Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. Emily is currently on vacation, but unpublished questions from a previous chat are below.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, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Clean Food Army!: My daughter Bella has a great playgroup that meets once a week after school. We were REALLY lucky to get into this group. The girls come from some of the wealthiest families at the school, and since our family is more working class, we love that Bella is able to see how the other side lives and maybe even look for something to aspire to one day. So far Bella has had so much fun with all the girls. But last week I got a nasty email from one of the mothers. I sent some homemade cookies and store-bought veggies and dip for the snack last week, and apparently this was not up to snuff! The mothers said that my vegetables were clearly not homegrown and organic and that they could taste the pesticides and preservatives on them. They asked if I knew that ranch dip is high in cholesterol and saturated fat which leads to heart disease. I was in tears reading this email. Their assumption that I had no idea how to feed my daughter was so insulting. I emailed them back saying that I was unsure what particular brands of veggies, dip, and baking items to buy, and received another email suggesting I start a garden. Prudie, we live in an apartment complex. I am unsure how to respond. I really, really want my daughter to be happy and have friends with the right values and aspirations. But I have no idea how to make these women happy. I went to the farmers market an hour away last weekend to look for some appropriate items to send for next week, but the market was so expensive. I don’t want my daughter to get kicked out of this playgroup, especially now that she’s so happy. How can I handle these clean-food moms?
A: These moms should register themselves with the FDA—just think, they have a bionic ability to detect chemicals at parts per billion! If you want to have your daughter hang out with friends with the right values, you should consider finding another playgroup. You simply want your daughter to get along with nice friends, so please stop injecting your own social anxiety into what should be a carefree time. The other mothers have demonstrated that their values include insults and superiority. Ignore their jibes and skip the farmers market—carrots are carrots. And if your vegetables aren’t good enough for them, their group isn’t good enough for you.
Q. No Sex, No More Relationship: My girlfriend and I are about to start our junior and sophomore years at college, respectively. She’s a wonderful girl, full of life, funny, and very intelligent. We’ve even discussed the possibility of getting married in a year and a half or so when I’ll be close to graduating. The problem is that my girlfriend skipped a couple of grades in school and graduated high school pretty young, so she won’t be 18 for another three months. She’s still a virgin, while I’m a bit more experienced. Being celibate since last fall hasn’t been easy for me, but I love my girlfriend so it’s worth it. The thing is she’s starting to get really frustrated at still being a virgin even after being in a steady relationship for a year. She really wants to have sex, but since she’s still a minor and I’m not, I’m afraid I could get in trouble for statutory rape. She said if I don’t show her I both love and trust her by sleeping with her, she might leave me and find a boyfriend that will meet all of her needs. I can’t imagine life without her, and I really don’t want to let her go so easily. I’m really sure neither she nor her parents would ever report me for statutory rape, but it’s still a risk I would rather not take. Should I give in to save our relationship, or should I just keep trying to convince her that after all the time and effort we put into our relationship, waiting three more months isn’t such a big deal and hope she doesn’t leave me?
A: Check out the age of consent in your state. If she can consent, and does, and her parents are not crazy, your fears are unfounded about prosecution. However, please put aside thoughts of marriage. She’s still a teenager and you two haven’t had sex. She’s threatening to find another boyfriend because you won’t deflower her. You two are way too young and immature to be talking about the rest of your lives. And if she won’t respect your unease about waiting a few more months until she’s legally an adult, then maybe you two just aren’t meant for each other.
Q. The Other Child: I’m a bit uncomfortable even asking this question but here we go. I met the man I am currently engaged to over two years ago and we have been great together. Our children are all adults. (He has two and I have one.) I liked the idea that our children were grown but we were still young enough to enjoy life without the issues that come with younger children (I’m 44, he is 40). The problem is he still wants to “father” the son of his former girlfriend. He dated this lady for almost eight years and it was tumultuous at best. Her son is now 14 and he still wants to be dad to her son. The son is a nice boy and pretty low impact but I still have problems with the continued relationship. My fiancé still converses with the ex-GF, but, knowing I don’t really like it, he does not tell me when he speaks to her. His actions when he picks up her son for father/son time implies he would like us to act like a happy family together. I just don’t feel it. I get along great with his children and I try very hard not to give his ex’s son any impression that I don’t really care for the association. I pep talk myself the entire time during his visits but it bothers me. What is the best way to be OK with this situation? The fiancé says this relationship with the child is important to him because he made a promise that he would be his father when the child asked years ago.
