Dear Prudence

Tight Straits

In a live chat, Prudie offers advice on a husband who likes to cross-dress—but only for the treadmill.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on 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

Also in Slate, Emily Yoffe writes about what grown children owe their abusive parents.

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I assume you’re all honoring our presidents by going furniture shopping!

Q. Cross-Training Husband: My husband changed jobs and was very excited about one of the perks—time off for exercise. We have a treadmill and stationary bike at home, so he comes home early to work out instead of the gym. Yesterday while putting his shirts away I found a pile of women’s workout clothes neatly folded hidden in the back of his closet. I confronted him about it fearing the worst, and he confessed they were his. He put them on to show they fit and said he only wore women’s clothes while working out because it inspires him and “makes me feel like Bo Derek running on the beach in 10.” He insisted I go through his closet to make sure that he had no other outfits. Prudie, I don’t know how to handle this. On the one hand it was totally unexpected and I fear a slippery slope if I let him continue, but on the other hand, if he only does it at home and it gets him to stay fit, should I just let this slide?

A: I sincerely hope he’s not going to grow out his hair and wear those Bo Derek braids. Sure, you’ve gotten a shock, and I can understand you’re not fully convinced your husband is limiting his fantasy outfits to this singular occasion. But now that you know that he has what he claims is a very limited quirk, it’s not really up to you to “let” him continue. You two need to have some more honest communication about this. Tell him you’re shaken—surely he can appreciate this—and now that this is out of the gym bag, he really does owe it to you to talk more about the role dressing in women’s clothes has in his life. If it’s larger than inspiration for the treadmill, you should hash this out with a counselor. As for him as Bo Derek on the beach, you can say you’re sorry but that the image of him in women’s clothes is so disturbing to you that when he works out in them, it has to be at a time when he’s out of your sight. I have heard from readers in which one partner has a kink that leaves the other cold, and they’ve just agreed not to bring it into their marriage as long as the person with the fetish doesn’t cross any bright lines. And to put your discovery in perspective, consider whether you’d be more or less upset if you discovered the clothes belonged to a workout partner he’d fallen for.

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Q. Parties and Facebook: Is it even worth it anymore to ask people to not post photos on Facebook of your party with the title “At Mary’s party”? The point is I’ve asked people numerous times not to mention to others I’m having a party to avoid hurt feelings (obviously, I cannot invite all 350 Facebook “friends” but do not want to hurt any feelings!). I had one friend ask a small group of people “So, who’s going to Mary’s party tomorrow night?!” And no, that particular group wasn’t invited, although luckily they handled it well and basically told HER she was being rude (LOL, then they got invited). I’ve asked in many different ways for people not to post on their Facebook “going to Mary’s party tonight!” and other such things, but it keeps coming up again and again in various forms. I was thinking of asking the offender to simply change the heading from “all the details of Mary’s party that you weren’t invited to” to “hanging out with Mary,” since the photos only show a few people at a time, but at this point, I’m wondering if I’m fighting a losing battle and should just give up and let people go ahead and act like idiots and make other people feel bad and figure I can only do so much.

A: I will never understand people’s need to document for all the world to see the amazing fact that they got invited to a party. If people thought through the implications for a moment about posting about the good time with the gang, they’d realize they’re posting either to a) people who don’t care, or b) are going to have a pang as to why they weren’t invited. However, I think this is a hopeless cause and you’ll just drive yourself crazy trying to police this. Hope that your large circle of friends are adults and they understand everyone can’t be invited to everything, and that the majority of them, when they are invited, won’t feel the need to post about it.

