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. Hair Down There: My husband and I have been married for 18 years and have a good relationship overall. We are good friends and rarely fight. But over the past year or so, we haven’t been intimate very often. I tried talking with him about it recently, and he admitted that he isn’t as turned on by me anymore because I don’t shave. I’m not like a beast, I trim some, but apparently he wants it all gone. I don’t really want to, I like the way I look. I don’t understand why so many men want it all gone. He is insisting. I really want to be intimate again. Any advice?
A: Using my incredible psychic powers, I am able to see your husband and it turns out that when he tells you he’s going to the home office to look up ways to refinance your mortgage, he’s actually mesmerized by porn. It’s true that there’s a new grooming standard which dictates that no one of either sex displays a single strand of body hair. Maybe economists need to investigate whether part of our high unemployment rate is due to the fact a large percentage of our population is spending most of their time depilating. When I started writing this column I had a very laissez-faire attitude toward porn, but it’s irrefutable that excess consumption can interfere with normal sexual expectations. It’s one thing if your husband made a reasonable request that you trim more enthusiastically. He could have come to you long ago and suggested you both play around with this together—because if he’s still sporting body hair, what’s his excuse? It’s another thing if he’s withdrawn from you sexually, has refused to address this, then announces he can’t get turned on by you if you don’t look like the people on YouPorn. Before you pick up the razor, you two need to talk about how hurtful his behavior has been over the past year, and that you hope he understands that putting his demands in such a demeaning way is not likely to turn you on.
Dear Prudence Live in New York: The Dirty Bra
Q. Misrepresentation?: I am an elderly woman who needs to use a cane to walk. I found a beautifully handmade cane on eBay, carved with flowers and a cross, which remarkably, I won with a bid I could afford. I love it, but, my Christian sister strongly objects to me using it, because I am an atheist, and she says “a person so hostile to religion should not advertise herself as being a Christian.” Now, I am in a bit of a quandary. I am not a Christian, and don’t want people to think of me as one, but living in the Bible belt, with a large majority Christian population, most people assume I am anyway. And the cane is a beautiful work of art, and I so hate having to use a cane, it gives me some solace to carry such a beautiful one. Do you think it is false representation for me to use it?
A: I always enjoy it when people use their religion to beat each other about the head to demonstrate their moral superiority. You can say to your sister you find it odd that she would so object to your getting solace and help from a beautiful object celebrating her faith. Then tell her if she needs to continue to vent about this, she should do so to her pastor.
Q. Mothers-in-Law Hate Each Other: My wife and I have been together for 15 years including courtship and 11 years of happy marriage. Our mothers have never gotten along. They simply have different outlooks on life, parent responsibilities (my mom was a single parent, her parents fought a lot but were together), boundaries, pretty much everything. For most of the past five years, they have refused to be in the same room with each other. This has caused yearly stress come the holiday season to ensure we see them evenly and no one gets preferential treatment; most particularly we refuse to allow anyone to be with us on Christmas morning. My father-in-law passed away suddenly a month ago. We are already feeling that we are going to have to have her mother with us for the first Christmas without him. We also think this puts us in a position where we have to insist on a bridge being built between these two women. Any advice on how to carry that out effectively is appreciated.
A: Stop trying to referee this wrestling match. Your mothers don’t have to like each other, they just have to behave like adults. I don’t know the geography here, but if in order for your mother-in-law not to be alone this Christmas you feel an obligation to invite her to stay at your home Christmas Eve, then do so. Then you can announce that you are having a Christmas brunch to which both mothers are invited. If they want to play a game of chicken and refuse to attend unless the other mother is uninvited, you say the invitation stands, both are welcome, and you will be happy to see whoever comes. If each mother wants to enumerate the reasons the other is unacceptable, refuse to listen. Surely each mother when raising her children told you both about the need to get along with people you don’t particularly like. Quote that back to the moms and say it was excellent advice. And think about how much of a hold these bickering women have on you if you are sweating in April over what’s going to happen in December.
