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. Transgendered Husband: I believe transgendered people should be treated with the same respect and imbued with the same rights as cisgendered people. I have always felt this way, and I have several transgendered friends. Then my husband, whom I love very much, told me he wants to become a woman—or, she has always felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body, and if she doesn’t begin transitioning, she will be emotionally crippled. Initially, I promised to remain married to her during her transition and for some time afterward, to give our marriage a chance to adjust to her transition and sex change. It has been three months, and as much as I love my husband, I am miserable. To a certain extent, my love for my husband is rooted in his manhood. The more my husband transitions into becoming a woman, the less romantic love I feel for her. I just don’t think I can remain her wife. I am heartbroken and feel as though I am a widow, which sounds so dramatic. My husband is emotionally fragile right now, because she’s lost some important people to her because of her transition. Everyone commends me for supporting her and sticking with our marriage, so I feel like a fraud now too. She loves me so much; I cannot imagine how to tell her I want a divorce, that she has lost me because she is transgendered. Or is it better to be a bad person and leave? And yes, I am seeing a counselor.
A: Of course people change and grow during the course of a marriage. Marriage would be stiflingly dull if that wasn’t the case. But if your husband confesses to you he plans to start growing breasts, he has so materially changed the contract of your marriage that I completely understand that you feel the husband you knew has died. In a way, he has and is being reborn as someone new, and you are not obligated to stay in the marriage under those circumstances. People would not expect you to stay (and you probably wouldn’t) if he said he realized he was gay, or he wanted to enter into a polygamous relationship. This feeling he is a woman trapped in a man’s body is not a new discovery for him, and he withheld absolutely crucial information from you prior to your marriage. It’s great that you still love him and want to be an emotional support for him. But you must be emotionally fragile too, and there is nothing wrong with your realizing your husband’s change of life requires you to make your own.
Dear Prudence: Sex Offender at the Kids Party
Q. Relationship: When my fiancé and I first started dating, he confessed that he had slept with his female cousin when he was younger. (He is now 27.) I found it odd but assumed that they were teenagers when it happened. My boyfriend is now my fiancé. I recently found out that he and his cousin slept together as recently as 2007 after which they both got married. I also found out that they had an ongoing sexual relationship, not just a onetime thing. The problem is that we see this cousin fairly regularly. She always calls on him for help—particularly when she and her husband are fighting. I’m having a hard time getting over his past so that I can be comfortable with this cousin. Also, the cousin’s husband has no idea that the two of them hooked up during periods when he and the cousin were broken up. Now I am an unwitting participant in the keeping of this secret. I’m devastated and worried that I won’t be able to get past it. As it stands, I want to avoid family functions so that I don’t have to see her. Any advice?
A: If I’m reading you right your fiancé is only 27 and already heading toward his second marriage. He also is continuing a weird emotional connection with a cousin whom he has been sleeping with since they were, what, teenagers? The cousin’s husband doesn’t know about this on-and-off affair and you see her often because she’s really emotionally needy. You yourself are young, so I think you should take a bunch of steps back—putting the wedding on hold if need be—to assess what kind of mess you are getting yourself into.
Q. Bullied Daughter: My daughter, Lily, who is in the eighth grade, has a classmate that is mean to her. This is a new girl in school and has “joined” the group of friends that my daughter hangs out with. Lily says that when she sits down at the cafeteria table to join everyone, Elizabeth makes everyone stand up and move to a new table, leaving Lily all alone. I asked Lily why the other girls would do this and she states they are all afraid that Elizabeth will get mad at them if they don’t. This breaks my heart. Do I say something to the principal or just let things work themselves out on their own?
A: This is a grotesque level of shunning and needs to be dealt with. Absolutely tell the principal because Elizabeth needs to be reined in, pronto. This is not going to magically make everything wonderful for your daughter; there likely will be some blowback. So she needs to find new friends—possibly through new school or outside activities. Tell her as painful as all this is, she should keep her head up and not engage in the kind of put-downs and back-biting the means girls indulge in. It’s likely that eventually Elizabeth’s little acolytes will come to see her in a different light and they will remember your daughter never sunk to her level.
Q. Pregnant Soon After Losing Baby: I am unexpectedly pregnant with my second child, and I have no idea how to tell my stepchildren, my family, my friends, or even my husband about my pregnancy. My husband and I lost our first child, an infant, in a horrible accident this past March. We’re still raw from our grief and haven’t even discussed if or when we’d have another child. My stepchildren have had an incredibly difficult time coping with the loss of their baby brother. I worry my husband will not be ready to raise another child. I worry the same thing about myself. I worry people will think that I got pregnant to fill the void my first son left or that my being pregnant diminishes my grief. I am so overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin or how to tell. Please offer some insight.
A: If you haven’t gotten any support please consider talking to the people at Share, an organization for people who have lost young children. There will be people who have been through what you are experiencing and can talk to you about all you are feeling. (And Share would be a good place for the family in yesterday’s letter to turn.) I understand your loss is still incredibly raw, and that it will always, always hurt. But thank you for letting me be the first person to be happy for you. Yes, your pregnancy is unexpected, yes, you do not feel ready, but I hope as you work through your complicated emotions you will come to feel joy about this. In the past few years I have known people who have lost infants and who quickly went on to have another child. Everyone in their circles felt great happiness for them. Please tell your husband right away—you don’t want to carry this secret alone. And then find some others who have walked this path who can tell you about the boulders, and the sunshine, ahead.
