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. I’m Delaying Marriage Because of My Dog. Am I Crazy?: I have a 9-year-old cocker spaniel. I’ve raised him since he was a puppy and I think of him as my four-legged son. However, my boyfriend of 10 months is allergic to dogs. He also dislikes them. He was attacked by one as a child and now won’t go near dogs at all. As such, he almost never comes to my place. We are very committed to each other and wish to get married soon. But the problem is that I can’t allow myself to give my beloved doggy away to another family. He has a few medical problems related to age and the vet has told me he will probably live another two years or so, although of course nobody knows for sure. I’ve asked my boyfriend if we could delay our marriage until my dog dies, and he thinks I’m crazy. We both want to have kids soon, but considering I’m now 34 and he’s 40, my boyfriend doesn’t want to wait another two years. He understands that I love my dog, but he thinks marriage is more important and I should just find another loving family for him. I feel heartbroken at the very idea. Am I really nuts for putting my furry baby ahead of human babies?
A: Your boyfriend sounds as if he’s being overly dogmatic. If I were you, I’d like some more confirmation that your boyfriend is actually allergic to dogs. If he was attacked as a child and has avoided them for the rest of his life, I’m wondering if he truly knows he has allergies, or that is just a more convincing way of keeping dogs at bay than saying he was traumatized as a kid and has never gotten over it. However, your plan to wait until your beloved pooch dies before you move on with your reproductive plans is ill-conceived. You’d be astounded, with medical advances and the potential of large veterinary bills, how much life can be eked out of an ailing, aging dog—and 9 is not that old. As your dog is declining, so is your fertility. You might easily be able to have children in your later 30s, but if you know you want them now and you’ve found the partner you want them with, it’s not a good idea to wait.
Perhaps you can have your dog bathed and then the three of you can go for a walk. He’ll see how unthreatening your baby is, and maybe he won’t start wheezing. Perhaps if you move it together, your dog can be limited to certain areas of the house. Possibly your boyfriend can investigate allergy shots (if he really is allergic). I think he owes you the opportunity to have it all—his love, your children, and your short-timer of a cocker spaniel.
Dear Prudence: Novelist Drawing Too Much on Real Life?
Q. Leave Me Alone Now!!: Last week I got very drunk at a party, and my girlfriends asked our friend “Stewart” to take me back to my apartment. Stewart has harbored a not-so-secret crush on me since our freshman year in college. I have no memories of that night after my third drink, but when I woke up the next morning Stewart was naked in my bed, and it was obvious we’d had sex. He told me the night before that I’d come onto him when we got back to my apartment, and he thought I meant it. He admitted that he was fairly sober during the encounter. I would never sleep with Stewart if I were sober, and I feel violated because he had sex with me when I wasn’t fully cognizant and because he had promised my friends he’d take care of me. I never said the word rape, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable classifying what happened to me as rape. But I still feel violated and no longer want Stewart in my life. Even though I’ve told him how I feel and have asked him to leave me alone, he keeps calling me. He’s very upset. He said I’m treating him unfairly and that a guy who kicked a female friend to the curb after a “one night stand” would be classified as a real jerk. He told me I asked him to have sex with me, so I was part of what happened, and a mature person would be more accountable. I just want him to leave me alone, but I don’t know how to get him to go away without turning this into a big mess.
A: It sure sounds like rape to me. He knows you, knows you are not interested in him, knows you were drunk and therefore not able to give consent, and he accepted being tasked with getting you home because you were in a diminished state. Now he is harassing you for more sex. I’ve stated before that I think it’s very important for women going out for the night not to get so drunk that they are not capable of exercising judgment about themselves (well, this goes for men, too). I’m more concerned about women because being in a walking blackout puts them at risk for rape. I’ve also said that I’m concerned about mutual, drunken consent being turned into a rape accusation if there are regrets the morning after. But your case sounds quite clear cut—Stewart knew your condition and had nonconsensual sex with you. He also sounds like a disturbed creep. I think you should at the least call a rape crisis center and describe what happened and get some advice on your legal options. Given the passage of time and evidence, it might be hard to make a rape case, but it’s possible calling the police could be your next step, if you so choose. If you don’t want to make this a criminal matter, you might want a lawyer to send Stewart a letter explaining his contact with you must cease.
