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. Naked Neighbor: My neighbor has taken to taking off his clothes outside on his deck in full view of my kitchen window. It’s a bit alarming to see a 70-year-old man in the altogether. I’d like him to stop but don’t know how to broach the subject since he probably thinks no one sees him (and, believe me, I wish I didn’t). I’m also wondering if it signals some impairment—dementia, maybe—and might indicate larger problems. His wife died recently. Any suggestions besides buying new curtains?
A: It may be dementia, or it may be, “I miss you, Mabel, but now I can finally hang out on the deck in the all together without being nagged.” If his deck is in the back, then he’s probably assuming that while his backside is getting aired, his privates are private. Consider your alternatives. You could slip an anonymous note under his door, but if other neighbors don’t have access to an eyeful, he’ll know it’s you. He could be violating some kind of decency code, but you probably don’t want to call the police to have them try to wrestle Grandpa into a pair of boxers. I suggest you get a set of sheer blinds for your kitchen window so you can still see the light but not the view.
Q. Terminal Illness on the QT: My best friend is terminally ill. She refuses to tell anyone, most especially her parents. She is close to her dad but not her mom, who she considers to be a cold, heartless person. Her parents are her only family. As her best friend, I am now in the position of making decisions, although this is not formally written. She is getting worse as each day passes. I have encouraged her to get her wishes in writing—power of attorney, will, etc. This has been a tough subject. I feel the need to reach out to her parents and let them know, but if I do, I breach her trust. I will have to be the one who makes the phone call and live with the aftermath, and I fear it will get messy. What to do?
A: What a dreadful situation for all concerned. Of course, dying people deserve a lot of leeway, but if you are at the breaking point and also fear the aftermath of her death, then you have to attend to your own legitimate concerns. The hospital where she is being treated should have a social-work department, and your friend needs to access that. Tell her you will go with her to discuss her wishes about her family. Then with a third party you can bring up that you feel it is too heavy a burden for you to keep her parents in the dark. Say you want to protect her from her mother but that you feel she will cause undue agony for her father if her parents aren’t given a chance to be there in some capacity during her illness. Whatever she says, there may come a point where you have to say point blank to your friend, “I want to honor you, but I feel compelled to tell your parents what’s happening. I’m going to make the call this week, so we need to talk about what I should say.” If she resists, you might also want to consult with an attorney about how to protect yourself in the aftermath of her death.
Q. Tables Have Turned: I have a close, lifelong friend who married and had kids later than me and several others in our social circle. She was never really into kids, and she also made disparaging remarks about mutual friends who decided to stay home after having kids. Fast forward to now and this friend has a 1-year-old baby and is preparing to quit her job to stay home. She talks about her kid and the challenges of parenting. All. The. Time. I’d like to come up with a polite way to respond and redirect the conversation when she starts dominating it with mommy-talk. Any suggestions?
A: I hope your friend has a sense of humor or a recognition of irony. When she starts in with her single-minded patter, you can laugh and say, “Oh, so the person who couldn’t stand hearing one more story from the rest of us about poopy diapers is now giving us Technicolor details!” Then you can say that you want to support her through the early years because you know how overwhelming they can be. But as she used to remind you when you started perseverating about your kids, there are still other things to talk about. Say you’re going to do her the same favor she did for you of changing the subject. But if she’s simply the kind of person who lacks self-awareness and thinks her point of view of the moment deserves constant and full airing, then you might want to take a break until she emerges from her child-obsessed cocoon.
Q. Re: Naked Neighbor: I don’t think the sheer curtains would do it. Even a note would not help. I think that the kitchen viewer should actually say something to the old fellow. Sometimes a loss of a spouse can send someone over the deep end, and he may need a little reminder that he is not alone. If the unintentional voyeur happens to know the neighbor has family, it might help to let them know, so they can address the view.
A: Let’s hope the letter writer knows the neighbor well enough to know if he has grown children and where they are reachable. Sure, it would be an awkward conversation, but the kids are in a better position to tell dad to cover up or to realize he needs a checkup.
Q. Stuck in Limbo: After years of dealing with my husband’s infidelity, I finally told him I wanted a divorce. (This was after years of counseling and other attempts to try to save our marriage.) That was three years ago. And while we are now living separate lives (sharing custody of our three kids), we are still technically married. And he doesn’t seem at all interested in changing that. He claims things are fine the way they are, and he can’t be bothered by dealing with the details. Because we began the process in a collaborative way, I can’t force the issue without his participation, unless I start from scratch and spend a small fortune. And if all of that wasn’t frustrating enough, I just found out from a mutual friend that my ex’s serious girlfriend is under the impression that I’m the one holding things up. Apparently she told a whole tale of woe this weekend to a room full of people about how I’m preventing him from moving on with his life because I’m still in love with him. So now everything in me wants to pick up the phone and tell her exactly who the problem really is. But I also recognize it may backfire and undermine the decent relationship we have in regard to our kids. What do you think?