A: Your fiancé was involved with a woman for eight years so he was the de facto stepfather to her son for most of his young life. Instead of disappearing, your fiancé wants to honor his connection and commitment to this boy by continuing to be a fatherly presence. How admirable! I would think you would find your boyfriend’s relationship to this teenager one of the reasons you love your fiancé. But here you are, making your boyfriend sneak around when he talks to the mother of his “son” because he knows it upsets you. In essence you are planning to marry a man with a 14-year-old boy. If you wish the kid would just go away, then you have to realize you’re the one who needs to take a hike. I don’t care if you’re “not feeling it.” Fake it, and get to know this kid or break off the engagement.
Q. Family: I live with, and care for (cook, clean, drive) my nearly 90-year-old grandfather. He spends a few hours a week with his girlfriend, who joins us for lunch occasionally, plays cards with him, and generally seems to enjoy his (and my) company. It’s good for both of them to have companionship around their own age (I can’t relate that well to him, I’m more than 60 years younger than he is), and all three of us get along really well. My problem is that recently, and unexpectedly, the girlfriend asked me to refer to her as “Grandma.” I think I understand why. She lives in a retirement home, and her kids and grandkids don’t visit her, whereas I am one of the first people to show up at the home if she’s having a bad day. I genuinely like this woman, and I am glad she’s a part of my grandfather’s life (even if I am grossed out by what I know of their sex life), but her request makes me uncomfortable. Since her request, I’ve found it tougher to talk to her. I do talk to her, but for some reason, it no longer feels the same. I also haven’t called her “Grandma” yet, even though she introduces me to other people as her grandson. Is there a way to politely, and without upsetting her, explain that while she is absolutely a wonderful person in my grandfather’s life, and mine, I don’t think I can go along with this?
A: How lucky for these two old people that you are in their lives. (And I understand your own distaste, but I’m charmed to hear that your 90-year-old grandfather is still getting it on!) I agree that his girlfriend has made an awkward request, but it’s a simple thing for you to do to make an old woman happy. I have a suggestion for a compromise: I bet it would be easier if instead of calling her “Grandma” you called her “Grandma Mildred.” And when she introduces you as her grandson, just smile and go along. As the letter about the 14-year-old boy shows, family feeling doesn’t require shared DNA.
Q. Re: Clean Food Army: Mom didn’t say how old Bella is, but the environment seems ripe for the making of some “mean girls.” If the food she sends isn’t good enough for these wealthy moms, chances are eventually Bella is not going to be good enough for the girls. I agree with you, find another playgroup, fast!
A: Great point. “Oh, Bella, you don’t have a Kate Spade tote bag, that’s so sad!” “Bella, what’s a ‘thrift shop’?” “Your mom shops at Wal-Mart? My mom calls it Mall-Wart!” Bella’s mom, get out!
Q. Public or Private?: My husband and I have a 3-year-old daughter going into her last year of preschool, and we’re starting to think about kindergarten for next fall. I went to private school from kindergarten through high school, and my husband went to public; each of us is adamant that our experience was the better one. I loved everything that my private-school experience had to offer—more than the academics, I appreciated the extra enrichment that my school was able to offer, and I would love to give my daughter that opportunity. My husband insists that his education was just as good at his public schools, and that she’ll learn more independence with a higher teacher/student ratio. (I know that there are of course brilliant people who graduate from publics, but my husband happens to be terrible at writing and grammar despite insisting that he’s great at it. I don’t correct him for the sanctity of our marriage, but to me, it’s not helping his argument and I don’t want to bring it up.) Our city has good public schools—far from failing, but not spectacular either. It’s not a hometown for either of us, so there’s no school allegiance to consider. We can afford private school, but it would mean less money for other activities. How do we settle this? Neither of us wants to give in!
A: Instead of fighting about recapitulating your own childhoods, start doing research about your daughter’s. You two need to agree you will both look at all the possibilities for her with open minds. It could be that there’s a lovely neighborhood public school that’s in walking distance that would be great. Or maybe when you check out the kindergarten you see the kids are stuck in chairs being drilled for tests and you both realize it’s not for her. Same thing with the private schools. Keep in mind that you may find what you think is the ideal private school and she doesn’t get in. Also, don’t feel you are making the decision now about what high school your daughter is going to graduate from. My daughter has attended both public and private schools, and each were right for her at different points in her childhood.
