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.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, let’s get to it.
Q. Reveal Past Affair?: Years ago I was pressured by one of my superiors into having an affair with him in exchange for a promotion and substantial raise. I was very young at the time, and didn’t know how to stand up for myself. I’ve always felt terrible for what I allowed to happen to me, and that I just let the man get away with it. I had been considering reporting him to his superiors (I’ve heard through the grapevine that he’s put several new hires and interns in the same position to date) but he left the company to run for a prominent office in our city. I’m now faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to expose him publicly for what he really is. I feel it would be the right thing to do, but part of me is afraid of the scandal that would surely follow, and I’m not sure I want to be in the middle of it. Should I take the plunge?
A: This is a terribly hard decision to make because unfortunately, as has played out over and over again, women who truthfully accuse powerful men of sexually abusing them often find themselves trashed. If you go ahead, you need to be prepared to have your entire life exposed: that shoplifting arrest in high school, the bad check you passed in your 20s. As you know, men who behave this way almost always do it to many women, and they need to be exposed and stopped. When Herman Cain was first accused of sexual improprieties, he went on the attack and it wasn’t pretty for his accuser. But then other women stepped forward and Cain was cooked. I hope you step up, but first you should protect yourself. Talk to a lawyer about how best to go about this. If you have the names of other victims, maybe an attorney can reach out to them and they might come forward to support you. You can strategize about how best to make your situation known—probably through an interview at the local newspaper. You will be doing the citizens of your state a service by letting them know the true character of the man who would serve them.
Dear Prudence: Litterbug Smoker
Q. Peeing Tom: My wife and I were in the shower together and I peed into the drain. She was disgusted, even after I explained that urine is sterile so it can’t be that unhygienic. She said it is psychologically disturbing to know that I pee where she washes herself, even if there are no lingering germs. She made me promise not to do it again, but I can’t help it. I’ve started peeing in the shower in secret, even as my wife bangs on the door to conduct random checks and remind me how disgusted she would be if I peed. I have never lied to her about anything before so I feel guilty telling her I didn’t pee when I actually did?
A: I have an image of your wife with an EPA inspector barging into your bathroom and collecting water samples. Perhaps your wife will also be psychologically scarred if you tell her you place your hairy, germy tush on the same toilet seat she uses. I agree that when you’re in the shower, the warm, cascading water makes it impossible not to contribute your own stream. And for goodness sake, not only is urine not germy, there are no traces left given the torrent of clean water that follows. OK, shower pee makes her shudder. So she need to occasionally spray the stall with Lysol if it makes her feel better. Mostly she needs to let you shut the door and be at peace.
Q. No More Baby Talk: My ex-husband divorced me last year so he could marry his pregnant mistress. Much to everyone’s surprise, our kids together adore their new baby brother. They love to go over to their father’s house to play with the baby, and sometimes I feel like the bad guy because I’m unwilling to give up my custodial time with them so they can visit the baby. They talk about the baby all the time, even though I’ve told them talking about the baby hurts me. My 10-year-old son wants his little brother at his upcoming birthday party, even though my ex and I agreed to have separate birthday parties from now on. Hearing about my ex’s new fabulous life is agonizing. I know it’s crazy, but I feel like my kids are choosing their dad’s new family over ours, too. I’m still reeling from the divorce. Sometimes I get short with my kids when they’re talking about their brother. I am trying as hard as I can not to taint the relationship between my kids, their father, and their new brother. Is there any healthy constructive way I can tell them not to talk about the baby so much? I’m worried I’ll blow up one day if I hear much more about the baby.
A: I had a neighbor in exactly this situation and I could only marvel at her confidence and generosity as she seamlessly brought the new sibling into her children’s lives. That baby brother was often at their home and he attended all the important functions of her two kids. When I said something to her about how amazing she was, she said whatever the adults did, the children were all a family and she wanted them to feel that way about each other.
I doubted I could have been that magnanimous. So I understand your anger, grief, and pain. But it will benefit you in the long run of life if you can support your own children’s embrace of their new sibling. To get through this I think you need a therapist to unload to, at the very least. Together, you can figure out strategies so that you can support this newly constructed family without feeling you are going out of your mind. If you have primary custody of your kids, because of your husband’s perfidy you have become a single mother. That’s a huge load to carry, so don’t be so quick to limit your children’s time at their father’s. It’s good for them, and for you, if he is stepping up and spending a lot of time with all his children.
Q. Re: pressured by one of my superiors: Well, here’s the problem. You didn’t HAVE to sleep with him. You did it to get a promotion and a substantial raise.
A: It’s all very nice to say that young, vulnerable subordinates should quit, or report the boss, or otherwise stand up for themselves. But master manipulators use their power over others to get what they want. This guy holds the threat of unemployment over the women he pressures into bed. He’s a creep and the voters should know it.
Q. Very Awkward Sex Life Dilemma: My husband suffered an accident at work in which he lost his genitalia. Needless to say this has killed off what sex life we had before the accident. Nevertheless, I have decided to remain faithful to him. We have bought several sex toys and he likes to please me as best he can. I would never tell him this, but I’m actually enjoying it more now than before when it was the “real deal.” This makes me feel very guilty. Also, I worry a lot that he can tell I like the artificial sex more and that would hurt him a lot. Can you give me any tips for moving forward?
A: Tragically, this kind of wound is being suffered more and more by our soldiers and I hope your letter gets widely distributed among them. There is nothing for you to feel guilty about. You do not need to tell your husband things are better, you just need to reassure him that he remains a marvelous, inventive lover. Tell him that you are so lucky that out of a terrible sorrow, you two have been able to become closer.
