q. Not Brad Pitt: Thank you for fielding my question. I just started dating a great man. He treats me like a princess, is wonderful in bed, funny, smart … but he is not attractive. We have great physical chemistry, but he is just not good looking. We always fool around with the lights off. I have been hesitant to introduce him to my family. Now, granted, I am not Angelina Jolie, but I can’t seem to get past it. Am I that shallow?
A: Maybe you could fix him up with the 400-pound best friend—she’d probably really appreciate him. Here’s a basic rule of life: If you’re dating someone who is wonderful to you and a fantastic sexual partner, it doesn’t matter what he looks like. Something magical should take place that has you realizing that despite your mistaken first impression, your boyfriend is actually really attractive.
If you can’t gaze on him with gratitude that he’s come into your life, throw him back in the dating pool quickly. I can’t tell you how many women would be ecstatic to have a funny, smart, kind sexual dynamo in their lives.
Q. Co-Worker’s Forgetfulness Impacting Work –What To Do?: I work in a small office. Lately several of us have noticed that one of our co-workers is forgetful to the point where it’s becoming a real problem. She takes copious notes during meetings but still can’t remember the outcomes from one week to the next, so we spend lots of time discussing the same things over and over—this may not sound like a big deal, but the amount of time we waste on this really adds up! Her flightiness has also led to bad decisions with impacts for the whole company (like not remembering to include certain key provisions in contracts with partners, resulting in us losing money). She’s in her 50s; is it possible that this is early-onset Alzheimer’s? How do you talk to a co-worker about a problem like this?
A: If this is a dramatic change in her behavior, then yes, there could be a neurological basis for it. It would be best if two of went to your co-worker’s direct supervisor and explained you’re coming with great reluctance but you’re very concerned about an increasing problem with her being unable to discharge her duties. Explain you think she needs to get a medical evaluation because this is a departure from her normal competence. If nothing is done, you unfortunately have to track her mistakes and present them again to the boss. If it is early-onset dementia, that is a tragedy, but one that needs to be dealt with.
Q. Cop Husband Is Not Trigger Happy: We live in a small town and attend many social gatherings (church, school, BBQ’s etc). My husband is a police officer for this town and often has to show up in his duty gear. Inevitably someone makes the awful joke that if they say something wrong my husband might shoot them. One time he was taking my little boy to the bathroom and my son didn’t want to go. A man came up to him and said “now ‘John,’ you’d better behave for your dad or he’s gonna have to shoot you.” It was an awful, tasteless thing to say to my little boy, and I don’t want any of my kids to hear something like that ever again. It makes me and my husband very uncomfortable, and he just wants to stay away from every event. He is a fantastic father and a wonderful man, but all anyone sees is the uniform and gun. Is there a way to deal with this without becoming hermits?
A: Your husband’s job is public safety, and part of that includes educating people. It is very important for children to know the police are there to help and not be terrified that an officer is a mortal danger. The next time such a “joke” is made, I think your husband should quietly pull the parent aside and say while he understands the humor, he has seen a terrible effect such a joke has on children. Then he should ask that the parent explain it was a bad joke and bring him and the child together so your husband can explain his job is to protect children, not hurt them. If your husband deals with this with grace and calm, the jokes should die down, and everyone will get some valuable lessons.
Q. Her Cheating Spouse: The friend of a friend is sleeping with a married man, which I abhor. I found the man’s wife on Facebook and would like to let her know about what her husband’s been up to. I have personally been cheated on and wish someone told me. Do I just mind my own business and hope she doesn’t get any diseases?
A: It is a moral dilemma when you discover a friend is being cheated on. But the world is full of strangers who are being cheated on, and there’s nothing you can do about that. You don’t know this woman, so stay out of it.
Q. Faux letters: I had a question about your column, which I love. How much of a problem is it weeding out fake letters from the genuine article?
A: Remarkably few letters seem fake. Thank goodness for the column that human beings have an endless capacity to get themselves into sticky situations. And to prove how easy it is to tell the real from the fake, I’m going to say I’m 100 percent convinced your letter is real–and thank you for your kind words.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Have a good week!
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