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: I was so glad this morning that I hadn’t gotten around to putting away the snow shovel.
Q. Relationships and Weight. Not Mine, His. He’s So Skinny: My boyfriend of three years is a smart, funny, caring guy and we love each other very much. The problem is that during the past year and a half he has lost an extreme amount of weight that he really didn’t need to lose. He’s super, super skinny and unhealthy looking. Friends and family are concerned he’s seriously ill. He insists he is fine and his most recent check-up didn’t reveal any physical problems. My problem? His weight loss (done without exercise, BTW) has left him a very different person: unable to exercise without being exhausted quickly, unable to engage in sex fully because anything but “girl on top” is too tiring, and so very moody. I’ve tried for the last two years for him to get help and I’m frustrated he can’t or won’t seek it. In addition, I’m a curvy girl who has always had body-image issues. He loves my body but it’s been a long road to feeling attractive. Having my boyfriend weigh less than me, wear a smaller size than me, eat less (sometimes only a meal a day), etc., is bringing back all those feelings of being “big” and unattractive. Issues I’ve worked hard to get past. Am I a horrible person that I’m considering breaking up with him because he won’t talk to a doctor seriously about this and it is having a negative impact on most every part of our lives together?
A: Something alarming is going on with your boyfriend, so please don’t make this an issue about how he’s “fat shaming” you because he’s gotten so thin. Leave your size issues out of this: Don’t compare your waist measurements, just tell him you’re profoundly concerned that he is in a health crisis. Point out that he is exhausted and moody all the time, doesn’t even have the energy for sex, and his refusal to eat more than one meal a day is having a negative impact on his health and your relationship. Ask as a favor to you if he will make a follow-up appointment with his doctor and allow you to come. If he does, you can point out to the doctor the changes over the last 18 months and its effects on your boyfriend. If he won’t let you do it, say that your relationship is on the line. Explain this is not because you don’t love him, but because something is dangerously wrong and you don’t know what to do anymore if he won’t acknowledge it or let you help.
Dear Prudence: Annoying Bromance
Q. Camming: I’m a young female who happens to have a semi-secret job. I happen to do live sex shows online for pay. I work a few different websites and my income for an average week is in the four-figure range. I have a few friends who know and a loving boyfriend who is supportive (and even joins in on occasion). My problem is that on these websites I’m usually on the first page. My family has no idea that I perform online porn but it’s bound to come out sometime. Do I tell them what I do or wait for the cat to come out of the bag?
A: I don’t think people should consider their privacy-protected Facebook maunderings to be truly private. Anything that’s online has the potential to be seen by anyone with an Internet connection. So the idea that you can perform sex online and expect to keep that pussy cat in the box is ridiculous. Though your question is whether you tell your family you are a porn star, I think your concern about this coming out should give you pause about your line of work, no matter how lucrative. Someday you’ll age out of this career, and you have to be aware what you’ve done can follow you for the rest of your life. But if you’re OK with that, then I don’t think you have to pre-emptively give everyone you love conniptions. If they find out, then calmly confirm that it’s true, say you know they may not approve, but you’ve entered into this work fully aware of its consequences.
Q. Wedding Dress Etiquette: Our daughter is getting married this summer in a lovely outdoor setting, there will be a rehearsal and mid-afternoon lunch/dinner the day before with just close family and bridal party, about 20 people. When I was married in the ’70s I sewed my own dress, an Yves Saint Laurent peasant dress pattern in a cotton/poly blend, embroidered with white violets. I loved it then and I love it now. I have never worn it again though I have thought about doing it many, many times. The only clue that it was a wedding dress is that it is white. It would fit in perfectly in a summer tea party at some old/vintage hotel setting. Before I ask the kids if they would approve, what do you think of my asking them if I could wear it to the rehearsal and dinner the day before the wedding? I don’t want to be accused of upstaging the bride; on the other hand, there is a tradition of something old/something new and many brides wearing their mother’s and grandmother’s dresses. But the MoB wearing her own old (un-)wedding dress? An outside perspective would be most appreciated.
A: Forget the Miss Havisham look. For more than 30 years you’ve never found the right occasion to reuse your frock, and I think you should stick with the decision to keep it in the closet. I’m betting it would produce fewer reactions of “How lovely” and more “I didn’t know Lindsey’s mother was so eccentric.” Keep your dress preserved and maybe someday you will have granddaughters who will delight in playing dress-up in it.
Q. Re: Attending doctors’ appointments with loved one: Often I read that you advise people to attend physician appointments with the person who has a health issue. Outside of a minor child or a medical power of attorney, is this encouraged by the doctor? Aren’t there some issues involved with letting a third party into a doctor’s appointment? Isn’t couples counseling a more appropriate avenue for group discussion, instead of a physician?
A: I’ve done it when the issue has been a serious one and I’ve never had a doctor object. A person with cancer, or myriad other distressing illnesses may not be in the best position to process the doctor’s information. That’s why it can be very helpful to have a loved one there, taking notes, asking for clarification, and conveying information to the doctor that the patient may not even be fully aware of. Of course this has to be with the full agreement of the patient and the family member has to be appropriately restrained and respectful. But something’s wrong if a young man has lost such an alarming amount of weight and can’t function and he says his doctor declares him fine.