Q. Re: Shaving down there: For the woman whose husband wants her to shave. He won’t find her much of a turn-on when she’s in the hospital with a Staph A. infection either. We have hair for a reason and shaving it puts you at risk for all kinds of bad stuff like this. And the LW needs to find out if this is just an excuse, excess porn, or a new girlfriend on the side. “Insisting,” indeed!
A: No way I’m clicking on “this”! Millions of people do remove body hair without getting infected, and I’ve even read that this trend has apparently reduced the incidence of crabs. However, good point about the possibility of a very smooth girlfriend. The wife needs to investigate this.
Q. Martyr Mom: My mother is a person who always puts her own needs second and it’s driving me and my siblings crazy. She secretly/silently sacrifices her own desires in order to accommodate what she thinks we want, then breaks down in tears when we fail to appreciate it. Oftentimes, the “sacrifices” are things nobody wants and just make our lives harder—for instance, she wants to talk to us often, but refuses to initiate phone calls because, quote, “I don’t want to bother you,” but then becomes miserably unhappy if we don’t call her. We kids are all late 20s/early 30s and trying to live our own lives, and it’s creating enormous amounts of drama and tension having to be responsible for Mom’s feelings like this. Begging her to please just do what she wants hasn’t worked. Do you have any advice? We’re losing our minds here.
A: No, your mother is not putting others’ needs first. As you’re experiencing, her primary need is to be the center of attention and her method is to play the martyr. So, to reiterate my usual advice about impossible family members, refuse to engage. Since you want to improve your relationship with her, set up a weekly phone call schedule and agree to talk to her for 10 to 15 minutes every Sunday night, for example. If the conversations turn maudlin and accusatory, say you’re sorry to hear she sounds so unhappy, you hope her week improves, and you’ll talk to her next Sunday. If she makes some dramatic sacrifice none of you are interested in, just shrug and say, “Oh, you didn’t need to do that, Mom,” and move on. Your begging and pleading just play into her world of melodrama. If you limit contact when it’s unpleasant and increase it when she’s being normal, that might have an excellent effect on her outlook and interactions with her loved ones.
Q. My Sister’s Girlfriend: I am very close to my younger sister, who is 18. For years, my sister has been wondering about her sexual identity, but has hidden her doubts from our mother, who we know for certain would not approve. Now she is tentatively entering into a relationship with a woman. It wouldn’t be a problem, except this girl is 25. They are members of the same ballet group, which includes a wide range of ages, so there is no doubt that their friendship began in an appropriate context. They seem quite happy together and this girl, as far as I can see, is a very balanced person who is not pressuring my sister in any way, but the age gap worries me. I do not know what to do! I don’t want to pressure my sister to break a relationship that seems to make her happy, but I am not at all sure this is appropriate. I want to make it clear that the age gap concern is something I would have in the case of a heterosexual relationship, too, but in that case of course I could ask my mother’s advice. I study abroad and carrying the secret of this relationship, while having my doubts and being unable to supervise it, feels like a burden.
A: Your sister is an adult who is entering of her own volition into a relationship with a young woman who you say is lovely. Yes, she’s a few years older, but many young people have benefited from the experience of an older partner. In the larger scheme, a seven-year age difference isn’t that remarkable, but it is more significant the younger the participants. Beyond the facts of birthdates, though, everything else you’ve said about this relationship seems just fine. So what you do is say to your sister that you’re happy she’s found someone she feels so compatible with and that you want to know how her relationship is progressing.
Q. Miscarriage: A few months ago, I had a miscarriage at about 10 weeks. I woke up in labor and obviously it couldn’t be stopped. I returned to work the next day after asking for a few people to work half-days for me two to four days after the miscarriage—emotionally I was a wreck as it was my first expected baby. I had smoked during my pregnancy—and I was slowly cutting down more. I went from one pack a day to maybe two to three cigarettes a day. Fast-forward to present—while still fielding the “are you pregnant yet” questions, still feeling a little emptiness because I am upset about the miscarriage—my boss and his wife are expecting! At first I was happy for them, but then I started hearing from him, “My wife is further than you were right? We don’t want to hear your comments as you caused your miscarriage by smoking. You weren’t going to be a good mother because you were still damaging yourself.” I know in about five months these comments will stop, but how do I listen to this from my boss (who also owns the company) and keep myself from punching him?
