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.)
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Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Boyfriend’s Baby: I am 29 and have been with my new guy for about two months. It started out great—he’s attentive, considerate, and funny. Last month, when things were getting serious, he told me that his ex-wife is six months pregnant with his child—conceived when they “celebrated” their divorce becoming legal. She chose to keep the child, and he’s supportive (tension about infertility was one of the reasons they split in the first place). I’ve met his ex a few times when she’s picked him up at my place for doctors appointments—and she seems very nice and open. My question: I’ve been having nightmares about my boyfriend’s future child calling me a “home-wrecker” for not letting his parents be together. I’m not worried they are going to get together again, but I certainly don’t want to come between them if they want to pursue that option. Thoughts?
A: Maybe divorce lawyers need to write at the bottom of the bill, “If you’re of child-bearing years, please don’t celebrate your divorce by having unprotected sex.” This is an O. Henry ending to a marriage, but you’re getting way ahead of yourself by worrying about how your boyfriend’s child is going to think about you. You’ve been with this guy for two months, and I understand that people can click so thoroughly that in a short time it can turn serious. But realistically, you hardly know this guy. During the time you’ve been together his ex has been gestating his child. That does not sound like the ideal start for a relationship. Sure, maybe you’ll end up as one happy modern family. But in a single sentence you say that you’re both not worried they’ll get back together and that you think they might. Who knows, because it’s impossible to predict how the arrival of a child they both dearly wanted during the marriage will make them feel about having ended it. You’re at a point in life that you’re probably looking for a permanent partner, so you need to think very clearly about investing time with a guy who in three months is going to be pulled away emotionally from you because of the arrival of his child.
Dear Prudence: Online Game Gets Too Real?
Q. Rushing Marriage: Recently my mother was diagnosed with a rare untreatable disease that will lead to her going blind. My mother and I are the only family we have, so it’s reasonable to see that my mom pours all her hopes and dreams onto me. I’m in my last year of college, and have been dating a wonderful guy for a year and a half. Recently she admitted that she wants to see me graduate and married before she goes blind (though we do not know when that will be). I gently brought this up with my boyfriend, and he honestly said he was not quite ready to get married just yet, though he loves me and would like to get married some day. I respect his side and my mother’s, but it leaves me feeling stressed and unsure what to do next. Should I press the issue with my boyfriend? How do I talk to my mother about my boyfriend’s point of view?
A: What a heartbreak. Of course you want to be there for your mother as she makes this difficult transition. Every mother has hopes and dreams for her offspring, but it is unfair to expect your child to carry out a life plan because of your own exigencies. It’s good that your boyfriend was able to handle this conversation with such maturity. Now you must put this pressure aside and live your own life as you would be without the burden of your mother’s disability. Please find a support group for your mother for those with vision problems. It’s crucial she has a community she can turn to of people who understand what she’s experiencing. She should also get a therapist who specializes in disability issues. Despite your mother’s disease, it’s crucial that you have for yourselves and each other the goal of remaining self-sufficient and independent people.
Q. Ex and Our Abortion: Seven years ago I had an abortion. I got pregnant with someone I was in love with, but discovered after getting pregnant that he didn’t want anything to do with being a father and I knew I would be doing it all alone, not something I was willing to do. Shortly after he ended things with me and within the year was engaged to a woman and had a child. Fast forward seven years, it was hard but I got over that heartbreak and moved to a great city and moved on. Two nights ago out of the blue I received an email from him basically saying sorry, and now that he’s a father he realizes that going through with the abortion broke my and his heart. Getting that email has really rocked my world, and I was shocked because I was sure I was over it . Now I realize that I never really dealt with my feelings about the abortion and now it’s all I can think about. My question for you is, is it OK for me to contact him and ask him some questions I have that I think might help me work through this? Or is this something I need to handle and work through on my own ?
A: I often hear from people who years later want to clear their conscience by contacting the person they feel they’ve wronged. Your letter is something important to ponder when considering bringing up old, possibly healed wounds. I generally think even a belated apology for a terrible act is worthwhile. But your situation was not quite that, and there is something rather smug about your ex now musing about his own realization at what the abortion must have cost you. I do think you need to work through this, but I’m doubtful your boyfriend is the best place to start. First contact Exhale (exhaleprovoice.org) a support group for women who have had abortions and want to find others who have been there and can share what are sometimes complicated emotional consequences. It may be that this can help you resolve your feelings on your own. I do worry that further rehashing events with your ex will leave you more roiled.
