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. Everyone Hates My Engagement Ring!: I recently got engaged to my boyfriend of two years. He is from a northern European country where engagement rings are usually simple gold bands, worn by both the man and the woman. The big diamonds that American women expect are very rare, and considered rather vulgar by most. My engagement ring is a cultural compromise: A gold band set with a very small (1/6 of a carat) diamond. I love my ring, but back home in the U.S., many people seem personally offended by it. My mother is urging me to have my ring “upgraded” because a respectable American middle-class woman needs a bigger diamond. Other people have made comments along the lines of “That looks like a promise ring that a high schooler would give to his girlfriend” and “You should have held out for something nicer.” To many American women, the size of the diamond engagement ring seems to be a symbol of their success and worth as women, and the message that I have failed at this goal comes across loud and clear. It stings a bit when they wave their giant rings in my face while making their little comments. What can I do to get them to stop?
A: I have written previously about my dislike of the engagement ring industry. This is not to say that if your fiancé can afford a nice ring (and I mean write a check for the whole thing without a sweat) and you like jewelry, go for it. I mean the notion that it’s not an engagement unless a rock is proffered, and the value of the relationship is tied up in the size of that rock. As far as your mother is concerned, in the nicest possible way tell her to butt out and go blow. I am fond of the non sequitur in the case of the type of rude comments you’re getting from others: “Oh, thanks, I really like my ring, too.” And as far as people flapping their diamonds in your face close enough to take your eye out, duck your head and say, “My, that’s a lovely big ring.”
Dear Prudence: Dancing With Herself
Q. No Food for Son: My ex-husband and I have been divorced for eight years. We have two sons together, the younger of whom is 10 years old. He gets frequent migraines, which are worsened by not eating or drinking enough throughout the day. A couple of years ago, my son became ill after eating pasta, and since then even the thought of pasta makes him nauseated. This past weekend, my ex took him and his brother to a family get-together for his mother-in-law’s birthday where pasta was being served. My son refused to eat the pasta, which led to his stepmother informing him that he was not permitted to have bread or even a drink the rest of the day. As a result, my son went approximately 20 hours with nothing to eat or drink, and his father referred to him as an “embarrassment to the family.” This is not the first time this has happened. What do I do?
A: See your lawyer. This is child abuse and a judge may consider changing the terms of custody. You need to protect your son(s) from these crazy people. As far as your son’s medical condition is concerned, you need a serious consult with a doctor. It could be that some cognitive behavior therapy will help him cope better. It could also be that he’s old enough to take one of the drugs that stops migraines in its tracks. But right now what has to be stopped in its tracks is the appalling treatment of your boy.
Q. In a Pickle: I don’t think my problem is unique, but the particular details may be. I recently found out that my best friend’s wife has been cheating on him, not with one, but two different guys. Here’s the tricky part: His wife happens to be my boss. If I let him know, due to certain other details, she’ll know it was me who told him. She is the owner’s favorite employee, so I’d have no chance to argue that I shouldn’t be fired for a personal issue. My friend is completely clueless that she’s cheating on him (even though she cheated on him once during his engagement). Is there any way I can tell him without getting fired? I’ve made my mind up to do so, regardless of the consequences.
A: You should stay way out of the way of this one. Your best friend married a woman who cheated on him during the engagement—you seem to be saying this wasn’t a secret, but that he knew about it. That means he was willing to sign up for life with someone with a very loose definition of fidelity. Perhaps you haven’t heard, but when you get fired from a job these days, it can be hard to find another one before the unemployment checks run out. Yes, your friend is being played for a fool, but this is not your business. If his wife is so sloppy that you know of her two lovers, surely he could be aware of this evidence if he chooses to examine his marriage. Keep your job and leave your boss’s affairs alone.
Q. Re: The value of the relationship is tied up in the size of that rock: When I got engaged, I insisted on no ring. I knew my fiancé probably couldn’t afford it anyway, and I’d rather have a down payment to a house. Well he did a 180 and bailed on me in the middle of wedding planning. My family and I lost money, and he was able to walk away with no consequences. (Interestingly enough he decided to bail when a financial commitment was required of his family.) If I had asked for an engagement ring, he would have bailed a lot faster minus the embarrassing announcement/renege and without the loss of money. I cannot tell you HOW MANY people said this is why I needed a damn ring. I felt like an idiot. As valiant as you may think it is, the ring IS a symbol of a guy’s commitment. As I learned the hard way by being naive, what a guy puts into the engagement IS a reflection of his dedication.
