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. Sister’s Being Shamed: My sister is marrying a sexually conservative man, which is to say he “saved himself” for marriage and she did not. My sister has always been honest that she had a number of sex partners (more than 20, less than 30) with her fiancé. He always seemed to understand and not care. Then his parents insisted that the couple undergo premarital counseling at their church, and my sister’s fiancé told the pastor who counsels them that my sister had premarital sex. The pastor became very judgmental. He suggested my sister had been raped as a young woman because she liked sex, and liking sex was “often” an indication of being raped. He asked my sister’s fiancé whether or not he could be happily married to my sister knowing about her multiple partners. Then he brought the fiancé’s parents in and told them. Now everyone is acting like my sister is lucky such a stand-up guy would want to marry her, and she’s miserable. She fears breaking the engagement though because she loves her fiancé and thinks this is a phase. She wants my support, but because I think her fiancé and the pastor are so gross, I’m struggling to be supportive of her marriage. Please help.
A: Oh, what a wedding night that will be. There’s your sister who knows her way around a mattress and is used to experienced, sophisticated lovers. And there’s her new husband trying to figure out what to do with the equipment. I can understand that after a randy youth your sister is ready to settle down, but I think she’s having an overreaction if she thinks the way to go is to enter into a situation in which seeking sexual pleasure is a sign of a previous assault. This doesn’t sound like a phase. Instead it seems that if your sister marries her fiancé she will always be considered a marked and damaged woman. Tell her the truth. Say you will always be there for her no matter what, but you are very concerned that the punitive judgment being rendered by her fiancé, his family, and church is not a phase but the start of a long, unpleasant siege.
Dear Prudence: Saving Lolita
Q. Tension Between Son and Father: My father is a wonderful man, a WWII vet and a member of The Greatest Generation. As he ages, he tends to vocalize his opinions much more than before. One of his opinions is that homosexuals should not only stay in the closet, but should absolutely not be married. My son is gay and came out to us years ago. I love my son and have always accepted him fully in our lives. When he came out to extended family, most of them are perfectly OK with his orientation. My father, however, frequently says rude remarks to my son about his orientation. Last weekend my son told me that he refuses to be in the company of somebody who is so blunt with his views on his lifestyle. I understand where my son is coming from, but I think he is being a bit dramatic. I think it is unfair that my son refuses to see his grandfather just because they clash on one opinion. My wife is standing by my son and is also avoiding my father. I can’t turn my back on my father and all that he has given me and my country for one opinion that he holds. But my son and my wife refuse to be in the same room as my father until he stops saying remarks about homosexuality. I wish that my father could stop saying things to my son and I wish my son could understand that we love people for who they are, not for one opinion they hold. How can I get my family back together again?
A: If your father served in World War II he is indeed a very old man. I agree with you that people should cut the extremely aged some slack and accept they grew up with certain points of view that we now find repulsive. These viewpoints are dying with them, and it is worth it to see these people whole. However, what you describe is not a case in which your father sometimes makes an occasional, obnoxious, general comment about homosexuals. Instead he makes frequent, direct comments about one homosexual: his grandson. You don’t say that your father is mentally addled, instead he uses his time with his grandson to insult and berate him. I don’t blame your son, or your wife, for saying, “Enough.” I hope they aren’t telling you to turn your back on your father, but just making clear they no longer care to listen to his rants. In some situations the compromise is just to understand everyone’s point of view and not try to change them. Continue to visit and honor your father. If he asks why he’s not seeing your wife and son explain that his remarks about homosexuals became too frequent and painful and they didn’t want to hear them anymore.
Q. Drunk Driving Prevention Ends Friendship: I threw a Halloween party this weekend, and my good friend Alicia came. During the party Alicia drank a lot and became very drunk. Even so, she wanted to drive home at the end of the night. I took her keys and refused to return them to her. I offered to call a cab or a sober friend to drive her home and offered to let her stay in my spare room. Alicia freaked out at me and demanded I return her keys to her. She said she was a grown woman and could make her own decisions. I still refused to give her the keys to her car, so eventually she called another friend to drive her home. The next day Alicia emailed me to demand the return of her car keys—I told her and her friend, when she left, that she could pick up her car as soon as she sobered up—and to tell me our eight-year friendship was over. She accused me of being controlling, disrespectful, crazy, and totally out of line. I am hurt by Alicia’s decision to end our friendship, but I don’t think I did the wrong thing by preventing her from driving drunk. What should I have done? Should I bother reaching out to Alicia and apologizing?
A: An apology is owed here: Alicia to you. It would have been nice when she sobered up if she said she appreciated your saving her from killing herself or someone else. Instead she’s doubling down on her right to break the law and endanger the lives of everyone on the road. So when she comes, assuming she’s not still on a bender, hand her the keys and say farewell.
Q. Re: Sister Being Shamed: Isn’t there some sort of obligation on the part of the pastor to keep this kind of information private? Bringing in the fiancé’s parents and informing them is a gross violation of the couple’s privacy. In addition, it is the pastor who suggested that the sister was raped because that’s the only reason a woman would like sex. What kind of backward-thinking church is this? And would the sister really want to raise her future children in such a judgmental and repressive environment?
