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. I look forward to your questions.
Q. IVF Fundraising Party: I have a friend who is 26 and has been married for 23 months. She and her husband started trying to get pregnant right after they bought their house 20 months ago and did get pregnant but had an ectopic pregnancy and she lost the baby eight months ago. Now she has decided to take the step to do IVF because the stress of not getting pregnant is too much for her to stand. My issue is that she does not have the funds to pursue IVF, so she has fundraising parties. She sells home party items and all of the proceeds are going to her treatments. The first one she hosted herself and I went out of obligation. When you checked out and paid she gave you an item total then asked how much extra you would like to put directly toward her baby fund saying the standard was 20 percent of your item total. She then asked each person who would host a party for her fundraising efforts. When I informed her that I would not be hosting a party for her she got very upset and said I was not a good friend because I would not host and I only gave the minimum 20 percent additional to help her have a baby. Am I being selfish or is an IVF fundraising party as outrageous as it seems to me to be?
A: I wonder if at 26 she’s explored all her medical alternatives for getting pregnant. But of course here we are speculating on your friend’s medical decisions because she’s made this profoundly personal question a matter of public obligation. I love her notion that the “standard” IVF tip for an item you didn’t want in the first place is 20 percent. The woman’s got chutzpah, I’ll give her that. What she doesn’t have, however, is the standing to insist that all her friends fund her fertility treatments. Wish her the best but continue to demur about hosting the Petri dish party. At the rate she’s going, she should soon find herself fuming over all her selfish, former friends.
Dear Prudence: Desperate Single
Q. Not So Much a Cat Lover: I did not grow up with pets, am not a pet person, and am not used to all that comes with being a pet owner. Moving in with my boyfriend and his 6-year-old cat has been a slight adjustment. But I feel that I have been a good sport this past year of living together. I pet and play with the cat, brush her, give her treats, help feed her. I just really dislike the litter box and don’t want to have the responsibility of cleaning it out. I ask my boyfriend to take care of this task. However, he gets a little huffy about my refusal to take turns cleaning out the litter box and often brings it up when we are doing household chores. I explain that I really dislike it, and this is his cat that he adopted four years before even meeting me, so it shouldn’t be that much to ask that he continue to clean the litter box on his own. But still, I can tell that it bothers him and he feels the cat responsibilities should be split more evenly between the two of us. He does maintain sole financial responsibility for her. Any advice? Am I in the wrong?
A: He may want to offload her loads on you, but sorry, litter-box scooping is the responsibility of the original owner, especially if the new girlfriend is repelled by these duties. You can laugh and say you sure understand why he must be tired of the daily treasure hunt, but while you’ve come to enjoy Fifi, this is where you’re drawing a line in the sand. Then ignore his huffing. And if his cat lives as long as my last one, he only has 15 more years of scooping ahead of him.
Q. Pedophile Co-worker: I am a team leader in a medium-sized arts organization. I recently discovered via Google that someone I work with closely, though only occasionally (several days a month), appears to have been convicted in the past several years for possessing an extensive quantity of truly disturbing child pornography. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was placed on probation. He was hired at a time when the organization needed someone to fill his role (which is a part-time substitute position) very urgently, and I am not sure due diligence was done as it would have been in a more formal hiring process. In any case, his ability to do the job, which he does well, is not related to his criminal past. He has little to no contact with minors at work. However, as the parent of three young children, I am revolted by the idea of working closely with this man, who is pleasant and chatty. Adding to the complexity, while his fairly uncommon name, age, and locale match that of the person in the Google search, I am aware that I have no evidence this is the same man. What do I do? Acting coldly toward him is not only potentially unfair, but jeopardizes my team’s ability to do our job well, and will raise questions among other team members. Treating him warmly (if he is the same person) repels me. Do I bring this up with my supervisor? HR? On what grounds? And if they are aware of his (possible) past and chose to hire him anyway, how do I manage my own behavior going forward?
