Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week’s chat is below. ( Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: So, while I was on vacation, I missed an earthquake and a hurricane. Please tell me I won’t be here for pestilence.
Q. Confessing to an Ex-Boyfriend: About two years ago my then-boyfriend got a job offer at a large, global company for nearly a 40 percent pay raise. He was contractually obliged to give a month’s notice at his old job and during that time I found out he cheated on me, amongst other things. To get back at him I logged into his email (he gave me his password previously) and wrote an email pretending to be him. The email detailed a drunken weekend out using recreational drugs, racist vents about my ex’s then boss, and the last paragraph contained offensive remarks about the HR manager who recruited him. I sent it to the HR manager to make it look like he’d accidentally sent it to her instead of a friend, then deleted the email from his sent account. Naturally the company withdrew the job offer with the excuse that his position was no longer available. My ex was also not permitted to have his old job back, so he spent four months unemployed. To be honest, I feel no guilt over this event considering how much he lied to me, but something keeps nagging at me and I feel like I have to confess it to him. He probably has no idea what happened. Am I morally obliged to tell him, or should I keep it under wraps?
A: I always appreciate it when I hear from the people who behave horribly (the insanely jealous, the rageaholics) to get their perspective on what it’s like to be the person who damages those around them. So thank you for this letter about your diabolical plot to try to destroy your ex’s career. He cheated on you, which makes him a louse who you should have (and did) broken up with. If in the course of breaking up you broke a few of his plates or his high school football trophy, OK. But being cheated on does not then result in a free pass to try to annihilate his professional life. You say you don’t feel guilty, but obviously you do because what you did justifiably nags at you. Your ex-boyfriend is lucky that your email only resulted in a short period of being out of work. The consequences of what you did could have dogged him for years; his former employer could be providing the kind of reference that sends someone permanently to the bread line.
It will be a very difficult conversation to have, but I think he’s entitled to know why his great job offer was suddenly withdrawn and also be prepared in case this ugly episode re-emerges somehow. So tell him that in your rage at his cheating on you, you hacked his account and sent an inflammatory email to his former HR manager. You don’t have to give chapter and verse of everything you said in the email, but adding an apology would be a good thing to do.
And please, everyone who is in love, keep in mind you can share your body and your soul with your beloved, but sharing your password is not such a good idea.
Dear Prudence: I’m Dating a Chimney!
Q. Stop Sending Me Presents!: When I had my first child I had dozens of family and friends sending flowers, gifts, and cards. They usually arrived as I was struggling to feed my newborn or just as I lay down to nap. The constant deliveries drove me crazy and combined with postnatal hormones, I went berserk at the never-ending ringing of the doorbell. I also found it stressful dealing with numerous phone calls throughout the day as family friends often called again and again until I picked up the phone. I’m about to give birth again next month and I really do not want anybody to send me anything. I don’t want to be rude to people who are kindly sharing our delight in a new baby, but the one thing that will help me the most is for people to not phone me or send me anything. Is there any way of communicating this strongly but politely?
A: There really isn’t a polite way of saying, “Please stop knitting those booties and monogramming those baby blankets because the sound of the UPS guy leaving your loving gift on my door makes me crazy.” However, the advent of social media, which means it is expected that expectant mothers will post sonograms of their gestating offspring, as well as give everyone they know an eyeful of their swelling bellies, could be your ally here. Post to your network that they can go to your Facebook page for timely updates about the little one after you get home from the hospital, but that you ask their indulgence that in those first few hazy weeks you won’t have the strength to talk on the phone. And keep in mind that having people who care about you and your child is the good kind of problem.
Q. Mother-in-Law Wants To Join Our Honeymoon!: My fiance and I are going to get married this year and plan to go to New Zealand for our honeymoon. Recently his mom was diagnosed with cancer and the outcome is bleak. The two of them had a lengthy conversation the other day about how she never flew on a plane or went on an overseas vacation—so now my fiance says he wants to take her. On our honeymoon. I want to support her as much as I can in her final year of life, but it is our HONEYMOON. Am I being selfish here?
A: Now is the time for your fiance to book tickets somewhere his mother always wanted to go—and since she’s done very little traveling, that could be many places far easier to get to than New Zealand. Then the two of them should have a wonderful weeklong holiday together in Paris, or Barcelona, or wherever. That will then allow your fiance to go on his honeymoon alone with you guilt-free. No, you are not being selfish; even a mortally ill mother should not accompany her son on his honeymoon.
Q. Singing With Husband: My sweet, wonderful husband and I have a baby. We love to sing to the baby. Though my husband is a music lover, he is tone deaf. This never bothered me before—in fact, I always thought it was cute. But now, when we sing together to the baby, it’s terrible! The song sounds awful, I change my pitch to match his, he changes his pitch to “match” mine … there’s no fixing it. I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but I want to stop singing as soon as he starts. What to do?
