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. Family Gathering Dilemma: My father is turning 70 at the end of February and my mom has organized a party to get all of my siblings to attend. With everyone scattered across the country, this is a rare occurrence and we have decided to get a professional photographer to take some family pictures. I am the youngest in the family and the only one who is unmarried, although I am in a long-term relationship with a great guy. My dad and the family love the boyfriend and he has been included in the festivities. He’s met a few of my sibs before, they all approve and I’m really happy that he has been welcomed so fully into my family’s plans. Here’s my problem: I love my boyfriend and I plan on being with him for the long haul, but if we do break up in the future, I don’t want our family picture to include my future ex. All of my high school graduation pictures are marred by an ex that, at the time, I was clearly going to spend the rest of my life with whom I have since fallen out of touch with and they’re awkward to look at now. How do I navigate having my boyfriend attend this happy event, but not include him in the pictures? Is there a delicate way to tell him I feel it would be inappropriate? I don’t want it to seem like I’m planning to skip town, but these pictures are one of the few cases where my whole family will be together and I don’t want everyone to look back on them in a few years and go “Oh yea, whatever happened to that guy little sis was seeing?” Any advice greatly appreciated, thanks!
A: If you don’t want to end your long-term relationship with the great guy at your father’s party, when the photographer is gathering everyone for group shots, do not say, “Honey, please stay in your seat. I know we’ve been together awhile. But you may not be around for the long haul, and I don’t want your face to haunt me for years to come.” You’re hiring the photographer for the event, so there should be plenty of photos of various groupings: immediate family, siblings, everyone and their spouses, good friends, etc. That means your boyfriend will be in some photos and not others. If you two get married, it would be odd that there weren’t any photos of him at this 70th birthday, even though he was there. It may turn out that down the road some of the happy couples captured on film will be set asunder. Fortunately, no one’s going to remove them from the photographic record, Soviet-style.
Dear Prudence: Desperate Single
Q. Firing an Officiant: My fiancé and I are atheists, and we were overjoyed when our friend’s boyfriend decided to get ordained to marry us. We paid him a few hundred dollars to read our vows. But he quickly became domineering, offering endlessly unsolicited advice and trying to run the show. After he came over and insulted our vows last weekend (and insulted me, believing that I wrote them), I’ve had enough with his behavior. He’s only talked to me once since, and that was to back up his earlier comments. Since then, despite calmly telling him once again what we want, he’s ignored me. I’ve been kind to him only to preserve my friendship, but at this point it looks lost. How do I go about firing him?
A: This is a first: an officiant-zilla. Luckily you still have time so you say, “Pastor [Ha ha!] Brad, we appreciate your willingness to officiate at our wedding, but as we’ve all discovered our styles aren’t meshing, so we’re going to go another way for our officiant. We appreciate the time you’ve put into this and hope the money we’ve given you compensates you for it. We look forward to having you as a guest at the wedding.” Then you find someone who’s not a nut who can perform your nuptials.
Q. Miscarriage With My Ex: I broke up with my boyfriend three weeks ago after I found out that he had been cheating on me. We had been together about a year, but did not live together. I knew he was not right for me and we were not going to end up married, but still, the infidelity and accompanying lies really stung. In the weeks leading up to the split, I suspected I was pregnant (I was) but didn’t say anything to him because things were so difficult between us. A few days after we broke up, I miscarried. It was devastating. Even though I know he would not have been an ideal father, and I definitely didn’t set out to get pregnant, I still wanted the baby and now feel a sense of loss mixed with relief and guilt. My question is, should I tell my ex about the miscarriage? Some of my friends say he has the right to know.
A: You had a troubled relationship with a compulsive liar, so I don’t think you owe him any information about your miscarriage. In a way, telling him could be interpreted as an attempt if not to get back together, to at least see each other in a state of high emotion. I understand you’re mourning this loss, but I hope your feelings eventually shift so that you do start recognizing more of the accompanying relief that you will not be yoked to someone so unsuitable as a romantic partner and father. As you go out and look for someone new, first discuss with your gynecologist some of the safe and extremely reliable forms of birth control now available, so you don’t end up in this situation again. I hear from too many women who are raising children utterly alone, their kids abandoned emotionally and financially by jerk fathers.
Q. Ogling: My boyfriend (we are both around 50 years old) has a habit of ogling women, sometimes rather obviously and often when we are together. I find it rude and annoying, but not a huge issue in and of itself. However, I recently discovered that he sometimes takes pictures surreptitiously of women, often of their rear ends and legs. I am very bothered by this, find it creepy, and also wonder if he could get in trouble for it. I know that if I bent over at a bus stop to pick up a quarter, and some stranger took a picture, I would be really furious, and feel violated. If someone did that to my daughter, I would be murderous. He knows I am aware of the obvious staring, but I don’t think he realizes that I have actually seen him snap a picture, and I am quite sure that if I bring it up, it will not be an easy conversation. I can’t decide if I am overreacting, or if I should talk to him about it, or I should just get the hell out of Dodge. I have tried to just ignore it, but it does bother me a lot.
A: I assume you don’t want to stand by him when he’s hauled into court for taking an “up-skirt” photo. Often when I get letters such as yours they start by averring the wonderfulness of the (awful) partner. But all you’ve given me is a description of a creep. I think you should have a talk with him and it should consist of one word: “Goodbye.”
Q. Re: Family photo: I agree with your answer about getting a variety of shots with different groups of people, but—geez, she can’t look at high school graduation photos because of the guys that are in them? Why can’t she just look at them, laugh, and say, “Boy, was I young and stupid.” Something’s wrong if those reminders from long ago bug her that much.