Q. Sick Play Date: I have a 1-year-old daughter. On my days off, I like to try to get together with my friend, Stacey, a stay-at-home mom, and her 2-year old daughter and 1-year-old son. About a month ago, I accepted an invitation to her house and took my daughter to play with her children. My daughter had a head-cold—runny nose, occasional cough. I didn’t think it was a big deal since I would still have taken her to day care had it been a day that I was working. Unfortunately, in the next week and a half, Stacey’s whole family came down with stomach bugs, severe colds, possible flu, and all kinds of ailments from which they have all since recovered. Last night I sent Stacey an email to see if she wanted to get together today and she sent back a message asking if my daughter was “healthy, no runny noses or coughs” because she “can’t have her family getting sick.” Was I wrong to take my daughter to play with a head cold? Or is she out of line asking for a health report whenever we get together? For what it’s worth, I don’t think my daughter’s cold was responsible for all of their ailments, it’s cold and flu season after all!

A: Maybe you were absent the day “the germ theory” got presented at school. Of course there’s no way avoid all respiratory and stomach distress when you have little children. But you’re absolutely going to get get other people creamed with one if you bring over a snotty, germ-spewing child for a play date. (And I’d check with your day care provider about their rules about sending in sick children.) Stacy’s response was perfectly reasonable.

Q. Husband’s Family: I have been with my husband for 10 years and we have a 3-year-old daughter together. About two years ago, I had a falling out with my mother-in-law, words were exchanged, we argued, we discussed it and got over it. The relationship is not the same as before, but we are OK with each other, spend holidays together, etc. The problem is, my husband’s family can’t seem to get over this incident. Some of his relatives’ attitude completely changed toward me in the sense that they limit themselves to a hello and do not go beyond that. One of the sister-in-laws does not even speak to me at times even though we both have daughters of the same age and might find something in common there. I can understand their anger toward me, but I cannot stand the attitude toward my daughter. I clearly see favoritism between my daughter and her cousin. The family celebrates every little thing this child does. My daughter just learned to write her name and I think it’s such a big deal, but other than the grandparents, no one else seemed to care. Even when they greet both girls, I see a difference. I feel there is more love. How can I end this or turn it around?

A: It really is your husband’s job to talk to his family about how their coolness toward you is affecting his child. But I wouldn’t expect much from this grudge-holding group. On the other hand, you have to stop measuring the audience reaction as if your daughter and her cousin are contestants on American Idol. Yes, learning to write your name is a big deal and putting the results of this effort up on the refrigerator will be gratifying for your daughter. But expecting your in-laws to have a fireworks display for her every accomplishment is only going to make you resentful which will ultimately make your child miserable. If your husband’s family can’t treat you with minimal respect, you have to limit your time with them. But you also have to stop looking for slights on behalf of your daughter. Unless the disparity between the children’s treatment is obvious and gross, your daughter will likely feel fine when she visits your husband’s family.

Q. Potential Child Abuse: I’m a graduate student living in an apartment complex. I recently got new neighbors with two small children. These children are constantly screaming and crying at the top of their lungs. What concerns me is that these screams and cries don’t sounds like children throwing a temper tantrum; they sound like children who are being abused. I never hear the parents yelling or the sound of objects breaking so I haven’t mentioned this to anyone yet. However, I would be devastated if these children were being abused and I didn’t do anything about it. What should I do?

A: If you’re concerned you’re hearing abuse, then call the police. Some kids are temperamental and boisterous, but you say what you’re hearing doesn’t sound like that. If something is wrong in that apartment, then the family needs intervention.

Q. Nasty Boss: My boss does not wash her hands and I find it disgusting. My office is right next to the restroom. When she goes, you hear the toilet flush and the door open all at the same time. Sometimes you hear the water, but not often. There are signs in the restroom about how important washing your hands is, but I guess this has not made an impression on her. She’s sick often and every time she goes to the doctor, I think, “If you’d just wash your nasty hands you’d be OK.” What if anything can I say or do about the situation?

A: Just convince yourself she prefers hand sanitizer and forget about it. As long as she’s not seeing medical patients or in the food preparation industry, you just have to accept you can’t monitor other people’s bathroom behavior.

