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.)
Emily Yoffe: Happy Inaugural Day! So let’s put aside the country’s problems for a while and let’s deal with more personal ones.
Q. Marriage: I have been happily married for 22 years and we have two children. Almost every day (barring sickness and/or camping trips) I have risen, showered, shaved my legs, and spent nearly an hour putting on makeup and fixing my hair. I’m tired of it, so I recently stopped doing it on Sundays. Mind you, I don’t look like a total slob, I just put on moisturizer, put my hair up in a pony tail and wear track suits or other casual clothing. I still think I look better than half the women I encounter out and about in public, but my husband is having a fit about my grooming-free Sundays. He is worried that this is the beginning of a “downward spiral” for me into a messy, slobby woman with permanent razor stubble. He points out that he still showers every day (true—and it takes him 15 minutes from start to finish) and that, while he doesn’t shave on weekends, I’ve told him that his stubble is sexy (it is) but he finds nothing sexy about my new look. I have no intention of stopping doing all of the stuff I’ve usually done the other six days a week, I’m just tired of wasting all that time on it when we historically do nothing more than a little yard work or possibly a trip to the grocery store. I think he’s being ridiculous and his nagging about it is really getting on my nerves. He says it’s not fair of me to change things in the middle of the game like this. I say it’s not fair of him to expect me to tart myself all up every. single. day. Who is right here?
A: Thanks for this reminder that it’s time for me to do my seasonal winter leg shave. Your husband is being a jerk, but I am baffled by your morning toilette. If you’re washing and styling your hair every day, then stop. Unless your head is an oil derrick, you should be able to go several days between shampoos and you need a hairstyle that only requires brushing in the morning. As for your makeup routine, you need to have a casual look that takes you 10 minutes, max. If you don’t know how to do that, go to a department store makeup counter and get a lesson. And as far as your husband is concerned, I love the notion that it’s not fair for people to “change in the middle of the game.” Buddy, change is what the game is all about. I assume you take off your makeup when you go to bed so he’s not in shock at seeing you bare-faced. I also assume that you are an autonomous person who can decide how gussied up she wants to get to rake leaves. Tell him you have noted his concern but makeup-free Sundays are not the slippery slope to bag lady, as he can see when you do your entire beauty routine every Monday. Say that if he finds your unadorned appearance so disturbing, you will accept that there will be no connubial bliss on Sunday night because of his difficulty coping with what you actually look like.
Dear Prudence: Dancing With Herself
Q. Girlfriend Jealous of My Best Female Friend: My girlfriend’s husband cheated on her throughout their entire relationship, and he tried to gaslight her and make her feel crazy whenever she confronted him. Point is, she has reason to take her time getting to know and trusting people. We have been together for almost a year, and she still feels uncomfortable that one of my best friends is a woman. I have been best friends with Grace since we were kids, and she’s like my sister. I have no romantic feelings for her. I share most of my hopes, dreams, and fears with Grace—but I don’t tell her personal information about my relationship, and we rarely discuss sex together. I think we have good boundaries. My girlfriend thinks Grace is in love with me and that it is weird that most of Grace’s close friends are guys. She says it’s suspicious when a woman doesn’t have female friends, although Grace does. I feel torn. My girlfriend is an amazing woman, but she is so insecure about Grace, even though Grave has been welcoming and kind to her.
A: I love the Freudian slip of the fingers that turned “Grace” to “Grave” because unless your girlfriend can let go of her past, your current relationship is going to end up in the grave. I often hear of people mistreated in previous relationships bringing that baggage into a current one. Yes, we can’t escape being affected by our experiences. But if someone’s going to let her psyche be permanently twisted because of a previous bad relationship, then she’s the one causing the heartache now. You have to tell your girlfriend that you’re not her husband, you and Grace are not gaslighting her, and you will not give up a longtime, important friendship over her insecurities. If this “amazing” woman can’t accept that, then move on because her lousy marriage will write the script for your future.
