Dear Prudence

Call of the Wild

My boyfriend answered the phone while we were having sex. Deal-breaker?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend of one year and I are both recently graduated twentysomethings living at home like true millennials. While this has caused a few bumps in our love life, his mother is very open, liberal and allows me to spend the night at their house with him. Usually his mother gives us plenty of space, except for insisting on making us coffee and breakfast some mornings. The other day as we were being intimate, his mother called him on his cellphone. She often calls even when she knows we’re in the house so as not to barge in. This time, he answered the phone and continued to have sex with me as he talked to her. I was livid and disturbed, not to mention feeling cheap in a very Oedipal way. We talked it over at length and he recognized that it was inappropriate and immature, and he apologized. But I can’t help feeling that this should send a self-respecting young woman packing and running. Am I overreacting?

—Don’t Answer

Dear Don’t,
Obviously what he should have said was, “Mom, we’re in the middle of coitus, so don’t interrupt us.” Millennials assert that one of their distinguishing characteristics is the seamless ability to multitask, and if you accept the thrust of that argument, then your boyfriend was only demonstrating his prowess. You’re also looking at the wrong Greek myth to explain what happened. I don’t think the events revealed an attraction to his mother, but to the siren song of the cellphone, a device to which people of all generations often feel more intimacy and loyalty than to their human partners. I’ll also offer the following excuse on your boyfriend’s behalf since he neglected to: Maybe when he realized it was Mom calling, he worried that since she knew he was home, if he didn’t answer she might go looking for him and find herself barging in flagrante. Alternatively, being in his childhood bedroom may have kicked in the Pavlovian response that when Mom calls, he responds. Whatever his subliminal thought process, of course his answering the phone ruined your mood. But this is just a tiny hump in your relationship and not a reason to flee. I’m sure he’s learned his lesson, but the next time you two get romantic, make certain to lock the door and turn off the phone—don’t even let him think about leaving it on vibrate.


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Dear Prudence,
I work at a talent agency as an assistant. The entertainment industry is notoriously hard to break into and the agency world can be ruthless. The line between business and personal is often blurry. Recently my boss took a phone call with one of her friends, Sadie, a development executive. Assistants normally listen in on calls in case their boss discusses a meeting that needs to be set or a script that needs to be sent. This time the subject of discussion was one of my assistant friends, Jeremy, who is up for a job that he really wants at Sadie’s company. Sadie said that Jeremy’s boss went behind Jeremy’s back and gave him a terrible reference. Jeremy is an amazing assistant, and his boss—who is conniving—said he supported Jeremy’s desire to move to a higher-level job. But it turns out Jeremy’s boss is sabotaging Jeremy to keep him longer. Do I tell Jeremy that he needs to watch his back? If I do, I reveal information I heard on a personal phone call. If I don’t, Jeremy might keep losing out on great jobs and not know why.

—An Assistant

Dear Assistant,
For a primer in what to expect, anyone who wants to break into Hollywood as the underling to a powerful person should watch both HBO’s Entourage and the movie Swimming With Sharks, in which an assistant is abused by evil entertainment executive Kevin Spacey. Jeremy’s boss is perfectly following the script of the narcissistic manipulator for whom other people are merely a figment of CGI. Thus I assume Jeremy’s boss is very successful in Hollywood. Jeremy’s own chances, however, are being trashed by having hooked up with this jerk. Since you came upon this information in the course of your work, weigh the kind of relationship you have with your own boss, and whether she’d be open to hearing your dilemma regarding Jeremy. If you feel comfortable, then ask her if there’s a good way to warn Jeremy that his job search is being subverted without your revealing where you got the intelligence. If she tells you it’s all confidential, you cannot divulge to Jeremy the conversation with Sadie. But you could invite Jeremy over for pizza and a viewing of Sunset Boulevard. When Gloria Swanson shoots William Holden in the back for daring to leave her, you might want to turn to Jeremy and say that’s a Hollywood story that still gets played out figuratively to this day.


