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. Sister-in-Law Wants Us To Postpone Our Wedding : My fiancé and I got engaged a few months back. A few months prior to that, his sister had announced her pregnancy. We felt it was a respectful length of time and announced our engagement. She was immediately seeing red and started being passive-aggressive to me. The problem? Our wedding is four months after her child’s birth, and she feels like it should be at least a year later. My fiancé seems swayed by her argument. I’ve told him that even though she will be traveling for the wedding, there isn’t much difference between traveling with a 4-month-old or a 1-year-old child. His sister is also already talking about having her second and third child soon. I asked him if we’re expected to wait five years until all of her bundles are grown up before we can get married. I think she’s just jealous because she feels her thunder has been stolen. She was the only girl growing up, and a spoiled one at that. I don’t talk about the wedding in front of any of his family and try to keep all conversations focused on her to placate her. Am I wrong not to bow down and to keep our April wedding?
A: How derelict you have been. Of course you should cancel your wedding plans—your fiancé’s sister might still be breast-feeding! It’s so insensitive of you to think someone should get married under those circumstances. After her baby is born, ask immediately for your future sister-in-law to create an online spread sheet showing her fertile days and the times she has intercourse. That way you can anticipate her reproductive schedule and plan your nuptials accordingly.
Alternatively, unless your fiancé finds the wherewithal to stand up to his crazy sister, you might want to reconsider whether she should become your never-to-be-sister-in-law. “Respectful length of time” to announce your engagement? Someone needs to clue in the sister that she doesn’t have some lock on good news and other people’s lives go on irrespective of her milestones. Stop placating this idiot (again, another poor child with a whacked-out mother) and tell your fiancé her behavior and demands are out-of-line and you aren’t going to play along anymore.
Dear Prudence: Third Wheel Twin
Q. Help! My Wife Wants To Be Naked but Won’t Let Me: I’ve been married for 20 years, and we’re now both in our late 40s. For the past three or four years, my wife has taken to hanging out around the house naked. She defends it as a more natural state of affairs, and reluctantly agreed to put towels down on the couch, etc. She’s less diligent about closing blinds (“there’s nothing wrong with nudity, it’s natural”). I’ve tried to be supportive, and researched naturism, even going so far as to find a couple of clothing-optional clubs in the area. When I told her, instead of being pleased, she accused me of just wanting to go there and ogle other naked women! This isn’t my thing, and I was just trying to be supportive, and this is the thanks I get. The problem is that during all my research trying to understand her point of view, I had really gotten interested in trying out a naturalist club. I’m just not into the mundane nude-at-home experience. How do we reconcile our different perspectives?
A: I went undercover to a nudist club for Slate, and let me assure you and your wife there is nothing less sexy than a whole lot of middle-aged naked people. I bet you could testify that having your wife let it all hang out on the couch while you’re watching the presidential debates probably makes you focus even more on federal gas-drilling policies. Since you are accommodating her clothing-optional policies, ask her to sit down at the computer with you and read about the nudist clubs in your area. The websites will make clear these are ogle-free zones. And I assure you, most of the flesh will make you believe that as far as fashion is concerned, the Taliban has it right. Neither of you have to make a commitment to becoming naturists, but since she’s halfway there, ask if she’ll agree to spend a day at a club with you with the understanding she can head to the car and slip on her underwear any time she is uncomfortable. If she refuses, then you should drop your own drawers. Maybe having to pick your pubic hairs off the couch will convince her to take the nudity elsewhere.
Q. My Boyfriend and I Are Related!: My mom asked me to accompany her to a distant relative’s 60th birthday celebration. She has a big family and we never really interacted much with her side, so I thought I’d go to meet some of my relatives. While I was eating dinner I looked up and saw my boyfriend’s mother. I was surprised to see her and went over to say hi. Suddenly, my mom came over and began chatting with her, introducing me as her daughter. It turns out that my mother and my boyfriend’s mother are actually first cousins! My boyfriend and I had been dating for a year and we were starting to talk about our future together. I don’t know what the laws are, but even if it’s legal for us to marry, I feel creeped out by the idea of my mother-in-law also being my second cousin. My boyfriend is devastated and says it doesn’t matter. I feel heartbroken with the idea of breaking up but I feel like it’s not right. Would it be completely gross if we stayed together?
A: I think it would be ridiculous for you not to stay together. My understanding is that the laws on cousin marriage are only about first cousins; I think they should be repealed because this is not the state’s business. There’s nothing to be devastated or creeped out about—the whole thing is actually kind of funny. If you and your boyfriend eventually decide to marry, you can get genetic counseling before you have children, which will likely be reassuring to you both. But no one should do more than shrug about kissing second-cousins.
Q. Ethics of Spying on Your Spouse: My husband is a sex addict, he’s been to therapy and tells me his addiction is under control—he swears he is no longer cruising the Craigslist “casual encounters” or emailing escorts and women seeking casual sex. Trust obviously has been breached, and I need to know that finally, he is being honest and truthful with me. I already caught him lying to me once since his therapy ended, and although he swears it won’t happen again, I don’t trust him. I want to install a stealth computer-monitoring program on the P.C. he uses—my question is whether this kind of intrusion is justified by the circumstances, it is something I would never do if my husband didn’t have a history that makes me unsure if my health is at risk and my marriage is a sham.
A: He’s just proven to you he’s not being honest and truthful, since you caught him lying after his supposed successful therapy. You know who and what your husband is, so the question is who you are and what has this marriage done to you. You know that being an electronic parole officer is not going to make your husband faithful and reliable. You say he has put your health is at risk and your marriage is a sham. So the real question is not whether your snooping is justified, but when you are going to decide to get out.