Q. Miserable Wife: I have been married to a wonderful, brilliant, funny woman for about a year. I love her so much and can’t imagine life without her. Lately, she’s had a string of unfortunate incidents in life. She had to move away for a few months on assignment for her job. We see each other once a month. She absolutely hates the job and hates the city she’s based in, but can’t leave because it would be “unprofessional.” And the money is good. On top of all of this, a member of her immediate family has become extremely ill and has lost the will to fight. As a result, whenever we speak on the phone, my wife only complains and all we talk about is how miserable she is. I am doing my best to be understanding, but it’s really damaging our marriage. She pays no attention to me and lashes out when I try to suggest that she stay positive. I know she feels safe venting to me, but I don’t know how much longer I can stay supportive. She’s become mean-spirited and hostile. It worries me because I wonder if she will always handle unfortunate situations this way. I am a very positive, optimistic person, and her refusal to stay on the bright side is really troubling. I’d appreciate your advice on how to stay loving despite all of this.
A: You’re right that you are a safe place for her to vent. You should also recognize she doesn’t really want your advice or cheerleading, she just wants to let off steam. But a spouse’s job is not to be a black hole for their partner’s discontent. So tell her, preferably when you’re actually together, that your conversations have become increasingly painful because you are left feeling the burden of her unhappiness without having any sense that you can help. Say while you want to be there for each other, you are partners, so that means you have to respect each other’s limits. Explain you can only hear so much of her frustration before it sends you spinning downward. Suggest she find a counselor so that she can vent to her heart’s content and also get some neutral observer’s perspective on dealing with her work unhappiness and a failing loved one. Then try to make an agreement that you’ll both put a time limit on complaints over the phone and be able to shift your conversation to other topics. And if she gets nasty to you, you have to be able to tell her that you need to talk some other time when she’s feeling less hostile.
Q. Re: Attending doctor appointments: In cases of serious illness, most doctors encourage patients to bring a companion. Patients are often too unwell to take in what is being said or to remember issues they wanted to discuss. A recent WaPo story told how a man’s extremely serious illness was only diagnosed after his wife mentioned to his back surgeon that in addition to back pain, he was having episodes of extreme confusion.
A: Thanks. And that story was so chilling and a good reminder that if you think something is really wrong with a loved one to keep pushing if the treatment appears to be failing.
Q. Have a Thing for a Good Friend’s Boyfriend: I have a thing for one of my good friends’ boyfriends, and he appears to have a thing for me too. Of course I’m not going to act on it, and neither is he, but is there any way I can keep the friendship I have with him (which is fairly independent of my good friend)? Although it’s certainly frustrating not being able to act on our desires, I’d be very sad to lose him as a friend. But is it betraying my friend to hang out with her boyfriend? I’ve certainly read things by you and others that say I should cut him out of my life, but I really don’t want to do that. But this crush is also not going away.
A: I assume you all through your early life you had various crushes on boys in your class. I’m also assuming these crushes went away. Your assertion that this one won’t sounds more like a manifesto of, “Watch out, girlfriend, he’s mine” than a legitimate desire to find out how to not cross the line. It doesn’t sound as if you’re actually friends with this guy, but that the supposed friendship is composed of heavy flirting. I hope you’re a person with many friends, so your friendship with this guy will just have to go by the wayside. That means you don’t see him one-on-one but only when you both happen to be at some social event. Shift your focus to finding someone who is delightful and available.
Q. Re: The prejudiced people should be ashamed, not the porn actress: “I think your concern about this coming out should give you pause about your line of work, no matter how lucrative.” It seems to me that concern about “coming out” about something that is legal and harms no one should only give pause about societal prejudice. This young woman is doing nothing wrong, so why should she be ashamed? It’s awful that our society is full of people who watch porn behind closed doors then turn around and shame the women who act in it. It takes courage to come out as part of ANY group that is discriminated against and it may not be right for everyone to do. But the fact that people are prejudiced and hypocritical is their problem, NOT hers.
A: I said if she’s thought through the implications of her career choice, then it is hers to make. That doesn’t mean I or anyone else has to think it’s a good idea without lifetime consequences. To make a blanket statement that the people who would shame her are secret porn addicts is just silly. I’m going to assume the young woman’s mother would be stricken, yet the mother may also not be a consumer of porn. I cannot imagine anyone would want their child to do live sex shows on the Web. That doesn’t make them hypocrites.
Q. Mother-in-Law: My mother-in-law of less than a month wants a copy of our gift list, as in who gave us what. I don’t think it is appropriate to give it to her. My husband says there’s no harm in it. What do you think?
A: It’s not her business who gave you what, even if it’s harmless to accede to her request. Because I’ve heard about this before, I’m going to assume she doesn’t actually care what your college classmate Morgan gave you. She wants to know if her friends the Poindexters gave you two a gift as expensive as the one she gave to their kid. I think you should tell your mother-in-law that you and her son will be prompt and effusive with your thank you notes. Say if she has questions about gifts from specific people, you’ll be happy to tell her. But explain you just prefer not to make a list of what you got from everyone you know. That’s a reasonable boundary to draw with a mother-in-law who may need some reining in.
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