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 email@example.com.)
Q. My Boyfriend Licks Me: My boyfriend of six months has an annoying habit. Every now and then, when I least expect it, he will lick my face. Mostly it’s when he leans over as I’m expecting a goodbye peck on the cheek. Sometimes randomly when we sit together eating lunch. The first couple of times I thought he was trying to be cute and laughed it off. When he did it the third or fourth time I told him it was annoying and asked him to stop. He thinks it’s a hilarious joke to annoy me and he’s been doing it continuously ever since. The last time he did it I was so fed up I instinctively pushed him away without thinking. I felt very angry and raised my voice, telling him strongly to stop doing it. Then he got angry at me for “overreacting” and getting mad. He’s otherwise a mature and thoughtful guy (I know I haven’t made a good case for it but you just have to take my word for it) but this one habit irritates me to no end. I can’t believe he keeps doing it to get a reaction out of me. Should I dump him?
A: What good timing! With Halloween coming up you can get your boyfriend a jumbo-sized bag of lollipops and give them to him with a goodbye note that reads, “Lick this.” I accept that except for his propensity to leave a trail of slime across your face, he’s Mr. Wonderful. But I’m afraid given the case you’ve made, I can only think of him as Mr. Tongue. Consider where his fetish, or compulsion, or whatever it is, has driven you. You are finding yourself wanting to commit assault, which I assume is out of character for you. You’ve only been with this guy for six months and so far your protests have resulted in the escalation of him treating you like a popsicle. I suppose you could mix cayenne pepper into your blush, which might give him pause next time he swoops in for a slurp. But I say that before you are tempted to cut off his tongue, just cut your losses.
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Q. Speaking Ill of the Dead: My stepfather died last year. He was a huge hero in the community due to his involvement in various causes. He was an idol to my mother, who was a widow with four children when they met and married. Several relatives even suggested we pen a biography of him for our future generations. What people don’t know is that he took advantage of me when I was 15. I mistakenly thought of his affections as genuine love and he was my first sexual encounter, which lasted six months. He was extremely manipulative, and when I began resisting he emotionally blackmailed me. He spread lies about me to other family members so if I ever told anyone, I would look like a liar and a delinquent. As an adult I had limited contact with my mother and siblings because it was too painful to see him. After he died I started to be in touch with my family more. But it remains difficult to hear my family reminisce what a wonderful person he was. A part of me wants to out him as the scumbag he is. Another part of me wants to protect my family’s memory of the husband and father he was to them, however inaccurate that is. Should I tell or keep quiet?
A: Please get some counseling to help you both deal with this trauma and figure out what your next steps should be. RAINN and Stop It Now are two places you can start. How monstrous that not only did your stepfather rape you, he used his power to estrange you from your family. I’m going to bet that depending on their sex and your late stepfather’s proclivities, it’s likely you are not the only sibling to have been abused by him. But it’s also true that families can create fortresses of lies, and since your stepfather had already painted you as a delinquent, that might allow the others, especially your mother, to refuse to believe what happened. This is why you need some professional guidance. It might even be possible that a social worker could accompany you to a meeting with your family at which you explain the truth. He was able to bully and intimidate you into keeping his depraved secrets. But you have no obligation now to help others honor the memory of this criminal.
Q. Once Again … Breast-feeding: At the many large family gatherings I attend, my niece breast-feeds her 1-year-old multiple times over the course of the afternoon. This is not a newborn who needs feeding every couple of hours so she uses her breast more as a pacifier than anything. To be clear, she does not do this in any modest way, exposing her entire breast to the room each time. This makes my husband and his elderly father (who lives with us) uncomfortable enough that the older gentleman gets up to leave the room each time. Other people in the extended family have commented on it, too. The next event is at my house. I try to make all my guests, but especially those of a certain age, comfortable in my home. It is just a matter of respect. I would like my niece to take her son to an adjoining room that is more private although not behind closed doors when she is with us and feels the need to placate him. I know she will be upset with me, but I feel that she needs to at least be aware that this is making her older extended family uncomfortable as this wasn’t done in their generation. What do you think?
A: At least your niece isn’t also giving a lecture on anthropology, like the American University professor recently in the news for breast-feeding in class. I am pro-lactation. I did it myself for a year, and yes, I occasionally had to breast-feed (discreetly) in public places, and often at my in-laws. When I was at their house, I would almost always go to another room, or sit in a chair facing away from them. They were in favor of breast-feeding, but there was no reason to shove it in their faces. You’re absolutely right that with a 1-year-old there is no compelling need for your niece to make everyone observers of this. When your niece arrives pull her aside and say while you support breast-feeding, you’d appreciate it that when she’s feeding the baby she takes him into your bedroom for some privacy. Explain that the older family members are uncomfortable and it would be easier on them if she was the one to absent herself briefly. Then if in defiance she lets it all hang out, you can all go to another room.
Q. Re: My Boyfriend Licks Me: My boyfriend (now my husband) also liked to lick my face and it also irritated me to no end. The reason he’s now my husband and not my ex-boyfriend—he stopped when I asked him to. Someone who thinks it’s funny to irritate you is not good long term relationship material, no matter how sterling his other qualities.
A: I’d love to know how he explains what jollies he got from this.
