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. (Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. What a great day to be indoors.
Q. Relationship Problems: My girlfriend had a nose job done three years ago at my request. (I did not pressure her.) Tragically, the procedure went wrong and her face was disfigured. We stayed together throughout this and I covered some of her legal and medical bills and did my best to support her emotionally. For the past year, however, I feel like I’m with her out of guilt more than anything. I find myself losing patience with her and making excuses to cancel our dates. I do not have the heart to break up with her because I feel obliged to look after her. I’m sure she’s noticed this but hasn’t said anything to me—in fact she treats me more nicely, as does her mom. Am I a jerk for not loving her anymore?
A: Ladies, here’s some advice that’s as plain as the nose on your face: Do not surgically alter your appearance in the hopes of pleasing some jerk who doesn’t like you the way you are. Ultimately, Want-To-Be-Ex, it doesn’t matter whether you’d suggested you could look at your girlfriend more easily if she’d had plastic surgery, or you’d said, “Get rid of the schnoz or I’m out of here.” She’s an adult and it was her decision. (However, in cases such as this, the best answer is, “Goodbye!”) It’s good you stepped up and helped with medical costs. And if your (ex) girlfriend still is not looking normal, she needs to find a plastic surgeon who specializes in reconstruction. I’m hoping it’s possible she can get to the point where she’s satisfied with the repair, and you should offer to help pay for that. But this relationship sounds irreparable. Talk about adding insult to injury by longing to be free but hanging around because you helped persuade her to mess up her face. You’ve done enough to mess up her life, so if you want out, get out.
Q. Ethical Dilemma Involving Sperm Donation: I am a broke 26-year-old Ph.D. student. I have a female friend who’s 35, single, and loaded. She’s previously had bad relationships and “given up on men”—but she’s desperate to be a mom. She doesn’t want to go down the anonymous sperm donor route for various reasons and has asked me to father a child. The deal is that we’ll live together until she is impregnated, she will sign whatever forms to say she doesn’t want child support or my involvement, and I will get $15,000. She said I’m the ideal sperm donor candidate because I’m a healthy, intelligent, easygoing, single male. I’ve donated sperm before and also had casual sex. This deal seems to be a combination of the two, and I make money out of it in the end (and boy do I need it badly). What’s your view on this—should I go ahead?
A: To you this may be a short period of hanging out, no-strings sex, a nice place to stay, and a sweet nest egg. But before you do this keep in mind you will also be fathering a child. I understand you’ve donated sperm, but that was with the expectation of anonymity (an expectation that is legally eroding, by the way). Once the deed is done and the baby is on the way, you may think you can go off to enjoy your windfall. But a child is going to be produced from this deal, and unless you are also prepared to step up in some way and be a father, you should say no. It doesn’t matter what legal documents you and your friend draw up. I can assure you from my inbox that people have a compelling desire to know who their parents are. No matter how great a mother your loaded friend is, her child is going to wonder who his or her father is, and why his or her father just isn’t around. I totally see your friend’s perspective that she would rather reproduce with someone she actually knows, rather than someone she has just seen as a list of statistics in a catalogue. Ultimately, you may feel you want to help her be a mother. But that doesn’t mean a piece of paper relieving you of “support or involvement” will mean you’re not a father.
Q. Boyfriend’s Sister Wants To Know Intimate Details!: My boyfriend, his sister, and I are all in our mid- to late 20s. My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost three years. While I entertain niceties with his sister, behind closed doors she is an immature gossip who has confronted both me and my boyfriend if we didn’t tell her something about our relationship first. She is always wanting to press me for details about our sex lives, which I find strange and disconcerting. She will segue into it by casually mentioning the sex lives of other couples she knows, then asking me about my experiences. Prudie, I have no desire to share this information with her—but even if I gently tell her it’s my own business, a few weeks later she’s digging for more information. Is there a way to tell her that what goes on in my pants is hands-off? I’d never imagine asking her or anyone else for details like that.
A: Forget gentle. The next time she starts in, just say, “I don’t want to hear anything about anybody else’s sex life, and I’m certainly not talking to you about mine.” If she continues to badger, limit your interaction with her to Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Q. Husband’s Carpool With Attractive Female Colleague: My husband drives 50 minutes each way for work. There is a female colleague who lives five minutes from us, and they decided to carpool. He picks her up every day, they sit together alone in the car for an hour and half, and he drops her off afterwards. He’s one of those men who are so kind to women that his actions are often misinterpreted, and it bothers me immensely that he and another woman are in a position to spend a significant portion of time with the potential to become close friends. Even I don’t spend 1.5 hours a day talking to him leisurely and privately. I’ve told him it’s inappropriate and it makes me feel uncomfortable. We’ve argued over this over several weeks and he insists I’m irrational and that it would be rude for him to suddenly stop driving her. Am I the unreasonable one here?
