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 look forward to your questions.
Q. Friend Has Revised One-Night Stand Story: A friend recently called me and said she had a one-night stand after drinking too much. She was beating herself up over drinking too much and going home with a guy she met at a bar. I reassured her that everyone makes mistakes and didn’t think much more of the account. However, since then, she has told many people that she was a victim of date-rape—that the guy must have put something into her drink . She spoke to a rape crisis line, and they said even if she was drunk, she couldn’t have given consent so she was a victim of rape. She now wants to press charges—she has the guy’s business card. I have seen her very intoxicated on previous occasions, to the point she doesn’t remember anything the next day. I’m not sure on what my response should be at this point. Pretend she never told me the original story?
A: Trying to ruin someone else’s life is a poor way to address one’s alcohol and self-control problems. Since her first version of the story is that she was ashamed of her behavior, and since you have seen her knee-walking drunk on other occasions, it sounds as if she wants to punish the guy at the bar for her own poor choices. Yes, I agree that men should not have sex with drunk women they don’t know. But I think cases like the one you are describing here—in the absence of any evidence she was drugged—where someone voluntarily goes home with a stranger in order to have a sexual encounter, makes it that much harder for women who are assaulted to bring charges. Talk to your friend. Tell her that she needs to think very long and hard about filing a criminal complaint against this guy if there’s any way her behavior could be construed to be consensual. Say you understand her shame, but you’re concerned about her drinking, and if she addresses that, she won’t find herself in such painful situations.
Q. Washington: This is about as rough as it gets, I think. For the last two years I’ve been in the best relationship of my life with a beautiful, fun, kind, smart woman. Honestly, I could go on and on. I just adore every fiber of her being, so why, you ask, am I devastated? She absolutely doesn’t want children. I’ve known this for awhile. And I know that’s something I absolutely do want out of life. It’s an impasse, and after nearly a year of searching in vain for some middle road, I know I have to end the relationship. I just don’t know how. How do I break the heart of this person I love so dearly?
A: It’s a mutual heartbreak because having children is one of those make or break topics. You’ve both been honest with each other, given your relationship time, and it sounds as if both of you have been open about considering the other’s perspective. But neither of you is willing to change your mind about something so fundamental. Because it seems unthinkable to end a gloriously happy relationship, I think you have to be firm about the finality of your romantic involvement. Sort of breaking up, then trying again because you miss each other so much, will only drag out the pain for years. Each of you wants and deserves a partner who shares your vision of what a fulfilling life should be. Investing more time in a relationship that won’t get you there will just poison what you’ve had.
Dear Prudence Video: My Mom Won’t Shut Up!
Q. Baby Name Poaching?: Two years ago some family friends had a daughter and named her Mia. A few months ago my husband and I had our first child and named her Mia too. We named her after his sister, who introduced us and died from cancer two years ago. I’ve now found out, through mutual friends, that the other Mia’s parents are angry, seriously angry, with my husband and I for “copying” their name. Some of our friends even seem to think we owe them an apology and should change our daughter’s name. I never put much credence into so-called “baby name poaching”—but are we on the wrong side of an etiquette issue? My husband and I value the other couple’s friendship, but we also love our daughter’s name and its significance.
A: Momma Mia! Since every third girl is named Emily, maybe I should go a country-wide rampage against the parents who have made common my once-unusual name. And maybe Mia Farrow should sue both of you. Maybe everyone named Sue should sue the other parents who “stole” that name. The other Mia’s parents are nutty, as are the friends who think you owe them an apology. If anyone brings this up again just smile and say you know there is room in this world for two more beautiful Mias.
Q. My Immature Sister’s Petty Comments: My brother recently brought home his newest girlfriend. My family discovered she’s a little person. We’re a little surprised. My little sister, perhaps not the most mature 15-year-old in the world, thinks the relationship is “really weird.” I know she and her friends have been making jokes at my brother and his girlfriend’s expense. I’m worried my brother and his girlfriend will hear and feel (rightfully) offended. I am not sure what will make her listen to me, though, as I am not much older than her. Do you have advice?