Q. Rhinoplasty: I am a thirtysomething married woman with one child. My husband and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary this past year. I consider myself happy with my current life status. With this being said, since the age of 13, I have wanted to get rhinoplasty. My husband strongly disagrees with my long-lived desire and says he married me even though I have a big nose. Prudie, if I were to get rhinoplasty, it would be with my own hard-earned money. As a married person, am I to back down on my own desire for a nose job because my husband doesn’t want me to get one? He says if I do this, I’ll want to keep getting plastic surgery and turn into a freak. I say, this is a tweak to my nose that will not be dramatic, but will help my self-confidence when I look in the mirror. Call me superficial. Tell me to love my insides. Tell me to accept myself as is. But this is something I’ve always wanted. Back down or proceed?
A: I like real noses and I understand your husband’s concern. And keep in mind that the tweak the plastic surgeon shows you in the software is no guarantee that that’s what your new nose will look like. However, it’s also a little silly to think that remodeling your nose will lead to your becoming the next Joan Rivers. You’re an adult and you can make this decision without your husband’s permission. But before you make a change that can’t be undone, explore new hairstyles and makeup routines that make you feel prettier. Keep in mind that you may see nothing but nose when you look in the mirror, but that is not what other people see. Then if you do go ahead, research your surgeon very carefully so that you end up with something you like better instead of something you regret.
Q. In-Laws Not Happy About Boyfriend’s Father Role After Husband’s Death: I married my late husband, Mark, in 2008. When I was six months pregnant in 2009, he was killed by a drunk driver. I had just lost my job. Mark and I knew we should have had life insurance—but we didn’t. A longtime family friend, John, gave me a place to stay and helped me out. When my daughter was a year old, we decided to start dating. We’ve now been together 2½ years, and John is the only father (and a wonderful one at that) my daughter has ever known. I always tell her about Mark. Mark’s family loves John, and we are getting married next month—but they were not happy at a recent family get-together when my daughter called John “Daddy.” My mother-in-law asked us to leave. I do my best to explain to my daughter who each man is, but she doesn’t yet fully understand. I told my MIL that I will always love Mark and my daughter will always learn about him, but she now refuses to speak to me. Am I wrong?
A: How tragic to lose your son, then drive off your granddaughter because of your grief. You have done nothing wrong; you sound exemplary. You are keeping the knowledge of your daughter’s biological father alive, while also providing her with a loving father. I wish your mother-in-law could accept the hard truth that John is her granddaughter’s father now, and that this is a good thing for her. Of course she will always mourn for her son, but surely she knows he would have wanted his little girl to be surrounded by love. You could try sending her a letter saying you understand how painful it is for her to see another man step into the role of father. But that John is a wonderful man who will always want your daughter to know about Mark. You can say that you want your girl to have the love of her grandmother, and you hope she can find it in her heart to embrace all of you.
Q. Ex/Boyfriend Troubles: I have been seeing a man for over a year now. We have had a very up and down relationship and have broken up more times than I can count. He is the type that gets under my skin and I have a hard time letting go. So does he. Whenever I tell him to not text me, call me, he always finds a way to get in contact and the cycle starts all over. He has lied and cheated but he can charm the skin off a snake and tries to keep me close. How do I get over the withdrawal of him and keep strong with no contact? His wife committed suicide and he has kids so I dont want to file a no-contact order. He has been through a lot already. I just want some peace and want to be able to move on.
A: It’s not his charm that’s stripping your skin, that’s you shedding it yourself. Your excuses boil down to: I’m digging this sick drama. So stop. Tell him it’s over, you wish him the best, but you two need to have no contact—convey this in writing so you have a record. Then don’t respond when the cycle starts. If he keeps escalating, send a final email saying that if he doesn’t cease immediately, you will be forced to take action with the authorities. Stop making excuses for your snake charmer and slither away.
Q. Re: Grace: I don’t know, I think the girlfriend has issues with Grace because the poster sounds like he’s in love with her. “I share most of my hopes, dreams, and fears with Grace”? He has to maintain “good boundaries”? He can’t stop gushing about how great Grace is and how special she is, but the girlfriend gets the boilerplate “amazing.” (I’m not judging, just throwing out the idea that the girlfriend may have grounds for giving the poster the side-eye with respect to Grace.)