A: You are lucky this jerk left before the wedding. Stop fixating on the idea that you would have been saved this heartache if you got a ring. I assure you the absence of an engagement ring is not the sign of lack of committment. I say this as someone married to a great guy for 18 years, and all I’ve got to show in the jewelry department is a gold band.
Q. Last Single One Out: I know this is a bit of a trivial question. Throughout the last 10 years, I have helped throw bridal showers, engagement parties, baby showers, attended weddings, gave gifts, helped pay for bachelorette parties, etc. I am the last single one of my girlfriends. I’m getting married this summer, and I’m finding myself, well, alone. All my friends seem preoccupied with kids, moves, family drama, etc. I don’t mind that, but it appears the effort I exerted during their single, engaged, married days is not being met. Everyone else seems pretty busy right now. I’m not asking for much since the wedding is small, and it’s not even about the wedding. I’m beginning to feel taken advantage of. Should I just go ahead and drop these friends? We’re doing our wedding list now. I guess this is what I get when I get married late in life!
A: Thank goodness your friends have moved on and are deep in the guts of real life and not “My Day.” How great that you’ve found someone you want to spend your life with. I assure you 10 years from now the memory of your shower, your toasts, the font on the monogram on your cocktail napkins will all be a fuzzy memory. Since you will be entering the world your friends are now in, it would be better for you to hang on to these friendships instead of blowing them up because everyone has moved on. You recognize your pique is trivial. So get some perspective, plan a lovely day, and be happy.
Q. I Lied, and Strangers Probably Lost Their Jobs: About 15 years ago, when I was a young teenager, I told a lie that seemed harmless at the time but as an adult, I now realize that my lie could have cost total strangers their jobs. I was visiting the mall with my father and we stopped at a pretzel chain—the workers were Hispanic, and I was taking Spanish classes at the time. They were speaking to each other in Spanish (I truthfully had no idea what they were saying), and I told my father they were making lewd remarks about me in Spanish. I have no idea why I did it, but he called the company and complained about their behavior. I don’t know what happened, but I realize there’s a chance two totally innocent mall workers could have lost their jobs. I am appalled by my behavior, but I can’t come up with any way to make restitution since it happened so long ago and I have no clue who the pretzel shop workers were. Do you have any suggestions for me?
A: At least you recognize how deplorable your behavior was and you have remorse for the terrible thing you did. And you’re right, there is no way to find out what happened to those innocent people. So whatever damage you did has been done and can’t be undone. What you can do is try to make some kind of larger, societal restitution in the form of community service. So find an organization that helps immigrants and make a significant donation or do volunteer work, or both. All that’s left for you at this point is try to balance your awful act with something good.
Q. Dating a Co-Worker: What are your thoughts on this often debated topic? I work at a company that is fairly small, around 40 employees, the potential suitor is at the same level as I am and the company does not have a policy against it. There has been a lot of heavy flirting going on, and the attraction is there. We are both single. I am not wedded to my job, meaning if I had to leave I would. I dated co-workers in my early 20s and it always ended in someone being really hurt. So I am concerned; I am now mid-30s and hope I have matured. I have not been even attracted to a man for three years now, and had totally given up on dating, until I met this co-worker who seems to have revived something in me that I thought had died. I am starting to get to the point where I think love, family, and friends are a lot more important than any job, and I am really considering going for it. What do you think? How should I approach the subject with him?
A: What you don’t do is say that should your love blossom, revive your dead heart, and lead to marriage, you would be willing to leave the company to avoid awkwardness at work. You say something more along the lines of, “Hey, why don’t we go out for coffee sometime.” Then you see how he responds. I understand companies not wanting subordinate-boss relationships, but what you have in mind breaks no rules and sounds promising. I hope it works out.
