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: Good afternoon. I fervently hope that by the end of the night there will not be any bags of caramels left at our house I’ll then be forced to eat.
Q. Trick-or-Drunks: The dads I take my kids trick-or-treating with—all neighbors and family friends—bring thermoses full of strong cocktails when we head out. We walk around our neighborhood for maybe two hours, so by the end of the night, some of them are drunk and rowdy. As the only one not to bring a cocktail thermos, I feel embarrassed for the men, because they are not smooth drunks and their kids notice their inebriation, and I get stressed out, because I feel responsible for making sure none of the kids falls behind. Last year when I mentioned that it might not be a great idea to drink during an event primarily centered around our children, they blew me off. I am not looking forward to Halloween this year and am considering taking my kids to my in-laws’ neighborhood for the night. Should I broach this subject again with them or back off?
A: It will be a memorable Halloween if Dad barfs in the candy bag—at least that will solve the dilemma about what to do with all that junk. The hours are ticking down until the drunken crawl around the neighborhood, but I think you should put on your Carrie Nation costume and send a group email, or call the other fathers, and say after you take your kids out you’d like to invite all the dads back to your house for a well-deserved cocktail. But tell them you’re uncomfortable going around with drinks while supervising the kids. If they blow you off as a milquetoast, gather your kids in the car and tell them the treats are even better in their grandparents’ neighborhood.
Dear Prudence: Artistic Abominations
Q. Texting: My wife used to yawn during sex, now she’s texting. Should I say something to her?
A: Take a look at her messages. Perhaps she’s writing, “My husband is making love to me, it won’t take a minute.” Then you could get your phone and text her about your desire to meet at the office of your divorce lawyer.
Q. Broke Brother: My brother is reckless and irresponsible. He has wasted his money on parties, wine, unnecessary travels, women, and unwise investments. Over the years we had many arguments over this issue and I made it clear that when (not if) he became broke, I would not be there to bail him out. As predicted he has now lost most of his money. He’s also recently found out he has lung problems (although not life threatening) and needs ongoing care. Being broke, he can’t afford to get the best treatment or the most experienced physician available. It upsets me to see my brother in such poor shape, but I am hesitant to help out. There’s a part of me that thinks he should reap what he sows. Am I heartless to think this?
A: It’s unfortunate that in this country being reckless can also mean you are ruined if you get sick. There are two issues here. One is his profligacy and the personal responsibility for his poor decisions. The other is that he needs medical care. If he’s truly without resources, perhaps you can help him navigate the Medicaid system. Your personally paying for the best physicians would surely be ruinous for you. But perhaps there is something you can help him with that would ease his medical condition. That means you don’t write him a check, but maybe—if you want to—you help underwrite a respiratory therapist for a while. You are not obligated to do any of this, but imagine him gone, and consider if you will feel regretful you didn’t try to help.
Q. Trick-or-Drunks: I have a feeling this poster is being a tad bit overreactive. While I haven’t done it, I don’t think I’ve seen a single year’s Halloween without SOME group coming to the door with a drink in hand. It’s pretty common. I’d like to know what counts as “drunk and rowdy” to this person.
A: I’ll take the poster at his word that this is not the dads all having a beer as they walk around with their little goblins, but people who empty big thermoses and really end up scaring the kids. There’s no reason to participate in this if there’s a better alternative.
Q. Sister Looking for Adopted Sister’s Roots: My sister is adopted. All my life I’ve been curious about her birth parents. As a child I used to fantasize about her mom coming to baby-sit, or I drew pictures of what I thought they’d look like. I have been thinking about looking for her birth parents—not to meet them or anything, but to simply find out who they are and the circumstances of the adoption. I thought of doing this without telling my sister because she doesn’t really want to know. My question is, is this wrong?
A: Here’s some news: Her mom is your mom, so you don’t have to look for her mom. Your sister is not interested in finding her biological parents, so drop your fantasy that Bill and Melinda Gates are going to show up and claim her. Stop harping on the distinction between you—she is your sister. And the answer to whether it would be wrong for you to start a search on your own is: Yes it would be.
Q. Morning Sickness: Being in the early stages of my pregnancy, I have the joys of morning sickness. I’ve become hypersensitive to the smell of deodorant or mild sweating or most types of food. Being at work it’s difficult to avoid this and I usually have to take a large step back and breathe through my mouth when I smell something that makes me sick. I try to keep a straight face, but I know I physically look unwell. Last week I couldn’t bear the smell of my manager, who’d just eaten curry for lunch. I felt incredibly nauseous and inched as far away from him as possible, trying to subtly cover my nose. He didn’t say anything directly to me but was understandably offended. I feel bad for this, but the reaction comes out involuntarily. Is there something I can say to avoid hurting people’s feelings when I can’t stand their smell?
