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. Haunted House or No Ghosts Allowed: Last year one of our neighbors was really ticked off about our Halloween decorations being too scary. We really do go for the more ghoulish decorating and have a lot of fun with it! What’s Halloween without the fog machines, scary music (not loud), ghosts, and gruesome decor? The neighbors on either side of us have joined the fun and put up quite a display themselves. None of the decorations are over-the-top blood and guts, but the standard Halloween fare. The angry neighbors across the street have a 5-year-old daughter. They said she wouldn’t sleep with the light off for a month after our “horrifying” decorations “scared the daylights” out of their little girl. They also said they hoped that we would refrain from the frightening decorations since we now knew they upset their daughter. They still will barely speak to any of us who decorated using anything “scary” to a 5-year-old. Prudie, the kids on our street are a wide variety of ages, with the vast majority of the kids being 8 or older. I have three boys ages 8, 10, and 12 who have a great time with the scary stuff. Is it insensitive for us to decorate with tombstones, scary witches, and skeletons? My boys and their friends next door are already planning new ideas for the Halloween display. Should I pull the plug on the fog machine and plan a super-duper Happy Halloween?
A: My daughter was still in her high chair having dinner when our first trick or treater—wearing a wolfman mask—came to the door, and my husband thought it would be great to bring him into the house and show our toddler. Naturally, hysterics ensued. Nonetheless she recovered and went on to be dressed as a witch and a skeleton during her elementary-school years and even asked to go back twice to the house of the people with the twitching plastic rat. Sure, your neighbor’s daughter was scared, but being a parent means not expecting the world to bend to your child, but guiding your child through the world. If the parents have carried out this grudge for a year, I feel sorry that their little girl is missing lessons in humor and resilience. My suggestion is that before you start the decorating you go over and speak to the parents and say that you’d enjoy it if their daughter (and her parents) came over to help your sons decorate the house. Say that you think if she helps the big boys, and can see all this scary stuff is just things in boxes and not so scary after all, that she will really enjoy the festivities. If they shut the door in your face, tell your sons to skip their house when they go out for candy.
Dear Prudence: Excessive Family PDA
Q. Saving Worms: I’m engaged to my amazing, funny, smart, sexy girlfriend. There are so many things I love about her, but there’s one thing that worries me a little. She’s a really sensitive person and so she doesn’t ever want to hurt any living thing, for any reason. She’s a vegan (so am I, so that’s not a problem), she belongs to a couple of animal rights organizations (which I think is great), and she won’t harm even an insect. (I don’t like trapping cockroaches and setting them free outside the apartment, but it makes her happy.) This weekend, it rained overnight, and as a result the streets were covered with worms in the morning. She wanted to go out and save as many as she could before the sun warmed up the road and baked them to death. She also insisted that I go with her, and when I said I’d rather sleep in, she got tears in her eyes and told me she couldn’t believe I would just sleep in knowing that hundreds of living creatures suffered a horrible death. After a short lecture on Karma, I gave in and helped save the worms (which was totally gross). I love my fiancée, and want to support the causes that are important to her, but how can I tell her that I find some of her behavior bizarre and over the top without causing a huge fight?
A: I’m no vegan, but I’m gratified to know I’m not the only worm-rescuer out there. I just can’t stand to see them sizzling as they try to navigate a hot sidewalk, so I often bend down and place them on the grass. This deed is balanced out, however, by my smashing of the moths that make it into the house and the stomping on the ants in my kitchen. It could be that your fiancée would be happy being a Jain. These people are so nonviolent they refuse to eat root vegetables because of the microorganisms they contain, and sweep a broom in front of them as they walk to avoid stepping on insects. In India such beliefs are a religion, but in the U.S. this behavior would be seen as madness. Being so exquisitely attuned to suffering down to the earthworm level means your fiancée is going to go through life in a constant state of pain. I’m afraid she needs to toughen up and focus her efforts on a few things she can change. How you get her there will require some delicacy on your part. But first of all you need to draw your own boundaries. Say that you support her worm-rescue efforts, but next time it rains, you’re sleeping in. Explain you are a vegan for health and moral reasons, but in order to get through life you can’t make everything a cause. Before you get married think long and hard about spending your life with someone willing to fight for cockroach rights.
Q. How To Explain My Boob Job: In a few weeks, I’ll be undergoing breast-augmentation surgery. I’m very excited about the operation, and can’t wait to see the results. I am a bit unsure, however, if I should offer any sort of explanation about the major change in the size of my chest to my friends and co-workers. I’m currently a size A, and I’ll be getting size D implants, so they are going to notice a difference. Do I just ignore it and pretend like nothing’s different, or do I address the “elephant” in the room? If so, how on earth do I make that announcement?
A: Unless you work at Hooters, or a strip club, breast size is one of those things that is not on the approved list of water-cooler conversation. There will be some people who can’t help themselves, “Jeez, Louise, you almost knocked me over with your new knockers.” But while there is sure to be plenty of chatter about this behind your back, if not in front of your chest, you should just slap on one of those Mona Lisa smiles and change the subject. To fend off comments such as, “I wish every woman went on vacation the same place you did!,” in advance of your departure you could also confide in the office gossip. You could tell her that you’re finally getting the breast-augmentation surgery you’ve always wanted, but you’re worried about what will happen when you return because you really, really don’t want to talk about it. Before you go ahead, I’m going to urge you to rethink your plans. I get that you’re unhappy being small-breasted and that there’s a fix for that. But it just doesn’t make sense to overreact to the tune of a D cup. Before you make this change permanent, get some gigantic falsies and spend a few weekends wearing them. Maybe you’ll see that the attention they engender is not something you want to experience every day and that you’d be happier with a more modest expansion.
