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. Mother’s Makeup: My mother is in her mid-60s and I think she still looks pretty great for her age. However, I’m beginning to suspect that she doesn’t know how to properly deal with her aging skin. It’s the only explanation I can think of for why she’s begun adding more and more dramatic makeup over the past several years. She applies a thick line of black eyeliner under her eyes, well below where most women apply it. She also pastes on thick foundation and uses very dark lipstick. All of this makeup does nothing for her and I think she looks quite beautiful without it. My husband has noticed how heavy her makeup is as well. I would love to buy her a makeover so that maybe an experienced makeup artist could show her how to apply a softer look that works with her skin. But she’s extremely sensitive and I can’t think of a single way to tell her she needs to dial back the makeup without hurting her feelings. Is there a delicate way I can offer to buy her a makeover? Should I not say anything at all? I would never want to upset her and maybe I should just let the issue go completely. But I trust your advice tremendously and thought I’d see what you think.
A: You could give her a DVD of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and tell her this caught your eye because the Bette Davis character reminds you of her. Your mother’s situation may be a combo of fear of aging, diminishing eyesight, and soothing but inadequate bathroom lighting. Forget the fact that she’s extremely sensitive and just speak to her as an adult. “Mom, you look great, but I’ve noticed your makeup detracts from your looks. It’s way too dark and heavy and it’s actually adding years. Let’s go together and get you a makeover, my treat.” If she has a fit or a breakdown over this, just accept your mother’s look of choice is Bride of Frankenstein.
Dear Prudence: Doubling the Pleasure
Q. Dying Friend’s Out of Control Wedding: My best friend is terminally ill and has another 6-18 months to live. She has teenage children from a previous marriage and two, 4 and 7, with her current partner. She spent the past several months raising money for her family. Many people from the community gave generously, including people who couldn’t afford to give much in the first place. Recently she announced that she wanted to marry her partner before she died—and this was going to be her dream wedding. As a maid of honor I was initially excited about helping her plan a well- deserved special day. My shock came when I realized her dream wedding is funded by money from virtually all the donations, her family (who are most certainly not well off), her and her partner’s savings account, and even money they were saving for her children’s college. It is going to be a lavish, no-expenses-spared wedding at one of the most expensive hotels in our city. I asked tentatively if she thought it was a good idea to spend all the money on her wedding, and she enthusiastically replied it was going to be a special day for her whole family to remember. A part of me thinks it’s none of my business and another part of me feels compelled to speak up. What, if anything, should I say to my friend?
A: Dying people deserve a lot of leeway. But dying people who want to bankrupt their families and leave their children destitute in pursuit of a useless fantasy need a dose of reality. Your friend understands she will not be able to raise her children. So to raid their college funds and her partner’s savings account for the chimera of the perfect wedding is grotesque. Stop hinting and speak up. Tell her you totally support her desire to get married, but you—and everyone else—are very concerned about leaving her offspring financially ruined in order to have a lavish wedding. Say that a small, meaningful ceremony will be a much more significant memory for the children. Explain if she puts all the money into this extravaganza in future years her children will look back on it bitterly. Have a private talk with her fiancé. He probably feels he has to please his dying partner, but explain to him that all of you need to put a brake on this fantasy wedding. If she won’t back down, I think you should and say you love her and want to support her, but you’re withdrawing as maid of honor because you can’t be party to something that will be so harmful to her children.
Q. Sexual Abuse: I am 15 years old and I recently confessed to my mother that my dad sexually abused me from when I was 8 years old until I was about 13. I never had the courage to tell her before and she never suspected because my father has always seemed the perfect father. She says she would expect that from a drunk, drug addict, a player, etc. but never from my father. I don’t think she fully believes me and when she told my father he claimed that I am lying. He says that our relationship is over and that he will never give me another penny. I honestly don’t care about our relationship although I do worry about the money because my mom is unemployed and I play tennis which is very costly. My problem is making my mother believe me because I would die if she chose my father over me. What do I do?