A: Being obnoxious is almost a job description for a 15-year-old, and you can’t control what she says with friends. But it’s your parents’ job—and I hope they step up and discharge it—to explain to her that she is never, ever to make a disparaging remark to your brother’s girlfriend, or to anyone, anytime, about their physical qualities, disabilities, race, accent, etc. So tell your parents about your concerns and ask them to speak to your sister so that she doesn’t embarrass your family. And if you hear her making mocking remarks, keep it simple and say, “Mia, those kinds of comments just aren’t acceptable.”
Q. Daddy Issues: I fell in love with my husband in part because of how enthusiastically he fathered his son and daughter from his first marriage. I was so excited when I got pregnant with our first child, because I knew he would be a wonderful dad. At first he lavished our daughter with attention. But then something in him changed, and he became more focused on work and my stepchildren. I feel like our daughter became an embodiment of all the stress he felt over becoming a dad again: his financial obligations, still being a good dad to my stepchildren. When we learned I was pregnant with twins, my husband began working even more and spending more time with my stepchildren. He lives with our daughter but spends maybe five percent of his free time with her. She is three and a little too young to notice his behavior, but as a pregnant mother, I feel wounded. I have tried discussing how I can help him manage his stress, and I have asked him to spend more time with our daughter. I have tried showing him how we can afford our twins and daughter. But he doesn’t take me seriously. What advice can you offer? I need him to spend more time with our daughter (and our twins when they’re born) or I might leave him. Am I doing something wrong?
A: Think about the solution you’re contemplating to the problem of your husband not spending enough time with your child. You want to blow up this marriage and raise your brood on your own with your stressed out husband trying to support three households and five children. Please get your husband to a counselor with you now. What you perceive as unfairness to your daughter might just be the fact that your husband is under enormous financial stress. It also could be that he feels your daughter is benefitting from being part of an intact family (for now), while his first set of children have to shuttle around and he’s trying to compensate. Giving him ultimatums is not going to get you what you want. Having a third party help you both look at your situation objectively—and even help you see better ways to ease the stress and time management problems that go along with this—is really important for you to do now.
Q. RE: Daddy Issues: I like all the points you made, Prudie. Also, some dads (and moms, for that matter) just don’t enjoy very little kids as much as older kids that can actually do activities. I think of my dad as a great father, but that’s based on my memories of him from when I was school-aged. Having now seen him with my own daughter, I realize he’s really not that into babies and toddlers and doesn’t know what to do with them. I have also seen cases where the mother is so absorbed in the baby that the dad ends up feeling like there is nothing important he is “allowed” to contribute until the child gets older.
A: These are excellent points. It’s true that some people—fathers and even mothers—are just not baby people and their kids become a lot more interesting the older they get. The mother would also do well to examine how she facilitates, or maybe unconsciously undermines, Dad’s interactions.
Q. RE: Mia: “We named her after his sister, who introduced us and died from cancer two years ago. ” I think the solution is just to put this fact out there, and if these people still think that you ‘stole’ the name and owe apologies, then you know just what caliber of people you’re dealing with.
A: I know what you mean, but there’s something defensive about having to explain to other people where the name came from. Maybe they should say to a couple of friends who think these parents should apologize that Mia is the name of the father’s late sister—but leave it at that. No one owns a first name.
Q. Fake Boobs: Kids have big ears, I guess. My son overheard me mention to my sister that I think his father’s girlfriend has fake boobs. The next time he saw her, he asked her if her boobs were fake and explained the context in which he heard the term. She thought it was hilarious—she assures me they’re not fake—and I am mortified. What’s the best way to apologize for this sort of social faux pas? I’ve already apologized but am worried she and my husband think I’m obsessed with her appearance.
A: You are lucky the girlfriend of your ex has a sense of humor and you two appear to have a decent relationship. When she told you, you apologized and felt like a boob. So drop it because there’s no reason to blow it into something bigger than it is.