A: I’m left wondering what you mean when you say he has “little to no” contact with minors at work. That indicates there is some contact, and your company needs to know if the terms of his probation, if he is still on it, covers being around minors. I also don’t know if your organization’s policies would prevent having someone on the payroll who was convicted of a felony. It’s also true that you haven’t been able to confirm your suspicions. All this is sufficient grounds to go to your supervisor and say you stumbled upon this information, it is not substantiated, but you felt the organization should at the least know what you discovered. If they were aware of his past, or if they look into it and conclude his occasional work should continue (taking into account this issue of minors in the workplace), you put aside your personal feelings and act professionally. It should help if you can accept that he was caught and the criminal justice system rendered its judgment.
Q. Bad Time for a Baby: My husband and I have known each other more than four years, and have been married for almost one year. We are going through a rough patch, and have sought the help of a marriage counselor in addition to his personal therapist for anger management issues. While the frequency of our fights has diminished, I don’t think we’re yet at a comfortable place in the marriage to think about having any children (I brought my 5-year-old daughter into the marriage, so I’m honestly in no hurry right now). My husband, on the other hand, is desperate for children in the immediate future, and thinks that our relationship issues have no impact, because he grew up in a household where fighting was the norm, and thinks that it wouldn’t impact our children at all. How do I get through to him that children won’t make anything better, and could in fact make things worse?
A: If your husband, who has back-to-back therapists, has concluded that since his parents were at each other’s throats, and so are you two, and all that is hunky dory for childrearing, he needs a lot more therapy or maybe a new set of therapists. I know people can change and grow, but from what you’re describing I can’t understand why you married him. There’s nothing you’ve written that give me any hope he has the slightest understanding of what it takes to raise a child in a healthy home—which has me concerned about his effect on your little girl. If you have a marriage counselor, yet you feel you have to write to me for advice on saying, “You’re too emotionally out of control for me to consider having a child with you,” then you need to take a hard look at your situation. It would also be a good idea to double up on the birth control.
Q. Racist Child: I am disabled. A paid helper comes every Monday to put out trash and recycling and do other small tasks. Last Monday she brought her 9-year-old daughter. While watching the inaugural festivities, the child said she does not like President Obama “because he doesn’t believe in God.” When I pointed out that he often invokes God and he and his family regularly attend church, she said, “He doesn’t mean it”—she read that on the Internet. She also said he “doesn’t look like a Christian” and Michelle Obama is “ugly.” Her mother was listening and didn’t say anything. Because this was a child, I simply said that you can’t tell what a person is thinking by his or her appearance; Christians come in all shapes, sizes, and colors; and you can find support for anything on the Internet. My helper is coming again this afternoon and I feel that I have to say something, if only “I was concerned to hear X say that Obama doesn’t look like a Christian.” How would you handle this situation?
A: I wish people who had particular political beliefs, or even racist attitudes, would stop invoking religion as the reason or even justification. That said, I think you should say nothing. Your helper comes to do some discrete tasks for you one day a week. As repugnant as you may find her views and that she’s inculcating her child with them, it’s just not your business. Bring it up and you likely will have a lot of tension in your home on Mondays, or you will have to be looking for a new helper—one whose views may turn out to be just as unpleasant. You responded in a mature, instructive way with this child. Let’s hope something you said will bubble around in this girl’s brain in the years to come. But right now, just turn the other cheek.
Q. Re: Er, “stumbled upon this information …”: How does one “stumble” across this felony conviction, first off, and if (s)he’s that damn curious, (s)he can access the relevant state’s case search info and learn for sure before spouting off. … And, btw, be prepared for it to backfire, horribly.
A: If she was Googling a co-worker’s name, which millions of people have done out of curiosity or to refresh one’s memory about someone’s previous employment, etc., the letter writer might have found an article about the case. I’m not sure that the letter writer, having seen this information is about someone whose unusual name, location, and age matches that of the employee should then herself go on to further investigate. It seems like enough information to say, “This may be nothing, it may be a different person, but I wanted to bring it to the attention of management to check out.” If children are coming into the office, I don’t see that this is going to backfire horribly on the person who in a low-key way alerts supervisors.