A: You need help from professionals. Please go to your guidance counselor immediately and tell her or him what you’ve told me. The counselor will be required to report this to the authorities who will investigate your father. If you were sexually abused by your father for five years, this isn’t a matter of whether your mother “chooses” him, he should be prosecuted and jailed. I hope you have some close relatives you can confide in who will support you through this ordeal.
Q. Family Kissing on the Lips: Hi Prudie, hope you feel better soon! I am expecting my first child soon. My husband’s family routinely greets/says goodbye to each with a kiss on the lips. While this is normal for them, it is a completely foreign (and gross!) idea to me as my side of the family does not do this. From the beginning, I have always turned my head to the side and offered my cheek and so far have escaped unscathed from their slobber. However, when my child is born I want to make sure that they do not kiss the baby on the lips. Obviously this behavior transmits many more germs than necessary that a newborn will have no defense to. My husband thinks it’s ridiculous to say something to his side about this but I’m getting anxious about it already. Do you think that it is appropriate to want to stop this before it starts, and if so what/how would you say something to them?
A: This is the kind of thing you can talk about with your OB or your pediatrician if you’ve already got one lined up (which you should). Get a ruling that newborns should not be kissed, especially on the lips. Their immune systems are not up to speed and they need to be protected from all these awful winter viruses. It’s also a good idea to keep your baby from getting a herpes infection. You can even ask for some written material on this you can hand out if you feel you’ll be intimidated in speaking out to your in-laws about their keeping their lips buttoned.
Q. Re: For Frightened: I agree with Dear Prudence—you need someone who has experience with your situation (because you aren’t the only one that this has happened to). I’d suggest calling the Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). They can give suggestions or just listen and let you be anonymous until you’re ready.
A: Thank you, good idea. Yes, this girl needs some wise support.
Q. Didn’t Wait: My fiancé and I met when we were 15 and have been dating for six years now. We’re planning our wedding for later this year. My parents and I have always been very close and when I first began dating had a long talk about waiting for marriage to have sex. I felt like it was the right thing for me to do and did wait. In fact, my fiancé and I waited four years before we did have sex. When we did take that step, we had a serious discussion and decided we truly did love each other and felt comfortable enough to do it. My problem is that my parents are so proud that we had decided to wait until marriage and tell me that all the time. I feel horrible for deceiving them, but am not sure if it’s worth busting their bubble, or even how much of their business it is. Should I keep this to myself or be honest?
A: I can’t imagine marrying someone without taking this kind of test drive, so good for you. You and your fiancé are both adults and your sex life is not your parents’ business. Since in your parents’ minds you’re on track to have the cherry popped later this year, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to go popping their bubble. But you also need to end this silly conversation. The next time they bring up your virginity just tell them you have become uncomfortable with the frequent references to your sexuality and you want to put this subject off limits.
Q. Parents Not Listening: I’m an adult child home for the holidays. A frequent argument I have always had with my parents is that they don’t like to wear seat belts in the car. They always say things like, “We didn’t wear them as kids, and we’re fine” and “We’re good drivers, so it’s OK” and even “I don’t have to wear one if I sit in the back.” I’ve shown them videos of both crash test dummies and people being thrown around and gravely injured in crashes without seatbelts, to no avail. The only time they do wear them is when they drive my old car, which beeps if you don’t plug in, but they each have another car they prefer. I’ve tried making agreements—when I was a teenager, I promised to wear a helmet (they didn’t hold up their end), and now I’ve promised to use proper table manners (and they still haven’t held up, and I’m 25 and think my manners are just fine). How do I make them—sane, rational, and generally very healthy people—understand that this is a dangerous and worrisome behavior?
A: You could tell them about my father. He didn’t believe in seatbelts either. Then an old lady ran a stop sign into his car and his head went into the windshield. It caused a stroke, which led to a long, sad decline. However, people who don’t want to wear seatbelts seem for whatever reason beyond the help of rational argument. What you can do is absolutely refuse to get in the car with them unless they’re buckled up. Beyond that you have to accept that some people for some reason have a self-destructive streak and in their case there doesn’t seem to be anything you can do.
