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. Hot and Bothered Volunteer: I met a celebrity through my volunteer work, and we have flirted ever since we met. I’m young, unattached, and enjoy the occasional one night stand. This man has made it clear he wants to wine and dine me and then take me back to his place, and I’d take him up on the offer—I’m wildly attracted to his intensity and his passion for this cause—except for his tumultuous past. You can’t believe everything you read, but he has a pretty dodgy reputation, and his outbursts have sent him to jail before. He has always been kind to me and the people around me, but it’s also difficult to ignore how poorly he’s treated women in the past. Would I be a bad person if I threw caution to the wind and had a brief fling with this person? I’m not interested in his money, his fame, or having a future with him.
A: Don’t leave us hanging! Who is it? Charlie Sheen? Mel Gibson? Mike Tyson? You hardly will be the first woman who wanted to throw caution, and her panties, to the wind in order to bed a sexy, bad-boy celebrity. But since you are hesitating, try to project yourself 10 years in the future and weigh whether you would see this fling as a fun memory, or a secret shame. If the former, go get wined and dined, and when it’s time to cap off the evening, make sure your celebrity uses a condom.
Q. Did He Really Threaten Me?: My husband and I have been together for seven years, married for three. We are very happy together with no problems in our relationship. We get along great with each other’s families and we have a wonderful circle of friends. We meet one couple, Jack and Jill, every Friday evening for dinner and drinks. They are a lot of fun and our best friends. A little over a week ago, Jack came to our house to tell us that Jill had left him for another guy. They have a 2-year-old daughter and always seemed to have a great relationship. Jack was devastated and my husband stayed up talking to him until very late. When he finally came to bed, I asked him if Jack was going to be okay and he didn’t say anything for a minute, then he said that if I ever cheat on him or leave him for another man, he will kill me. I was shocked. My husband has never been the jealous or possessive type. He’s never been controlling or aggressive or abusive. I knew he was very upset for Jack so I didn’t say anything at the time but it really bothered me. I brought it up to him a few days later and told him how hurt and scared I was when he said that. I thought he would apologize but he didn’t. He just said for me to not “make” him do it, then. I started crying and he said that he was only joking but he sure didn’t look or sound like he was joking when he said it. We have even been talking about starting our family this year, but now I am full of doubts. Should I let this go as a bad joke, or should I take this threat seriously and insist on counseling?
A: It would have been a hideous thing for your husband to say even after being upset by seeing his friend Jack falling apart. But to repeat it a few days later is really disturbing. It is important that you’ve been together for a long time and he’s not the jealous or possessive type. But I agree death threats are haunting things. I think you should tell him you just can’t get what he said out of your mind, he knows it wasn’t a joke, and you’d like to hash this out with a neutral party on a short-term basis because it’s left you shaken.
Q. Boyfriend’s Grieving in-Laws: I am dating a widower who is still very close to his late wife’s parents and her brother’s family. I respect his relationship with them and would love to get to know them, too. My boyfriend and I have been dating for more than a year and are in love, so it’s not too pushy that I want to know them. They have no interest in knowing me, though. They have told my boyfriend multiple times that I am not welcome at the gatherings to which they invite him—birthdays, parties, memorials. When my boyfriend had his birthday and invited his in-laws, his late wife’s mom burst into tears when she saw me and said she would leave unless I left. My boyfriend is bewildered by their behavior and apologizes profusely when they have a reaction to me. I know how difficult it would be for him to not have a relationship with his in-laws. But their behavior really hurts me. Am I unreasonable for asking them to at least be pleasant to me? Their daughter passed five years ago.
