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. Girlfriend and Cat: I have been dating my girlfriend for three years, and I am mostly sure that this is the woman I will marry, except for one thing. The only thing we have any real disagreements about is our cat. She thinks it is just fine to kiss it right on the nose, repeatedly. She basically kisses it, and makes this “om nom nom” noise while doing so. I think it’s gross, and she thinks my reaction is funny. I honestly feel ill when she does this, and can’t stand the thought of kissing her afterward unless she washes up first. She thinks that makes me a loon. And yet, I can’t help the ick factor. She has begun to wonder why we aren’t engaged yet, and while it is quite true that I don’t want to deal with wedding plans until I am done with grad school, the really big reason to me is I can’t decide if this is a deal-breaker, or if I am being overly squeamish. So, please tell me, am I overreacting, or is she just being gross?
A: I understand your bafflement and distress. When kissing one’s pets on the nose, the sound one makes should not be “om nom nom” but “num, num, nuu.” Everyone knows that. I would feel better about your objection if you then said that your girlfriend suffers from constant bouts of feline-related flu. But it sounds as if she’s just fine. This is no deal-breaker but one of life’s little quirks that requires partners to indulge each other. So while you roll your eyes at her cat kisses, don’t try to stop the smooching. And while she rolls her eyes at your hygiene commands, she rinses with mouth wash. This should make all three of you purr with contentment.
Dear Prudence: Young White Supremacist
Q. “What ifs” and “the one that got away”: Nearly a decade ago, in the midst of a very long relationship, I had a brief affair with a woman I’ll call B. B and I fell for each other fast and hard but after a few months she got tired of waiting for me to end my relationship with my then girlfriend and broke things off. Through the years, B and I kept in intermittent contact. I ultimately decided to leave my ex even though I knew a relationship with B wasn’t possible at the time. It’s now about a decade later and I have been in a relationship with my current girlfriend (A) for almost four years. Having been a serial cheater in my past relationships, I made a commitment to A and myself that I would never cheat again. Though I had given up hope of a relationship with B long ago, she still has a special place in my heart and we have spoken from time to time. A couple of weeks ago, B sent me an email that simply said “I miss you.” I did not respond. I’m happy in my current relationship and don’t want to jeopardize it, however, the “what ifs” have been nagging me ever since I read B’s email. B’s always been “the one that got away.” The slightest thought that she may still be interested has made me question a lot of things about my life and happiness. My girlfriend and I have a house (in my name), pets, we share finances, and speak regularly about having children and getting married. Am I being completely idiotic for entertaining the thought of leaving and starting something with B, a woman that lives three time zones away who I can’t seem to get over?
A: B remains that dazzling “what if” because you two never got past that thrilling stage of going at each other like ferrets in heat. By your own admission you get chronically itchy once things get too domestic and go lookin’ for the buzz that only a new relationship, preferably an illicit one, can offer. If you were to make B the main act in your life, believe me you’d find yourself inextricably drawn to X, Y, and Z. You decided to reform and make a commitment. Then a test arrived in the form of an email from B. Since you’ve remained friends with her, write back. Say it was nice to hear from her, but you are in a very happy relationship that you hope will go the distance. Say you will always think fondly of her, but you two have to remain to each other the ones that got away. Then end the correspondence. Put all your focus on a single letter of the alphabet; in this case it’s easy to remember because it’s A.
Q. Spoiled: My older brother has been treated like a king his entire life, both by my parents and one grandparent. We joke now about how my brother used to go on long weekend stays with my grandmother and come back with armfuls of toys and games, and I was never invited on such occasions and never allowed to share in his good fortune. (I can tell you that I wasn’t laughing back then, and even the laughter now is tinged with a little bitterness.) To my parents, he is like the prodigal son who goes off, screws up, comes back, and the parents hold a party in his honor, except he’s now done this multiple times, and my parents have had to “bail him out” for almost $100K over the years; meanwhile, they wouldn’t help me with anything, not even college. My parents say it’s because I was the responsible one: I didn’t “need” it, so I didn’t get it. I know that the thought is that since I did it on my own, I would feel more pride in my accomplishments, but I honestly don’t. I constantly wonder why everything in my life has had to be so difficult while he has been skating through. How do I just get over this? I’m angry and bitter and I’m tired of being this way.
A: I completely understand your bitterness at this unequal treatment, but look where it’s landed your brother. He’s one of life’s screw-ups. He’s always been indulged and now he’s apparently incapable of making his way in the world. There’s no excuse for the ugly family dynamic of one child being the golden one and the other the goat. But as you demonstrate, sometimes the unfavored child comes out on top. You’ve worked hard for everything you’ve gotten; you were responsible for your own education, and now you’ve made your way in the world and don’t need bailing out. Your family failed you, but you have succeeded in life. The best thing for you may be to put in place severe limits on your interactions with your family so that you enjoy what you’ve accomplished without constantly renewing the bitter taste they leave in your mouth. And since you cannot fully enjoy your own life, seek out a counselor who has a special interest in childhood neglect and abuse.