Q. Adoption vs. Biological Child: I spent five years teaching English in Asia and for most of that time I also volunteered at various orphanages. I am back home now and married to a wonderful man I met while teaching. Since I returned home, the kids and babies I met have remained at the back of my mind. I would like to go back and adopt an older child. The trouble is that my husband says that the idea of adoption doesn’t appeal to him. We had a lot of strained discussions over this, and he still says he doesn’t want to adopt. I am heartbroken, and this is severely affecting our marriage. He wants to start trying for a baby, but I want to adopt instead, and have a biological child later on. Do I need to let go of adoption in order to please my husband? Am I asking for too much for him to at least start the process? I feel like once we adopt a child, he will love him or her.
A: As with the letter above about having children, if this was something you have always known you wanted to do, it would have been better to bring this up before you married. But it’s fair that if now that you’re home you realized you want to bring back one of these children you have broached the subject with your husband. Even if instinctively he has no interest, he should do you the courtesy of exploring this with you—no, not starting the adoption process, but gathering information and talking to people about this. Equally, you have to hear and respect his concerns. This kind of thing doesn’t work unless both parents are completely onboard, and if ultimately your husband can’t be swayed, don’t think of this as the end of the way you can help these children. You can contribute to their lives financially or through annual visits, etc. It’s also possible that if you have your own biological children, your husband may then be more willing to reopen the topic of adoption.
Q. Bridesmaid Dilemma: I agreed to be a bridesmaid in my cousin’s wedding. I am more than thrilled, because I love her very much and I feel honored. However, she has asked all of the court to do something I’d rather not participate in. She wants us to learn the choreography of a song and dance it at the reception. Not only do I not like the idea, but I don’t have the dancing skills to pull this out. I feel obligated to participate, but I am dreading the idea just thinking about it. I feel compelled to speak up and tell her I want to be a bridesmaid, but I don’t want to dance. Some tell me that I must do it, since I agreed to be a bridesmaid, even if I have to do something I don’t like. What can I do? I don’t want to be rude, and I want to be her bridesmaid. Bridesmaid with two left feet.
A: As someone who always mouths the words to “Happy Birthday” to spare pain to the celebrant, I understand your feelings. This little performance might be really fun for everyone, but if it’s painful for you, you shouldn’t have to do it. It’s time we let go of the notion that the bride is a dictator whose every whim must be indulged by her subjects. You can tell your cousin you’re sure the dance will be fabulous, all the more so if you don’t stumble through it. Say you’d be happy to stand by and clap or bang a tambourine, but you don’t want to turn this show into a slapstick. Then don’t be bullied into having “fun.”
Q. RE: One-Night Stand Story: If someone is intoxicated to the point where they are not able to remember their actions, or if they are stumbling around drunk, then they are not capable to consenting to sexual relations, and the friend may very well have been raped without having been given date-rape drugs … Of course, I am not certain how this works if BOTH parties are falling down drunk …
A: This is why it’s a really good idea not to get so drunk you are no longer responsible for your actions. Presumably the guy was drinking, too. So two drunk people voluntarily stumble off to bed, then later she realizes that she actually wasn’t in a condition to give consent, even though she may have appeared to be consenting. I take rape very, very seriously, but as we’ve seen in high-profile cases, many women get slammed with the notion that they’ve consented when they’ve truly been assaulted. If this case is as the friend describes, I think it’s a big mistake for a woman to turn her mistake into a criminal matter.
Q. Only in New York: Have you heard of the pop culture “tradition” where couples have a list of a few celebrities they’re allowed to hook up with if the opportunity ever presents itself? Such lists are a common trope among my generation, and of course it’s generally a total joke as the odds of Zooey Deschanel ever talking to me, let alone bedding me, are non-existent. My girlfriend of 2+ years recently mentioned a B-List celebrity (handsome, single, extremely rich, a face you’d almost certainly recognize) that she’d want to add on hers. She said it in a conversation with friends about such lists, but here’s the catch—she works on this celebrity’s TV show! It’s not an enormous staff and he knows her by name. I took some offense at all this and she said it’s just a celebrity crush no different than one of mine. I say this is her co-worker, not some abstract celebrity. Am I off base to be opposed to this guy’s presence on her list? I’m happy to remove Zooey from mine.