Q. Parents: My parents have supported me all through college and I’m very thankful for that. I am coming near to the end of my collegiate career, which means I’m starting to make plans for what happens after college. I lean strongly towards the Teach for America program, which would be great because I’m majoring in education and that program would provide me with a lot of support through my first couple of years. My dad insists that I wouldn’t be able to hack it and that I’m going to stay in my college town and live with my sister until she graduates. Worse, he continually brings up the fact that I’m gay as a reason I wouldn’t be able to handle moving to a new city and working in urban schools. How much do I owe him with regard to what I do after college? Is there a way for me to argue this? Every time I bring it up he shuts me down and brings me to tears.
A: I hope you’re planning to be financially independent from your parents. And if you make it into Teach for America, you will be earning a salary which will be a huge step toward that goal. I don’t see how you argue with someone who has such distorted views about you, your abilities, your independence, and your future. Since you’re still in college, look into resources on campus, or referrals, for organizations that support gay youth. Also check in with your college’s counseling office. You need help negotiating your separation from your parents and how to handle your father’s bullying. (And where’s your mother in all this?) Sometimes the best way to convince other people about how wrong they are is to refuse to engage in the discussion.
Q. Food Divide: Because my husband grew up in a country with very different cuisine, he likes much spicier foods than I do. Until we got married, this was never a problem. Recently we’ve made an effort to cook more at home to save money. Naturally, there has been some give and take regarding what we’ll eat. I have a real problem though, with almost anything he makes, as he spices his food at all stages of cooking, so I can’t eat any of it without burning my mouth. Not one dish. Granted, I’m glad he’s willing to help in the cooking duties, but I need blander food. But, when I tried talking to him about it, he got hurt. Until this, everything was OK, now I’m walking on eggshells around him. To be honest, I really don’t think I was mean, I just told him his spice choices were too much for me. Tell me, am I being overly critical?
A: Spicy or not spicy is not a negotiable. If you don’t like cilantro, for example, it’s not going to work for your cilantro lover to only mix a little of it into your food. He has to understand that the burn that fills him with ecstasy has you looking for a fire extinguisher. He also need to realize he can spice to his palate’s delight, he just can’t do it with your portion of the meal. That requires some adjustment on his part: Either he prepares his dishes in two pans, or he portions yours out, then seasons his. He’s got to recognize this is not a commentary on him or his culture, it’s a matter of accepting your more delicate taste buds.
Q. My Son Is … : I have pretty good evidence that my teenage son is a cross-dresser. I really don’t care, and I’ve tried to hint that I don’t, but I’m not sure how to proceed. I’d really like to ask point blank but I think he’d be defensive out of surprise and deny it. I don’t want to push him further into the closet (so to speak). Do I ignore it? Buy him a dress, makeup, and lingerie for his (upcoming) birthday? Just slip a dress in his size into his closet and see what he says? I’m really at a loss, but I think ignoring it is a bad idea.
A: I think the better approach is to make sure you son knows he can talk to you about anything and show him by word and deed that you are always on his side. Then it is up to him to tell you. Your son is a teenager, and as you’ve pointed out, such a point blank question might send him scurrying in the opposite direction. So you give him support, and space, and if this is part of his life you hope that in his own time he will tell you. You do not bring him a catalog from Forever 21 and say, “Michael, I think this purple dress with the sweetheart neckline would look smashing on you.”
Q. Re: Food divide compromise: I think your husband needs to compromise with you on the spicy food. But you could offer a compromise: If he chills out on the spices, you’ll remain open to trying stuff with more spice—gradually. I grew up in kind of a bland food household and I have been able to increase my tolerance over time and actually really enjoy spicy food. You might never want things as spicy as he did, but keeping an open and willing mind will help both of you—as long as he does, too.
A: Good advice. But it’s got to be a process of gradual acclimation, not incendiary punishment.
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