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.)
Q. Not Sure—Family? Etiquette?: David and I have been best friends since we met in undergrad. When we were accepted to grad programs at the same university, we got an apartment together. Two days ago, David was killed in a car accident. I have been devastated ever since. When I looked up David’s online obituary, I was shocked to see myself listed as his fiancée. As close as we were, there was never anything romantic between us. David was gay. The only person I really know in David’s family is his brother, and I called him to ask him why I was listed as his fiancée in the obituary. His brother explained that his parents are ultraconservative and very religious and, even though they knew David was gay, they never quite accepted it. I guess people in his hometown town knew he was living with a girl, and his parents explained away this “sin” by saying we were engaged, rather than saying we were just friends or even just roommates. The funeral is Tuesday, and I don’t know if I can go or not. I know David would have hated the lie his parents told, but I also know he loved them very much and wouldn’t want them to be hurt. I’m not sure what people would say if his “fiancée” didn’t show up for the service. But I am also not comfortable accepting condolences from people for something that is a lie. I know how much David struggled with coming out to his parents and how he fought for acceptance. There is a part of me that would like to demand a retraction and correction of the obituary. Another part of me says to let it go because David is beyond hurting now. What should I do?
A: Go to the funeral and quietly accept people’s condolences. You have lost one of the dearest people in the world to you, and however mixed your feelings about his family’s behavior you should be at his funeral to pay your respects and be comforted by those who loved him. The immediate aftermath of the sudden death of a vibrant, young person is not the time to be making demands on the grief-stricken family, however misguided their actions. I agree it’s terrible that his family felt it necessary to make up a lie in order to present a more acceptable face to the world. Fortunately, that world is changing and had David lived it’s likely that over the course of his life his parents might have been able to accept a partner of David’s. But that chance is gone and his parents are suffering the worst torment imaginable. Go to the funeral and hug and cry. If there are people insensitive enough to ask you for details of the “wedding” just shake your head and say you hope they understand it’s something you can’t bring yourself to talk about now.
Q. Shower Time: My girlfriend and I recently moved in together and I discovered an odd quirk. Once or twice a week she’ll retreat to the bathroom and take a “shower” for an hour or two. Like literally 120 minutes. Our place doesn’t have nearly that much hot water and so I asked her how this works. It turns out that she goes in there, builds a little nest out of towels, turns the shower on, and just lies there and reads or naps with cold water running, and then takes a couple minute shower. Apparently she’s done it since she was a child and just finds it relaxing. Prudie, do you know how much water this uses?! She’ll use several hundred gallons of water per session! Thousands a month! When I talked to her about the waste she just said that this is how she likes to spend her money (she insisted on paying the water bill when we moved in together and now I know why) and that lots of human activities are wasteful, but that since she’s not even in the shower for most of the time the water’s not being polluted (not sure about that) and that she does give to a water-related charity. Should I chalk this up as a quirky indulgence and that there are worse things than the shower running for hours at a time?
A: One great pleasure of this column is that just when I think I’ve heard everything I realize, Oh no, I haven’t. The cold-water-shower-reading-nest is a new one on me, and I’ve got goosebumps and pruney skin just thinking about it. It’s too bad your girlfriend didn’t grow up in a house that only had bathtubs. Then she just would have soaked in a cold tub and while all her books may have gotten soggy the water bill wouldn’t rival that of the Hoover Dam. It’s generally a good idea to indulge your loved one’s harmless quirks. Also keep in mind that a lot of people have passionate hobbies: motorcycles, skiing, buying shoes—that are far more expensive than a weekly, private Niagara. For now I suggest that when your girlfriend says she’s feeling particularly dirty and it’s time for a long shower, you don’t stay home steaming about the running water, but let off steam by going out for a long run.
