Dear Prudence

Love Is in the Air

Is breaking wind in front of your boyfriend worth breaking up over?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
Recently my boyfriend of more than a year and I went out for drinks then came back to his place. We made love and fell asleep naked next to each other. Then, in the middle of the night, I woke up to the sound of my own fart, two farts, actually. The next morning, we both acted normal. He didn’t say anything, and neither did I. We even went to the movies  at his suggestion. I am so incredibly mortified about this. I’m sure he heard it, because he is a light sleeper. I don’t know if I should talk about it, because he hasn’t brought it up. Even if he wants to bring it up, it’s probably awkward for him. What should I do?

—So Incredibly Humiliated

Dear Humiliated,
Talk about hitting bottom. It’s obvious that upon waking yourself up with your trumpet blast, what you should have done was gotten dressed, gathered your things, moved to another town, and changed your name. But you blew the opportunity to start over by hanging around with your boyfriend and acting as if nothing had happened. Let’s break down the fallout from your breaking wind. Despite your boyfriend being a light sleeper, it’s possible he was in the delta wave phase of sleep and your wave of gas passed unnoticed. If you did wake him up, it would have lightened the air if he’d nudged you and said, “Nice one!” But if he did hear it, he decided chivalry and common sense dictated that he just roll over and go back to sleep. Perhaps he was so untroubled by the ruffling of the sheets because as a child he read the book The Gas We Pass and became aware of the startling fact that everyone farts—even girls! I’m astounded that over the course of a year this is the first time either of you has let one rip. If you’d been the one awakened by your lover’s sphincter symphony, I’m assuming you wouldn’t have felt a need to have a serious talk the next day about how your romance was now deflated. You don’t need to mention this, not because it’s unmentionable, but because it’s not worth mentioning. So put it behind you. But if there’s one prediction about 2012 I can make with confidence, it’s that you need to be prepared for this episode to repeat itself.


Dear Prudence: Annoying Little Genius

Dear Prudence,
At our office holiday party, my friend and business partner got rather tipsy. She confided in me that the cancer she had been told was in remission had come back and that she had been given a prognosis of 18 months to live. She said she didn’t want to talk about it and had decided to live in complete denial, hoping to eek out four years until her youngest child graduates from school. I was devastated by the news but mirrored her calm demeanor. She told me that I was the only one to know about her prognosis, including her children. When I tried to have a conversation about all this after the holidays, she told me to change the subject. Now I’m at a loss. I want to help my friend, but I also owe a fiduciary duty to my fellow business owners (there are several of us). Her illness and absence will greatly impact our business. I feel like I have been put in the middle of things and don’t know where to turn. I also want to be there for my friend. What should I do?

—Not Sleeping at Night

Dear Sleeping,
It’s understandable that your friend, overwhelmed by the news of her impending death, would prefer to push that knowledge aside and carry on for as long as she can. But her confession has put you in a terrible position, and I don’t think you can keep her confidence. There’s a limit to how long she can deny what’s happening before her illness and the side effects of her treatment become apparent. As agonizing as the task may be, she needs to be honest with both her business partners and her children in order to get her work affairs in order and prepare the children for what’s ahead. I think you should make another try at having a private conversation with her. If she brushes you aside, tell her as painful as all this is—and you are desolate at her news—you two must talk, and she must start making plans. If you have to, you can say, “Barbara, I’m afraid that I have an obligation to tell the rest of the partners. Everyone is going to be utterly heartbroken. But we got into business with you because you’re a hell of a businesswoman, and you know that if any of the rest of us were this ill, it would be material to the running of the company.” You can add that you know breaking this news to her children will be agony, but they deserve to be told the truth. Offer to assist her in this if she feels she needs some backup. Many people long outlive their prognosis—I hope your friend is one of them.


Dear Prudence,
I am a woman in my early 20s who has been estranged from my biological father since I was 5 years old. When my mother passed away,  my grandmother and father had a bitter custody battle over me. My grandmother won, and I was not allowed to see him. I’m in a loving, healthy relationship of three years with another woman. Her family adores me, and I feel blessed. My father showed up on my doorstep about a month ago. We caught up during several conversations, but when he found out I’m a lesbian, he started screaming about what a sinner I am and how he rates me lower than African-Americans (that’s not exactly how he put it). He said that until I dump my girlfriend, I am dead to him. I want to get this ignorant bigot out of my life for good. But my girlfriend feels guilty and says if it wasn’t for her, my dad would still want to be around me. Family is very important to her, and she wants me to keep the lines of communication open with him. What should I do?

—Not Dear Old Dad

Dear Dear,
Normally I’m against custody battles that attempt to remove one parent from a child’s life. But in this case, I can see your grandmother’s point. It speaks to the power of growing up in a happy family that your girlfriend apparently cannot understand that sometimes one’s nearest and dearest turn out to be malign. There sometimes is a lack of imaginative sympathy among those who didn’t have lunatics for parents about the need for those who did to remove the lunatics from their lives. Perhaps you should arrange a private film festival of frightful fathers to help your girlfriend see that sometimes Dad just has to go. Using this list, I’d start with The Shining and This Boy’s Life. If that’s not enough, throw in Dolores Claiborne as a bonus feature. Tell your girlfriend that while you appreciate her concern, there is nothing for her to feel guilty about. Let her know you were blissfully happy before your father’s sudden reappearance, and the best way for you to get back to that state is to get this racist homophobe out of your life. Then tell your father you’ve considered his demand and you accept his offer to consider your relationship dead.


Dear Prudence,
For the past few years, I have interviewed high-school seniors as part of their applications to my alma mater, a highly selective private university. I recently interviewed a young woman who had applied as part of a special program for low-income applicants. She mentioned several times during the interview that she could not afford to attend my alma mater were it not for the generous need-based financial aid it offers. I submitted a glowing evaluation of the applicant. The university provides the addresses of the applicants, and out of curiosity I entered hers into Google Maps. I was surprised to find that she lives in a large home on a very large piece of land in one of the most desirable sections of the city. I realize this does not necessarily mean that this applicant is not “low-income,” but I also question whether she is the type of applicant the university should be rewarding with need-based financial aid. Was I wrong to Google this woman’s address? Now that I have, should I say something to the university if she is admitted?

—Nosy Interviewer

Dear Nosy,
Having been educated at a highly selective private university, you surely know that that millions of formerly comfortable people are now broke due to the economic downturn. It could be that the applicant’s parents have lost their jobs, are financially underwater, and are still living in their home only because it’s tied up in some foreclosure dispute. You don’t know whether your university’s program is only for those who grew up in poverty or whether it is open to the post-bust needy. But even then, you’re in the dark about the details of her personal situation. Her family will submit reams of financial data to the school, and there are people whose job it is to weigh this and decide who deserves to be admitted. Your role is to have a probing discussion with a young person and pass along your impressions. However, it’s fair for you to append a note now to your recommendation, stating that since she is applying through a special aid program, you wanted to flag that her address shows she lives in an affluent part of town. And if there were something wrong with searching online to find out interesting information about people we meet, we’d all be in moral purgatory.


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