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. I Want My Ex to Officiate at My Wedding: I plan to be married soon. My fiancé and I don’t want a big to-do but would like to mark the occasion with a small ceremony and invite immediate family and a few close friends. This is a second marriage for both of us. My ex-husband and I remained civil to one another for the sake of our children. Once the hurt of our failed marriage had healed, we developed a friendship based on mutual interests and shared history. My fiancé and my ex get along well, and we occasionally socialize with him and his significant other. My ex is a judge and as such is able to perform weddings. My fiancé and I talked it over and would like to ask him to marry us. We haven’t asked him yet and aren’t sure he will agree, but we want to extend the invitation. Problem is when I mentioned our plan to my sisters, they had a fit. They said it would be tacky and would make other family members uncomfortable to have my ex marry us. I know it’s an unusual situation, but it is also something we’d really like to do. Are our plans just too “out there”?
A: I’m all for formers getting along, especially when there are children involved. I’m also for intimate, low-key wedding ceremonies, especially when they are the second time around. But even if I disagree with your sisters throwing a fit, I agree with their point that it will take away from the sweetness of the moment if your loved ones are thinking that when your officiant gets to, “By the powers vested in me,” he might add, “it is with great relief that I say thank goodness she’s yours and not mine.” You do not want the moment that you two are being joined to be accompanied by mass eye-rolling and elbows to the ribs by those in attendance. It’s fine if your ex and his girlfriend attend the ceremony, but surely you and your fiancé can find a mutually agreeable person to preside over your wedding who does not also have carnal knowledge of either of you.
Dear Prudence: G-String Hobbyist
Q. I Hit My Girlfriend: Yesterday, my girlfriend and I were engaged in a mix of fun, an argument, and horseplay. She did something that upset me, and without thinking I hit her on her back with the palm of my hand much harder than I intended to. I immediately apologized but she broke up with me later that day. I think she was right to do so. I’m writing to you not for advice on how to win her back (I have to assume she’s gone for good) but how to begin to regain my self-esteem. I feel awful about what I did, and I want to be both introspective and proactive. I am going to use my school’s counseling service and am considering volunteering for a domestic violence center. Are there any other resources I should be aware of?
A: You and your girlfriend were both voluntarily having a tussle that was both sexy and angry, and you gave her a slap to the back. When you say it was harder than you intended, I wonder if you left a giant hand-sized bruise or if this slap landed more robustly than your other wrestling moves. Only you know if you really intended to hurt her out of anger or if it’s hard to calculate the line when a man and a woman are choosing to work out a disagreement in a physical way. But I will take you at your word that the force was more than you intended and was done in a very specific context. In that case, the lesson for you is to be particularly aware of limits when you’re skirting the edge of them. Frankly, I think you should be careful about going and essentially reporting yourself for domestic abuse in such an ambiguous situation. The consequences of unburdening yourself could be most unpleasant. I also think you should get back in touch with your girlfriend, apologize again, and say you see the whole sexy-angry encounter as a mistake that resulted in a terrible miscalculation on your part. Say that even if she continues to conclude the relationship is over, you hope she can accept what happened truly wasn’t intentional and you’ll always regret it.
Q. Don’t Want to Police My Husband: My husband of five years likes to drink (a lot of) wine daily. When he drinks, he becomes a different person who is dense, often incoherent, and even mean. He has never believed my report on this change and thinks I’m exaggerating. Toward the end of last year, an incident happened where he was left with irrefutable evidence of his outrageous behavior (sexual text messages to a colleague that he didn’t remember sending), and he was incredibly embarrassed and humiliated. I was hurt and upset. He decided to seriously cut back on his drinking and asked if I would go to a marriage counselor with him. The first two months of this year have been glorious! I had forgotten how much fun and interesting he could be when he wasn’t drinking, and we’ve found some good ways to work on communication and trust and meeting each other’s needs with the counselor’s help. Well, his drinking is starting to pick up. The first time, I ignored it. The second time, I said something and he got truly angry. The third time, I went to my room. I do not want to police his behavior, but I also am not willing to go back to our old way of life. What can I do?
A: You’re married to an alcoholic. He is unwilling to recognize this because the most he’s capable of doing is “cutting back” on his ruinous behavior. Even if he won’t go to Alcoholics Anonymous, you should go to Al-Anon for support from other people who have an alcoholic in their lives. If you are married to an alcoholic who won’t put down the bottle, then I don’t see many options except leaving.
Q. Sister-in-Law “Claiming” Baby Name: My wife and I are expecting our first child later this year. Like any new parents, the subject of names is a touchy one. My brother- and sister-in-law have a nearly 2-year-old—the first grandchild in the family, and accordingly doted over—and are not currently pregnant. When they were discussing naming their first child, my BIL’s wife staked a “claim” to two names, one for a boy and one for a girl. My wife and I both happen to really like the other “claimed” name. My wife thinks we are forbidden from using it, though, because my SIL “claimed” it over two years ago. I think that’s ridiculous, that my wife shouldn’t worry about it, and even if my SIL was upset she needs to get over it. What are your thoughts?
A: A woman drinking excessively during her pregnancy is a touchy issue. What parents decide to name their child is not, even if they announce their baby will be Chartreuse Ivy. So your in-laws “staked a claim” to a name. I assume they didn’t file this claim at the same federal office that deals with mineral rights. If you like a name and they like a name, then if they go on to have another child of the appropriate sex, they are free to “reuse” the name. Just be sure you haven’t landed on this name because it allows you to give a needle to a disliked relative. You don’t want your child saddled with a name that carries any bad feelings.
