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.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Dancing Daughter: My only daughter recently came out to me as a stripper. For years she had said she worked in a standard office job. I feel as if I’ve been slapped in the face for all the years she lied to her father and me. I love her so much and this revelation has turned my world upside down. I had to tell my husband and he is furious and refuses to talk to her. Not only am I unsure as how to take this, but I don’t know how to handle my husband. I don’t want my family torn apart by this and I do not support her career choice. Help?
A: I understand that hearing that your daughter makes her living by taking off her clothes for leering men is a shock, but think of what it took for your daughter to finally reveal the truth. You and her father need to talk out your hurt and pain together, so that you can then go to your daughter and jointly say how hard you know it must have been for her to tell you this and that you appreciate her honesty. Then you can start a conversation about her life. The point you want to make—and which surely she knows—is that her job is not a long-term sustainable one. Say that you two want to support her in helping to figure out how to integrate back into the more traditional workplace so that she can find a more satisfying career. So put aside the judgment and the outrage. Slapping down your daughter will only make her regret coming clean.
Dear Prudence Live in New York: The Dirty Bra
Q. Married but Financially Separate: My husband and I have been married for five years and have totally separate finances—bank accounts, credit cards, nothing is shared. He makes significantly more money than I do and pays all of the bills with the exception of the mortgage, which I pay. He “gives” me money weekly for groceries and incidentals. Regardless, I am pretty much broke all of the time. We don’t have a joint credit card or bank account and I get really resentful when he spends lots of money on something and I am relegated to the local discount store, a place he wouldn’t consider gracing. He refuses to join our finances or have a joint credit card. This isn’t a partnership. As he would say, what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours. Is he on a power trip or paranoid? I know I blew it by not discussing how we would handle our money before getting married but I didn’t and now this is a serious issue for me.
A: Since you don’t mention other more pleasant aspects of life that you do share, I’m wondering if there is any part of your union that does feel like a partnership. (I hope your weekly stipend isn’t for services rendered.) If not, what are you doing in it? There is something you two need to do together and for which your husband should pay: marriage counseling. Tell him that you thought you married the handsome prince, but you feel like Cinderella before the ball. Explain that you have become so resentful of your disparate financial conditions that your marriage is at stake. Do keep in mind that since you are chronically broke, if you two do split, you’re going to have to learn to live within your own means.
Q. Cousin Was Abused: My 24-year-old cousin was recently abused by her boyfriend. He broke her rib and wrist. She moved out of the house she shared with him and her two young children and moved in with her parents, but did not report him to the police because he told her if she didn’t report him, he would buy her a car (which he did). She also didn’t go to the hospital, I’m assuming because the doctors would recognize the signs of physical abuse and report him, so she’s dealing with a broken wrist without medical attention. I feel as though I should make an anonymous call to the police and report him. The only problem is that I live 500 miles away and only occasionally talk to this cousin via Facebook and I heard this news from my mother, so the details could be muddled. I only know the man’s name; I don’t know his address or where he works or anything of the sort. My mother told me it was best to not get involved, but I feel terrible that this guy hurt someone so badly and has basically gotten off scot-free.
A: I totally agree he needs to be reported immediately, and my only additional suggestion is to first call the National Domestic Violence Hotline—1-800-799-SAFE (7233)—to get their advice on your best course of action given the secondhand nature of your information and your cousin’s reluctance to get help. This man needs to be prosecuted and your cousin needs to see a doctor; she could be setting herself up for problems down the road if her bones don’t heal properly. She also needs mental health care. If she’s willing to risk her life for a car, she’s got some deep-seated problems and I’m concerned about her competence as a mother. There’s no easy answer here, sadly. But you’ve got to take action before your cousin gets back together with her boyfriend and endangers the lives of herself and her children.
Q. A Baby by Any Other Name: About nine years ago my husband found out about an affair I had been having with a co-worker. My stupid mistake almost cost me and my husband our marriage, but thankfully many counseling sessions and one branch change later I was finally able to regain his trust and we held our marriage together for us and our two kids. Fast-forward to now, my oldest daughter is pregnant with her first child and just told me that she and her husband have picked out a name for him, the same name as the guy with whom I had the affair. I am immensely worried that when my husband finds out his future grandson’s name it will rip open an old wound and he’ll start resenting me again or worse that being reminded of that painful time in our marriage every time he sees his grandson may cause him to love the baby less. Prudie, how do I get my daughter to reconsider her baby name without revealing my affair, which I know would crush her?
A: Unless your lover was named Crispin or Zebulon, there are many other people with XY chromosomes with the same name, some of whom your husband surely knows and may even work with. He can’t go nuts every time he meets someone who shares the same first name as your paramour, so your worries may be strictly in your own head. Your affair ended nine years ago and your marriage was put back together. If your husband would be ripped up, or not love his grandson (!), because the child shares the name of your erstwhile lover, then your marriage is built on quicksand. What you do is say nothing. If your husband privately complains to you when he hears the baby’s proposed name, you tell him that you understand it may sting, but once he sees darling baby Romulus, he will surely forget the world contains another one.
Q. Re: Abused Cousin: The injuries could be more serious than she realizes. An untreated wrist fracture can lead to a devastating condition called “avascular necrosis” and fractured ribs can mean internal injuries. You cannot be forced to report abuse (although I hope the cousin would) so seeing a doctor is in no way connected with reporting the incident.
A: Lots of people are saying the cousin should not worry that the doctor will report abuse. So even letting the cousin know this might prompt her to get treatment so that she doesn’t suffer from the kind of disaster you describe.