Q. Family Competition: I am a recent college graduate and I was lucky enough to find a job before graduation. I will be teaching in a middle school and am very excited. As many people know, teachers do not get paid a whole lot in comparison to a lot of other degrees. That’s where my family comes in. My cousin graduated a few years ago and has landed a wonderful job making $80K a year and she is only 24. I, however, am 22 and am making about $30K a year. My aunt and uncle constantly tell people how disappointed they were because I “only” became a teacher when I “had potential for so much more.” They also love to brag about how their daughter makes so much money and she’s barely out of college. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching and I know this is the career path I want to take, but how do I deal with these snide remarks from my aunt and uncle? I’ve tried the whole “this is what I love” thing and they just brush me off. It hurts deeply to be compared based solely on the fact of how much money I make (and I’ve only been out of college for a month!).
A: If your aunt and uncle are going around bragging about their daughter’s salary and disparaging yours, you don’t have to do anything because they are making fools of themselves. When they bring this up to you at family events, just say, “Interesting. Excuse me while I get something to eat.” If you’re going to be a middle-school teacher, you’re going to need to gracefully handle people who have no idea how to behave!
Q. Potential Co-Worker From Hell: I graduated from college last May and was lucky enough to find a job in my field soon after graduation. My boss is now looking to hire another young engineer, which I was really excited about, since everyone else in my group is closer in age to my parents. However, I recently realized that one of the more promising candidates is someone I had the misfortune of working on a semester-long project with. “Mike” was the team member from hell. He frequently blew off our meetings and was extremely unreliable. It got to the point where our team just stopped asking him to participate because we knew he wouldn’t do what was asked of him. Everyone knows the job market is tough for new grads, so I would feel really awful if I sabotaged Mike’s chances to get this job. At the same time, the idea of working with him is a little terrifying. Should I tell my boss about my experiences with Mike, or should I keep my mouth shut and hope my boss figures out on his own that Mike isn’t a good fit?
A: If you know that someone is going to undermine your office’s ability to get its work done, you need to speak. Because of liability issues (I know lawyers will weigh in), you have to speak carefully. Ask to have a private conversation with your boss. Say you’re excited about having another young engineer join your group, but you were concerned when you found out Mike was a candidate. Give a brief outline of working with him and say he was unable to help complete the project with your group and working with him was very difficult. Your boss should feel grateful that you’re saving everyone from the employee from hell.
Q. Disturbing Pictures and a Serious Dilemma: I was doing some work for my father on his personal computer and discovered disturbing photos of women—under the skirt, you get the idea. It was clear these were taken without their knowledge. One blurred shot had a woman’s face which I recognized as that of my stepsister “Jill.” Her mom and my dad met when we were in our early 20s (almost 10 years ago) so it doesn’t involve any minors, but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing for me. I confronted my father who confessed he used to take secret shots of unsuspecting women, including Jill. He broke down and said this was when he was a different man—he thought he deleted those pictures, but obviously missed one folder. I know my father was molested as a child by a caregiver, and he battled alcoholism. He also used to be verbally abusive to us when we were children. He received intensive therapy years ago after he married my stepmom and has been sober since. He made amends with me and my siblings over the years and we’ve come to develop a decent relationship. He begged me not to tell anyone, especially my stepmom and Jill. He is scared that he would lose his marriage because of the person he used to be, when he—and our family—know he’s a different man. But I still feel disgusted and even guilty. I feel as though I have an obligation to tell Jill that this happened. I certainly wouldn’t want to have any kind of a relationship with a person who used to take pictures of me secretly, even if they no longer do it. But I know this will bring serious repercussions on the family. What should I do?