Q. Young Husband’s Stroke: Two years ago, my husband’s personality drastically changed overnight. Months later, after showing him one of your columns, I convinced him to see a doctor. It turns out he had a minor stroke at the age of 40. He did not notice the change; however, I was concerned because his short-term memory was very limited, common sense was gone, and he was no longer affectionate or attentive with me. The first year was really hard, I helped him stay on top of his job, and I wrote extensive notes so he wouldn’t forget to feed our kids or forget to drop them off at day care on his way into work. Fast-forward to present day, his memory has slightly improved, I check his emails just once per day to make sure he took care of all of his work obligations, and he has turned into a really fantastic and fun father. My problem is he still is not affectionate with me. I really miss that aspect of our relationship, and I do schedule date nights with a baby-sitter several times a month and overnights with the grandparents a couple times a month. I have to ask him to hold my hand, kiss, or hug me, and we are basically celibate. I have tried talking about it with him; however, he thinks he’s very affectionate. I feel like this is a memory issue, and I’ve asked him to return to the doctor. I love my husband, but I’m starting to feel desperate for attention! How do I handle this situation?
A: I’m so sorry for this situation and am grateful for this confirmation that drastic personality changes call for an immediate medical evaluation. You have made a heroic effort to keep your husband functioning, and this must be incredibly draining. I hope you have a lot of emotional support yourself and have the opportunity for respite from dealing with your own life and managing your husband’s. One hallmark of brain damage is that people lose an awareness of how they are behaving. Your husband needs more rehabilitation. Fortunately, we now recognize how plastic the brain is, and as your husband is still young, the potential for further healing is there. But he needs therapy. Since you’re such a good organizer, start doing research to find the kind of rehabilitation center that works on healing the whole person. Having couples therapy with a counselor schooled in the physical and psychological consequences of stroke could make a huge difference in your lives.
Q. Relationships: I’m a 19-year-old college freshman who just had her first kiss, and other things, this weekend. I had been extremely anxious to get this out of the way. The guy was extremely sweet, attractive, and intelligent, and he actually wanted a relationship with me. I felt no chemistry, however, and quickly ended it. The physical encounter we had (not sex) triggered a depression in me, and now I keep flashing back and feeling disgusted. I do not think this is normal, especially for someone my age. Is there something wrong with me? Should I try to date other people right now?
A: I can see being eager to have this experience and hoping it would be transcendent. But there’s something wrong if you were simply anxious to get it over with. That kind of attitude tends not to lead to a lot of chemistry. Since you have no sexual experience, it’s realistic to expect your first encounters will feel awkward and self-conscious. But disgusted and depressed is not a normal reaction. I’m wondering if you have had some sexual trauma in your past or you were raised in a sexually punitive environment. Put off dating for now, and since you are at college, take advantage of the free counseling available to you and discuss your reactions with a therapist.
Q. Footing the Bill for Mom’s Boyfriend?: My father passed away almost four years ago, and my mother found a new “companion” very soon after. I was happy for her, especially because I live several hundred miles away and am not able to visit very often and did not want her to be lonely. My mother and “Bob” never married but lived together in my mother’s apartment at an independent living center. My mother never changed her will to provide anything for Bob after her passing. Unfortunately my mother passed away three months ago. I am the executor of my mom’s estate, which is to be liquidated and split between my sister and me. I was recently quite shocked when Bob’s children contacted me to inquire about how I planned to accommodate Bob’s living requirements since my mother’s apartment has been returned to the facility for resale. To be honest, I had no plans to provide for Bob going forward at all. My mother had a very small estate and had she wished to provide for him, she clearly could have because she updated all her formal documents (wills, powers of attorney, etc.) after Bob was in the picture. I met Bob on only a couple of occasions and have never met his daughters. Am I missing something, or is Bob’s family on its own to provide him a place to live?
A: Get a lawyer. You’re right that your mother apparently pointedly did not provide for Bob, but an attorney can advise you of the legal implications of your mother allowing him to be a tenant in her home. Since you have no personal or emotional ties to Bob, have your lawyer communicate with his family about the nature of the law.
Q. Name Pronunciation: I have worked at an organization for a few years now, and I got a new boss last year. I really enjoy working for him. The one nagging issue is that he doesn’t pronounce my first name exactly right. It’s not English, so I understand the struggle most people have with it initially, but once I pronounce it a few times people usually get a hang of it. The way he says it is close but not exact. I corrected him a couple times then let it go because I was still relatively new at this organization and didn’t want to put my boss in an awkward position. However, he frequently introduces me to people, and it’s starting to become even more awkward to have people hear the incorrect pronunciation, ask me again how to say it later, and hear that I say it differently. How do I correct him now that I’ve let this issue go on for a year, and how can I do it in a tactful and kind way?
A: After he has incorrectly introduced you again, later in the day knock on his door and ask if you can talk about something for a second. With a smile on your face explain that he’s close, but not quite right in how he’s saying your name. Then give him a couple of mnemonics. “It’s easy to remember that Damara rhymes with camera.” Or, “Here’s what my name would look like if I spelled it phonetically.” Keep it light to reduce the embarrassment. Then expect he’s not going to do it perfectly at first since he’s been saying it wrong for a year. As for telling others how you pronounce it if he’s mispronounced it, what you need to convey is that you’re not ticked off. Smile, say it correctly, and add that your parents didn’t take into account how hard your name would be for native English speakers.
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