A: This is an interesting variation of the letter I usually get about women dating widowers. I most often hear that the new girlfriend wants to banish the memory of the late wife and doesn’t like that the widower is still close to his late wife’s family. But you, generously, are glad he has kept this connection and would like to get to know these people. Their behavior is indefensible. The death of child is not something you get over, you just get on. But only the most stuck or cold-hearted don’t want the widower or widow to find new love. You leave out the most important piece of information—does your boyfriend have children? If so, then he is going to want his children to have a close, continuing relationship to their grandparents. But even if there are children, the in-laws’ are being horrible. Your boyfriend’s wife died five years ago. You have been seeing him for a year. It’s way past time everyone accepted these facts, and if the in-laws want to have a relationship with their former son-in-law, then they need to wrap their minds around the new reality. You need to have a talk with your boyfriend in which you explain there doesn’t seem to be any way forward for you with his late wife’s family, and you hope he can talk to them about this. You need to tell your boyfriend you can’t subject yourself to such treatment, that you understand he wants to continue to see these people, but you can’t see them with him. They need to see the light, or your boyfriend needs to tell them their interaction is going to dwindle.
Q. Re: Volunteer: My great-aunt had an affair with Tyrone Power when she was a sweet young thing. Do it! It will become a cool family legend.
A: I bet that made you see auntie in a different light! Still, I think our letter writer should let us know who her bad boy is.
Q. Annoying, Competitive Parents: My daughter does dance (cultural) and loves it. The problem is that the nature of the dance is so competitive that I find there is friction between me and other parents. My daughter is not the best dancer in the school, but loves to dance. However, the parents of some of the other children go to the competitions and act like their kid if winning the Super Bowl every time they get a medal. My daughter is starting to feel quite sad about not being in the group that always wins and I am not sure how to help her handle it. The parents are obnoxious with their competitive nature and need to win at any cost. One of them actually said rather loudly “go so and so, I hope you get a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd.” My daughter heard this and was upset that the parent didn’t also encourage her. I encourage all the children, but find that some of the parents do not do so to my child. Any suggestions?
A: You need to talk to the people who run this activity. There should be clear rules for parental behavior and it sounds as if this bunch is violating them. You also need to tell your daughter you understand how these parents are making her feel bad, but they are in the wrong. Dance should be about love of creating something beautiful—which is what she is doing! —not a bunch of medals. Tell her you’re proud of her for doing her best and loving what she does, and tell her you feel sorry for the parents who are ruining this activity for everyone. And if the whole organization’s perspective is distorted, find another dance group that’s about the skill and the joy.
Q. Son’s Horrible Widow: My son died of cancer three years ago when his daughter was 4 and his son was 2. Shortly before his death he discovered his wife was cheating on him. She refused to end the affair because her partner gave her the emotional support she needed to care for my dying son; as a result, my son was miserable for the last few months of his life, and his marriage was in limbo when he died. A year after his death, my son’s widow introduced her affair partner to her family, her friends, and eventually my grandchildren as her “new” boyfriend. It is very painful to watch the man who cuckolded my son assume his position in my son’s family, but I remain civil to my daughter-in-law because otherwise I won’t see my grandchildren. My son’s widow now plans to marry her affair partner, and she and her new husband want my son’s children to take the other man’s last name and to adopt him. I am struggling very hard to accept my son’s widow’s attempts to make my grandchildren her affair partner’s. What can and should I do?
A: And here is another way people in pain can cause more. I’m sorry for you loss and the agony you have been put through. But you have a very clear-eyed understanding of what’s important: Your relationship with your grandchildren. Unfortunately, your former daughter-in-law has essentially all the power here, and you’ve been exactly right to tread carefully and have thing be cordial. Keep doing it. With this new marriage it will be more important than ever for you to keep a connection to your grandchildren. Especially as they get older, they will want to know about their biological father. You will be the person they can turn to for photos of him as a young man, for conversations about how much he adored them. I hope you have some dear friends who are good listeners, or even a therapist, so that you can unload about this difficult situation.
Q. Want Another Kid, but Maybe not the Marriage: My husband and I have been together for about 12 years, married for about 8, and have a wonderful 2 year old daughter. We are currently trying for baby No. 2 despite some on-going marital issues. These issues, which include my decreased attraction to him, having little in common, and me feeling basically unloved, are getting worse, not better, but I still plan to continue to try to conceive and here’s why: He’s a good father and if I’m going to have another child, I want it to be with him. Is this just completely wrong? I am still hopeful that we might be able to save our marriage, but even if I knew that that wasn’t going to happen, I’d still go ahead and have another child with him. Am I being selfish? Short-sighted?