Q. My Friend and My Husband Cheated Together—What Now? : Melanie’s husband ran out on her and their four young children two years ago. My husband, our kids, and I live down the block from Melanie and know her well. When her husband left I reached out to her to see if there was any way I could help her out. We began doing things together as friends and as moms with our kids. Sometimes my husband also helped Melanie with minor home repairs. I always admired him for his willingness to help Melanie. A few days ago I discovered a series of emails between Melanie and my husband, detailing their “mostly unacted upon” attraction to one another. They do not want to hurt me, and my husband said in the emails he would never leave me. But they cannot escape their attraction to one another. I confronted my husband, and we agreed that if we are going to save our marriage, Melanie needs to go. However, I feel guilty because my husband is the only father figure Melanie’s kids have. I also don’t want to tell her I know about her and my husband; I just want to cut off all contact with her.
A: I hope your husband recognizes what a decent person he is married to and how indecent his attraction (however common such things are) to Melanie. Good for you for being worried about the innocent children. And shame on Melanie and your husband for potentially shattering another set of kids. I think there’s a compromise situation here in that if Melanie’s kids are friendly with your kids there’s no reason that they cannot continue to enjoy each other’s company. It’s you and your husband who are going to have nothing to do with Melanie. You don’t have to go into details with this woman, but you can have a brief conversation with her saying something like, “For obvious reasons our friendship is over and Jack will not be doing handyman duty for you any longer. I don’t want to hurt your kids more than necessary so they are still welcome in our home. You are not.”
Q. Racist Grandma: My grandmother is, well, a racist. She is now dying and although she has her share of flaws, the rest of our family thinks we should just make her last remaining weeks/months as comfortable as possible. That’s why I decided not to tell my grandmother that the man I’m about to marry is black. To me it makes no sense to get her worked up and upset when she is dying. Grandma lives four hours’ drive away and has never met my fiancé, and she’s unable to travel to attend the wedding. My fiancé, however, is deeply offended over this issue. He thinks my grandmother should be told he is black. Furthermore, he wants to meet her so she has an opportunity to get to know him and realize her stereotypes and prejudice are wrong. I’ve explained to him that her racism is so deeply entrenched that his meeting her a couple of times won’t change anything. He thinks she should be told anyway, out of principle. We are in such strong disagreement over the issue that he’s thinking of postponing the wedding until he can meet my grandmother. I think it’s ridiculous. What are your thoughts?
A: If this were a Tyler Perry movie you’d bring your fiancé to meet racist granny and the shock would kill her on the spot. Both you and your fiancé have compelling points of view, and this kind of situation is where a marriage is tested. You’re both right, there’s no compromise position, and one person has to give. It can be a shocking thing for young people growing up to realize their lovable grandma or grandpa has a devastating flaw, be it racism or homophobia or whatever. While there will always be humans who mouth hateful things about members of other groups, the generation for whom these assumptions were the acceptable way to think is dying away. What could be better evidence of how things are changing than that the granddaughter of a racist is marrying a black man? I think you should tell your fiancé that everything he says is right and true, and that if the world were a fair place meeting him would cause a transformation in one old person. But having known your grandmother your whole life you don’t think so, and you don’t want to make a long trip in order to see him treated terribly by a woman who doesn’t have long to live. Tell him that you recognize your grandmother’s flaws and you love her in the way you can love such a person. But that you’re glad your children will grow up in a world that has far fewer grannies to deal with.
Q. Re: Shower time: It’s not clear whether or not she’s actually in the shower while the water is running. Maybe she just likes the sound of the water? Perhaps a noise machine might work for her. After the drought we experienced this year, there’ll be more water rationing on the way. I suggest they find a way to not use so much water. It’s not just a matter of expense, it’s a matter of saving a precious resource.
A: I think that’s worth exploring. Even if she tries to make up for her habit by donating to water charities, she herself is wasting a ton of water. The boyfriend can *gently* suggest she explore ways to create the relaxing atmosphere she is seeking without draining the reservoir.