Q. Re: Last Single One: It doesn’t sound like pique to me. It sounds like these friends have forgotten what she has done for them and she feels a bit sad and disappointed. And I think she has a right. Just because you’re married and have children doesn’t mean you get to ignore your friend’s milestones because you’ve been there, done that. They don’t sound much like friends to me. She never said anything to sound like a Bridezilla, never mentioned fonts anywhere. Just seemed justified in being hurt by her friends.
A: She has to take a hard look at this. She mentions her friends’ life dramas. Are they really busy furnishing their second homes, or are they dealing with a child with autism and unemployment? Maybe she needs to take her bridal party out for lunch and say she knows they’re all at a different point in their lives, but she would love their advice and counsel as she enters this exciting phase. Having a sense of lightness and perspective is more likely to get her what she wants.
Q. Hurt: My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost six months. Recently we have been taking the step of introducing each other to friends and possibly family. I’ve started including him in events with my friends and things have been going great, until this weekend. He called and told me that his brother and a friend from Texas (where he is from) would be in town so he would be busy with them all weekend and would see me later. There wasn’t anything I could really say at the time other than OK, but it really hurt to be excluded. For what it’s worth, I have talked to his brother a few times, but since he lives in upstate N.Y., never face to face. Before I bring it up, am I overreacting?
A: After almost six months in an exclusive relationship, I think it’s reasonable to have some kind of get-together when your boyfriend’s brother comes to town. So call him back and say you don’t want to intrude on their visit, but you’d love to host the group or brunch. Or suggest maybe all of you could meet for coffee because after talking to his brother on the phone, you’d enjoy meeting him in person. Then see how your boyfriend reacts and how it makes you feel.
Q. Re: Food for Son: Your son also needs to have a small bag with him at all times containing granola bars (or some nonperishable snack he likes) and a folding water bottle. I was told by my doctor that I need to eat every two-to-three hours, and having something in a pinch is invaluable.
A: Great point. Your son needs to be more in control of his triggers, and if an empty stomach and dehydration are among them, he needs to be prepared to keep himself from getting thirsty and hungry.
Q. Re: Last Single One Out: That was a put-down of an answer. She said she was finding herself “alone”—I would ask what that means, exactly. No showers, no bachelorette party at all? Or no one’s interested (or has the time to discuss) the “font on the monogram on your cocktail napkins”? There’s a difference. You seem to be implying how dare she expect her friends to be interested in her wedding festivities? They’ve moved on to Real Life!
A: There’s obviously more to this story than a conspiracy by her presumably dear friends to pay no attention whatsoever to her happy event. Has she not been close to these people in years? Is she sitting there expecting everyone to surprise her with the exciting plans they’ve put together? Maybe all her friends are a bunch of louses and she should cut her losses and not invite them to the wedding. Maybe there’s some middle path that will make her not feel so alone.
Q. Baby-Crazy SIL: I have a sister-in-law who has struggled with infertility. Her eggs are viable, she just doesn’t seem able to carry a pregnancy. I agreed to be a surrogate for her, and so went in with her to the doctor to discuss things. I was getting a weird vibe from some of the staff, also the doctor, which I finally understood when one of the staff told me that usually surrogates don’t come into the picture until a woman has had three failed IVF procedures, unless something else proved IVF would not work. And in fact, my SIL was still planning to do a third IVF—at the same time I would be implanted! I was shocked, and felt used. Granted, it seems very possible that it won’t work for her, but if it did, we would both be pregnant and she may not be able to help me out with my two young children while I was carrying this child for her, as she had promised she would. When I expressed my concern, she just laughed me off and said I was being a worry wart, and that she would love to end up with “twins.” At this point, I seriously don’t think this surrogacy is a good idea, but now I’m afraid I’ll start World War III when I back out. Any tips as to how I may soften the blow?
A: You don’t want to be a surrogate, end of story. If she wants a surrogate, she needs to start looking for one outside her family. Your sister-in-law can throw all sorts of fits, but she cannot make you carry a child for her if you don’t want to. You’ve just said you don’t want to. You’re a mother, so you must know how to say, “No,” even if the person hearing it throws a tantrum.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.
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