Update: The laws on physicians reporting suspected domestic abuse varies by state, but many states have some sort of mandatory reporting requirements (PDF). While I generally think that’s a good thing, it can have the unfortunate consequence, as is the case here, that some women refuse essential treatment in order to protect their abuser.
Q. Re: Married but Financially Separate: I used to work with a couple who did the same thing. He was a class-A jerk. We used to joke that at least the financial ties would be easy to cut when they got a divorce. Then, they had a baby, and they still tried to do the financial half-and-half. It was ridiculous, and the wife resented the heck out of it. I think these people should get into counseling immediately—if he is not willing to see marriage as a partnership when it comes to money, when does he see it that way?
A: Just think about adding a kid to this mix: “You pay for the diapers, I’ll pay for the crib.” I agree this is no partnership and if he’s not willing to address this problem, she should get out. Another reader pointed out that since he pays the bills and she pays the mortgage, she may be getting shafted!
Q. Unmotivated Daughter: Our 17-year-old daughter seems totally uninterested in doing well in school. She’s in her first year of nursing studies, and has failed most of her courses. She spends most of her time on the Internet (we’ve now started to limit her access), and on her cellphone, texting. She pays for the phone (she works every Saturday at a laundry place), so we can’t take it away from her. We’ve tried discussing rationally, expressing our worry for her, and disappointment that she’s not living up to her potential. Each time she promises to do more, but then just doesn’t. We are at a loss. Please help!
A: I’m not understanding whether your daughter is still in high school and in a special program, or graduated from high school young and is at a nursing school. I’m going to assume the former. Of course this is very frustrating for you, but as you’ve discovered you simply can’t act as a superego for an unmotivated 17-year-old. You need to sit down with the right people at your daughter’s school and talk about a plan of action. You need to get everyone on board that flunking out is not an option. It just might be that she is not ready to commit to a career, particularly nursing, and she needs to just follow a standard course of study. If you’re not satisfied with the school’s counseling, engage an independent person to evaluate and talk with your daughter. She might be more willing to hear from this person about the short- and long-term consequences of not getting a high school diploma. But for your own mental health and the sake of your relationship with your daughter you two need to do some backing off. You want to strike the balance of letting her know you want to help her get herself out of this mess and make good choices, but that she’s at the point in life where she is going to have to experience the consequences of her actions. I know some readers will say that you’re the parents and if you want to take away the phone, you should. But unless she’s in lockdown, she will obtain one on her own and continue to text in defiance.
Dear Prudence: Torn Apart by an iPad
Q. Re: Abused Cousin: OP here. My cousin doesn’t know that I know anything about this. The only reason I do know is that my grandmother lives on the same property as my parents and my aunt told my grandmother, who in turn told my mother, who in turn told me. But I get the idea that this is a “secret” among other family members and if I sent my cousin a Facebook message saying, “Maybe you should see a doctor about what your ex-boyfriend did to you …” it would not go over well AT ALL. My family is fairly dysfunctional and has always been of the Mind Your Own Business mentality. That’s why I feel like an anonymous phone call to the police is my only course of action. I can’t directly deal with my cousin.
A: I agree, a Facebook message is not the way to go in dealing with an assault. No surprises that the dysfunction is familywide. I agree the police should be called in. But I also reiterate my suggestion to you to call the hotline first because they have experience dealing with victims who don’t want to report, etc. They should be able to advise you on possible ways to deal with your cousin and what other agencies (Child Protective Services, maybe) should be alerted.
Q. Re: Stripper. Dropped the ball: The daughter never said she wanted to transition back to a traditional, “satisfying career.” By telling her that, the parents ARE continuing to judge her. So what if this isn’t a job she will be in for 30 years? Perhaps she is putting enough in savings to travel the world later in life? Not judging her means accepting her TODAY, JUST as she is, without trying to change her—even if they don’t approve.
A: I think it’s reasonable for parents not to say, “Oh, honey, you must be in such great shape! And what’s your favorite color G-string?” Supporting your daughter and not being harsh doesn’t mean you can’t express your concern about her long-term career prospects and help her think of ways to make that transition.
Q. Brother-in-Law’s Affair: Last summer, my sister discovered her husband was cheating on her and had been since before their marriage over eight years ago. He has slept with at least three different women (unprotected). They have one child. They decided to go to counseling to try and work things out. Since that decision, he has not implemented anything that the counselor recommends, and is often too busy to go to counseling appointments. When they decided to try and work things out, I agreed that when I saw my BIL in person, that I would not be mean or angry and I was able to do that. My sister discovered that he has been in contact with more women and found their addresses on his phone and called me late at night having a meltdown. Unfortunately, we had booked a summer vacation with them before all of this came to light. I feel like I gave him a chance and he blew it. I am so angry that I feel like I can’t even look at him. I want to cancel the vacation but I’m afraid of hurting my sister. I told her that whatever she does, I’ll always support her, but honestly, if they stay together, I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive him. Am I being selfish? What can I do to get over this?
A: Understand that especially when a child is involved it’s very difficult to decide to end a marriage. In your sister’s case, I hope she’s able to see that it’s unlikely he will ever be reformed and if she stays she’s tacitly accepting his infidelity. As for your vacation, if she comes with her husband do your best to be polite to him. Since you know, and surely he knows you know, it’s fair enough if you pull him aside and say, “Bill, I will do everything possible to make our time together pleasant. But I just wanted to get it on the table that I’m really sad about the pain my sister has been through. I will leave it at that.” For the future, if the drama continues, at some point you can say to your sister that she has to start making some difficult decisions, because constantly finding out about new women and losing her mind over it is wrecking her life.
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