Q. Domestic Violence: Ten years ago a friend who I’ve known for 14 years told me her husband beats her. Through the years she’s continued to keep me updated but in the past few months she’s started texting me pictures of the abuse. He’s her high school sweetheart, they don’t have any kids, and he’s now the sole provider (which wasn’t always the case). The thing is she won’t leave him because she doesn’t want to leave her pets. I’ve tried to get her to leave repeatedly, but I don’t know what to do. I have these pictures, but no proof that he committed these acts because she won’t put his name on them, something that I gently suggested she should do for evidence or the police can’t prosecute him. I toss and turn, at night worrying that one day I’m going to get a phone call telling me he killed her. What can I do?
A: Over and over my inbox demonstrates that some people just don’t want to be helped. Yes, she’s reaching out to you as a kind of lifeline. Then she comes up with a load of excuses for why she can’t flee from someone who assaults her. I think you should tell her that since she’s told you about what’s going on, and provided you with evidence of her husband’s criminality, you feel compelled to take action. Tell her you wanted to give her a heads up that you’re going to look into reporting this abuse. First call this domestic abuse hotline: 800-799-SAFE (www.thehotline.org) and explain to them what’s going on. You need to get a reading about how to safely get her out, so you don’t want to call the police without getting advice on how to help someone who won’t report her abuse. Let’s hope your phone call will be the start of making sure you never get the phone call you dread.
Q. Re: For Spoiled: My husband was in a similar situation. One piece of advice for you is to make sure your brother is well taken care of in your parents’ will. I know that sounds odd, but he’s been supported his entire life. If you’re the only one left in the end, guess who he’s going to expect to support him. Fortunately, my husband talked to his parents ahead of time and they had the foresight to ensure that a trust was set up before my husband’s parents passed and it gives his brother some income each month. He still comes to us occasionally and my husband doesn’t have too much trouble saying, “You’ll have the money in a week or two weeks, you need to figure out how to get by until then.” We may give him food, but we never give him cash!
A: It’s one thing if a sibling has some kind of disability which makes it impossible for him to care for himself. It’s another if a brother is just a spoiled jerk. In that case, I don’t think the letter writer should be pushing to be cut out of the parents’ will. Sure, the brother may have been trained that some family member will always bail him out, but once the parents are gone, the letter writer has no obligation to throw money on that sinking ship.
Q. Copycat Sister-in-Law: My brother married a girl he barely knew after a whirlwind courtship. It’s been three years and they seem to be adjusting well to married life. But lately I’ve discovered that Marie likes to buy and wear the same clothes that I do. I recently bought a new winter coat, and she scoured the stores to find the same one, and purchased it in a different color. She’s also done the same thing when I bought a new pair of boots. She’s much taller and slimmer than I am, so most clothes do look better on her anyway. How do I tell her to not copy my clothing choices?
A: What you do is silently accept that this is flattering commentary. She thinks you have great taste and on two (imagine that, two!) occasions she’s bought clothes she’s seen first on you. As the Bible has noted, coats can come in many colors. I simply cannot imagine the circumstances under which your life would be impinged by your sister-in-law showing up with the same model in a different shade. Stop dwelling on her “superior” height and build, and just try to build a lovely relationship with a woman who admires your fashion sense.
Q. Re: Domestic Violence: The friend with the husband who beats her doesn’t want to leave because she doesn’t want to leave her pets. Probably she is afraid that her husband will abuse them after she leaves in retaliation, and probably he will. The poster could ask the hotline if there are steps she can take to protect the pets and/or to take them with her.
A: Yes, that’s definitely part of the question. But the abuse has been going on for a decade so there’s a lot more to this dynamic than worrying about the pets.
Q. Overshadowing Sister: My husband and I got married at age 19 and have three children. We do not have very much education, but I work part-time and my husband works full-time. We are comfortable and happy with our life. My sister is seven years younger than I am and she went to college, medical school, and is now a resident in a hospital about four hours away. Her schedule is very demanding and, as a result, family gatherings have started to shift around her schedule. She is always gracious and kind to me, and my kids adore their auntie. My sister has to work on Easter Sunday, so my parents suggested going to brunch midway between our hometown and her new location on the Saturday before Easter. I know I should go, but this is an expensive trip (gas, food) for us. I could easily host an affordable Easter brunch at my home on Easter Sunday after church and I’m not sure why our holiday schedule has to change because my sister chose this profession. To add insult to injury, my parents talk about their daughter, the doctor, a lot. My husband and I are debt free except for our mortgage, we dedicate a lot of energy to raising our children, and it seems like none of that matters since my sister was accepted to medical school. How can I explain to my parents and sister that I think it is wonderful she is a doctor, but that was her choice, and I am tired of adjusting my holidays to suit her?
A: I understand your resentment, but your sister is kind and loving to you and your kids. Embrace her as a role model for what’s possible in life. That is not a put-down of what you and your husband have accomplished, but her professional choice will open up imaginative possibilities for your children, which will only be a good thing. Since your sister is a resident, “my daughter, the doctor” is still a pretty new concept for your parents. So let most of this roll off you. But when you’ve had enough you can say, “We’re all proud of Katy. Oh, did I tell you that Courtney was chosen to be Cinderella in the school play?” As for Easter, is it possible that your sister could make it to your house for brunch on that Sunday before? Talk to her about that possibility. If not, then gas and food to get to brunch seems like a worthwhile expense in order to have the whole family together—or maybe you can talk to your parents about picking up part of your food tab. Your flexibility about holidays while your sister finishes her arduous studies will pay off in good feelings for years to come.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Time to kiss the dog on the nose for being so patient during the chat.
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