Q. Baseborn Baby Shower: My little sister is having a baby with a man who’s divorcing his wife to be with her. Unbeknownst to all but a few of her close friends, she’s been seeing this man for almost three years. My sister is pretty ashamed of breaking up his family, so she doesn’t think she deserves a baby shower or should even discuss her baby in any positive way. I think our mom has been saying some pretty mean things to her, because my mom abhors infidelity. I’m not saying my sister and her fiancé are saints or that I approve of how their relationship began. For the record, I think my sister and her fiancé have caused innocent people (his wife, his kids) a lot of pain. At the same time, I really love my sister, and aside from this she has always been a selfless and caring person. I want to throw her a baby shower, and her friends want to pitch in and help me. We figure anyone who doesn’t come because of moral objections to the terms of the baby’s conception wasn’t going to be a good friend to my sister anyway. My mom and some relatives are really against throwing a baby shower and think we’re sugarcoating my sister’s situation. Would it be rude or tasteless to throw my sister a baby shower or to celebrate her baby’s birth?
A: Ah, another wonderful person except for the fact that she’s not. The baby is the innocent party here and does not come baring a mark of shame. Throw the shower and try not to cast harsh judgments on the people who decline.
Q. Peeing in the Aisles: My 11-year-old daughter Meghan recently went on her first solo play date with her new friend Brooke. Brooke’s mom Cindy and I have spent time with the girls together, and Cindy seemed sane. Then Meghan came home and told me Cindy let her 4-year-old son pee in the aisle of a bookstore because the bookstore’s bathroom was only for customers. Brooke’s little brother had to pee, and the sales associate wouldn’t relax the rule. From what Meghan tells me, Cindy set her son down and helped him pull down his pants. Meghan and Brooke found the public urination to be hilarious, and Cindy told them the sales associate should have let them use the restroom, because it was “obviously an emergency.” I think Cindy behaved like a crazy person, and I’m upset she behaved this way in front of my daughter. I don’t want Meghan to spend time with Cindy anymore, but I also don’t want to ruin her friendship with Brooke. This seems like an elaborate and weird story for my truthful daughter to create, but I probably need to talk to Cindy anyway. Any pointers?
A: It sounds as if Cindy’s goal is to turn her son into the next “Mr. Johnson.” Yes, it’s a foolish salesperson who won’t let a desperate mother take her 4-year-old son into the bathroom. But in response the answer is not liquid vandalism. Tell your daughter that as hilarious as the prank may have seemed, you’re concerned about Cindy’s lack of judgment and you’re going to talk to the other mother about it. Then call Cindy and in as light a way as possible, tell her what your daughter told you. Assuming she confirms, while making some excuse about urgency, tell her you understand what a full bladder means, but you think her solution was unfortunate. Unless her response makes you think she is globally unbalanced, then let it go. Two 11-year-old girls mostly want to hang out with each other, not with each other’s moms.
Q. Re: Licky Boyfriend: Too funny! I married my face-licker, but as long as he is clean shaven, I lick him back! I guess that makes me annoying!
Q. Spanking Issues: My ex-husband recently remarried a woman with two kids. The two children I have with my ex-husband spend weekends with their father and their stepmother. I’m married, and my husband’s daughter lives with us. My husband and I don’t spank our kids. When we were married, my ex-husband and I didn’t spank our children either. But my ex’s wife spanks her kids, and now she wants to spank mine if they misbehave when they’re with her. She has a list of behaviors that will incur spanking, which includes hitting others and cursing. My kids are well behaved and have never done anything that would “warrant” spanking. Even so, I do not want their stepmother to spank them ever. My ex-husband has sided with his wife. She says that I’m making it difficult for them to parent by dictating what they do in their home. But isn’t corporal punishment different from other household rules?
A: It is difficult when children are spread between multiple parents and many households, but I agree that corporal punishment is different from, “You may not have to make the bed at your father’s house, but you do here.” The American Academy of Pediatrics is against spanking (and so am I). But many people do it and studies have found that what’s particularly harmful is if it’s done while the parent is enraged and used as an all-purpose tool of discipline. It appears less objectionable if it’s done in a physically limited way for specific offenses. Your children’s new stepmother sounds severe and difficult and she has a long list of offenses that result in tanning kids’ bottoms. Your ex is likely going along because he doesn’t want to incur her wrath upon himself. But she shouldn’t be putting her hands on your children without your permission. In as nonconfrontational a way as possible you should make that clear and say you would like to hear of spanking-worthy offenses and you will handle the punishment yourself. Then tell your kids to let you know if they get hit when they’re visiting their father.
Q. Re: Baby shower: Is there something to the sister not wanting the shower, or do you think that’s solely due to her mother’s prior comments? If she truly doesn’t want it, perhaps she would benefit more from lower-key interactions with her true friends and support system (gift-giving one-on-one as desired), rather than put her in a social setting she’d truly prefer not to be in, and showering the love on the baby once it does arrive. Baby won’t be the one to remember the shower, after all.
A: Good point that someone who really doesn’t want a shower shouldn’t be forced into having one. But however this new life got started, the baby shouldn’t be treated differently from other children.
Q. From original writer on breast-feeding: Thanks, Emily. The image of the entire family trotting out of the room, canes, walkers, and toddlers in tow gave me the giggles!
A: Let’s hope your niece doesn’t file a “hostile family environment” suit.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Have a good week.
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.