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.)
See Dear Prudence live in New York tomorrow! Join Emily Yoffe as she discusses her advice column and answers anonymous questions Tuesday, April 23 at the 92nd St. Y Tribeca. Click here for more information.
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Rapport With Partner, Fashion Problems: My wonderful husband has this obsession with my boobs. After breast-feeding a few kids, they are not so discreet and tiny anymore, and frankly I’m not very happy with the new bulkier look. I used to be a small B, now I’m a solid C. My husband likes them like this, but I feel suffocated by his attention to them. Anything that is not a turtleneck gets the once-over and basically a passive-aggressive comment like, “You feel OK wearing that top?” At which point I generally say I do, sometimes asking him if he thinks it’s too flashy and he reassures me that it’s OK as long as I feel OK. At this point I go change because I don’t want him thinking I’m trying to flash his mom at the family lunch or something. What can I do to get him off my back—err, chest? I’m modest, but I’m getting fed up with feeling like I never manage to dress appropriately.
A: So he’s thrilled with your expansion, but is also strangely unsupportive of it. If I’m understanding you right, it sounds as if he wants to keep your cup size a family secret (or two family secrets). A healthy interest in and pleasure in each other’s bodies is good for a marriage. An obsession over one body part isn’t. From now on, instead of slinking away and changing, stand firm. Explain you’re a grown woman and you don’t want to hear undermining commentary every time you wear an outfit that is two steps away from a burqa. I hope your change in attitude has him looking at you like a deer caught in the headlights. As for you, there are a lot of physical changes women undergo because of childbirth. But instead of bemoaning your enhanced state, accept that yours is a development many women would envy.
Dear Prudence: Boss Turned Cougar
Q. Breast-feeding: I wanted nothing more than to be able to breast-feed my child. I had a medical condition develop postpartum that physically prevented me from doing so—my milk never came in due to this condition. I tried pumping, medication, and several lactation consultants, but nothing worked. It took me almost a year to come to terms with this problem because I was absolutely heartbroken. My partner now has a negative view of breast-feeding and sometimes comments to other breast-feeding parents about how miserable our baby was when I was nursing, which is true as I didn’t meet his nutritional needs. I’d prefer to just not discuss the issue around others, because I’m still emotional. My child is now a toddler and I’m happy to no longer deal with the breast-feeding questions. How can I make my partner understand this?
A: I wonder if “I’m living with a boob” is going to be the theme of the day. You are making me so happy to be beyond the breast-feeding, toilet-training conversation stage of life and into the SAT-prep, college-touring maelstrom. Sure, you wanted to breast-feed, but given your physical limitations the choice was a bottle or starvation. So be glad healthy, nutritious food was available for your child and stop dwelling on your breasts. Many women want to deliver vaginally, but end up have C-sections for medical reasons. Again, that’s better than having a catastrophic outcome. As for your partner, tell him or her that the commentary to other parents is intrusive and uncomfortable. Your child couldn’t be breast-fed, other children can. What a revelation! Your child is very young, so please, right now commit to not being the kinds of parents who obsess about every milestone (“Isabella is speaking in full sentences, but our Aiden is just saying, bah, bah, bah, bah”) making you, your child, and everyone else miserable.
Q. Relationship Woes: I am in a relationship with a wonderful man whom I’ve been close friends with for about five years. He and my son love to spend time together, and we are talking about a future together. Here’s the problem: When I met him, he was best friends with my ex-boyfriend. Because of this, none of his friends condone our relationship (although they do acknowledge that they’ve never seen their friend so happy). Their social group took some hits after my breakup with my (abusive) ex, when he cut out everyone who was associated with me. I don’t want to isolate the wonderful man that I am with now by ignoring the problem with his friends. How do I win them over?
A: This sounds like a social group that’s worth ditching. First of all, there’s nothing amiss with two single people dating each other who met through a group of friends, even if one previously dated someone else in the gang. Second of all, your abusive ex sounds like a controlling creep not just in private, but across the board. Too bad his group isn’t telling him to lay off. I hope your boyfriend’s social circle extends beyond this dysfunctional one. Instead of trying to win these people back, you and your boyfriend should look to stretch your social wings and make dates to get together with people less swayed by a big bully.
Q. Re: Fashion Problems: I too grew a full cup size after having my son. However, my husband truly likes it and, though he doesn’t encourage it, he doesn’t get upset if I wear a V-neck out of the house. I am the one who is annoyed with them! They get in my way and I would wear sports bras to try to minimize them. Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine who suggested getting a professional bra fitting done. I did and have found that a properly fitted bra makes all the difference! They still get in my way, but I don’t look like “super boob” when I am wearing spaghetti straps!
A: Another woman who thinks her new cup size is a total bust! Good advice that proper fitting and support is a must.
Q. Blergh: My mom and I don’t get along. She recently admitted to my husband that she has disliked me since I was 6. My daughter is now 6 and adores my parents, but I cannot stand being around them. My mother was emotionally and physically abusive and my father did nothing to stop her. I want my child to have a relationship with my parents, but under my rules (I don’t want her going to visit them without either my husband or I present), but when I try to enforce those rules she has vicious verbal tantrums. Add to it that my parents lead miserable lives and they have made my daughter the only bright spot, and you see what I am up against. My parents look normal from the outside, so they demonize me to the family and make me look like I am withholding important time with their only grandchild. I am just trying to keep my child safe. I think now they are going to try to start manipulating her to get back at me and that is my final straw. They are coming for a visit soon, and the thought of it makes me want to run to the furthest country imaginable. I have no idea what to do here.