A: Clearly the answer is for your husband to quit his job and stay at home with an ankle bracelet that alerts you as to his movements so you can track whether he’s being “kind” to other women. Guess what, however he and his colleague get to the office, he’s going to be spending hours a day in close proximity to her and away from you. Would you be happier if your husband worked at a monastery? He might find his co-worker’s company delightful or tedious, but commuting with her does not mean she’s in the line-up to become his next wife. But if you want him to be unhappy with the wife he has, keep making irrational demands.
Q. What To Do With This Letter?: I borrowed a book from a guy friend last week. While reading I came across a letter written to his ex-wife, which he obviously did not send, folded and tucked inside the book. He poured his heart out in the letter and made references to very personal marital problems (including those in the bedroom). Outwardly he’s a cheerful guy who looks like nothing in the world bothers him. I am now in an awkward dilemma. What do I do with the letter? If I leave it back inside the book and return it I’m afraid he’s going to realize I came across it and feel humiliated. I don’t feel right discarding the letter either, although obviously he’s forgotten that it’s there.
A: I hope when you return the book with the letter tucked exactly where it was he assumes you’re not a snooping busybody and you’d know not to open his personal correspondence. What you read is none of your business. Assuming he’s already read the book, it’s likely he’ll just place it on the shelf and never realize the letter is in there. If he finds it and says something to you, I’m going to suggest a little white lie and that you say of course you didn’t open it. The only awkward dilemma you have is discovering something unpleasant about yourself.
Q. MIL problems: Sometime next month I’ll give birth to my second son. My in-laws, who live very close, have volunteered to take my older child while I’m in the hospital. However, I can’t imagine two more opposite parenting styles than those between me and my MIL. I’m a reduced-sweets, no TV, early bedtimes (and fun too!). She is snacks whenever, bedtime whenever, and TV all the time. This is really causing me some serious angst. We have friends who would gladly take older child, but I feel guilty asking them when we have family who is (mostly) able. Do I just need to suck it up and tell myself that 16 hours of TV with fruit loops and Oreos won’t kill my child for the two days while I’m in the hospital? Or is there some way to talk to her about what is/isn’t OK when dealing with my child?
A: Your son is in for a big shock. So how better to ease this transition than a couple of days of R&R with Grandma where the sky rains Fruit Loops and Oreos and the TV is always blasting uneducational shows. You seem to think your husband turned out OK, and he was raised by this woman. So accept that while you’re out making your son into a big brother, a couple of days with Grandma won’t hurt him.
Q. Perfect Baby: I am the mother of a nine-month-old and my daughter is the perfect baby. She started sleeping through from day five and even now she goes to bed on her own at 8 p.m. and wakes up at 10 a.m. She is a very happy baby, breastfeeds easily, and naps twice a day (again, without any problem). She loves people and hardly cries. In fact, I don’t even remember the last time she fussed. I’ve never felt stressed about being a mom because my own mother loves being a grandparent and comes over every day to deliver meals, and plays with my daughter while I do my own thing. My problem is that when I hang out with other mothers, they become annoyed at me when I share my parenting experience. I don’t try to be insensitive about other moms’ problems with their babies but the fact is I have none, and I don’t think I need to hide the fact that my daughter is an easy baby or make up problems that don’t exist. How can I better fit in with other moms? Do I really need to be stressed about motherhood in order to make good mommy friends? Signed, Happy Mom.
A: Oh, how happy your friends will be when your daughter gets a world-class case of the terrible twos. If your friends are letting off steam about their exhaustion, difficulties feeding, and trouble finding help and you’re beaming a beatific smile and offering what an angel you’ve given birth to, and how you have the ideal home situation, well, you can see why they’d want to brain you. This doesn’t mean that you have to trash your daughter or motherhood. It just means that you listen attentively to their problems, downplay how utterly perfect your life is, and be prepared for things to change.
