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.)
Q. Husband’s Gaming: My husband and I married a few years ago after just months of knowing each other. I have never once doubted our decision to marry, and on the whole, we are exceptionally happy. He is my perfect partner and an ideal father for our daughter—but, of course, there’s a but. During our very brief courtship, there is one habit he intentionally hid from me—online gaming. Apparently, he didn’t want me to think him nerdy. When he first disclosed this after the honeymoon, I thought it was funny and cute. A couple years later, I’m bitter—we have routine marital disagreements, but this is the only issue we ever fight about. He spends several hours a week (10-20) playing these online games! Every time we fight about it, he’ll cut back or promise to stop … but within a week or two, it’s back to at least a couple of hours every day. This is a man who has quit smoking and quit his pseudo-addiction to energy drinks, but can’t (or won’t) quit online gaming. I can’t imagine life without him, but this is making me miserable. I’m not willing to leave him over it; how can I get him to stop or change my own attitude to accept it? (For clarification, I have no suspicions of any online infidelity—it just bothers me that he spends his leisure time gaming instead of reading a book, watching TV with me, etc.)
A: If he were spending all his free time reading books or watching TV, I don’t understand why that would make your marriage better. Sure, he’s doing a lot of gaming. But you are not complaining that he’s ignoring his family duties, just that you loathe his pastime. There are husbands everywhere who spend all their free time looking at porn, or training for triathlons, or conducting affairs. Your husband shouldn’t have hidden this hobby from you, but once he confessed, you had no objection. Obviously the more bitter you get, the more you fight about it, then the more appealing his imaginary world becomes. Make the real world you’re both in more pleasant and vow that you will drop your commentary about his habit for three months. Then see if your marriage and your life haven’t improved.
Q. BFF’s Mom: I will be spending Easter with my best friend’s family like I do every year. And as much as I love my friend, I can’t stand her mother. She’s the most completely superficial person I’ve ever met in my entire life. My friend has been in therapy for years because of the damage inflicted on her by her mother. My friend has dealt with bulimia starting at age 7 because her mother told her she was fat. Based on pictures, she wasn’t. I watch my friend struggle with this all the time, and her mother is still inflicting damage. I’m usually good at keeping quiet, but after a particularly brutal phone call, my friend wound up crying on my couch for three hours recently. I know it’s probably not my place, but is there anything I can do to lessen whatever blows will be inflicted on my friend while not ruining the holiday for everyone?
A: It sounds as if the only way your friend can resurrect her self-esteem and mental health is to create some serious boundaries with her destructive mother. This may even mean temporarily or permanently cutting off relations. There are some people who should never have become parents, and your friend’s mother may be one of them. So instead of going over with her for Easter and watching your friend go down the tubes, suggest an alternate holiday. Say you will host an Easter feast at your house—maybe you can invite a few mutual friends—the two of you can decorate eggs and have a festive time. Tell your friend you can’t stand anymore to watch the way her mother shreds her and you want to help her get healthier.
Q. Pregnancy, Roommate Problems: I’m 17 weeks pregnant and my brother-in-law, “Sam,” has “temporarily” lived with my husband and me for the past year. He moved in when he lost a lucrative job and needed to become financially stable, and we had an understanding it would be for a few months until he could afford a security deposit. Now flash forward a year and nothing is happening. He doesn’t make a whole lot, but Sam could definitely afford a small place of his own. Instead, he likes to spend money on bar tabs, a new car loan, and going out with his friends. Sam still lives like a bachelor, staying up at all hours of the night and playing music or video games very loudly. My husband agrees his brother has overstayed his welcome and it’s time he go, but every time we try to bring this up, Sam throws a fit or claims he has no money and then refuses to talk about it. Each time, the conversation gets put off for a few more weeks. I’m at my wits’ end, my husband hasn’t been able to make any headway, and I am about ready to move out on my own until Sam is gone. What can we do to try to remedy this situation?
A: So when your child has a fit and says he or she will not sit at the table, or go to school, or do homework, or stop drawing on the walls, do you and your husband plan to look at each other and throw up your hands? You’re responsible adults whose forbearance needs to come to an end. You and your husband must present a united front. Have your husband tell his brother that he has until the end of the month to find other accommodations. Explain this is a non-negotiable and if he doesn’t take action the locks will be changed and his things donated to Goodwill. If your husband won’t enforce this, then explain to him you are not going to raise your child in a frat house and that until he can get his brother out, you are going to move in with friends or family because you need quiet and peace and the all-night music and video games are making it impossible for you to get enough sleep.
Q. I Cheated on My Ex Husband … Divulge to Current Beau?: Five years ago, I left my ex-husband for another man. That relationship did not work out, my ex-husband and I are great co-parents to our wonderful child, and I have absolutely no regrets. I was not happy and never would have come as far as I have if I were still married to him. I am now with a wonderful man who loves me and my child. The problem is I have never told him the real reason I got divorced. This wonderful man has been heartbroken many times by women—he’s been cheated on by every woman he has been with. Before me, he had nearly given up hope. Everything is amazing and almost perfect, and I want to marry him and continue our loving relationship. So if I tell him, he’s going to think that I will also cheat on him, that I’m like every other woman out there, and he will have a tainted image of me. I don’t know what to do. Things are getting serious, and we have discussed marriage. Do I owe this fabulous man an explanation? Or bury it in the past?