A: This seems like a fun game to play when girls are doing each other’s hair or boys are hanging out by their locker, but there’s something rather juvenile about adults announcing who is on their celebrity crush list. (Darling, Daniel Craig and Clive Owen are on mine, but you know I have a thing for rugged Brits. I’m also not expecting either will call and interrupt this chat.) Your girlfriend works for a celebrity who turns her on. For the celebrity’s part, having sex with willing females is one of those opportunities that frequently arises more for handsome, rich, famous men. The question here is whether your girlfriend is pursuing a fling with her boss. If she’s not, then accept she, like many other women, find him appealing. Your offer to drop a celebrity from your list of women you’re never going to meet is irrelevant.
Q. Asking for Return of Gifts—When Is It Ever OK?: A few months ago I gave away all my baby clothes, furniture, car seat, pram, etc. to various friends and family. I thought I was finished with having any more kids, but then I discovered I’m pregnant with my fourth! It was unplanned and we feel a mixture of shock, happiness, excitement, and trepidation. It’s going to be difficult financially to re-purchase all the things I gave away. Do you think it’s okay to ask people to have them back? I feel bad asking for gifts back, but we’re going to struggle spending thousands of dollars buying everything again for our fourth baby.
A: Of course you know that giving away your baby stuff is a better form of fertility treatment than IVF. You won’t need this stuff back for several months, so if it’s being used just tell your friends you’d like to turn your gift into a loan because, surprise!, you’re going to be needing that stroller and car seat again eventually. Yes, a gift is a gift, but if there’s ever a case where people should be understanding, this is it.
Q. Losing a DIL to Divorce: My son impregnated a woman who is not his wife. He and his wife are now divorcing. I feel incredible grief over losing my daughter-in-law so suddenly. She and I have become wonderful friends during her relationship with my son. Because they have no children, and my son wants her out of his life, I will likely never be close with my current DIL again. I resent my son and his pregnant girlfriend for this loss, and I do not know if I will ever be able to accept this new woman. I could use some advice about how to cope with this sadness and anger, especially since there will soon be a blameless child.
A: Painful as this is, how your son conducts his private life is in a profound way not your business. You are about to become a grandmother and although you object to the way this is coming about, it’s very important that you do not want to damage your relationship with your grandchild in order to teach your son and his girlfriend a lesson.
But just because your son wants his wife out of his life doesn’t mean you can’t have some sort of relationship with her. Maybe you two can have an occasional lunch—although be aware that may just be too painful for both of you. But you certainly are entitled to write her a letter expressing your abiding affection for her. Keep in mind that as angry as you are at your son and his girlfriend, you will soon be overwhelmed with love for their child.
Q. Help!: Two months ago I hired my best friend’s daughter to work in my retail business part-time. I’ve known this girl for many years to be a mature, responsible and considerate young woman so had no hesitation hiring her. As my employee, however, she has been a disappointment. When she’s actually here she’s hard working and efficient. But she often calls right before her shift to say she can’t make it for various reasons. Being a small business it’s difficult to deal with last minute staff absence. I’ve asked her dozens of times to let us know well in advance if she can’t make it for a legitimate reason, to no avail. It has sadly come to a situation where I need to let her go. But how do I go about firing my best friend’s daughter without affecting my relationship with both mother and daughter?
A: You tell both Mom and daughter what you’ve told me: When she’s there she’s great, but she’s often not there and that has left you in the lurch dozens of times. So sadly, this job just hasn’t worked out. Sure, it will sting your friend, but she should take this opportunity to tell her daughter that this is what happens when you blow an opportunity. If instead it tanks your friendship, then you’ve learned something unfortunate about two generations of these women.
Q. Revised Story Re: One-Night Stand:
Emily, I just want to offer my support for the points you made about the “victim” of this so-called rape. I know you’ll get bombarded with a lot of offended armchair (and maybe even actual) advocates for rape victims, but women, taking ownership of our bodies means owning up to the responsibility of when we screw up. Two people having sex when both of their inhibitions are lowered by alcohol is NOT rape. It does tremendous harm to enforcement of rape laws when women try to escape the consequences of their actions in this way.