Q. Not Looking Forward to Thanksgiving With In-Laws: With Thanksgiving only a few days away, I’m hoping you can offer some advice on how to deal with my in-laws over the holidays: We will be going to my husband’s grandparents’ house to spend Thanksgiving with his parents, grandparents, and extended family. After every meal, the family engages in card games. I’m terrible at cards, but normally I oblige. I wouldn’t have an issue playing even though I’m terrible, but one of my husband’s uncles is very competitive and will complain if we are on a team together and will ask throughout the game, “Why did you do that?!” I hate it. It frustrates and flusters me and only makes my playing worse. I dread going to any family function for this very reason. I would prefer not to play, but would rather just watch—however, this doesn’t seem like an option, because there will be an odd number of players. How to I either get out of it completely or learn to shrug off my husband’s uncle’s complaints?
A: If you were going to your own family’s for Thanksgiving this year your husband’s family would figure out some way around this odd number handicap. I assume in the rest of your life you don’t let yourself be bullied by someone with whom you have a tangential relationship. So stop letting your husband’s uncle make it impossible for you to enjoy your post-turkey, tryptophan high. When the games begin, either go for a walk, go to another room and read, or sit in an arm chair and say you’re content to be an observer.
Q. Baby Name Tragedy: My husband and I are expecting our first child, a girl, around Christmas. We thought nothing could sadden us during this happy time, but were shocked last week to hear that my husband’s mother was taken from us in an auto accident. In his grief, my husband asked that we name our daughter after his late mother. The problem is that my mother in law’s name was Olga, and I just can’t fathom giving my child such a horrid name. I had been thinking something along the lines of Virginia or Lou Ann. I told my husband I would think about it, but he’s pressing the issue, and I need to tell him something. Am I being selfish for not wanting to name my child Olga, even under these circumstances?
A: So much loss in this week’s chat. I think Olga is a lovely name, and if you used it your little girl would surely be the only one in the class. Your husband, and you, have had a shocking loss, so please tread lightly on the “Olga is a horrid name” line. You have a number of options. One, Olga becomes your child’s middle name, or you have an Olga Virginia, and she’s universally known by her middle name. In Jewish tradition children are named after deceased relatives, but that often mean that late Grandpa Saul is honored with a grandson named Steven. So you could possibly convince your husband that Olga can be morphed into Olivia or some such. There are many ways to include a remembrance of the grandmother tragically she will never know into your daughter’s name without making you cringe.
Q. Re: Bullied Daughter: Although I was bullied in junior high also, something I didn’t realize until I was much, much older is that standing up to a bully is an important thing to learn. My son was bullied during first and second grades by an alpha boy. We worked with him and with his teachers once we realized what was going on. He doesn’t let people push him around now, and we’ve praised him for standing up to his bullies, and when necessary, going against the mob. It has helped him become more confident. My son’s bully was completely deflated when, after demanding to know why my son didn’t invite the bully to his birthday party, my son said it was because he was mean and a bully. Things had improved before that, but this really took the wind out of his sails. The tables were turned on their relationship after that. I wish I had known that in eighth grade.
A: Thank you for this. Yes, these situations can be turned around, but it’s too much pressure to expect the kids to work this out themselves. As another reader pointed out if the other girls are following Elizabeth’s lead because they’re afraid she’ll be mad at them, she’s bullying them, too! Elizabeth likely has some issues of her own that need to be dealt with.
Q. Don’t I Know You?: My freshman roommate Tina never spoke to me. For the first two months we lived together, I would greet her in the morning or try to engage her in conversation. She never responded to me, but when she brought friends back to our room, she would chat up a storm with them. Eventually I gave up trying to engage her in conversation and decided to use her as a cocktail party anecdote for the foreseeable future. Tina and I still attend the same college, and this summer she began dating my boyfriend’s best friend. Now she talks to me, but she pretends like we never met before. Once I attempted talking about our freshman year experience, and she told me she never met me before. I hate gossiping and talking about people behind their back, and telling Tina’s boyfriend about her weirdness seems catty to me. Does her weird behavior warrant a talk with him, since she obviously won’t respond to me?
A: This is more than a cocktail party anecdote, this is the opening for a television series! I admire your fortitude in sticking out an entire year with Tina the silent. I hope you’ve told your boyfriend about this. It would be great if he went to his best friend and said, “Look, Melonie had the weirdest experience freshman year when she was Tina’s roommate. If you know anything about why Tina refused to talk to Melonie it would be a relief for her to know.” However, I suggest this with the knowledge that men often refuse to engage in such helpful conversations. If your boyfriend won’t raise this on your behalf, I don’t think you should tell Tina’s boyfriend. It is such a bizarre story, and Tina is such a bizarre person, that it sounds as if she would deny the whole thing. This will leave you looking as if you’re making groundless accusations. But do let all of us know if you ever get to the bottom of this.
Q. Re: Grandma’s DNA Test Update: Hi Prudence, I wrote in to you a few weeks ago about how my paternal grandma was convinced my mom had cheated, and I wasn’t my late dad’s son. I went and had the test. No surprise—I’m his son. Grandma reiterated the age difference as a reason she suspected my mom’s fidelity. I get the sense she also thought my dad should have married the woman he dated before my mom, who was apparently wealthy and educated. After we got the test results, she actually had the nerve to say, “It doesn’t prove she was faithful to your dad.” I told her to never contact us again. I’m a lot happier that my mom’s name is cleared with the rest of my dad’s family (I do intend to get to know some of them), but my mom has spent the last 13 years raising me alone. I’m not going to invite someone into my life who will treat her like garbage. Thanks to you and all your readers, Prudence.
A: What a pathetic excuse for a grandmother—but I’m sure I made that observation last time you wrote. I hope that you aren’t being cut out of some substantial inheritance because of her cruelty. But removing her from your life sounds like a good idea. I also hope that she’s an anomaly among your father’s relatives and that you find love and welcome from the rest of them.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. I hope everyone feels they have something to be thankful for this Thursday.
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.