A: So the issue is that you see your husband as a sperm donor who will be involved in your child’s life, not as a life partner. Yes, I consider that a serious issue, but thank you for enlightening me about how it is that people push ahead with having children with spouses they don’t like. I think you are being extremely blithe about the effects of divorce on children. While I understand your desire have another child, I do not understand your shrugging off bringing more children into an unhappy home. I think you should put off the baby-making and work on the marriage.
Q. Dinner Parties, Recalled Food, Food Poisoning: I recently attended a dinner party at the house of two friends from college who are in a long-term relationship. Fondue was on the menu but the chocolate did not melt properly and the peanut butter never made it in. Later, though, I discovered that the peanut butter had been recalled because it was suspected of containing salmonella and was grateful that the recipe was unsuccessful. I informed the couple of this terrible news, but to my shock and surprise, they continue to eat this peanut butter, reasoning that if it was going to kill them, it would have done so already! Should I turn down my next invitation to dinner?
A: Instead of bringing wine, bring a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and munch on those at dessert time. I agree it’s odd to turn yourself into a test case for FDA investigators, but their experiment seems to have turned out fine. They ate the peanut butter and survived. I don’t think this means at their next event they will serve undercooked chicken or contaminated berries. But it sounds as if the next invitation should be from you to them—so you can break bread without worrying about ending up in the emergency room.
Q. Former Secret Admirer: I developed my first real crush (the listen-to-sad-love-songs-at-night variety) when I was in middle school on an artsy and down-to-earth dreamboat a year ahead of me. Over the next couple years, I wrote him anonymous letters—maybe half a dozen total?—the content of which included “I like you”-language and were sort of chatty. Typical middle school note kind of stuff. I don’t remember them being especially over-the-top romantic in any way. And, I actually mailed him these letters. (Quaint, huh?) As the years went by, we had mutual friends but my crush faded as others blossomed. I harbor no feelings now (20 years later)—but my question is, should I ever tell him it was me? Not in a dedicated email or anything but if I run into him one day? We’re from a small town so it’s not inconceivable I’ll see him sometime when everyone is in the area at holiday time. Have any chatters ever been the recipient of this kind of thing? Are you dying to know or do you like the mystery? FWIW, I’m not dying to tell. Just wondering your thoughts.
A: Let the mystery stand. Maybe hearing it was you will send his heart soaring. Maybe it will send it thudding because he’d long ago decided that Laura, the girl he could never work up the nerve to talk to, was actually in love with him. I think this one is better left unsolved.
Q. Flirting: My fiancé is a very flirtatious guy. He definitely straddles the line of appropriateness, but I know he would never touch another woman. He’s also very honest and tells me about his flirtations. (They’re mainly via email or text, and with women happily married that he’s been friends with for years and years.) I guess my question is … should it bother me that he does this? It doesn’t. I really do trust him. (FWIW, I’ve been cheated on in the past by my ex-husband, went through therapy, etc. etc.) My friends all think it’s weird that I’m okay with him making these flirty jokes to other women. Maybe it’s because these are all women that I know and trust?
A. There’s the flirt, and there’s the jerk. I frankly can’t tell which one your fiancé is. You admit his communication—which he tells you about—straddles the line. He seems to enjoy involving you in this part of his life. Yet you trust him completely and say you aren’t bothered by it. But surely you’ve been bothered enough to tell your friends or else they’d never know about this so-called totally harmless activity. Maybe they’re sighing because they’re fearing a rerun of marriage number one and they won’t be able to restrain themselves from saying, “I told you so.” It sounds as if at the least you need to talk to your fiancé and get a better understanding of what he gets out of sending questionable emails to married friends.
Q. Re: Reply From Hot And Bothered Volunteer: I think I’ll go for it! And he’s not any of the men you’ve mentioned—I promise I have (slightly) better taste than Charlie Sheen or Mel Gibson.
A: Give us a report! And someone else suggested a complete STD status report is a good idea, which it is. (Does he have a history of injecting drugs?) Of course, asking for one might kill this one-nighter before it begins.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.
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