Q. Son’s Surgery vs. Stepdaughter’s Big Dance Recital: My 3-year-old son has been battling a life-threatening disease since May. He has already undergone one aggressive surgery as well as brutal medical treatments to combat the disease. Since the diagnosis his father and I have struggled to balance our son’s care with the needs of our 5- and 1-year-old daughters and my teenage stepchildren. Neither of us wants to become inattentive parents to our healthy children, but sometimes our son’s emergency medical needs take precedent over those of our other kids. This past week, our son’s doctors told us he would need another high-risk surgery to further combat his disease. They scheduled the surgery for the same day as my stepdaughter’s fall dance recital. My stepdaughter loves dance, and it’s her main extracurricular activity. This recital is the first time she has a solo performance, so it’s a very big deal to her. My husband could theoretically go to the dance recital after our son goes in for surgery and be back from the dance recital around the time that our son comes out of surgery. My stepdaughter and her mom really want my husband to be there, and I know he wants to see his daughter dance, too. But I have asked him to stay with me during the surgery, because this isn’t something I want to experience on my own, and I’m also terrified something might go wrong during the surgery. My stepdaughter is very upset, as is her mom, and my husband feels like he’s in a no-win situation where he has to let down one of his kids. I have never asked my husband to “choose” our children over my stepchildren, and I never wanted to have to ask that. But I think that our son’s high-risk surgery takes priority over the dance recital. I’m in need of someone who is unbiased to give me some advice.
A: I’m so sorry for the agony you’re going through and I hope your son is headed for recovery. Of course you want to be good parents to your other children, but this is not a normal time and you only have so much attention and emotional energy to go around. I hope other family members are stepping in to give support to you and your husband and especially to the other kids. If not, do not be shy about asking for it. Often people don’t know what to do, so you should say, “Can you take the kids to the playground on Tuesday? We have a doctor’s appointment that afternoon.” If you haven’t, set up one of those websites for people going through medical treatment that have calendars and wish lists so people can sign up to bring you meals or run errands, etc. It’s understandable your stepdaughter wants her father to be at her big event, but I really wish his ex were acting like an adult. She should have explained to the girl that as much as dad wants to be there, a medical crisis is one of those things that has to be attended to. Too bad the ex is only making things worse. Perhaps a compromise is that your husband provides the technology to make sure the recital is filmed—he could even watch it streaming. It’s also possible that depending on how you feel and whether you have a family member or dear friend to be at the hospital with you, that you would be OK with having your husband go to at least part of the recital. This would mean that your husband puts his phone on vibrate so he can receive a message from you if need be. Also, please ask at the hospital for a support group for others going through the illness of a child. Airing your feelings and getting advice from people who truly understand will make you feel less alone.
Q. Rape Ruining Marriage?: Almost four years ago, I was raped by an ex-boyfriend. Since then, I met and married my husband, who knew about the incident from the beginning of our relationship. In the time we’ve been married, I’ve gone to countless hours of therapy, and spent two years on anti-depressants before finally feeling stable enough to go without them. However, these emotional advancements have come at one cost: I am not interested in sex, at all, whatsoever. It has gotten to the point where I haven’t had any sort of intimate contact with my husband in over a year. I was never particularly sexual, so it doesn’t bother me, but it hits my husband hard. I feel sort of guilty, and think that my husband deserves better, but at the same time, he has occasional fits of rage, which he blames on “too much stress from no sex.” I’m very confused, I really think my husband deserves a healthy relationship, but I’m not willing to put myself through the hell I went through just to get back to being a functioning human being. The idea of sex sends me into a panicking tailspin of shame and anxiety, and yet, the progress I’ve made is significant enough that I’ll not throw it away. What is the best way to keep my sanity, and have a healthy relationship?
A: Please find a new therapist. From your description you are terribly stuck and four years later have not been able to put your life together. I wish I knew more about your husband’s “fits of rage.” Does he rage at you because of your celibate marriage? Do you feel threatened? Or does he pop off when the remote won’t work and ascribes his anger to sexual frustration? In any case, you need to do way more work on yourself before you can consider functioning in a healthy relationship. Your marriage is so far from that, that unless big changes can be made, dissolving it might be the best thing. Perhaps your husband is staying because he thinks you’re too fragile to leave, but this marriage is leaving both of you so frustrated and even fearful that it’s doing neither of you any good.
Q. Re: Love “cousins”: My first cousin married her second cousin, and they are well into a happy and healthy marriage with beautiful and healthy little babies. There’s nothing wrong with planning a future together.
A: Thanks for this. I agree this should be a non-issue.
Q. Bad Mother: My cousin Linda is a high school teacher. She is also a mother to two kids (a girl and a boy) and you’d think she’d be a perfect role model to these kids. But she is one of the worst mothers I’ve ever seen. She screams at the kids constantly, calls them names (such as dumb-head) It absolutely breaks my heart. I barely see her, and only recently met her kids (they are 4 and 2 years old) Now I have no doubt in my mind why I don’t attend family functions. I don’t feel like there is a way for me to tell her to stop being a bad mother without my other family members back-lashing at me. They all have seen how she treats them lower then dirt. Please give me advice.
A: Given Linda’s feeling about young people, that’s an interesting career choice on her part. Her behavior is so awful that sounds as if she needs some serious intervention by one or two family members who she views as having authority. To get this started, quietly discuss with people what you’ve seen and how concerned you are. Explain this kind of verbal abuse can have lifetime effects and you think Linda and her children would be helped by seeking some family counseling, and you hope someone can recommend this to her. Unfortunately, sometimes family dynamics are such that they end up empowering the sickest members because no one wants to tangle with them. If that’s the case here, call the Childhelp hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD and speak to a counselor about what you can do.
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.