A: Thanks for pointing out this is an alarming invasion and if the sister goes ahead she’s signing up for a life of public shaming.
Q. Not My MIL: My husband’s first wife died and he maintains a close relationship with her family. He is particularly close to her mother, whom he calls “mom” (his own mother passed away at a young age). Throughout our marriage I respected their relationship, although there were times when I wondered if he was doing a little too much. For example, he has given her a very large sum of money when she bought a new house, or when her nephew got married, etc.—more than what we could afford. Another time, her daughter was meant to visit her but had to cancel the trip last minute—so he invited her to come with us on what was meant to be a romantic getaway so she wouldn’t be alone on her birthday. She had surgery a couple of times and both times my husband took unpaid sick leave to take care of her. She’s been having medical problems but does not want to live in a nursing home. Her daughter lives in another country so my husband now wants her to move in with us. I could see myself living with his father if need be, but this woman has minimal ties with me. We’ve had horrendous arguments over whether to live with her or not. He says she is his mother and I should not be so heartless. I certainly don’t think of her as my MIL and I don’t want her to move in with us. What should we do?
A: Even if his former mother-in-law was his actual mother, I would object to the place she has in his life. People should not go broke to support their parents; they should not ruin romantic weekends with their spouses to accomodate their parents (except for an emergency); and unless both spouses are in favor, they should not move their elderly parents in with them. The problem here is not convincing your husband this woman isn’t really his mother, it’s that he’s undermining his marriage by placing her needs above yours. I try not to end every letter with a call for therapy, but here goes. Stop having the horrendous fights and get the two of you to a neutral party to help you negotiate how your husband can feel he is honoring this woman while respecting your limits.
Q. Re: The Greatest Generation: I think there is a real issue in labeling generations “Greatest” or “Entitled.” These labels group an extremely large group of people into one personality trait. Some members of the so-called Greatest Generation are probably entitled. Some members of the so-called Entitled Generation are probably hard-working, honest individuals. Labeling generations this way does not really help us fairly designate groups of people. Perhaps we should be rethinking these labels and what they actually mean. I’m glad the LW’s father served in WWII and I am thankful for his service. But that doesn’t mean he can act any way he wants.
A: Excellent points, thanks for making them. Yes, the father here seems a little too enamored of hanging a halo over his own father’s head. You can honor your father’s service, appreciate that he was a great dad, and still be infuriated that he would demean your own son. If the letter writer feels there’s nothing to be accomplished by standing up to the old, old man, OK. But it’s a bit much that he expects his son to go over and get bashed.
Q. Snip It Good: I am 26 years old, and completely certain that I never want to have children of my own. I am open about this side of myself with partners, family, and friends. For financial reasons, I haven’t yet pursued a tubal ligation, but with a new job I’m starting, this surgery may soon be a realistic opportunity. As I consult with doctors to find a suitable course of action, how can I prepare myself for the judgement I may endure because of my young age, and gracefully defend my choice against those who might feel the need to dissuade me?
A: That you’re getting your tubes tied is not something you need to share with anyone. If you don’t want to discuss this, don’t bring it up. But I urge you to choose some less permanent form of birth control. Yes, I know there are many happy child-free people who knew at an early age they never wanted kids and never changed their minds. There are also many people who in their 20s who were convinced they never wanted kids who in their 30s are thrilled to be parents. It’s really hard to imagine at age 26 that life could throw so many twists and turns your way that things you were once certain about are now no longer true. I understand you may find my remarks presumptuous and offensive, but keep in mind you sought out my opinion.
Q. I Bought a Book on Procrastination, but I Never Got Around To Reading It: I am a 52-year-old attorney and single mother of three teenagers. I have my own solo practice, and I enjoy what I do—when I do it. My problem is, I get to my office, and I get on Facebook, then go to Pinterest, then read your column—and before I know it, the day is over and I’ve done nothing. I’m very frustrated with myself. I never miss deadlines, but I should be working harder. We should be comfortable financially, but I make just enough for us to scrape by. I really did buy a book on procrastination, which I never finished reading. I went to a counselor (I had a very hard time finding one I could afford, as my insurance doesn’t pay for it), and all she said was, “Well, stop it.” I tried ADHD medication and it made me feel jittery and terrible. Do you have any other ideas?
A: You sound like me, except I don’t have a law degree and I waste my time with other stuff besides Pinterest and Facebook. First of all, it’s important to start your day with my column. After you accomplish that goal, you need to have systems built in that remove temptation. I know there is software you can put in place that will keep you off-line so install some. That way you will only be able to work on your documents for a given period, until you’re allowed a window of reward. Instead of beating yourself up, I think mindfulness therapy is a useful way to go. It means you accept your flaws and try to handle them, instead of seeking to trying to extirpate them. Maybe it would help to say, “I’ve got three great kids, I’ve built a practice I enjoy, and I like scrolling the Web a little too much.” Then when you have an urge to waste time, you say, “Yes, there I go again, I really want to check Facebook, and why not, it’s fun. But right now, I’m going to finish two more pages first.” Maybe I’ll even try taking my own advice!
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. I hope we ride this out safe and dry. Fingers crossed we’ll have power in time for next week’s chat. Good luck!
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.