Q. Do I Invite the Crazy Aunt to the Wedding?: My fiancé and I are getting married in a year, and most of our family members are out of town. We’re sending information to them soon so they can make travel arrangements well in advance. My conundrum involves my side of the family. One of my aunts is conniving and manipulative, and has caused my immediate family (and the police and our attorneys) great pain in the past. I’ve tried to make amends with her, but have had to limit contact because of her manipulation. Naturally, I don’t want to invite her to the wedding. If I could send her a courtesy invite (with no gift expectation, just to be nice) with the guarantee she wouldn’t come, I would. However, I know she would travel halfway across the country, play nice, then get drunk and insult my immediate family. She’s close with several other family members whom I want to invite (including her adult daughter), and they live near each other. Should I go on the “offensive” and send her a polite email explaining that I don’t feel comfortable inviting her? Or should I relay the message through my grandparents? I’m worried my “snub” will alienate other family members.
A: When law enforcement has to be called to resolve a family dispute, that’s a decent reason to cull someone from a guest list. If you don’t want auntie there, you don’t send her an invitation stamped, “Void Because You’re Prohibited.” You don’t send her any invitation at all. But if everyone else is going to get invited and they all live near each other, then yes, something has to be said. If you have a truly trusted family member who can explain to your aunt that because of unpleasant past encounters it’s in everyone’s interest that she and your family not be in the same room, let that person do it. If no one’s right for that task, then call your aunt and explain you’re sorry to have to leave her off the list but because of the extreme tension between her and members of your immediate family, this just isn’t the occasion for a full family reunion.
Q. Re: Divorce celebration: Take it from a divorce lawyer—find someone else!
A: I have to agree this one just doesn’t seem worth it.
Q. Friendzilla?: I am a married woman in my 20s. About a year ago, I befriended a married colleague at work (she has since changed jobs for unrelated reasons). At first, our friendship was normal and consisted primarily of going out to lunch or coffee. However, lately, things have taken a turn for the strange. At a recent coffee meet-up, I mentioned wanting to see a local concert, and hinted that I suspected my husband would be getting tickets for my upcoming birthday. Three days later, she presented me with tickets for herself and me to attend. Prudie, my husband was livid—he had purchased the tickets as I suspected! Things have gotten more strange since. She purchased us wine and flowers for our anniversary, and paid for lunch secretly when I was in the bathroom. How do I nicely tell her to back off?
A: If you’ve been friends for a year and this is an odd swerve in a relationship you enjoy, you can say something to the effect that you just enjoy getting together and you’re uncomfortable with the sudden burst of generosity. Maybe things will get back to normal. But if they don’t, and this is a rather casual friendship, then you need to just be busy. It’s not uncommon for a friendship that started in the office to fade away once two people are no longer colleagues.
Q. Re: Do I invite the crazy aunt to the wedding?: You already are in limited contact with her, so it seems like the best course of action is to simply not invite her and leave it at that. All these phone calls and elaborate justifications of why you’re not inviting her sound bizarre and unnecessary. If anything they’ll only fuel her crazy behavior.
A: Normally I agree the lack of an invitation speaks for itself. But when an aunt is pointedly the only relative left off the list, it’s better to try to deal with it directly. But yes, the bride has to be prepared for more craziness no matter what.
Q. OK to Throw in the Towel?: I grew up in an emotionally and verbally abusive household, and my father and stepfather were both neglectful if not outright hateful to me as a child. I moved to NYC at 18 and went to therapy for three years before my health insurance cut it off. Soon after, I finally decided to speak to my mother about the abuse and sent her an email detailing many of the issues I feel get in the way of how we communicate. She has not changed her ways, so I had decided it would be healthier to have her out of my life, along with both fathers. I have never been happier in terms of not being put down constantly, but I have also deeply missed whatever pseudo-sense of belonging my family gave me. After two years, she finally replied to my email, and I’m at a loss for how to respond now. I want to know if it’s OK to let go completely of someone who makes me hate myself every time I’m around her and brings up memories of past abuse that she doesn’t even apologize for. Do you have any advice on how to break it to her? And how do I deal with the people in my life who continuously say that everything will work out when they don’t know my mother?
A: Sadly, sometimes removing from your life the people who are supposed to be the most nurturing to you is, as you have found, the healthiest way to move forward. But there is of course a tremendous sense of loss in recognizing that your life is better when you voluntarily remove your parents from it. Your own happiness tells you what you need to know about maintaining this estrangement. You don’t say the email (two years later!) from your mother contains any reckoning about the childhood she gave you. Without self-reflection and apology from her there doesn’t seem to be any purpose to having you start reliving the worst memories from your youth. I’ve written about the situation you describe and the pressure people like you get from those who simply can’t understand (and lucky for them!) what abusive parents are really like. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. You can simply say you too wish things were different, but you are at peace with the current situation.
Q. Re: For the mother going blind: I agree, there is no reason to rush a wedding. But perhaps mom and daughter can go “shopping” at an understanding bridal salon so she can see her daughter in a wedding gown and have that image in her head when the real event arrives.
A: This leaves me uneasy unless the daughter herself thinks it’s a great idea. There will be a future for this mother and daughter that will be different from the present, but I hope there will be joy at experiencing the actual events as they take place.
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