A: I agree, they’re just pictures! You can’t get a guarantee from everyone who appears in personal photographs that they will forever remain warm presences in one’s life or sweet memories.
Q. Fearing Baby Sitters: I am a mother of three children whose ages are 1, 3, and 5. I live in Texas where I have no family besides my husband and three children. Since we have had kids, my husband and I have not gone out by ourselves without the kids. I don’t trust baby sitters. When I was younger, I was sexually abused by my older sister who used to baby-sit us. Also, since then, I have learned of many other instances of abuse where an entrusted family member or friend who baby-sat my friends and other family members were also abused by the aforementioned people. The fact is, I am almost certain that sexual abuse happens more often than is thought to be believed. My husband thinks that I am overly paranoid. I don’t have hang-ups over my past abuse. I actually think I am being a realist in this situation. How do you trust someone with your kids and risk their safety for just a “dinner date”?
A: You know from your own horrible experience that sexual abuse happens more than is reported. But it is also true that blessedly the vast majority of people get through their childhoods without anything like this happening to them. The further good news is that national statistics show that abuse is declining, probably because of changing attitudes about the seriousness of it, and better awareness and reporting. Of course you want to take smart and sensible precautions. But I disagree about your reaction to your own abuse. Understandably, your trauma is informing your behavior now. But you don’t want your past to dictate your life, the ability of you and your husband to have time together, or your children’s attitudes toward the adults in their lives. The fact that you will never leave them alone with a baby sitter or friend is sending subliminal but powerful messages that grown-ups are dangerous. Please seek some counseling to help you process what happened and find ways to comfortably move on. With your therapist you can explore steps to find baby sitters you feel safe with, and start the process of liberating yourself from having to keep your children in your sight at all times.
Q. Newly Engaged/Ex-Fiancé?: I just got engaged recently. My ex-“fiancé”—who abruptly left me some years ago—now wants “to talk.” I’m not sure about what. All of a sudden he decided he didn’t want to be married to me anymore so we broke up weeks before the big day. I moved on with someone else. As far as I know he remained single. His friends tell me he is mopey, but I’ve done my best to ignore such comments. Now, after years of silence and no explanation, he wants to talk. Do I owe him anything? I thought about just not responding. There’s literally nothing I can do for him. What do I owe my soon-to-be husband?
A: Lucky, lucky you that he left you at the virtual altar. Oh, poor widdle mopey boy! Tell your fiancé you’ve gotten this strange request from your ex that you plan to ignore—surely it’s prompted by his hearing you are engaged. I agree that not responding, and blocking his email, is the way to deal with the man you hope falls silent again.
Q. Secret Child: My husband had an affair a few years ago with a woman he worked with, and a child was the result. My husband and I stayed together, and are working through it, as difficult as it has been. However, I never told my ultraconservative dad about his tryst and resulting baby. I’m having a hard enough time coming to terms with the child myself, and I know telling my father would just complicate things, but everyone else in both families know, and it’s just a matter of time before he finds out, and I’d rather he find out from me rather than through the grapevine. The child is now coming up on 2 years in just a few months—how do I break the news to my father?
A: “Dad, a few years ago Dick had an affair and the other woman had a child. The baby is now 2 years old, I’ve decided to stay with Dick, and I’m encouraging him to be a good father. This has obviously been very painful, and I know this news will be distressing to you, but keeping this child a secret is not a good idea.” Then you accept your father’s response is really not that relevant to your life with your husband. And I hope it is true that you are doing everything possible to make sure your husband steps up to his duties as a father. If you can’t, then you need to re-evaluate your decision to stay in the marriage. It’s just not right to make an innocent child suffer because of the father’s misdeeds.
Q. Re: Fearing baby sitters: You are also giving your children the impression that it is perfectly acceptable to expect undivided attention from somebody else all the time. My ex’s mother was similar and never allowed anybody to watch her children without her present. As an adult, my ex wanted the undivided attention of others quite often, when that simply was not a reality for us. It contributed to our divorce. Please consider what this decision might do for your child’s ability to be functional adults who understand that people have more than one interest.
A: I agree this kind of hovering parenting is not good for the children. The mother needs help separating her past from her children’s present.
Q. Alcoholism: My husband and I are contemplating kids. We live near his parents because his father is ill. Perhaps due to this, his mother is a high-functioning alcoholic. While he’s driving, she will open a bottle of wine in the car. She has driven drunk at least once, when she backed into his car and blamed it on him for “parking in her way.” She drinks several drinks a day. She was not able to keep commitments to him over Christmas because she was too intoxicated to follow through. Despite all this, he still refuses to believe that she has a problem. I know it’s a little early to be thinking about this, but once we have kids, I want to make it clear to her I do not want her drinking even a sip when she is caring for my child alone. To him, all her behavior is completely normal because all her friends do it and she manages to keep her job. He thinks the “just one drink” rule is absurd and harsh. My MIL is a very wonderful and sweet lady, but I simply do not trust her to stop at “just one drink.” Is there anything I can say to my husband to keep him from enabling her? Or am I the one who’s overreacting?
A: If she’s driving drunk I think you should report her to the DMV. Yes, it likely won’t do any good, but they are supposed to look into alerts about impaired drivers. You do not have children, so there is no reason to fight this hypothetical fight with your husband. Instead you should be concentrating on opening his eyes to the fact that his mother is potentially endangering herself and others. When you do have kids, I disagree with your “no drinking on duty” command. If you think a caregiver has an active substance abuse problem, that person should never be entrusted with your child.
Q Re: Family photo. If seeing pictures of her exes is that debilitating, someone needs to introduce her to Photoshop.
A: I disagree. The ex should stay in the picture. She just needs to do some Mindshop.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Have a great week.
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