A: I think people are entitled to not disclose everything about their pasts, but you know you’re doing something deceptive when you withhold such relevant information as why your marriage broke up. Think about the fact that every woman your boyfriend has been with cheated on him. Every single one. You also need to consider that your role in his life is to redeem his hard-earned knowledge that all women are jezebels. You need to tell him the truth. And if he doesn’t break up with you, you need to spend a lot more time with him before you get married. Because I’m wondering if there’s something in your wonderful guy’s nature that just makes women want to find someone else.
Q. Re: Husband’s Gaming: My husband did this early in our relationship as well. I took a different tactic … I joined him. That way we spent time together and I learned something new about myself as well. Sometimes it takes giving a little to get a little.
A: This is an excellent alternative. Thanks.
Q. Overworked Teacher: I am a high school teacher, and my husband is employed as an engineer. We have three children, one in high school and two in middle school. Every summer, the exact same thing happens: their sports teams, extended family, friends, and sometimes even my husband assume I have unlimited time. While it is certainly true I do not have classroom hours in the summer, I still work 10-15 hours a week tweaking lesson plans, researching different ways to teach concepts, and reviewing what worked and what didn’t from the previous year. Whenever I try to say that, people inevitably respond with “must be nice to only work 15 hours a week! Now can you pick up Kid A/drive us to the doctor/plan a baby shower?” My husband is pretty good most of the time, but sometimes he can get a little demanding about meals and how clean our house is in the summer. It is my siblings and friends who often think I can run any errand, host any party, or help at any time simply because I am a teacher. Sometimes I tell them that they, too, can get summers off if they are willing to be a teacher, but they would have to give up their much, much larger salary. However, this is a sort of hostile response, and I would rather keep this conversation more civil. How do I set boundaries for my summer schedule?
A: I have a similar question for you as I do for the pregnant woman living with her brother-in-law. When your students get unruly, do you let them run wild? I know you can’t send your friends and siblings to the principal’s office, but you can say, “I’m sorry, I’m not able to run those errands for you.” Then refuse to get in a colloquy about the nature of a teaching career. As for your husband, when he gets on you to rattle those pots and pans or attend to the dusting, wave your arm at the refrigerator or hand him a Swiffer and say since your domestic efforts don’t meet his standards, you look forward to enjoying the fruits of his labors.
Q. Sister’s Drinking (and Unfortunately Driving): A couple of years ago, my sister was driving home drunk, and unbeknownst to her at the time, her boyfriend was in the back of her truck (covered by a topper), himself passed out. The awful thing is that she lost control of the vehicle, rolled it, and he was killed. Needless to say, this was just a tremendous loss for everyone involved—she loved him dearly. I can’t imagine his family’s feelings—and we lost my brother in a car accident four years prior, which I think is part of the reason my sister gets drunk. My sister went to trial, was found not guilty, but did get some minimum jail time and a DUI. I thought she was really facing her drinking problem, going to a therapist and AA on her own. Now I have learned from family members that not only is she drinking again, she is drinking and driving. I am furious, and I have been angry about this whole accident since it happened. I have talked with therapists and gone to AA myself, and I am accepting that I just may feel judgmental toward her, well, forever. However, now what? I can tell her how concerned, angry, etc., I am that she is again drinking and driving—but what good does it do? I live far away from her, so a family intervention isn’t possible.
A: Contact the district attorney’s office where she was tried and tell them you know that your sister is drinking and driving again. She may be on probation, and violating it could get her taken off the streets (I hope). Also write the DMV, give specifics about her legal history, and say you know she is drinking again so is an impaired driver. You may not be able to do a thing about your sister’s addiction and terrible behavior, but you must try to protect innocent people from mayhem.
Q. RE: Husband’s Gaming: I, too, am married to a gamer. And I’m completely happy with it, because it gives him an outlet to unwind after a stressful day. He’ll often play games while I watch a TV show in the same room. That way we’re still around each other, but we both get to do our own thing. (How much interacting would you do while watching TV anyway?) This really is no different than reading a book—you get lost in an imaginary world there, too.
A: More good advice. And I’ve heard from many readers who extol just how fascinating and complex these imaginary worlds are. So the letter writer is making a poor argument when she’s putting down gaming and arguing for watching TV.
Q. Body Issues: I have been given the unfortunate gift of an awkward body shape. I have fairly thin legs, normal sized thighs, tiny breasts, and a huge gut. I am often asked if I am pregnant. I have been asked this question by colleagues, clients, professors, and even random people while shopping. There are many times where I’ve wanted to give an inappropriate response to the query. However, I don’t have the heart to offend people in such a manner. I have normally taken the road to sharing with these questioning folks that I am not pregnant but just packing on a few extra pounds. I am curious to know if there is a better way to handle such issues, as I know I’m not the only portly lady to deal with such rudeness.