A: Sadly, it sounds as if it’s time to try a period of no contact with your parents. You had a hideous childhood, and good for you for making it out. Your parents remain abusive people, your mother overtly and your father her enabler. Your daughter may be the only light in their lives, but that’s their fault. You rightly are concerned about the evil things your mother might say to your girl since she flat out told your husband she dislikes you. I doubt anything her grandmother says will sway your daughter’s feelings for you. But there’s no reason you should allow her to hear such garbage from her grandmother. Pull the plug on the visit. Tell your parents the visit is off, keep the conversation short, and just explain that you realize you can’t be subject to verbal abuse any longer. Then stay strong no matter what they pull. I wrote here about how others in your situation have handled similarly awful parents.
Q. Re: Follow-up to relationship woes …: To clarify, my ex is no longer in the picture with this social group. They did indeed ditch him when it became clear that he was unstable and controlling. However, I think they are afraid that I will somehow upset the dynamic with the rest of the group since our breakup was the catalyst for everything that changed. The man I am currently dating is supportive and happy to branch out into my circles, but these are people he’s been friends with for 15 years, and he just wants us to all get along. I need to figure out how to coexist with these people.
A: Well if they realized they had a snake in their midst and they got rid of him, I don’t understand why you should be punished for being among those who were deceived by him. In this case your boyfriend should say that you two are a duo and unless the event is just hanging out with the guys, he expects invitations will be to the two of you.
Q. Puppy Love: I am still shaking with anger. Last week, my son and I had a conversation over the phone about me buying him a puppy this summer. Fast forward to yesterday, when my ex had to bring my son home from his visitation with her. Guess who has a new puppy? Guess who was allowed to bring the puppy in the car with him for the three-hour ride to my house? Guess who had his puppy taken away from him by his mother when he got out of the car? All of those questions led to my 5-year-old son having a complete meltdown, as I suspect most kids would do, bawling and hyperventilating because he wanted his puppy. Which then led to his mother looking at me and saying, this is why I should get custody, he obviously doesn’t want to be at your house, and then walked away with his new puppy. How do I keep my cool with her when she emotionally terrorizes our child to try and get him to feel bad for not living with her? The courts have been no help, because we live in a small town and the judge knows her (and my) families well, so he doesn’t seem to believe the mean streak she has, even when confronted with actual hard proof.
A: You keep your cool by keeping your cool. Your ex is hoping her provocations have the effect of getting you to act in a way that would allow the courts to see it her way. But the good news is that you’re responding like a mature adult will save you from having to explain why you lost it, and will also be a continuing model for your son about how to respond to emotional manipulation. Don’t rush out to get a counter-pup just because of your wife. But if you genuinely are ready for a dog of your own—and you have to be prepared to do the dog care because your son is too young—then your son might just end up with two pets at two different homes. You’re in it for the long haul with your ex. So take a look at this book: Raising the Kid You Love with the Ex You Hate by Edward Farber for guidance on how to get through this.
Q. Decisions: My husband has a major problems making decisions of all kinds and it paralyzes him so that he ends up accomplishing nothing professionally or coming home from the grocery store with eggs and not the lettuce he went to get, etc. I’ve always accepted it as a part of him and I help him when he asks, but now that we’re thinking about kids, I just can’t imagine a life where I’m constantly parenting for two when I don’t have to. He does realize this is a problem and I don’t know how to tell him I wouldn’t want to have children with him like this. What can I do?
A: I don’t even understand why you’re married to someone who facing the produce aisle says, “Romaine, red leaf, iceberg—arghh, get me out of here!” Your husband has such serious mental problems that he is unable to function in the world. He needs help, now, and your marriage needs some honesty, now. If he won’t see a therapist (yes, you will have to find one since he won’t be able to make a choice) then insist on marriage counseling—which you need in addition, anyway. Unless he addresses this problem and makes significant progress, like you, I can’t imagine why you would bring a child into this mess.
Q. Newly Fit Husband: In the past year, my husband has taken up running, and it’s been great! He’s lost 65 pounds and I couldn’t be prouder. But Prudie, he constantly wants to talk about running, his workouts, and losing weight. I am called on to feel his muscles multiple times a day. I’m happy to support him, praising his daily run logs, coordinating race days for him, even taping up his chest so it doesn’t chafe, but I’m tired of having to constantly stroke his newfound ego. How do we strike a balance?
A: What a refreshing change this is from, “My spouse has turned into an elephant seal. How do I get [him or her] looking sexy again?” Your husband is healthier and you must be enjoying his new physique. But I agree that self-obsession with one’s body is no more pleasant than a spouse’s obsession with your body part. Keep in mind all this is new for your husband, and he also is replacing a focus on food with a focus on fitness. As his running routine becomes more routine and his new body more normal to him, the need for constant stroking (of his ego, at least) should fade. If it doesn’t, reiterate to him that you couldn’t be prouder, but you are starting to feel his exercise needs need to be less in the foreground of your lives and you need a break from the running talk. Then when he brings it up, have a bunch of things in mind you’d rather discuss and change the subject.
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