A: Yeah, I bet he missed one folder. The folder he turns to when he wants to relieve certain urges. I think as a society we need to make more of a distinction, especially in our legal punishment, between people who look at illegal images and those who go out and physically molest. But your father takes illegal images himself, and has so little control that he has included his stepdaughter among them. I think you should tell. Yes, this will bring serious repercussions. But what he’s done is a serious act.
Q. Miss My Adulterous BFF: My BFF and my brother had an affair. My sister-in-law caught them. She decided not to divorce my brother but, as a condition of their reconciliation, required everyone in our family to cut my BFF and her family out of our lives. Anyone who has any contact with my BFF is not a friend of their marriage and is no longer welcome in their home. I love my sister-in-law and I do not approve of my brother’s affair in any way. At the same time, I ache for my BFF. We were like sisters, and now if I so much as email her, I won’t be able to see my nieces or my brother anymore. I am depressed over the loss of this lifelong friendship, and my sister-in-law has noticed my grief. She’s angry with me for missing a “homewrecker” and thinks I approve of the affair because I miss my BFF so much. She thinks I should be outraged at my BFF. Maybe I should be. I don’t want to lose my brother or my nieces or my friendship with my sister-in-law. But I can’t stop missing my BFF, and I am having a lot of trouble concealing how much I miss her. What should I do?
A: I would think your feelings about your best friend have been somewhat tempered by her affair with your married brother. And given the volatility of feelings now, you would yourself feel it best to take a breather. However, your sister-in-law, hurt as she may be, is behaving as if she’s the family’s parole officer. You made a tactical error by mooning around her about your grief over losing your best friend. You should have just told your sister-in-law that you agree your friend, and your brother, behaved terribly and you understand her feelings. I assume you don’t have to check in with your sister-in-law when you’re conducting your social life. If you wanted to have lunch with your friend, unless one of your friend’s favorite activities is violating boundaries, I don’t even know how your sister-in-law would find out. But if you do see your friend, make discussion of your brother and his family verboten.
Q. Re: Pet Allergies: I caved to my wife’s requests (I’m not good on boundaries) for cats (hate ‘em, AND I’m allergic to ‘em). Been miserable ever since: can’t sleep, can’t work as much or as long as I used to, almost never feel like making love. Here’s the problem—I fell in love with the cats, and I can’t stand the idea of passing them on. However, I’m angry (about 20 percent of the time) with my wife for bringing them in the home to start with—she KNEW I was allergic. Wish we’d never gotten them. Short version: Believe him when he says he’s allergic, and make your choices.
A: You are allergic, so your wife should not have insisted on bringing new animals sure to make you miserable into your home. That seems very different from ascertaining whether someone is actually allergic as well as his willingness to accommodate a beloved, ailing pet.
Q. Re: Possible Rape: Thank you for saying outright that this is a case of rape, and that the letter writer has legitimate legal options. More importantly, if the letter writer isn’t sure she wants to press charges, she needs medical care. There may or may not be physical injuries, but she can still get tested for exposure to STIs and, depending on the time frame, she might still be able to get prophylaxis and emergency contraception. However, as a rape crisis counselor, I’m extremely disappointed that you continue to victim-blame. No matter how drunk she was, “Stewart” had no right to take advantage of her, and neither does anyone else. Instead of telling young women not to drink alcohol, maybe you should tell young men that they shouldn’t have sex with people who are too drunk to give consent.
A: I don’t want to reopen this debate at length. I totally agree men should not commit rape. I also think drunk people who are not in a pre-existing sexual relationship should not have sex with each other. I get endless grief about my blue-nose dislike of drunkenness, period. I am giving advice about the real world, not a world in which everyone is exquisitely sensitive to gender issues. If women go out and get so drunk they are unaware of their surroundings or actions, bad things are much more likely to happen to them. Relying on the good behavior of others, drunk or not, because you have lost the capacity to be responsible for yourself, is not a good idea.