A: Your boss’s comments make me want to punch him, too. What a thoroughgoing creep that he is blaming you for your miscarriage as a way to relieve his anxieties about his wife’s pregnancy. Yes, this guy has power over you, but that doesn’t mean you have to just take this. You should go into his office and say you want to have a talk about his recent remarks. Say that you are very happy for him and hope the pregnancy goes well, but you have to make clear that you cannot listen to him blaming you for the loss of your child. Let’s hope that is the end of it. If it’s not, you can consider discussing this with an employment attorney. And your painful experience is a good reminder that since miscarriage is so common, it’s generally a good idea not to announce a pregnancy to a wider circle until you’re into the third month, to avoid having to discuss your loss with people you don’t want to deal with.
Dear Prudence: Torn Apart by an iPad
Q. Etiquette: For the last few years we have had our AC unit serviced right before the beginning of summer by a technician that we know, trust, and who charges reasonable rates. However, he and his family suffered a tragic loss last month when his young grandson passed away unexpectedly. Now that summer is approaching, I would normally be scheduling a service appointment, but I feel uncomfortable asking him about a business matter during such a painful time. At the same time, I can’t imagine anyone else working on our AC unit. We haven’t spoken to him and his family except to convey our deepest sympathies; is there any way to bring up this topic without sounding like a heartless jerk? Or should we simply leave him in peace and find a new technician?
A: Firing him as your technician because he suffered a terrible loss is not the way to be kind. It’s good that you’ve already conveyed your sympathies. So now, schedule the appointment. When he comes you say, “Fred, I’m so sorry for your loss. We are heartbroken over it.” Then he’ll either talk to you for a few minutes about his grandson or maybe not. Do be prepared to be patient if he has to compose himself.
Q. Re: Miscarriage: Original poster here. Unfortunately my boss knew early because of medical appointments and figured it out when I had morning sickness. We didn’t spread it around to others. I have talked to him repeatedly and said, “My doctor has assured me I have not caused the miscarriage.” I will try again to talk to him and let him know that these comments are very upsetting and I will not hear them again, or else I may have to look harder into different employment options.
A: If you weren’t volunteering the reason for your doctor’s appointment and upset stomach, he should not have inquired as to whether you were pregnant. This guy is full of owner-hubris and needs to establish better work boundaries. Don’t you verbally put the onus on yourself to find another job if he won’t stop. When you go to discuss this with him do your best to stay calm and reasonable. Explain that his comments are not only medically incorrect but outside the bounds of reasonable workplace conversation. Let’s hope that sinks in and you don’t have to deal with this again.
Q. Re: Hair Down There: check out the Vagina Monologues, there’s an incredible piece in there. I’d suggest both parties watch this brilliant show. It’s on DVD.
A: Thanks for the recommendation—I’ve never seen it. I’m guessing that monologue does not conclude, “So ladies, start waxing!”
Q. My Sister, the Author: My older sister, who I love, and who has recently decided to become a 100 percent stay-at-home mom, has recently started writing a blog to tell the world her opinions on parenting and how her “new” techniques at raising her two toddlers are life-changing and earth-shattering. This is OK. I realize that she needs an outlet. However. I don’t have kids and don’t really care about these. In addition, she posts them and expects the whole family to have read them and have a favorite passage or hint that we each find moving or particularly correct. How do I tell her that I don’t care about her blog posts or their subject matter without hurting her feelings and making her think that each of her ideas is baloney, even though that’s how I feel?
A: You don’t tell her, you just don’t read it. While she sounds presumptuous and self-involved, you sound dismissive and superior. When she asks for your reaction to her latest insights, you tell her you’re sure what’s she’s writing is great, but since you don’t have children yourself, you just aren’t her primary audience. If she pushes or pouts, you just smile and say you’re sure if she keeps at it, she’ll find the readers she deserves.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.
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