Q. Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: I’ve been dating my boyfriend for four years. He was diagnosed with a terminal illness and I’ve stood by him and supported him. For the past year—shortly before he was diagnosed—I’ve questioned whether I love him and wanted to break free from the relationship. His illness has made this impossible. I feel horribly guilty for essentially abandoning a dying man. I do not think he will cope with the breakup very well. I am his main source of emotional support and do care for him greatly. I just don’t love him in that way or see a future together if he were a healthy man. The doctor says his expectant life span is somewhat unpredictable—if he takes a bad turn it can be a few months, if he fights on, a couple of years. Should I just stay with him until he passes away, or is it OK to let him go now?
A: This is a similar dilemma to the man with the girlfriend with the botched nose job, but how different your situation is. Of course you’re right that if you’re your boyfriend’s main emotional support, he won’t take it well that you’re ending the relationship while he faces the end of his life. But you are understandably feeling held hostage because you wouldn’t be with your boyfriend now if he hadn’t fallen ill. But he did, and you have been there for the man you spent four years with through this ordeal. The question really isn’t so much about the rest of his life, but about the rest of yours. You have to examine hard how you would feel about yourself if you were to, as you say, “abandon a dying man.”
Q. Wedding Shower Etiquette: First let me say I love your column and have read all the archives. I can’t wait to hear what kind of advice you can give me. Here is the situation: My fiance and I are getting married in three months. A small wedding with less than 100 guests. We just purchased a house and have registered for things that we will need, mostly basics like sheets, towels, cookware, and the entire gamut of kitchen utensils. It is not a small list, but there is very little on it that is considered a “want.” My issue now is, I have two friends that would like ME to tell my bridesmaids that I want a catalog shower of their home-based businesses (think Tupperware or Mary Kay, that sort of thing). While I like the products that these home-based businesses offer, I cannot justify the costs right now—for me or for anyone. I would rather have the basics from my registry first, then slowly accumulate the “goodies” from my friends’ businesses. So I need to know, what is the best way to turn down these two friends? What do I say? One is a colleague and the other is a friend from college.
A: This is a twist. Instead of the bride viewing her friends as a fully loaded ATM just awaiting a PIN number, your friends view the bride as a soft touch for their side businesses. What you say is, “I love the stuff you sell, but I’m not going to do a Tupperware/Mary Kay party for the shower. Thanks.” If they get pushy, just smile and repeat.
Q. Say My Name, Not That Awful Nickname: What can I do about getting some family members to stop using a nickname that I have told them, politely and sincerely, that I really dislike? This nickname started years ago, when my nephew, as a baby, mispronounced my name. Two out of my three sisters (and the nephew, now an adult) still call me “Nan.” It was cute when it was a matter of baby-talk, but now I cringe when these family members not only call me Nan, but introduce me as such. When I’ve already said, “Please call me by my name.” What more can I do?
A: Everyone is entitled to be called by the name they want, but you’ve apparently let this nickname run for a couple of decades. Maybe at the next big family gathering make an announcement that while you loved it when your baby nephew called you “Nan” it’s long past time you reclaimed Katherine, and you’d appreciate it if they’d call you that. Then gently remind them when they “forget.” But when they introduce you to others, feel free to say, “I’m actually Katherine. Nan’s an old family nickname.”
Q. Re: Perfect Baby: The kid sleeps from 8 p.m. to 10 a.m. and has two naps every day? At nine months? She can’t be awake more than eight hours a day. Is that normal? I mean, it’s obviously not “normal,” seeing as this mother has her super-special “perfect” baby. But, I mean, health-wise … is that normal? The above comment was said without any traces of snark intended. The name cannot be said of the following comment: Given how much the kid sleeps, I find it hard to believe this mother also needs grandmother-assisted “me” time every day as well. Seriously.
A: So, mother of “Perfect Baby,” a couple of posters have raised the question of whether your child is sleeping too much and suggest you check it out.
Q. Too Fast, For Sure: I just started dating a wonderful guy a month ago. In an ideal world, we’d date for at least a year before we considered moving in together and making long term plans for marriage, kids, etc. In reality, though, I am unemployed and have to move out of my apartment next month. Though we both acknowledge it is less than ideal, he has offered to let me move in with him, and has a spare bedroom if I’d prefer. My only other option is to bounce from friend’s couch to friend’s couch until I find a job. Is it worse to put such pressure on a relationship too soon, or to be effectively homeless while someone you like is offering a needed hand?
A: Bounce. Sadly, millions of people are in your awful situation. A bedroom offered by a “wonderful guy” with whom you could see spending your future might seem tempting. But moving in is likely to blow this up before it even starts, then you’ll be nursing a broken heart and an unemployment check.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Stay cool, and talk to you next week.