Q. Older Boyfriend: Age of consent in my state is 18. I just want to avoid breaking up with her.
A: Thanks for the clarification. Still, if a 17-year-old consents to have sex with her boyfriend and her parents aren’t wackos, it’s unlikely you’ll end up in the justice system. However, if she insists on losing her virginity now, and not to you, that may indicate she’s not the love of your life.
Q. I’m Not a Vampire, But …: My husband doesn’t cook very often, but when he does, he goes all out, preparing exquisite, candlelight Italian dinners, complete with expensive fine wine and baroque Italian music playing softly in the background. The problem is that he uses a lot of garlic, and it’s a real mood killer after dinner is over and it’s time to go to bed. Even though he brushes his teeth and uses mouthwash, the smell of garlic still permeates his breath and lingers on his fingertips and it’s really quite a turn-off for me. I have a very keen sense of smell, and I always feel sick to my stomach. I have tried to gently suggest that he use less garlic by trying to convince him to try his hand at French cuisine, or maybe Greek cooking. Unfortunately this approach has had no effect and I continue to suffer through his romance after each of his dinners. Would it be wrong of me to just tell him straight up that while I love his cooking, and love his romancing, they just don’t mix and to stop?
A: I simply don’t understand how the intimacy of marriage, and by that I don’t mean sex, I mean the living in close quarters every day, doesn’t allow people to say, “Honey, you must have had the garlic special for lunch,” or, “You better clear the room, The burritos are working their way through my system and there are some ripe farts ahead.” Of course there are women who would kill for a husband who makes romantic candlelight dinners and would happily wear a braid of garlic around their own necks for such a guy. But if the garlic smell kills your desire, you simply can’t hint around. Tell him you love his cooking, and more than that you love his lovemaking. But you are stuck with a non-Italian sense of smell and the garlic you both emit after such a meal is not conducive to your getting in the mood. Say unfortunately even his excellent hygiene cannot defeat the stinking rose. Tell him you’re not asking for bland food to ignite each other’s ardor, just something a little less likely to scare off vampires.
Q. Thank-You Notes After a Mother’s Passing: My mother passed away in February of this year. She was the sole provider and she left behind my disabled stepfather and younger teenage sister. During this hard time we had a lot of friends and family support us—both financially and spiritually. At the time of her passing I was in college and working part-time. I was also completely devastated to lose her and it was all I could do to go to school, work, and attend to my family. It isn’t an excuse but I never got around to sending thank-you notes to all those who helped us. Is it too late to send them? My best friend says it would be tacky, but I want to acknowledge and thank everyone for their help. I know I should have done it earlier but I could barely hold my head above water until recently (school is done and I’ve started to see a counselor). Your advice would be much appreciated!
A: I’m so sorry for your loss—you are facing very adult responsibilities at a very young age, and I hope you will continue to have the help and support of friends and family. Your friend is wrong, you are not too late to want to write these notes and I think most people who get one will be astounded that given everything you have gone through, you are actually doing them. They will see it as a tribute to your mother, who raised you right. And the notes will also be a good reminder for them to check in on your family and see how they can help. You can start with a brief apology for your delay, then get right into what their love, help, and support has meant to you, and how gratifying it has been to know how much they cared for your mother, who you continue to miss every day.
Q. Sour Grapes?: In my town, you cannot build any structures on property boundary lines. Anything but a thin wire fence is outlawed. So to keep some privacy and beautify our yard, my husband and I planted a 40-foot row of concord grapes along the side of our property. The vines are beautiful and finally we have some delicious grapes. The only snag is, the neighbors regularly pick the grapes. I’m not talking a handful or so. They have been picking large bunches! Out of the 20-plus bunches, we only have two unripe ones left. We are in our early 30s and they are in their early 50s so we know that they know better. They are otherwise friendly people. How do we get them to stop?
A: Buy a bottle of wine, and knock on their door. Say you all are grape lovers, but the arbor is yours and you were planning to enjoy your own fruits of the vine. Say during the season, you would be happy to make them a gift of some grapes, but you’re distressed to find that your orchard has been stripped. Tell them you have plans for what’s left of your grapes and you’d appreciate a hands-off policy from them.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone, have a good week!
Going forward, we’re spreading out the chat, publishing the transcript in a shorter, more digestible form. You will still be getting all the questions and answers (just not all at once).