Q. Dad’s Awful Girlfriend: If I want to spend time with my dad, I now have to spend time with his girlfriend, who is always at his apartment. My dad left my mom for this woman last year, and even though he’s told me how much he loves her, I can’t respect her or bring myself to even like her. My brother feels the same way. Unfortunately, because we spend so much time around her, and because we’re cordial to her at our mother’s behest, my dad now thinks we accept her. I think he’ll be disappointed in us (we’re 15 and 17) if we never come to like her. Do we have to? How can we tell him we don’t like this woman at all, we don’t respect her, we just love him and want to be around him?
A: I’d like to nominate your mother for an award. She was left by her husband and is now encouraging her teenage children to be polite to the new woman? That’s amazing! You do not have to like your father’s new girlfriend—it would be very improbable you would like the person who was party to breaking up your parents’ marriage. But he’s in love with her and it doesn’t sound like she’s going anywhere. Your mother is right; to the best of your ability be cordial. But that doesn’t mean every visit has to revolve around the girlfriend. Your father has a responsibility to be a good parent, and that means focusing on his children. This will be a hard conversation but tell him you and your brother would like to be able to spend more time just alone with him and not always have it be a foursome. Say you know she’s part of his life, but you might all be happier if you didn’t spend all of your time together. And if you and your brother want a neutral party to talk about what’s going on, ask your parents if you can see a counselor to help you sort all this out.
Q. Unsolicited Advice: I’m a career server in a rather upscale, posh establishment. I’ve never had any qualms or shame in what I do for a living, as I feel I come by my income honestly, but it seems some of my patrons do, in a backhanded kind of way. I often get compliments on my level of service, which is all well and good, however it is often followed by “So what are your REAL plans?” or “Is this all you do?” I’m often taken aback by these statements. I went to college, graduated with huge student-loan debt and realized my chosen major wasn’t a lucrative one in the real world. Doing what I do now, in the environment I’m in, I make on average around $50K a year, with full medical benefits, 401K options and paid vacation. For a single gal with no kids that’s not too shabby. I’ve been able to pay off my student loans entirely, and though my job might be too “blue collar” for some, I find I’m always physically active, I’m never in rush-hour traffic, I don’t take my work home with me, I get my errands done when no one is around, and if I suddenly want to take off in the middle of the week and go on a trip, I can. My job gives me the freedom to enjoy my hobbies , volunteer in the community, and even be the occasional “lady who lunches.” I’m absolutely fine with what I do! My question is, though I understand it’s a compliment for others to see me as skilled in my profession, when the 21 Questions of my life choices start flying, how do I politely and tactfully tell them to put a cork in it?
A: Given your description of your life, I think posh restaurants are about to be flooded with the résumés of recent law school graduates. Since your job requires you to be skilled at handling people, you need to brush of these insults disguised as compliments gracefully. To the question about your “real” plans, you can say your real plan is to given all of them the best evening out possible. To, “Is this all you do?” laugh it off by saying if you were simultaneously doing something else, they would be complaining about the service. If they keep pressing, just say you’re glad they think highly of your skills and you really enjoy your work.
Q. Baby-sitter: We’ve had the same baby-sitter since our first child was born and she is great and very reliable. A few weeks ago, she baby-sat for us and everything was, again, fine. But when I turned on the TV in the morning, the channel was on a channel (that we don’t get) which is dedicated to porn. It is possible that the (young) kids messed around with the remote, but seems highly unlikely that it just landed on that channel by accident. Obviously if she was trying to look at one of these channels while baby-sitting our kids (even if they were asleep), I wouldn’t feel comfortable trusting her judgment. Yes of course I can try to find a new baby-sitter, but we’ve used her for years so it would be hard to explain easily, and because of the young age of our kids we think it would be difficult to find someone else who can maneuver bedtime as well as she does with them. Do I just give her the benefit of the doubt that the kids messed with the remote or move on to someone else if I have any concerns?