A: I wish science would investigate the phenomenon of pregnant women having beagle-like sniffing abilities. When I was pregnant my husband used to come home from work and be amazed when I would say, “Please don’t use that Italian dressing anymore at lunch, the oregano is making me sick.” However, turning green, holding your nose, and staggering away from your colleagues is bound to create some bad feelings. This problem should pass in a few weeks, but for now maybe it would help if you had in your hand at all times a cup of peppermint tea. That would block some of the more obnoxious odors. If things are bad enough, you also might consider telling your manager that you’d like to keep this private for now, but you’re pregnant so you hope he understands if you feel a little under the weather for the next few weeks.
Q. Vacation After Divorce: I was married for 18 years to the father of my children until 10 months ago, and we are taking them to Costa Rica next month (not as odd as it sounds, we are good friends). My dilemma is that he informed me today that he might be looking for female companionship at night during our stay here. Our sons are 14 and 16 and will obviously know what’s going on when he departs our mountain home to drive to the city. I am at a loss whether to laugh it off (he is 53, a handsome firefighter, and somehow thinks a free meal will buy him undying love) or to let him find out the hard way that prostitution is legal in Costa Rica, and let his ego get buried in the process. Advice?
A: Any traveling companions, even former spouses, need some ground rules for getting along. Since you’re vacationing with your kids, it’s incumbent upon him to behave as a father, not a Mr. August on the Hottest Firefighters calendar. That said, I don’t think it’s necessarily clear that if Dad says he’s going into town to look around for an evening that means he’s hiring a lady of the night. However, before you go, tell him that what he does in his free time is his decision, but you’re concerned if he goes off every night, that will make the boys uncomfortable. Then, if he sets off, just shrug and say, “Adios.”
Q. Cheating in Exams: I do part time tutoring to earn some cash. The students I tutor are generally only a couple of years younger than me. I’ve formed friendships with some of them and maintain contact even after I’ve stopped tutoring them. One girl I get along well with has confided in me that she cheated in her exams. She ended up winning a major prize at her school and is using the exam results to apply for college. The thing is, she’s naturally a gifted girl. Her academic record is largely excellent, but this time around she had some family problems and decided to take the easy route rather than risking failure. She feels bad about it and has assured me she won’t be cheating again as it’s not worth the guilt. But I’m wondering if I should tell the school. I don’t want to ruin her entire academic history, but I feel guilty knowing she cheated. What should I do in this situation?
A: If you were still tutoring her, I would say you should report her to her parents and end your professional relationship. It’s good you made clear how objectionable you found her behavior, and that it’s abhorrent that she got a leg up in this way. However, I’m inclined to not take it further than that in this case. Your blowing the whistle would, as you know, be very damaging to this girl. You don’t mention what the family problems are, but sometimes teenagers under a lot of pressure act out in self-destructive ways. That said, I know readers will make a compelling case that someone was robbed of an academic prize because of her behavior, and I won’t disagree. I’m just feeling you don’t have to come forward in this case. Readers?
Q. Should She Pay Me Back?: A couple of weeks ago, I gave some money to a Facebook appeal for a friend who was in a car accident and needed money to pay for her repairs. It turns out a lot of information was left out: mainly, that insurance covered the costs but she spent the repair check from the insurance company on a brand new iPhone and other stuff instead of the repairs. I gave the money thinking it was going to the repairs, because that it how it was pitched, and didn’t know about her spendthrift ways. I didn’t give more than I could afford to lose, but should she a) pay me back since it was under false pretenses, or b) should I ask for it back?
A: I hope you don’t also wire money to strangers who send you emails that begin, “My darling dear one, I have had some financial troubles lately.” This experience with your friend has actually been invaluable. Now you know to be wary of mass appeals for money, even from people you know. You’re friends with someone who expects her friends to underwrite the financial knocks that life brings, and then goes and puts the proceeds toward goods she’s really been eyeing. Write off the money, and perhaps the friendship, too.
Q. Stingy Trick-or-Treater: We get a lot of trick-or-treaters at our house that I know are not local to our area. I see parents drop them off in cars to trick-or-treat in our neighborhood. Since I know all the kids in our neighborhood, I know which ones are local and which ones are not. I don’t mind buying candy for our neighbors, but kids from miles away, that I’ll never see again? It makes me a bit sour. What makes me even more sour is that if I give all these kids treats, I have to buy (literally) four times the amount of candy that I would give the local kids. In the past, I have bought the amount of candy that I thought was reasonable and when it ran out, it ran out, and if any of the neighbors’ kids missed out, oh well. But it made me feel bad. Tonight, I’m thinking of just giving the kids I know candy and turning the other kids away. Thoughts?
A: I think you must really want to have your house covered with toilet paper and eggs tomorrow. I’m also impressed with your ability to know exactly who’s behind the Transformer mask. Since I’ve moved to a neighborhood with very dark streets I’ve been sad at how few kids ring the bell. My old neighborhood used to attract kids from all over the city and I loved it. Have enough candy to drop a Tootsie roll into everyone’s bag, and stop being a grouch.