A: Thanks. I know this is a controversial stand, but I agree that turning a regretted one-night stand into a rape only ends up hurting women who actually are raped.
Q. Homeless Harassing Inspired My Inaction: Last Thursday I drove past a twenty-something man tossing the unattended belongings of a homeless person about while his friends laughed. I regret not stopping to tell them to knock it off, although my boyfriend says that because I’m short and tiny, that might not have been a great idea. I’m very bothered by my inaction and by their gross behavior. What should I have done? Is there anything I can do now? I plan to volunteer at a soup kitchen, but my boyfriend says I’m being too hard on myself and reacting out of guilt.
A: You should have called the police, but do not beat yourself up that you were so stunned you didn’t know what to do. And I agree with your boyfriend that you could have been putting yourself at physical risk by trying to intervene with a group of sick young men. Volunteer at a soup kitchen because you want to help, not because you are doing penance for doing something wrong.
Q. A Co-Worker, a Wedding, a Lie: While I was planning my wedding (which took place two weeks ago), I was peppered with questions about the planning by several of my co-workers, which I generally enjoyed sharing. One day, in front of three other people, I was asked if my father was looking forward to walking me down the aisle. I haven’t seen or communicated with my abusive alcoholic father since I was 11 (I’m 27), and I really, really don’t want to share any of this with the people I work with. I was caught off-guard by this question, so I panicked, lied, and said my dad died when I was little. One of the women present during this exchange was invited to our wedding along with four other co-workers; we share a cubicle, and she’s in her early 60s. At some point, she struck up a conversation with my mother and mentioned something about how she was sure my father wished he could be here to see this day. My mother is quick to temper with any mention of my father, and with a few drinks in her she reacted pretty harshly to this well-intentioned (though unnecessary) comment. When I returned to work last week, this woman pulled me aside, told me that lying about the death of a parent was disgusting and that I never should have put her in the kind of situation where she was publicly berated over misinformation. I apologized profusely for my mother’s behavior, but I’m not sure how to handle the lie about my father. This woman and I share a cubicle, and I can’t stand the thought of suffering through another uncomfortable week, but I still don’t want to tell her about my sensitive past.
A: Of course your co-worker felt embarrassed, but she should have come to you like an adult and explained she found herself in an awkward situation. You have apologized for misleading her, so she should let it go. You don’t owe people the story of your childhood, but it is necessary for someone in your situation to have a canned phrase ready. You can say something like, “My father and I haven’t been in contact for many years, and unfortunately, it’s better for all of us that way.” Tell this to your co-worker, then practice saying, if a follow-up comes, “This is a painful subject, and I appreciate your understanding I don’t want to go into it.”
Q. RE: Response to Date Rape: As a young woman who has drunk to the point of excess and hooked up with boys I maybe shouldn’t have: I think calling this rape is totally unfair. I know that on occasions I have “blacked out,” some of my closest friends will be shocked the next day that I don’t remember much of the previous night (as I was acting relatively more sober than I was clearly feeling). Am I proud of these moments? Not at all. But do I blame the boys, also likely intoxicated? Well, then I’m as guilty as they are.
A: This letter writer makes the great point that while she was too drunk to remember what she was doing, she likely was acting a lot more sober than she was, thus giving the impression of consent.
Q. False Accusations: I have a real issue with the “I was so drunk I can’t consent” argument, as a guy. My issue is this: A rape accusation, whether real or not, can ruin a man’s life—it can ruin his professional and personal relationships among other things. Furthermore, the court of public opinion is far too quick to convict men (think Duke lacrosse team) without proof. The woman should ask herself if she really was raped or she really just drank too much, and unless she’s 100% sure that she was raped, she should learn a lesson from this, not make her fellow one-night-stander into a victim.
A: Another great point. No one should have to defend himself against a false accusation like this. You are right that the consequences can be disastrous.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Have a great week.