Q. Are We Wicked?: My family and I just moved this summer and are really enjoying our new home. We’ve met some of our neighbors and have visited in passing. Between work and driving our kids to practices, there really hasn’t been a lot of time to get to know anyone further. This weekend my husband and I were out working on the yard and my next-door neighbor was also outside. We were visiting and pretty soon his spouse joined us. Our kids are similar in age and they ended up outside throwing the football around and having a good time. All this was very spontaneous and fun. We were having such a great time we invited them all over for dinner next weekend. Later in the conversation, Halloween came up. That’s when everything went straight to hell, literally. Turns out, our neighbors view Halloween as worshipping the Devil and all who participate as Satan-worshippers. Prudie, we love Halloween and throw ourselves into the fun. Before moving, we hosted a party every year and went all-out decorating. But as the conversation progressed, it became clear that this would be a deal breaker on any new friendship with these neighbors. In fact, it would offend them. If it just involved my husband and I, we wouldn’t hesitate to do as we please. But I hate to have my kids lose their new buddies. So, Prudie, “witch” way do we go? Do I leave all my skeletons in the closet, or tell them that the Devil made me do it?
A: What a treat, you’ve taken care of every Halloween pun and I don’t have a ghost of a chance trying to compete. As with the previous letter writer with the overly protective parents, you cannot find yourselves intimidated from enjoying your holiday because of who you live next to. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry that if you offend these fundamentalists, they will come after you with pitchforks and torches. But it’s likely things will get icy after the holiday. It could be these are the kind of people who don’t believe in Christmas decorations and Santa displays, so bending to their will only take the fun out of life. Since you have become friendly with them, before Satan takes over your house you could ring the bell and give them a heads up. Explain that all of you enjoy Halloween and you wanted them to know that you are going to be decorating. Then tell your kids not to ring the door bell of those neighbors.
Q. Just Say “No” to D Cups!: Not a question, just a comment. If you weren’t born with D cups, don’t do this intentionally to yourself. I have worn a D cup since high school, and aside from looking ridiculous in a bikini (especially being relatively small everywhere else), it is nearly impossible to find decent clothes and bras to fit without spending a fortune, especially with two-piece sets. If the top fits, the bottom is huge! I would love to have a breast REDUCTION! In my opinion, nothing bigger than a “C” is necessary.
A: Many well-endowed women are writing in with similar warnings!
Q. Relationships and Health: Lisa, my girlfriend of 15 years, recently discovered that I have been having an affair with another woman for the past year. Lisa has stated that she doesn’t want to leave me at this point, but needs a cooling off period of two months to assess her needs and expectations of me in the future. When she is ready, she will reach out to me and we will go to counseling, but I am not to contact her before the eight weeks are up. I am more than happy to comply: I love her and cannot imagine life without her. I cut off the relationship as soon as Lisa found out about it. I deeply regret my actions and hope to make them up to her in every way possible once she is ready to move forward with the relationship. The thing is that I have just found out that I have a life-threatening condition that requires immediate surgery. I have been told that I must have somebody stay with me and help me convalesce for at least two weeks following the surgery. My parents died some time ago and I do not have children. I cannot afford a home health nurse. I could reach out to Lisa, but I know that contacting her before the end of the cooling off period would put our getting back together at risk. The only other person who would do this for me—and I know she would—is the other woman. I do not want to continue my relationship with this woman and would be clear about that with her. I am pretty sure that Lisa would never find out who nursed me during this time; she would just assume I hired a nurse. What should I do?
A: Finding out you’re in danger of dying is an acceptable reason to override a previous agreement. Send Lisa an email with a subject line to the effect: Immediate Health Crisis, Please Read, and outline your situation. If you don’t hear from her, perhaps she’s blocking your email, so have a mutual friend contact her to tell her. It could be that Lisa is still so mad that she doesn’t care enough to see you through this. I’m pretty sure that if you do then turn to the other woman to care for you, Lisa will find out. So if that’s what you end up doing, once you recover all of you will have a lot of reassessing to do.
Q. She Wasn’t Perfect!: My mother and father passed away when I was a child. I have always said that I would name my son after my father. But, here I am pregnant and having a girl! There is tremendous pressure for me to name my daughter after my mother. But if she were alive I wouldn’t want her to have anything to do with my child. Other than my brother (who had boys), my immediate family thinks that my mother was a wonderful person. But she was not. She was terribly abusive, violent, and toxic. My grandparents are already calling my baby Elizabeth after their daughter, my mother. I would, however, love to name her for my grandmother, the truly kindest person I’ve ever known. Should I give in and call her Evelyn Elizabeth to stanch the drama? Or how can I explain that I don’t want to honor this woman?
A: Your grandmother may be wonderful, but it’s hard to believe she didn’t have a clue that her daughter was an abusive mother. It’s also rude and presumptuous for your grandparents to be calling your fetus “Elizabeth” however much they miss their daughter. I think you should choose a name that’s meaningful to you, one that doesn’t have any toxic memories attached to it. That means it would probably be best to skip the Evelyn, because the existing Evelyn would probably pressure you to call the baby Elizabeth. When the baby’s born, announce your choice and don’t offer any excuses.
Q: Re: when I said I’d rather sleep in, she got tears in her eyes: It sounds like this problem will solve itself with a few sleep-ins. She’ll be so horrified at your cruelty that she’ll leave you and you can find a normal vegan to marry.
A: Good solution!
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Going out now to save some worms.
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.