Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the 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: At Rosh Hashanah services yesterday we read Hannah’s story in Samuel. Hannah suffered from infertility and neither her husband nor the high priest gave her comfort because instead of truly listening to her distress, they were dishing bad advice based on selfish or wrong assumptions. A suitably chastening lesson I will keep in mind.
Q. Uncomfortable Work Situation: I have a wonderfully satisfying job at a small nonprofit organization. I love my co-workers and more importantly the cause we advance and the people whose lives we make better. But recently there was an incident with my boss, “Mr. Johnson.” He’s a great leader and we couldn’t function without him, but he’s also kind of forgetful and seems to always have his head in the clouds. Mr. Johnson frequently neglects to adjust his wardrobe so that his pants zipper is up after using the gentleman’s room. After a meeting we had yesterday it also seem apparent that he doesn’t always wear underwear as his bull escaped from the barn. It wasn’t intentional or sexual in any way, but every time I see my boss I can only think of his privates that didn’t keep so private. I’m not even sure if he noticed it got out when this happened as he didn’t react or seem embarrassed. Should I talk directly to Mr. Johnson about this, or should I report the incident to his supervisor? Or should I just let it go and hope it never happens again?
A: Oh, yeah, sweet, absent-minded Mr. Johnson is so busy making the world better that he often forgets to keep his johnson in his pants. I have gotten so many letters about nutty people running around nonprofits that I am developing a theory that this field attracts loons because under the guise of doing good, they get to behave badly. Normally when a man realizes he’s forgotten to zip his pants, the humiliation makes him want to secure his fly with a padlock. But there’s Mr. Johnson letting it all hang out day after day, seemingly oblivious. If this guy is really that out of it, I wonder if he has the capacity to be running an organization. Alternately, he may be pretending to be a ding-dong because it’s good cover for exposing his ding-dong. Since this has happened more than once, I think it’s gotten past the point where someone needs to quietly mention, “Dick, your zipper is down.” It’s fair for you to go to a supervisor and say you are too uncomfortable to have this conversation with Mr. Johnson yourself, but he needs to be told that the wardrobe malfunctions must come to an end.
Dear Prudence: Supermodel Envy
Q. Crush’s Gay Dads: I really like Audrey, a woman I met in one of my classes. We get along really well and have acknowledged we are attracted to one another. What stops me from asking her out is that she has two dads, and for religious and personal reasons I feel homosexuality is a sin. I do not treat gay people differently than straight people and I do not want harm to come to gay people. That said, I do not support gay marriage. Audrey is very outspoken about gay rights, and I worry that if we began dating I would have to compromise my beliefs to suit her. I know her dads did a great job raising her but on a basic level will never be comfortable with them. I really like Audrey, but is our potential relationship doomed from the start? I respect Audrey’s right to believe what she believes and want her to respect my right to believe what I believe.
A: Leave Audrey alone. You’re entitled to your beliefs, but it’s ridiculous for you to get involved with a woman who in any way would have to defend her loving parents to you. In matters like this minds are changed one person at a time, so it’s most unfortunate that knowing the background of this great woman hasn’t made you question your own bigoted assumptions.
Q. Didn’t Believe Rape Accusation: Seven years ago, when I was in college, I fell in love with and dated Hannah. We were together for almost two years, and I almost married her. Then she accused my best friend Anthony of raping her one night while she slept at our apartment; I was in my apartment’s common area studying and didn’t see anything. Anthony denied her accusations and told me she came on to him. Hannah did not have any signs of a struggle on her, and she had drunk a few glasses of wine, so I believed Anthony over her. I broke up with her, and many people shunned her when they learned that she accused Anthony of rape to cover up hitting on him. Anthony and I have remained good friends, and he and my wife Caroline get along really well. Two weeks ago, the police in our town arrested Anthony for raping two women. One was 17. He denies his guilt, but now I suspect I made a horrible mistake in trusting him. I am terrified Hannah was right and Anthony did rape her. Hannah never pressed charges so the police have no idea Anthony’s been accused of rape before. I feel like I should tell them, but I don’t want to harm Hannah any more. I also want to apologize to her, but maybe that’s too much.
A: What a chilling conclusion to your youthful decision. I think that both the prosecutors and Hannah should know about this horrible turn of events. First you should contact Hannah. If it’s possible, this is the kind of news that should be delivered in person. Yes, this will be a painful meeting, if she agrees to see you. If she doesn’t want to talk to you, you must find some third party to get the news to her. You want to give her a warning that you feel you should tell the authorities about what happened to her seven years ago. As painful as reliving the entire episode may be for Hannah, it could also be therapeutic for her to tell her story to people who finally believe her.
Q. No Question, Just a Comment: When I adopted my first daughter, my adoption announcements were a paraphrase of Hannah’s statement to the priest after Samuel was born: “I am a woman who stood praying to the Lord. It was this child I prayed for and the Lord has given me what I asked. What I asked, I have received, and now I lend her to the Lord. For her whole life she is lent to the Lord.”
A: I’ve got tears in my eyes. Thank you for this.