A: To paraphrase Dave Barry, if you don’t know whether a woman is pregnant or not, you never mention the possibility, even if you notice that a baby’s head is emerging from between her legs. As for you, you do not have to make any excuses for yourself when asked this question. Just smile and say, “No.” The extremely awkward pause that follows should remind the questioner of Dave Barry’s dictum.
Q. Re: Body Issues: I have a medical condition that sometimes leaves me “looking pregnant,” and I know how annoying the questions and comments are! My favorite response comes from a friend who, when asked when she was due, calmly replied, “11 months.”
A: Great reply. Thanks!
Q. Cheating Father: During my freshman year of college, I found cellphone evidence that my dad was cheating on my mom. After my dad blamed me, my sister, and my mother for “forcing him to do it,” my parents seemed to move past their problems after a move to a new city and several months of couple’s therapy. For me, the whole experience was really eye-opening—for the first time I noticed my father’s emotionally abusive tendencies and the horrible relationships the women in my extended family have with men. And three years later, here we are again. I have once again found digital evidence of an affair, and I’m not sure what to do. Should I tell my mother? Part of me thinks that she might know on some level but wants to turn a blind eye. Another part of me thinks that I should confront my dad and see what happens—maybe he will tell my mom and I can extract myself from this situation. I love my mother, and I want to do what is ultimately best for her.
A: Stay out of the mess that is your parents’ marriage and continue to look with clear vision at the dynamics of your family. You want to make sure you don’t repeat these patterns in your own relationships.
Q. How to Mend Fences: For two years, my daughter dated a guy we didn’t like for various reasons, including the fact he was unemployed, lost his license, and seemed kind of shady. After a tumultuous final year, they broke up, but my daughter wouldn’t share why, given that we weren’t his biggest fans. I found out months later he was addicted to heroin. He apparently has been through rehab and is better now. She has no plans to get back with him, but I feel like I let her down because she didn’t share her burden with me at the time. I get it, because she felt we already didn’t like him. The issue now is that she still resents us for not accepting him. I have tried to diplomatically point out that there aren’t many parents who would support their relationship, especially given that his issues were so large and overshadowing. She feels we should have trusted her to do the right thing (as she eventually did by breaking it off) and hasn’t dated anyone since. Her resentment toward us on the issue flares up often. Can you think of an approach to the issue I can take to get her to see why we were so unsupportive of their relationship and that it was out of love?
A: Although your daughter is an adult, if she’s so concerned about her relationship with her parents that she would consider family counseling, that seems like the best way to go. You thought her boyfriend was bad news, and he turned out to be even worse news than you imagined. I don’t understand your daughter’s assertion that you should have trusted her judgment about a guy who turned out to be a criminal. But you’ve left ambiguous what “not accepting him” means. Did you refuse to allow him in the house for Christmas? Or did you simply tell her you had serious reservations about this guy? In any case, there are so many crossed wires and hurt feelings here that it would help to have a neutral party sort them out.
Q. RE: How to Mend Fences: We had him over to the house a couple of times, but he wasn’t really totally welcome. I always thought he was a good person, but my husband really couldn’t stand the relationship. I’m the peacemaker and tried to keep the door open. I would love to go to counseling on this issue, but the other two (husband and daughter who are very similar in outlook) are very stubborn and won’t go. I guess maybe time is the best mender for this one and I look forward to the day when she finds a great guy and we can all look back on this as just a rough patch on the way to a good relationship.
A: If they won’t go with you, see a counselor yourself. It will feel good just to talk this out, then get some strategies for changing the dynamic.
Q. Mother Won’t Come to Wedding: Next month will be my third wedding, but the only one that my parents have been able to come to. My dad has never walked me down the aisle, so I really want him there. My mother and I have always had a horrible relationship. She criticizes everyone and everything. She refuses to come to my wedding and will not let my dad come either. I’m afraid she will tell the rest of my family—aunts and uncles—not to come. She has been using the excuse that I’ve been ignoring them and my fiancé’s son is gay and they don’t want be a part of the “gay family”. My parents are in their 80s, and I’m almost 45. She doesn’t call my boys for their birthdays or send cards anymore. I don’t know what to do.
A: You’re a 45-year-old woman who has a horrible relationship with her parents. Your mother may be a disturbed, destructive person, but as is often the case your “nice” parent has let her run wild because it’s too hard to rein her in. A third wedding by its nature should be a low-key affair. You don’t need to be walked down the aisle. And if your mother convinces everyone not to come because you’re a “gay family,” then good riddance. Please get some therapy. You’re still working out the effects of your painful childhood. That might have something to do with this being wedding No. 3. Get some help being your own person and getting your mother’s voice out of your head.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Have a good week.
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