Q. Gun Violence Prevention: I have a friend who last year divorced his wife after she cheated on him many times. She was a friend of mine too, until all of her secrets and lies came to light. She has a completely different and slightly crazy view of the whole thing and believes the divorce is her ex’s new girlfriend’s fault, whom he started dating after separating from her. She is now ranting on Facebook about getting a gun, a concealed carry license, how to make a gun out of a nailgun that you don’t need a permit for, etc. She has also been seen sitting outside her ex’s house while his girlfriend is there, just watching. She hasn’t made any threats, so it seems there isn’t anything authorities can do. The ex is a very low-key kind of guy and is reluctant to get authorities involved because he shares custody with her and their two children. What can a person do to prevent what looks like from an outsider’s perspective, a threatening situation?

A: You need to tell your friend (the guy) that you are very concerned about his ex’s behavior. She may not have made explicit death threats, but ranting about nail guns, blaming her unhappiness on the new girlfriend, and parking in front of her house all sound alarming to me. Sure, this situation is complicated by the custody arrangements, but if his ex-wife is unstable, that is something important to know before he drops off the kids. He needs to keep all this evidence, take photos of her parked outside the house, and take them to his lawyer. If he won’t, then the girlfriend certainly should report that she is being stalked. If they won’t act, however, it doesn’t sound as if you have the standing to intervene.

Q. Re: Cross-Training Husband: If your husband is overweight he may be using the clothing for “support.” I am not sure any male would want to admit to anyone that the man boobs flapping while on the treadmill had to be fixed.

A: I would so much rather have my husband tell me that he had the need for a mansierre than that he imagined himself as Bo Derek.

Q. Bringing a Baby to Prison: My husband will soon start serving an 18-month prison sentence. I am seven months pregnant with our first child. I am scared and sad and angry that my husband won’t be here for our baby’s birth or first year of life, but I still love my husband. I don’t want to divorce him. At the same time, I am anxious and hesitant to take our baby to meet him in prison. He will be serving time with some dangerous people, and I don’t want to bring our child into that setting. My husband says he will respect whatever decision I make, but I know it will devastate him to wait over a year to meet our baby. Am I being unreasonable?

A: I wish you’d told us what he did. Assault? Insider trading? Whatever, you say you’re staying with him. Check with some support groups for family members of the incarcerated about this, and with the prison about their rules for bringing children. It seems to me that as unpleasant as the circumstances are, your child will be safe. Although your baby will thankfully be too young to remember anything about these visits down the road, it will be important for your husband to see his child and feel bonded. You don’t have to bring the baby every time, but it will help him to have the image of his growing child as an incentive for good behavior while in jail and for starting fresh when he’s released.

Q. Re: For Sick Play Date: Just wanted to say that my daughter’s day care is fine with bringing her in if she has a cold as long as there’s no fever above 100.4. As often as kids in day care get colds, she’d miss half the winter if she couldn’t go in with a runny nose or slight cough. Now if she had a stomach bug, fever, or a strange rash, she’d stay home. Same goes for seeing family and friends. Plus people are often contagious before they show any symptoms. Incidentally, when I got the flu this winter, it came from my sister-in-law, not my daughter (who’d had a flu shot—I hadn’t).

A: Sure, if no drippy noses were allowed, there would be no one in day care. But you also know if your kid is significantly flowing and coughing, it’s better to bow out of a play date.

Q. Neighbors: Our downstairs neighbors, a young couple, are having trouble with their 3-year-old son. They yell at him to stop whining. I’ve thought about buying them a copy of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, and I’m wondering if that’d be a good idea, or be seen as too intrusive. My husband and I do not have children. If people have ideas about a book that’d be a better fit, please pass them along.

A: Unless you’re the only possible person who could leave the book, I think you should drop it off by their front door when you know they’re out. A conversation about their child-rearing technique from a childless neighbor is probably not going to be productive.

Click here to read Part 2 of this week’s chat.

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