A: I was only a few sentences in before I thought, “And he wants to stay married so he can screw around at will but no girlfriend can bring up the subject of marriage because he already has a wife.” It’s fine that you wanted to embark on the divorce in a collaborative way, but now he’s trying to turn you into a collaborator in his continuing deceit. I say forget informing his girlfriend of his true character. If she hasn’t figured out what a liar and manipulator he is, it’s not your job to enlighten her. What you need to do is get your legal situation taken care of. I don’t know the ins and outs of matrimonial law, but your lawyer does, and you need to inform him or her about this stalling and get a plan to move forward. Yes, it will probably make things more difficult and expensive, but this guy will never be your ex unless you force him to stop leaving you in limbo.
Q. Re: Friend’s Terminal Illness on the QT: Please check with a family-law attorney regarding her end-of-life wishes and how to state them. Your state might have restrictions on who can call the shots on her treatment once she’s no longer coherent. Might be immediate family only.
A: Yes, the best friend needs to make sure she doesn’t get herself into a legal situation with the parents. She needs to tell her terminally ill friend that as painful as it is, the time is now for legal decisions to be made.
Q. Noisy Co-Workers: I’ve been at my first postgrad position since January. My department is a small, fun group of people—sometimes too fun. A few of them have trouble distinguishing between private and work settings. Often, a group of two or three will hang out in one office with music, laughing, weekend planning, and general fun. The managers do not always see the problem with this. In many ways, it’s a very collaborative environment, so it makes sense—to a degree. However, I’ve heard too many inappropriate conversations (some sexual in nature) to believe that it’s all work-related. I’m not sure how to handle it. I’ve mentioned this to my boss a few times, but she’s nonconfrontational and will mention it to the offending parties but then not follow up. Especially since I’m one of the newest, I don’t want to make waves. HR is not an ideal solution, since that department is newly restructured. Please give me some suggestions—and I already have headphones and earplugs. I’m afraid of hearing loss from trying to drown it out with my music. I’m in a cubicle—at times, I will go to my boss’ office and close the door. That’s not always an option, however. I need a longer-term solution, please!
A: The conversation may be loud and raunchy, but you’re the newest person in the office, and it’s unlikely you’ll change the office culture, but you could make yourself a pariah. This doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable for people to gather and make it impossible for others to work. First of all, forget drowning out the party with music and invest in sound-canceling earphones. That technical fix might allow you to do your work. Second, if everyone gathers in an office for the hilarity and it’s too loud for you to work, go over and with a smile on your face say, “Guys, do you mind if I just close this door? I’m unfortunately easily distracted by sounds. Thanks!” You could also try to lighten up. On a Friday afternoon when people start planning their weekend, try to join in the fun. Ultimately, though, the longer-term solution may be finding a place of work where work is the priority.
Q. Friend’s Filthy Home: I recently stayed with a friend while on vacation. I am not by any means a neat freak. My friend’s home was filthy. Papers and stuff was strewn everywhere. The whole place smelled. I stayed in the guest room, which doubles as the place my friend keeps her cat’s litter. She did move the litter out of the room while I was there, but there were clearly remnants still there. The tub was dirty, and you could see dirt on the floorboards. A few years ago, she mentioned that a couple of her friends had staged an intervention about her home. She was living in a different place. I had visited briefly, and while it was messy, her place wasn’t dirty. She no longer speaks to those friends. My friend is a truly wonderful person. I have known her for many years, and I would have never guessed she lives this way. I am not sure how to approach this with her.
A: Never, ever accept her hospitality again. That she is so oblivious to her surroundings she would invite you to stay says how out-of-touch she is. These kinds of disorders are sad, bizarre, and resistant to treatment. There’s something wrong with your friend, but you already know her admirable qualities. Stick with getting together in public settings.
Q. Re: Naked Neighbor: Why can’t she just knock on his door and tell him, or send a note with her name and let him know that she can see him? This is offensive behavior. If he doesn’t comply, then she can take the next step of contacting the authorities.
A: True, just telling him, “I can see you!” is the most direct way of dealing with it. And I generally agree with direct ways of dealing with things. But I’m trying to imagine having that conversation with one of my elderly neighbors. Certainly if I was unloading the dishwasher and got an eyeful, I’d call to my husband and say, “Dear, hurry, there’s a red-cockaded woodpecker right outside the window!” But the idea of then knocking on said neighbor’s door would fill me with dread.
Q. Job Interview Etiquette: I am a recent college grad who has a rare interview on the horizon. The position is entry-level at a large company and pays well for someone looking to pay loans rather than begin a career. While researching the company, I’ve found they are currently going through a major lawsuit that many sources are quoted as saying could shut down the company. My question is whether I should inquire about the lawsuit during my interview or just hope that the verdict favors the company. I wouldn’t want to receive the position and get situated so that if the company does go belly up, I’ll have passed on other opportunities in between.
A: If the company’s hiring it appears they’re betting that at least for the time being they aren’t going belly up. It’s unlikely anyone at the company can comment on the pending lawsuit except to say they hope for a favorable resolution. You say this is an entry-level position that you see as temporary and not the beginning of a career. (But why not? If you impress your bosses, you should be able to move up, as long as there’s a company to move up in.) If you’re concerned that this company is not a going enterprise then keep looking. Otherwise, if the job is a good fit for now, take it with the knowledge that if the company folds, no one will hold your subsequent unemployment against you.
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