A: In a few years when your child is old enough all of you can do what my family does on long car trips: have a “Worst Singer in the World” contest. I assure you your husband will not steal my crown. As I attempted to sing lullabies to our baby my husband would comment, “Do you know you sound like a police scanner searching for a frequency?” or “I thought the cat had swallowed poison and was dying.” I do recall when our daughter was first born reading with alarm a study that said out-of-tune parents can imprint their a-tonality on their young children’s brains, and that really shut me up for awhile. (My daughter, fortunately, ended up with a lovely voice.) However, if you husband wants to squawk to your baby it will probably do your child no harm. But you should be able to say in a loving, humorous way to him that your two-part harmonies are not harmonizing and that when you sing to your darling, you’d like to take turns doing it solo.
Q. Scorned Emailer: If she does tells her ex what happened, she could end up in jail and/or as a defendant in a lawsuit.
A: As I was typing that answer I was thinking to myself, “Hmm, probably a potential lawsuit here.” Yes, that’s a possibility, but I’ve learned from this column that much of life is a potential lawsuit. I still think she should come clean. At the least it would allow him to contact his former employer and explain what happened. If the letter writer was willing to sign a statement saying she sent the email that might avert a potential suit the ex-boyfriend might have considered. And just because something has the potential for a suit does not mean that everyone will always reach for the nearest lawyer.
Q. Stop Sending Me Presents?: Are you kidding me? Your phone can be silenced. A note can be placed on the door asking the delivery driver not to ring the bell. What a problem to have!
A: Good points. My deliveries just silently show up on the porch.
Q. Baby Name: My wife and I are expecting our first child (a boy) in January and are contemplating names. Our top choices are traditional Hebrew names. We are both of Protestant descent but are agnostic. Much as we love the name Chaim, we’re taking it off our list because we know it would always be mispronounced in our neighborhood and schools. But, Chaim aside, can we pull off a traditionally Jewish name?
A: The Jewish population in this country is too small to be responsible for Jacob being at the top of the list for the most popular names for boys. Without being Jewish, Abraham Lincoln managed to pull off having a traditionally Jewish name. And to paraphrase the old advertising slogan, you don’t have to be Jewish to love Aaron, Adam, or Isaac. For your son’s sake, you should restrain from naming him Jubal or Kish, but he could happily be the only Ephraim in his nursery school class. And as the granddaughter of one, I’m hoping Saul has a revival.
Q. Dismissing a Terminally Ill Co-Worker?: There is a man in his 50s with terminal cancer in my department. During the past months I’ve allowed him to take sick leave whenever he needed. I’ve transferred some of his work so he doesn’t have to deal with the more stressful tasks. He says he will work until he physically can’t because he has no family and loves his job and needs normality in his life. I want to support him in this, but I have the unfortunate task of laying off several staff because the company is struggling. To be honest, the colleague with cancer is not (cringe) a “profitable employee.” I don’t know if I can justify keeping him on board while I lay off other staff whose roles are needed more for the company. From the company perspective I know I should let him go, but from a human perspective I feel horrible doing this. What should I do?
A: I hope people in your department appreciate knowing they work for someone who struggles with the human consequences of your job. This knowledge could actually enhance your strengths as a manager, because while they understand you’ve had to make painful decisions about layoffs, you are not throwing a dying colleague into world of the unemployed and quite possibly the uninsured. However, given your employee’s grave physical condition, I’m wondering if there’s a way you can put him on a different status so that he works some hours, retains his health insurance, but is not being paid his previous salary when other people with their own pressing financial needs—including families to support—are being thrown into this terrible job market. Talk to human resources and see if there’s a way to make this work. If you change his status you can explain to him that you want him to be able to continue at work while having maximum flexibility to attend to his medical needs.
Q. Carpool Dilemma : There is a colleague at work who lives within a few blocks of my home. He asked one day if he could carpool with me to share travel costs and I happily said yes. We’ve been carpooling for about three weeks and one morning he had an epileptic fit. I am not medically trained, nor have I seen anybody have a fit before in my life, so it was a huge shock for me. I had no idea what was going on and actually thought he was going to die. Later I phoned to check in on him and he explained that he had epilepsy but he was “pretty sure” he wasn’t going to have another fit in my car. I know I sound insensitive but I am totally put off carpooling with him again. He lost control of his bowels and bladder and vomited in my car. I’m the type of person who nearly faints at the sight of blood or any other bodily fluid and I felt like vomiting myself as I drove to have my car cleaned professionally. I’m scared of having to deal with another fit, however unlikely he thinks it’s going to happen. What if next time it happens on a highway, and causes me to crash? My question is, is it OK to ask him to reimburse me for cleaning and how can I tell him I want to stop carpooling?
A: No one is obligated to get into a carpool situation with a colleague, but you also don’t want to be the kind of person to say, “You have epilepsy, so you can’t get in my car again, buddy.” Forget presenting him with a bill for cleaning. He likely has no memory around the seizure and doesn’t know the damage he caused. But since your colleague did have a seizure while you were with him, he is obligated to open with you and willing to discuss the potential for another seizure and your concerns about it. Of course there are no guarantees about medical conditions, but just saying he’s “pretty sure” it won’t happen again is not really addressing what was a traumatic and dangerous situation for you. If he’s not even willing to discuss this, then you should feel free to say it turns out the carpool is not working out for you. But if he can address his condition with you, it would be fair for you to say something like you would feel more comfortable possibly resuming if he is seizure-free for a few months first.