Dear Prudence,
I’m a grandfather with a 4-year-old grandson who is smart and engaging, but who frequently throws tantrums when frustrated. My daughter-in-law’s mother cares for him during the day while she and my son are at work. Several times a month I pick him up from her house so he and I can spend time together. Usually I feed him lunch, but the other day he refused to eat. When I took him back to his grandmother’s house, he immediately announced he was hungry. She said it wasn’t snack time for another hour and he should have eaten at my house. He launched into a fit, which escalated into a shouting match between the two of them. She put him in time out then made him drink sips of vinegar until he stopped screaming, which I believe is a method she used with her own numerous offspring when they were young. When I went to say goodbye he was huddled in a corner, mouth reddened from vinegar, shuddering and whimpering “I want to go home.” I am deeply disturbed by the whole incident, and feel I should have done something, but I don’t know what. I also don’t how to raise the incident with my son or daughter-in-law. Unfortunately, I have a feeling they will say the grandmother handled the incident appropriately. Please weigh in.

—Distressed Grandfather

Dear Distressed,
I wish you’d picked your grandson up and taken him with you. That would have given you the opening to later explain there was no way you were going to leave a little boy with a sore mouth sobbing in the corner when all he needed was a turkey sandwich and some understanding. I’m betting grandma’s day care comes cheap, but the cost of leaving this boy with this woman is too high. When an adult is engaged in a screaming match with a hungry child, the adult is the one who needs to learn self-control. When she goes on to physically abuse her grandson, she should no longer be his caretaker. But you’re right, if grandma did it to her own daughter, then your daughter-in-law is likely to say she turned out fine and her son deserves the same punishment. This has to be handled very delicately. Talk to your son and daughter-in-law, tell them how great your grandson is, but that like many 4-year-olds he is prone to meltdowns. Say you all need ways to handle him with sensitivity so he will learn to regulate his own behavior. Then explain the scene you witnessed at the grandmother’s house and how distressing it was to see vinegar poured down the throat of a hungry, frustrated child. Take a look at some of these books about tantrums, and if it feels right, give one or two to your son and daughter-in-law: The Everything Parent’s Guide to Tantrums, The Highly Sensitive Child, and this list of children’s books. If they won’t take action, up the amount of time you spend with your grandson, keep your eye on the situation, and intervene when it goes off the rails. Fortunately, next year your grandson will be in school during the day, reducing the amount of time he spends with his vinegar-hearted grandmother.


Dear Prudence,
I’m a man who can’t ask this question of my women friends, mostly because it’s something that some of them deal with and I don’t want to come across as a jerk. It’s the mustache question. Twice now I’ve found myself dating women who have a slight ‘stache. It’s something I haven’t been able to get past—it’s that big a turn off. These have both been women that I have really liked aside from that one thing. With one we have a kind of When Harry Met Sally situation that’s gone unrealized largely because of the upper lip. I said nothing to either woman and went on to date others for whom this is not an issue. But what if I find myself in this situation again—what should I do?

—Waxing Nostalgic

Dear Waxing,
Women, if you’re wondering why that guy you hit it off with didn’t call for a third date, or what’s keeping you from being someone’s Sally, stand in front of a magnifying mirror in harsh light and see if one reason is that you’re hairier than Harry. Waxing, you’re right that critiquing a potential partner’s looks is always dangerous territory, particularly when the subject involves either follicles or fat cells. In the case of a potential partner whose lips you’re afraid to lock with because of whisker burn, I’m not sure there’s much you can say. Suggesting someone get electrolysis is the kind of conversation that probably needs the cushion of being delivered in the context of established intimacy. But for the good friend who needs zapping, this is something you can mention to a mutual (well-depilated) female friend and ask her to give the girl-to-girl advice. If you do ever speak up about this to a lovely, if hirsute, partner, strike the word “mustache” and substitute “facial hair.” And don’t offer your razor for a nice, close shave.


Discuss this column with Emily Yoffe on her Facebook page.

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