Q. Struggling To Be an Equal Opportunity Grandma: I adore my 13 grandchildren. One of my daughters and my son each have three children. My eldest daughter and her husband adopted seven mentally delayed and physically disabled children from Bulgaria and Russia. I sometimes offer to baby-sit my younger daughter’s and my son’s children, because I can easily care for three children at a time. It’s more difficult for me to offer to watch my eldest daughter’s children, not only because there are seven of them but also because I feel I cannot adequately attend to their needs at the same time. I spend time with my eldest daughter’s children, but usually only when my daughter, her husband, or other people are present. I have given my eldest daughter and her husband considerable financial support over the years, support which I have not offered to my other children because they do not need it as much. No one seems to resent this arrangement, but my daughter recently began to demand that I watch her children, too. She has accused me of hurtful things like not loving her children as much as my others because they’re disabled and adopted. I try to explain to her how I do not feel like I can properly care for her children on my own, but she doesn’t accept this explanation. I believe she wants me to stop watching my other grandchildren, to be “fair.” Am I being insensitive to my eldest daughter and her children?
A: She’s being insensitive to you. Being fair to one’s children is not a matter of everyone being treated exactly the same. If one daughter looks smashing in green, and the other looks sickly, you don’t buy both green sweaters because that’s treating them equally. Your oldest daughter gets financial help from you, the others don’t, and no one resents that. It could be that instead of being with your eldest daughter’s children as a group, you could occasionally take one or two out to a zoo outing, say. Otherwise, you need to explain to your eldest that you have the same amount of love for all your grandchildren, and that means being flexible enough to recognize the best way to show it.
Q. Re: Sex dilemma: Some advice: Stop referring to it as artificial sex. It’s still sex, and it’s great that pleasing you is important to him. I suspect in addition to the enhanced physical pleasure (which few men could compete with anyway), there’s additional intimacy that comes from bonding in this way after the accident.
A: Good point—it is sex.
Q. Catholic Wedding Etiquette: My cousin is marrying a Catholic woman (we are Episcopalian) in a Catholic church. My children are 9, 7, and 4, and were included in the invitation to both the full service and the reception following. I love my cousin, but I do not want to attend a full Catholic service. I do not agree with a lot of the teachings of the Catholic church, I do not appreciate that I cannot take Communion, and the sheer length of the event followed by a reception is too much for my children to handle. When I brought this up with my aunt, she told me that it is rude to attend the reception only and that I need to put my personal feelings aside for the day. I think they are asking some pretty big compromises in the name of their wedding. I love this column and the responses to follow, so any advice you have I would appreciate. What would you do in this situation?
A: Attending a wedding at someone else’s church does not imply endorsement of all that denomination’s teachings. It’s an endorsement of the marriage of two people you presumably care about. It’s nice of your cousin to include your children in the invitation, but you should probably just get a baby sitter for them. That way you can just enjoy yourself and not worry about handling restless kids. If you can’t make that work then decline and send a lovely gift.
Q. Re: Ex’s baby: I’m a father and stepfather to a gaggle of children. Prudie is right. Over the long haul, all the children will benefit from having a higher-functioning family where all the kids treat each other well. My older stepchildren have been amazing to, for, and with their half siblings. In fact, they have talked my now-teenagers out of bad choices in ways that I never could have done as a parent because the little ones look up to the older ones.
A: Thank you for this perspective. Such closeness not only benefits the kids, but the kids, as they grow up, will appreciate that the adults did not create barriers to them feeling like true siblings.
Q. My Intern Doesn’t Wear a Bra: For the first time in my young life I have been bestowed with an intern, Melissa. Melissa is smart, hard-working, and an asset to the company. Her only shortcoming is that she has gigantic (bigger than double-E) breasts but does not wear a bra. It is very obvious and, in my mind, does not look very professional. I’m not sure if I should ask her to please wear a bra or even address the issue. At the risk of sounding like a Puritan, Melissa’s lack of a bra makes me uncomfortable. As a well-endowed woman I have always striven to be properly supported.
A: Melissa needs to understand that in a professional environment she needs to not only be an asset but restrain her assets. This is the kind of thing a more experienced professional can tell a young one. Pull Melissa aside and say that her work has been great, but her attire is not up to office standards and she needs to be wearing more supportive undergarments. You can smile and say that she can see you know of what you speak.
Q. Travel After Kids: My husband and I are travel nuts. We have been all over the world and leave the country at least once a year. We plan to start trying for a baby next year. While we plan to bring our children with us traveling, we also want to, on occasion, leave them with grandparents for a week or so and travel alone. When we mention this to people, they react as if we’d said, “When we have kids, we plan to feed them poison.” We’ve also been told that we should plan to give up overseas travel until they’re grown up. Both my husband and I were raised in an environment where it was not uncommon to be left with family for a few days or even entire summers. Is this irresponsible and naive of us to think we could continue traveling (and occasionally travel alone)?
A: One of the things you will discover when you become parents is that many other parents think their style (securing the offspring with bubble wrap, for example) is the only proper way. Of course you can continue to travel with your children, and of course a week with the grandparents can be a wonderful treat for all generations. Since you’re not even pregnant and you’re already being accused of being a bad mother, take this as a lesson about keeping your reproductive (and vacation) plans private for the time being.
Q. Re: Boss Follow-Up: She said she got a promotion and a raise. Isn’t that different than being threatened with firing? She got what she wanted, and he got what he wanted. They are both at fault.
A: I can’t believe that people think this was a happy quid pro quo. The boss was in a position of power and used his to manipulate a young, vulnerable subordinate. She knows this is what he does with young women. Sure, it would have been better if she’d refused, but surely people understand things don’t tend to go well for those who decline. Well, at least these responses will give the letter writer a taste of what’s ahead if she comes forward.
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.