Q. Family Singing: I have to disagree with your response to the mom whose sense of pitch is better than her husband’s. If her child is going to grow up loving music, it is important for the child to learn that part of music is just having fun and being joyous. It is not joyous to shush other people. What will work better is for the mom to sing clear and true. She doesn’t have to change anything to “match” the dad. He can make any sounds he wants to. Everyone will have fun. The baby will not get “messed up” by hearing the dad’s voice. The baby will learn to tell the difference. The baby will also learn that s/he has two loving parents who know how to have fun with music.
A: But what happens when a person who can’t carry a tune sings with someone who can is not that the tone-deaf one sings better but that the musical one gets messed up. Believe me, we bad singers have power. You’re right that this is not a performance of a Bach Chorale, and sometimes Mom should sing and Dad should just croak along and everyone should have fun. But alternating verses is not shutting up Dad, it’s just preserving Mom’s sanity.
Q. 9/11 Bridal Shower: My future daughter-in-law (age 21, son is 23) has a shower being “thrown” for her on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I feel very uncomfortable going to such an event on this monumental day for our nation and my family, personally. My husband rejoined the Army National Guard after 9/11 and has spent two of the last four years overseas in Iraq because of it. My son was also on the last tour with his dad … doesn’t this day count for anything? This is future DIL’s THIRD bridal shower, and I just don’t feel right going. What should I do? Attend and be resentful? Just send a present? Do nothing?
A: I’m more concerned that this is the bride’s third shower than the date of the event. (Brides, please don’t tell me you just can’t stop all the people in your life who care about you from throwing shower after shower. I understand having a work shower and another shower. But more than two means you have to say to the next person who offers, “Thank you, but Lizzy is throwing the shower for me. I hope you can be there.”) People will always remember 9/11, but that doesn’t mean life doesn’t go on even though it’s the anniversary of the event. If your future daughter in law was having a shower on Dec. 7, you wouldn’t object because it was the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, a “day that will live in infamy.” Instead of starting your relationship with your son’s new wife by debating how resentful and rude to be to her, begin thinking of ways to make her feel welcome.
Q. Terminally Ill Coworker: I think it is dismissive of the terminally ill coworker to sugarcoat the job situation. You aren’t changing his status to allow him to attend to his medical needs (he can apparently do this now). Tell him about the situation and see what he thinks. It could very well be that he would, rightly, allow a co-worker who needs the financial stability of the job to keep his family under a roof rather than keep his job to not be lonely (nowhere is insurance, finances mentioned). I can’t imagine having a terminal illness and facing the end of my life at such a young age, but I also couldn’t imagine being the sole breadwinner of a family who puts her all into a job only to have it taken away for “humanitarian” reasons. Businesses are meant to make money. How about keeping in touch with the ill coworker? How about finding volunteer work for him? Is part-time employment possible? This is a sad quandary, no doubt, but please don’t overlook the fact that other workers may have dire outcomes with job loss … the terminal illness is not a dire outcome of the job loss it is just wretched luck.
A: All excellent points, and thank you for making them. Unfortunately, since insurance is tied to employment, that may be a crucial thing for this dying man. However, I agree that part-time employment or some other arrangement that allows him to come in while not entirely taking one of a diminishing number of slots must be explored.
Q. Only Singing?: So, does Dad get to tell Mom to take a backseat at any baby interactions she’s not as good at as he is? If he does better character-voices when reading to the child, does he get to request that she not interfere with his dramatic interpretation of Goodnight Moon?
A: I’m speaking as a member of the singing impaired! I understand it’s horrible for anyone to try to sing along with me. This has not impaired me as a parent, it has impaired me as a lullaby singer
Q. Confessing Is Only Part of the Solution: The woman who trashed her ex-boyfriend’s professional reputation needs to contact the HR department of the company that withdrew the job offer and explain that she wrote and sent the email in revenge for perceived wrongs he committed in their romantic relationship. This is the least she can do to atone for her previous actions. If she does not, then ex would have a good case for pursuing a defamation law suit against her. She had just grounds for throwing out the bum, but no reason to “go nuclear” and threaten his career. If he had been beating her, that’s another matter.
A: There’s no mention he had beaten her, and if he beat her, that’s still not an excuse. But I agree that in addition to telling her boyfriend, she needs to formulate a plan to contact the company and let them know the email was her malicious trick and has no basis in fact.
Q. Hebrew Names: We named our son Asher, a Hebrew name, even though my husband and I are not Jewish. We liked the name because it’s not common without being unusual. It means blessed and happy, which describes our now-3-year-old to a T!
Emily Yoffe: Mazel tov! And thanks everyone for your questions. Have a great Labor Day and I’ll talk to you next Tuesday Sept. 6.