Q. Cheating Kid: I’m a parent of high school kids who I don’t believe cheat and who have taken some unfair lumps academically. Even so, I say if the kid confided in you, don’t tell the school. Kids make mistakes (in cars, sex, drugs, and school) and it sounds like she realizes it. Anyone who would have been in second place for such a prize is undoubtedly getting into a perfectly fine school themselves. It’s too bad there’s so much stress around high school accomplishments when we all forget them very quickly once adults. The consequences to reporting this girl would be devastating.
A: I’m with you. She knows she was wrong and the fact that she confided means she is wrestling with her mistake. Reporting her would result in a punishment that would be devastating and I think not more helpful than the guilt she’s feeling.
Q. Cheater Cheater Pumpkin Eater: I actually don’t see how this person can NOT report on this girl, or at least say, “I have no choice but to turn you in if you don’t do it yourself by ______.” Perhaps she even wants to be caught, or was searching for your encouragement to turn herself in, because it was profoundly against her own self-interest to blab to ANYBODY about cheating that resulted in a great prize! She probably cheated in part because she is under a tremendous amount of pressure to please and impress her parents, and now she feels trapped between her guilt and her fear of the repercussions.
A: This is another view. But I think the consequences of pressuring this girl to turn herself in under the threat of the tutor saying she will be reporting her are greater than her crime. I say reiterate to the girl how wrong her behavior was and that living with the guilt will be her punishment.
Q. Stingy Trick-or-Treater: Really? You’re going to tell an excited 6-year-old that he can’t have candy because his parents took him to a different neighborhood? What are you, border patrol? Please just try to get in the spirit and help a kid enjoy the fun. Soon enough, he’ll be a cranky adult who’s bean-counting everything in his life.
A: Great point. There are kids who live in neighborhoods where they might not feel safe or where people can’t afford bowls of candy. Spend the extra $20 and make some adorable witches happy.
Q. Super Sniffers: I’m currently pregnant, and I’ve found that carrying strong-tasting chewing gum (like Orbit Bubblemint) can be a lifesaver. Saved me today, in fact, when someone near me passed gas on the train.
A: Good tip. We could use a truckload of Orbit at our house.
Q. My Daughter Is Actually a Boy: I’m 33 weeks pregnant. Being 39, this is my first and last pregnancy. Around four months I was told I was having a girl, and was absolutely ecstatic. I’ve always wanted a special mother-daughter bond as I had with my own mother, and dreamt of doing all the “girly” things together and having girls’ talk. Then last week during a routine ultrasound I was told there had been a mistake and I am actually having a boy. I know I should be grateful for a healthy baby but I feel devastated I’m not having a girl—particularly after many weeks of preparing for a daughter, both in terms of baby things and emotionally. Am I a bad mom for being this upset?
A: Because I had an unspecial mother-daughter bond, I thought when I was pregnant the first and last time at age 39 that it would much better if I had a boy. For some reason I was sure I would. Then I was told I was having a girl. I was embarrassed at how difficult the news was for me. Of course you know that the ending is that having a daughter has been the greatest thing to happen to me. Just as the mothers I know who have boys also feel similarly lucky. And guess what, you have no idea who this little person will turn out to be and what your relationship will be like. I managed to shift emotional gears and get excited about all the fun girly things she and I would do. Then when she was little, every time I tried to play dress up and encourage her to do the same, she would tell me she was not interested in being a princess like her friends, then she’d look at the scarves I’d draped myself with and say, “Mom, take that off, you’re scaring me.”
Q. My Best Friend Is Criticizing My Grandchild: Meg and I have been best friends for more than a decade. We both have daughters the same age—early 30s—who are friendly, but not best friends. Recently, my daughter had a baby—little Sophy. Meg’s daughter has been trying to get pregnant (we don’t know for how long). I completely understand that Meg is anxious about her daughter. But now she is constantly making snarky comments about my daughter, her child rearing style, and even about Sophy. “Well, of course, Sophy is a genius,” she’ll say. Or, “That poor child, she never gets outside.” Meg’s friendship means a lot to me. And she has never behaved like this before. What should I say or do?
A: Next time she does it, say, “Meg, it hurts me when you make disparaging comments about my daughter and grandchild.” It’s obvious that the cause is Meg’s anxiety about having a grandchild of her own and jealousy that you do, but you don’t have to do the psychologizing for her. Just point out simply that what’s she saying is painful. Either she will recognize what she’s doing and stop, or she will be unable to control her sniping, in which case you have to put some limits on how much time you spend together.
Q. Gas Passing: How does your husband feel about being publicly labeled a chronic, noxious gas passer by his wife?
A: I didn’t say who would be chewing the most gum.
Q. Re: My Wife Used To Yawn During Sex, Now She’s Texting. Should I Say Something To Her? Don’t say anything until she starts eating snacks during sex. I would draw the line there.
A: If she shares her snacks, I think that’s okay. I would draw the line at her turning on the Kindle.
Q. Texting: Perhaps the wife is confused about the meaning of sexting!
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. And I hope this year I’ll be inundated with cute kids who don’t live in the neighborhood and all our candy will be gone. Happy trick-or-treating!