Q. Opposite-Sexed Friends: My spouse has an opposite-sexed friend who doesn’t behave well. This person has tried to snuggle with my spouse and hold my spouse’s hand while socializing with the two of us. My spouse agrees this is not OK. My spouse clearly rebuffs the friend when physical contact is initiated but the friend does not take the hint. My spouse is willing to talk to the friend and say that they do not feel comfortable with what the friend does. If this does not work, is it OK for me to ask that we do not see this friend anymore? My spouse would be very sad to lose this friendship, and I want to be fair to everyone. What should I do?
A: Friends like this give opposite-sex friendships a bad name. Your spouse may be ineffectually rebuffing these moves in your presence, but it wouldn’t make me too confident about what was going on when I wasn’t around. Your spouse is “willing” to tell the friend not to act as if they are a couple—how thoughtful! If the friend can’t respect the boundaries of your marriage, then that opposite-sex person has already jettisoned this friendship. And if your spouse doesn’t see how insulting this is to you, your spouse is putting more than the friendship at stake.
Q. Re: Bigoted?: I agree that the gentleman should leave Audrey alone; there’s really no way that’s going to work out. But calling him “bigoted” for adhering faithfully to the precepts of his religion is bizarre. The purported bigot didn’t even stoop to name-calling. You did.
A: That’s right, I think he’s a bigot. I spent a day in synagogue yesterday reading the Bible, and it casually makes reference to people having slaves and multiple wives. That doesn’t mean we think that’s fine today.
Q. Baby Things: My SIL had her first child recently and I miscarried my second child. We’re planning to try for a baby again next year. My SIL knows about my miscarriage and has been badgering me to lend her baby items and clothes because we’re not using it at the moment. I’ve politely declined and instead gave her a $250 voucher for a baby shop. She keeps saying she doesn’t want to waste money buying baby things and insists I should share what I’m not using right now. I know how much baby things wear and tear and I don’t want my future child to use thirdhand items used by both his/her brother and cousin. Am I being selfish?
A: Your sister-in-law is badgering you to give her your possessions, so you don’t have to worry about being the one who is rude. If she brings it up again tell her the subject (and the clothing store) is closed.
Q. Family Etiquette?: I am a recently-remarried widow with two college-age children from my first marriage of 20 years. The issue I’m having is with my former mother-in-law. Shortly after my late husband passed away from cancer she turned hostile and cold toward me—blaming me for the death, the funeral wasn’t just right, the obituary wasn’t right, everything I had done for the 20 years I was married to her son just wasn’t ever right, I didn’t grieve long enough for her, I was moving on with life just too fast, etc. Obviously this was toxic for me in my life/grief recovery and I terminated contact with her after one of her crazy phone rants. Now over five years later, she still says distorted things as fact about me and the past situations to my children whenever she can. Most of that family knows it’s not true, but no one would dare to disagree to her face. Despite all of her nastiness, should I reach out to reconnect with her for the sake of my children/her grandchildren, or is it best left as is? And if I do make a phone call, what points should I make initially? Would love your advice on this.
A: How horrible that you were subjected to this abuse at a time of great loss. It would be one thing if your former mother-in-law was so unhinged by her understandable grief that she mentally lost it. But that would mean that she came to her senses and apologized to you. Instead, it sounds as if she is an impossible, if not malevolent person, everyone knows it, and no one wants to confront her. You mention in passing that she is still in touch with your children, so you have been generous enough not to ask them to cut off their relationship with her. I hope you’ve explained to them why you can no longer have contact with their grandmother and that they should ignore the toxic things she says about you. You’ve just entered a happy new phase of your life, so I don’t see any reason why you need to let her poison seep in. She can have her own relationship with your kids. You shouldn’t feel guilty about keeping her at arm’s length.
Q. Sporadic Father: I was falling in love with my divorced boyfriend of six months when he told me he had three kids whom he only sees sporadically. He said he never mentioned them before because some women balk at dating a father. What’s turning me off is his blasé attitude toward fatherhood. He told me he moved across the country after divorcing his wife and that his kids vacation with him for a few weeks during the summer. Otherwise they Skype a few times a month and stay in contact via email. He chose to move so far away from his children because he needed a change of pace after his divorce. I can’t believe his kids are such an insignificant part of his life that he never mentioned them before! Some girlfriends think it’s overreacting to dump him because of this, but I don’t see how I could be with a man who left his kids. What’s your opinion?
A: Kids, what a bummer. And they’re so immature! Given the chance to have a real “change of pace” who wouldn’t blow them off? It’s pretty staggering that the little fact of having three children didn’t come up during the six months of your courtship. Sure, some women may balk at dating a father, so that father should balk at dating those women. Like you, I would balk at dating a man who thought so little of me, and his children, that he would withhold the information of their existence from me, and so much of his time and love from them.
In a new approach, we’re publishing the chat transcript in shorter, more digestible pieces. You will still be getting all the questions and answers, and we may even publish bonus letters Prudie didn’t get to address during the chat hour.