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.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon everyone. I assume we all feel like 4-year-old Abby on that viral video who’s tearfully “tired of Bronco Bama and Mitt Romney.”
Q. Granny Wants Me To Get a DNA Test: My mom was a teenager when she met my dad, who was 15 years older. I have fond memories of their marriage, but my dad died when I was 6. Shortly after my dad died, his mom accused my mom of sleeping around and claimed that I’m not my dad’s biological child. My mom was offended and, because of my grandma’s verbal assaults, broke off contact. I’m now 19. Mom neither says anything good or bad about my dad’s side of the family. I recently got in contact with my grandma again, and though she says she’s delighted, she wants a DNA test to confirm I’m her grandson. The reason? She thinks that because of the age difference between my mom and dad, my mom must have cheated on him. I’m really angry. At the same time, I really want to know my dad’s side of the family. Should I submit to a DNA test?
A: Sadly, you don’t need any lab work to know that your grandmother has failed the most basic test of human decency. There apparently is no evidence, except for the rantings of a cruel old woman, that you are not your father’s biological child. In any case, you are your father’s son, and if your grandmother wants you to spit in a cup to prove it, she deserves a figurative spitball. How painful for your mother to have found herself a young widow who was then verbally assaulted by her late husband’s mother. I understand your mother’s decision not to subject herself to this abuse, but how sad that your grandmother prompted this estrangement. It’s perfectly understandable you want to get to know this missing half of your family. But surely it consists of people besides grandma. Contact some aunts, uncles, and cousins and say you are trying to reconnect with your late father’s family. Let’s hope not all of them have been poisoned by the matriarch. As for your grandmother’s demands, you can say you simply will not demean your own mother by submitting to an unnecessary medical test.
Q. Help, My Mother Is a Republican!: Four years ago, my mother and I had such a falling out over the election that we didn’t speak for almost a month. She was so distraught that I voted for Obama that she said she “felt like a failure as a mother” because she “didn’t teach me right from wrong.” We patched it up and I vowed never to talk about politics with her again. Everything was fine until the campaign ads started rolling again, and now she insists on bringing up politics every time we get together. For the last month, she’s been increasingly nosy and intrusive about who I plan to vote for and whether I “learned anything from last time.” I’ve been telling her that I’m undecided, that I’m thinking of voting for a third-party candidate, and that I might not even go to the polls at all this year. (None of these are true.) But she won’t let it go—she keeps pressing me on who I’m going to vote for, and I know that if I refuse to tell her she’ll figure it out. How do I keep the peace in my family after Tuesday without skipping the voting booth entirely? We’re otherwise very close and get along perfectly the rest of the time, but she simply will not agree to disagree about politics and I do not want to have this argument every four years for the rest of my life. Help!
A: Apparently your mother doesn’t actually believe in our electoral system because she has designated herself your personal dictator. You need to explain to her that whoever is elected to deal with the fiscal cliff, your relationship with her is headed off a personal one because she refuses to respect your voting rights and your request to end her filibuster. You can say that apparently she has been so deafened by the cheering at the Romney rallies that she hasn’t heard your pleas for bipartisanship and a respect for differing opinions. Say that if she starts in on another of her political rants, you will invoke cloture by hanging up the phone or leaving the room, and follow through. If she wants to damage your relationship because you disagree with her politically, she is making a very poor case for her side.
Q. It Was “Only” a Little Coke: My husband and I threw a Halloween party this year. My brother-in-law and his new wife came to help pass out candy. That night I caught my brother-in-law’s wife snorting cocaine in the guest bathroom. I admit it, I freaked out at her. I caused a scene in front of the guests, many of whom were young children. I asked my brother-in-law and his wife to leave the party, and now I’m concerned about allowing my sister-in-law around my young kids. My husband agrees with me. It shows extremely poor judgment to snort coke around small kids; I think it shows bad judgment to do cocaine at all. My brother-in-law and his wife say she only uses coke recreationally, maybe once a month, to have a little extra fun. They say cocaine is OK in small doses as long as you don’t do it too much. And my brother-in-law says he would never let his wife do drugs while they were responsible for our children. Part of me doesn’t even want this recreational “coke head” around my kids. Am I being too uptight? Is cocaine really as mild a drug as my in-laws make it out to be?
A: And I thought eating too much candy corn was the worst kind of Halloween indulgence. Engaging in illegal activity on your property is a gross violation of your trust. However, once you found your sister-in-law giving herself a treat it would have been much better for you and your husband to quietly tell her and her husband to leave, rather than making a scene. If you’re wondering if you’re being uptight, I will say that cocaine is not the equivalent of eating an occasional doughnut and your sister-in-law sounds as if she has a serious problem. Your husband should talk to his brother and say you two don’t want to ban them permanently, but you need a firm commitment that neither will do drugs at your house ever again. Then keep an eye on them when they come over. And don’t ever let them baby-sit your kids.
Q. Victim of Puppy Love: I’m a 16-year-old girl who is overweight (size 8). Recently, I have met this great guy at my school, he’s smart, handsome, and really funny. He and I have talked a few times and I think he might like me. Here’s the problem, holidays are coming up and I want to ask him if he wants to do something (go to a movie) but I don’t know how! I’ve tried to ask but then I think something like—oh I’m so fat, he’ll never want to go out with me. My weight is something I have struggled with all my life, I was a size 14 a few years ago and have managed to bring it down, but I still worry about it. This guy is no supermodel either, but I still worry. I’m also worried about what would happen if he would say no. Prudie, we will be in the same class together until the end of next year! I don’t want it to be awkward, or worse have him tell others what happened. What should I do? Should I risk it, and if so what do I say?