A: He says Grace has been a lifelong friend and there has never been any romance between them, but he is describing why this relationship is so important to him. You could turn this whole thing around and say how great it is that a man can have this kind of relationship with a woman—fortunately it’s becoming more common. Either you believe the letter writer or you don’t. If the girlfriend doesn’t believe him, then she should depart instead of trying to destroy the friendship.
Q. Relationship: I have been going with a man for two years. We seem to get along sharing cultural backgrounds and interest in the arts, politics, etc. Our intimate life is absolutely wonderful. But there is absolutely no talk of the future or of moving in or moving forwards in our relationship. I love him and the only times we have not seen eye to eye is when I bring up my dissatisfaction with his no-commitment attitude toward me/us. Yes I am always ready and willing when he calls or makes any plans but I have been feeling unhappy in this situation because I feel he doesn’t want to get married or move in together.
A: Stop being a doormat. You’ve been together for two years and he refuses to even discuss moving the relationship forward, so you have a lot of information about how he sees the two of you. Since you want more out of life, tell him so. Say that you understand commitment may make him nervous, but lack of it does the same for you, so you two have a dilemma you need to work out. Then stop being so available and start pursuing your own interests. And do not consider moving in with him unless you two have an entirely different understanding of where this relationship is headed.
Q. Religion: I was raised as a Christian, but have always struggled with my faith, partly because there are certain aspects to Christianity which I do not agree with, and partly because I feel like the way I have understood the rules and expectations placed on me have contributed to my current problems with depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. I have been thinking about this for a long time and have decided to put aside my faith, something which has made me feel more comfortable in myself already. However, my whole family are Christians, and while some of them would probably be accepting of my decision, I suspect most of them would be deeply upset by it and would regard it as their responsibility to “convert” me back again. I have no desire to make this into a big deal or to challenge them about their own faith, but equally I no longer feel comfortable attending church or praying with the family, and it feels very dishonest when they speak to me about their faith and assume I have the same thoughts and feelings. Should I keep quiet in order to keep the peace, or speak up and face the fallout?
A: This is a private matter and you are perfectly entitled to keep it that way. I’m not sure how old you are or how entwined with your family you are, but if you’re an adult, this really is your own decision. Yes, you may get family pressure. So you have to have to be able to say, “I appreciate your concern, but I’m dealing privately with matters of faith and I’d like to keep it that way.” It may make your life easier to join your family at church for say Easter and Christmas, which won’t mean you’re being a hypocrite, it will mean you’re making an effort for people you love.
Q. Re: Big Nose: I think that Glee’s Lea Michele is a beautiful woman, and she has a large nose. In an episode of Glee, Rachel (her character) considered a nose job but in the end decided against it. All of her friends told her that her nose was part of her and they loved her with it.
A: I agree she is beautiful and would not be more so with an “off the rack” nose.
Q. Re: Beauty routine: Ah, someone with straighter hair who notes that we should simply be able to comb our hair on “off” days. … It’s not that simple for other hair types, just so you know.
A: Billions of dollars worth of flat irons are sold just so people can end up with straight hair. I maintain that anyone should be have a basic haircut that enables them to do something easy with their hair so that it looks decent without having to do a major style job on it every single day.
Q. Neighbor Lets Dog Poop in Hall: I live in an apartment building. A neighbor (not sure who) owns a dog and has twice now let it poop on the rugs in the hallway—and then refused to clean it up. I’ve spoken to the landlord, and he’s as disgusted as I am, and he wants me to figure out who it is and report back to him. I’m wondering what I might say to this person when I figure out who it is. What’s the best way to handle this? I’ve so far left two notes urging the person to be both a more responsible pet owner AND a more courteous neighbor, and informing them that no one else will be cleaning up after their pooch, but the poo has been on the rug for three days now and the offender has certainly walked by the pile and the sign a few times by now without doing anything about it. Help!
A: Your landlord needs to address this with more than an expression of disgust. Surely there is a maintanence crew who works in the building—so the landlord has to deploy the cleaning crew to get the poop off the floor. And frankly, I’d do it myself rather than walk by a hardening pile for three days. Unless your apartment doubles as a kennel, how hard could it be for management to contact everyone on your floor who has a dog and explain this kind of behavior will get them removed from the building? Organize your fellow tenants and keep the pressure on management.
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