A: If you don’t get this channel, I’m assuming she, and not the kids, had to order it, right? If you find a charge on your bill for porn, then you definitely need to have a conversation. Let’s say after your kids were in bed she was reading 50 Shades of Grey. I assume you agree that wouldn’t be any of your business. And do you really think that the way she gets the kids to settle down is to allow them an extra bowl of ice cream and 20 minutes of watching porn? However, you’re entitled to tell her, next time she sits, that the TV was on a channel you don’t get that provides content that makes you uncomfortable. Say you’d appreciate it if she limited herself to your current cable offerings.
Q. Living on a Budget: I am a single mother living on a very tight budget. Everywhere I go it seems that a donation is requested. Especially at work: birthdays, illness, baby showers, death, retirement, relocation, graduation, disaster, etc. I think all are important and deserve recognition in some way. My problem is I can’t afford to give if I want to feed my kids or put gas in the car. I have started stressing out so much that I’m having anxiety going to work or even when socializing. I sometimes give a few dollars here and there. But it seems as though it’s never-ending! What is appropriate to say to each and every person that asks? I feel terrible when I can’t give to everyone, but I also feel terrible when I have to explain why I can’t give. I feel like a jerk if I don’t say something though. Any suggestions?
A: You shouldn’t have to give any reason why you’re not handing over your cash. But I understand that these are personal requests so it’s awkward. You can just say that in order for you not to end up needing a fundraiser to help you make your rent, you’ve had to make it a policy to pass on the passing of the hat.
Q. Re: Adulterous BFF: So why does the brother get off the hook so easily? He is at least as guilty, if not more, than the BFF. Yet sister can’t see BFF but SIL can resume marriage with adulterous husband (LW’s brother). If the wife can keep her adulterous husband, the sister should get to keep her adulterous BFF, as long as she doesn’t bring her around to events that involve the brother and SIL.
A: Great point! The letter writer can make it if she gets caught sneaking around with her BFF.
Q. Re: Porn Channel: The way I read that is that the channel was on that number, but the porn wasn’t actually on because it is not available on their TV. To me, that seems like something to let go and assume someone really did punch in the wrong channel number!
A: If this whole letter is about the fact that the TV was tuned to a “You do not subscribe to this channel” message and that the baby-sitter couldn’t even have been watching porn, then yes, the mother should keep her mouth shut. (I think she should forget about it in any case.)
Q. Not a Secret Racist: A few months ago, I had a socially awkward moment at a party and made a poorly delivered joke that came off as really racist. I was appropriately mortified and I still cringe every time I think about it, but I try to comfort myself with the knowledge that I’ll never make such a boneheaded comment again and at this point I’d like to try to move on. There’s just one problem: One of my more social-justice-oriented friends now seems to think that I’m a huge secret racist. He keeps turning our conversations into teachable moments about the importance of tolerance and embracing diversity. I feel like I’m stuck in the middle of one of those “One To Grow On” PSAs from the 1980s, except it never ends. He’s being just indirect enough that if I say something outright, I’ll just end up looking defensive and he’ll probably take it as confirmation that his suspicions are correct. Is there any way to make this stop?
A: Face this directly. Tell him you think you’re hearing so much from him about tolerance because you made an appalling joke that came out wrong—and even if it came out right you never should have said it—that you deeply regret. Say you’d love for him to spread the word that you know you were utterly boneheaded and are mortified to think people assume you might be a racist. Say, despite one idiotic joke, you are not, and you wish you could take back what you said.