Q. Halloween: Halloween is coming and my neighborhood group is busy planning our annual Halloween party. We make sure to have activities to please all ages, and it is much looked forward to throughout the year. Costumes are not required, but strongly encouraged. We give out prizes for most original, most scary and funniest. It seems as if we may have to add a new category this year though: sleaziest. Kimmy and family moved into the neighborhood a few years ago. Jaws dropped their first Halloween when she took her children out trick-or-treating dressed as a Playboy bunny—complete with a tail. Even worse was her showing up at the Halloween party dressed that way. We couldn’t get a single dad to run the apple-bobbing game because they were all standing around ogling Kimmy and drooling on their clown shoes. Last year she showed up as Little Bo Peep with a skirt so short her bloomers showed and her breasts were practically falling out of her corset top. That might be fine for an adults-only party, but there were children present! I overheard my 14-year-old son talking with some of his friends the other day, and it seems that an invitation to our neighborhood party is the hottest ticket among that age group, just because they all want to see what Kimmy will be wearing. I am thinking of paying a visit to Kimmy and kindly explaining to her that she needs to cover up for this year’s party. My husband thinks I should just mind my own business (wonder why?). Would it be rude of me to talk to Kimmy? Rumor has it that this year she’s “dressing” as Lady Godiva.
A: Don’t just talk to Kimmy, be generous and go over there with the perfect costume sure to win all the prizes: Kimmy’s very own burqa! Of course you couldn’t get the dads to supervise apple-bobbing, what with all the melon-bobbing provided by Kimmy. Mom, lighten up. Kimmy and her costumes are the stuff of neighborhood legend. Even though you don’t want to compete with her, the more amused you are by the whole situation, the better you will feel.
Q. Be Honest With My Aunt?: My aunt is currently in the process of a divorce after finding out her husband of 20 years had been sleeping around with escorts for the last several months. He has always played the ladies man—rubbing up against waitresses, making passes at his sisters-in-law (and me at times). For the sake of family peace nothing was ever said. Now that she is divorcing him, do I tell her that he molested me 10 years ago? Few people in the family know, and after it happened the family took cautionary measures to ensure he was never alone with me or any of the young kids again. Last summer, however, I mistakenly went to their house (I’m in my early 20s) and he arrived home before my aunt, and he used the opportunity to rehash the occasion on which he molested me and accuse me of being homosexual for not sleeping with him. Do I tell my aunt about all this, or do I just keep thanking my lucky stars this creep is out of my life?
A: I think you should consider telling the police. Sure, it might not be a prosecutable offense any more, but sometimes there are open files on ultracreeps like your former uncle. I continue to fail to understand how “family peace” leads people to turn a blind eye to sexual predators among them. Is saying, “Bill can you pass the gravy, please?” really more important than saying, “Bill, get your hands off her and the cops are on the way.” Go ahead and tell your aunt, tell everyone. It could be that you shake out more stories the authorities might like to hear.
Q. Re: Halloween: Get over it. Your 14-year-old son and your husband like to look at breasts. This should not come as a surprise to you. This is one day a year and everybody would have more fun if you could relax.
A: Agreed. And as several readers pointed out, at least Kimmy is not dressing as part of the Honey Boo Boo clan.
Q. Relationships: I have been seeing Adam for about six weeks. I like him all right and he’s attractive enough, but I don’t find myself falling in love with him. He’s a good friend and we enjoy a lot of the same things but I don’t see this relationship as really going anywhere. I think Adam’s feelings are stronger, but I am very careful not to lead him on or to let him think that I like him any more than I do. For instance: We have kissed a couple of times but we have not had sex, even though I suspect he would like to. My problem is this: I just met Adam’s brother at a party Friday and wow! He is something else! He is like Adam only to the 10th power, and we hit it off big time. I would love to go out with him but isn’t there some no-no about dating brothers? Half my friends say to go for it, the other half say no way, so I don’t know what to do. I want to do the right thing, and do plan on breaking things off with Adam whether I date his brother or not.
A: If you two act on your attraction, the first letter from Monday illustrates it’s better to do so before you find yourself married to the “wrong” sibling. End it with Adam now. What you are contemplating with Adam the 10th is terribly awkward and even if Adam’s brother is interested in you, for the sake of solidarity he might take a pass on going out with someone his brother has kissed. Then get yourself back on the market and see who else turns up who is not related to Adam. if you continue to think Adam’s brother is your garden of Eden, try to arrange to find yourself at another party he’ll be attending and see if sparks fly. If they do, and he doesn’t make a move, suggest getting together for coffee, and make it someplace you know where Adam is not a regular.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next 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.