A: Number one, you are not overweight. Celebrate the fact that you saw your eating habits were not healthy and did something about it. You’re right, weight control is not a onetime event, but I’m concerned that way too much of your self-image is tied up in a dress size. I think you should get individual counseling with someone who specializes in weight issues, or consider joining a support group for teens. Your eating habits are something you need to be aware of—all of us do—but they should not fill you with fear or self-loathing. As for the guy, it’s never easy to make the first move with someone you’re interested in. It’s especially hard when you have no experience doing it. So here’s what will happen if you ask him to a movie and he says no: You two won’t go out to a movie. There, the world didn’t end. If he rebuffs you, sure it will sting, but that’s all. Can you really imagine this boy running around school telling everyone you asked him to a movie and mocking you? If so, he’s a jerk and the only awkwardness will be his. But if you’ve found him to be a good guy, even if he doesn’t say yes, you shouldn’t be so concerned about the fallout. Just tell yourself it’s good experience to stretch yourself and do things that aren’t easy. As for asking him, practice at home a few times what you’re going to say so you’re less likely to trip on the words. Then catch him alone and ask, “Hey, if you’re around over Thanksgiving do you want to go and see the new James Bond movie one day? “
Q. Re: DNA test: PLEASE contact your other relatives! My father estranged us from his family for over 15 years. When I was your age (19) I decided to contact my aunts and uncles. They could not have made me feel more welcome as a member of the family. It opened the door to an eventual reconciliation between them and my dad, which never would have happened otherwise. Maybe if your grandma sees you interacting with everyone else in the family and hears about how much you are like your father, she’ll drop this.
A: Thanks for this. I’m glad it worked out so well for you. And chances are it will go that way for the letter writer. But he should also prepare himself psychologically for a less sanguine alternative.
Q. Old Age Second Wedding: My mother is 70 years old. My dad died two years ago. She has been very lonely ever since. My brother and I were overjoyed when she fell in love with Arthur, a man in her retirement community. Arthur proposed to her a few weeks ago, and they want to be married around Christmas. The ceremony will be simple with a lot of dancing and celebration afterward. My mom is so excited about marrying Arthur. His kids cannot stand her and oppose their dad’s marriage to my mom. They think he’s remarrying too soon. Their mom died last December, so I can appreciate their sensitivity. But they have rudely rebuffed my mom’s attempts to get to know them and have repeatedly told their father that my mom is not right for him. My mom is hurt, and Arthur is upset his children aren’t happier for him. Arthur’s kids will come to the wedding, but I worry they will sulk and spoil the celebration. Is there anything appropriate I can do to ensure my mom’s and Arthur’s wedding is respected by his kids?
A: All you can do is to be gracious and welcoming to them. If they choose to attend as a form of boycotting the celebration, then they are sad and foolish and should be left to their own sulking. It’s too bad these adults don’t realize that their father did not have endless time to mourn his loss, that he is not “replacing” their mother, and that winter love can be so warming.
Q. Re: For victim of puppy love: Over 25 years ago, I asked out a guy that I liked. Back then, girls absolutely did not ask guys out—all my friends thought I was crazy. But I did it and to my great surprise, he said yes. Years later, he told me that he wanted to ask me out but was too shy and nervous. We dated through high school and college and ended up getting married and have a wonderful son. Not to say that this will be your future with this fellow, but sometimes taking a risk can lead to good things. Good luck!
A: What a great story! I do not want to scare today’s letter writer by making her think this one movie date is going to end up dictating the rest of her life. But it also shows that just because a guy doesn’t ask doesn’t mean he’s not interested. There are plenty of boys who don’t know how to form the words, so good for the girls who are brave enough to make things happen.
Q. Atonement: I am struggling to come to terms with my promiscuous past, during which I slept with about 25 men. I am now on the straight and narrow and no longer sexually active (because I am single and not in a relationship) but I am still having trouble forgiving myself. Due to my behavior I am in a sexual-addiction recovery program, where I am supposed to make amends to the people I harmed as one of the steps. However, I am not sure who was hurt (my experiences were all as an adult with other consenting adults), other than my extremely conservative family, to whom I have apologized for not honoring the values I was raised with. The truth is that I feel I got away with behaving very badly and have not had to suffer any consequences—and I feel terrible for it.
A: It may be that you were having all that sex because you were engaging in a compulsive behavior you felt was destructive to you. It may be that you were young and single and having fun. If you want to lead a more sexually circumscribed life, then good that you realize that and can behave accordingly. However, it is none of your family’s business who you slept with. It sounds to me as if your biggest problem may be a repressive and punitive childhood. You need to come to terms with that, and the fact that you aren’t going to hell because you were intimate with two dozen consenting adults.
Q. Embarrassment About Sex: I am 20 years old. I am a virgin. It’s not because I’m saving myself for marriage or have made some religious choice. I’ve had boyfriends, but I just never felt ready in the past. It used to not bother me, but in the last year an overwhelming number of my friends have lost their virginity in a variety of different situations. I’ve started to notice more often that girls my age who seem similar to me are no longer virgins and it’s starting to make me wonder if there is something wrong with me. I am very open, I don’t mind talking about other intimate things but I get embarrassed easily about this. I went out recently with some new female friends and the conversation turned to sex and everyone’s first experience. Luckily the conversation changed before anyone got around to asking me specifically. How do I respond about my first time without lying or having to reveal the truth?
A: Just as how many people you slept with is not your family’s business, how many people you haven’t slept with is not your friends’ business. If the “first time” conversation turns to you, you can say, “I enjoy hearing these stories, but I’m not comfortable talking about my own sex life.” If you’re with close friends you feel more at ease with, you can just say that no one has come along so far who has seemed to you like the right guy. Please do not act as if waiting until it seems right is something to be embarrassed about.
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.