Q. Tipping: I have met the most wonderful man, except for one thing—he is the worst tipper! He is well established with his own business, owns multiple investment properties, and has a more than healthy bank account for our age, but he is the so cheap in this one area! I also make a decent living, so when we go out, we trade turns on who pays when we go out. Every time it is his turn to pay the bill, he leaves the worst tips! We are talking sometimes not even/just barely 15 percent, regardless of the service. I grew up waiting tables and always tip around 18 to 20 percent, especially for good service. I stress out at meals when the bill comes and it is his turn to pay, because as soon as we are done, I want to run before the waitress/waiter sees their tip. I have often thought of throwing a few dollars in there behind his back but am afraid I will get caught. What do I do? Sometimes I try to insinuate or joke about leaving another dollar or two, but it doesn’t seem to resonate. I do not want to be mean, because he really is the most amazing man ever. The odd thing is, he is not against helping people out, he just seems to not get this. The places we go out to eat are not that expensive—to tip 18 to 20 percent versus 12 to 15 percent would only be a dollar or two! Do I spend the next 50 years running out of a restaurant every time he leaves a tip?
A: If you are planning on spending your life with someone, then you two should have the ability to directly discuss issues that come up. First of all, 15 percent is not a measly tip, it’s standard. If you regularly tip 20 percent, then you’re very generous. But if he’s short the 15 percent, or doesn’t recognize superior service, some evening when you’re not eating out say you wanted to talk about tipping. Explain because you waited tables yourself, you prefer tipping more generously, say around 18 percent, and ask if he’d be comfortable doing that when it’s his turn to get the check. If he says he thinks 15 is adequate, either let it go, or when the bill comes tell him you’d like to throw in a couple of extra bucks because the service was so good.
Q. Re: You Have To Donate: If Single Mother wants to live in society, she has to pay to play. She doesn’t get to rent out a simple apartment in a nice school district, or take a job in a decent place, and then plead poverty left and right. If she tries to pull this at her kids’ school, say by refusing to chip in for the teachers’ appreciation gift, then who’s going to suffer? Her kids, that’s who! I think it’s well worth it for her to skip lunch or dinner now and again to be sure she can chip in for birthdays and retirements and school fundraisers and other events—just like every other decent American.
A: I agree. Everyone who’s broke should have a weekly day of fasting to pay for the celebrations of others.
Q. Politics at the Table: My husband’s extended family gets together every week for lunch and includes my family in the festivities, which is usually a very enjoyable time. However, there is one problem. His family is very liberal while my family is conservative. My side has made it a strict policy not to bring up politics because it is so divisive, and truth be told, a debate almost never results in anyone changing their belief systems, only causing tension. But his family goes out of their way to say derogatory things about our political figures and beliefs during lunch (and at all other family gatherings), knowing full well we don’t share their beliefs. As a result, my family has become wary of attending because they never know when they’re going to be served a side of vitriol. My husband has finally “had it” with what he perceives as their disrespect toward me and my family, and has begun to argue back when such comments are made. Recently at lunch he got into a heated political argument with a family member that seems to have caused lasting animosity on both sides. Now this relative is less friendly and does not include my husband in events that others are invited to. The whole escalation has made him angry and he doesn’t want to go to the lunches anymore, but I said that he shouldn’t let politics change what can otherwise be an enjoyable afternoon. Who’s right?
A: Arguing back is not the answer; changing the subject is. I think it’s too bad that people with opposing viewpoints can’t have a lively, non-vitriolic debate about the issues—but apparently that’s generally the case. If, except for the political commentary, everyone enjoys themselves, then continue sharing pizza. Political discourse would be far more pleasant if more people knew that those with diametrically opposed views are actually decent people, and that it’s better to share the pizza pie then shove it in each other’s faces.
Q. Re: You would be surprised what kids are able to do playing with a remote: My toddler took ahold of the remote the other day and before I realized it he had turned it to the on demand menu and selected a random movie before I grabbed it. If he had gone on pushing buttons, we may have had a surprise bill next time around. It’s pretty easy to do this even with the TV off.
A: Can I hire your toddler to come over and work our remote?
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone, talk to you next week.