Q. Re: Mom’s Makeup: Buy your mom a lighted, magnifying mirror. I’m only 50, but my ability to see what my face really looks like has really diminished—I can’t function without mine!
A: Ah, the lighted magnifying mirror. I have one and it’s a daily adventure in identifying new and alarming topography.
Q. Birth Mother Challenges: I made contact with my birth mother “Adrian” a year ago, when I was 24 and felt ready to handle the complexities of our relationship. I love my mom, the one who raised me, and while I will always be thankful to Adrian for placing me up for adoption, I was not looking for another mom. While Adrian and I quickly bonded, it wasn’t long before she revealed her bitterness about the adoption process. She has become an anti-adoption advocate, and I think it upsets her that I was not adversely impacted by my adoption growing up. I’ve read her blog, where she has interviewed many unhappy adult adoptees, and I think she feels rejected because I’m not one of those people. Adrian is also dating a married man and has dated numerous married men in the past. I feel uncomfortable spending time around her married boyfriend Jeremy. I want to cut back on my time spent around Adrian, but I’m worried about her reaction if I pull away.
A: It’s true that one’s relationship with a newly discovered biological mother is different from the others in one’s life. But as you point out, you are grateful to have been raised by your adoptive mother, who you consider your real mother. Adrian sounds like a very unhappy person who makes lots of bad choices. If it weren’t for your biological connection you surely would have little to do with her. You can be gentle, but you have to do what’s right for you and so you simply need to stop seeing her so much. Be polite, but recognize you simply can’t take on the burden of her emotional instability. One good choice she did make was placing you in a loving family. You can be grateful to her for that, but you do not owe Adrian a big place in your life.
Q. Re: for sexual abuse: The 15-year-old that wrote in echoed very close to home for me. I too, was sexually abused for several years (older brother in my case). Unfortunately in my case, my mother and immediate family members did decide I must be lying and completely broke off all relations with me. What helped in my case was enlisting a close friend and her family who provided me a safe haven whenever I needed support. I could spend as much time there as I needed, and they would listen without judgement. They didn’t have the biases of “not wanting to think they could be associated with that kind of person” that plagued both my family and what appears to be happening for this young woman. I hope her school has a staff psychologist that can help her work through the feelings of confusion and come out of this a survivor. For the young woman, stay strong. What your father did was abhorrent, and no matter what any of your “family” tells you, you are not to blame in any way. You have already taken the biggest step in speaking up, please keep with it. It will get better.
A: Thank you for this. Even though I’ve heard this story many times, I remained shocked at how families can close ranks around the perpetrator. It’s shameful.
Q. Drinking Problem?: So, I am a junior in college, and I will say, I like to party and drink on the weekends. However, I am also maintaining a B+ average. I never drive after drinking, and hold down a part-time job in addition to doing my coursework. The problem is that because of one incident, two of my friends are insisting that I have a major problem with alcohol. Particularly, they have been nagging me ever since a party back in October that I need to stop drinking. At this party I drank from a punch bowl that had a much higher alcohol content than I expected, so I got a lot drunker than I am used to, and got rather sick. They helped me home, into the bathtub, and cleaned up some of the mess. I had to throw out my clothes, as I couldn’t face trying to clean them. The thing is, I will admit it was an awful mess, and I owe them for helping me out, but that was a one-time thing. So, how do I get them to back off, before our friendship is ruined?
A: It could be that your friends are overzealous, or it could be that after hosing you off that time, and seeing you “party” too many times, they are on to something about your drinking. It probably is worth mentioning that if you are the normal age for a college junior, all of this has likely been illegal, but I will put that aside. What you do is say to your friends that you say you appreciate their concern and you did learn a serious lesson from the October debacle. But that you are quite sure your drinking is not interfering with your life—which is going very well—and their worry is misplaced. But I’m concerned that what you describe is regular binge drinking. If you’re getting drunk every weekend, even if it is not usually to the point of soiling yourself, this level of drinking can lead to a lot of unpleasant consequences. Try socializing one weekend without alcohol. If you can’t enjoy the party sober, that will tell you something.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. And stay healthy! Talk to you next week.
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