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 email@example.com.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. Let’s get to it.
Q. Mother’s Day: Each Mother’s Day I am expected to prepare and serve a special breakfast, plan and pay for an activity centered around what “mom” enjoys, and provide cards and gifts for my wife. We have a young child and have had gone through the same thing each of the four years. My problem? We are a lesbian couple. I’m a mom, too. She is the birth mother, but how do I explain to my wife that I want the special day, too? It’s not like I am celebrated on Father’s Day. One year it was so bad that when the restaurant offered each of us a free dessert with dinner, she claimed mine and asked for it in a to-go box.
A: I think Mother’s Day is mostly a manufactured forced-march (and as I made dinner last night, I found how much my husband agrees with this) and is best downplayed. But for you this holiday exposes an ugly crack in the foundation of your relationship that must be addressed. If your wife is not on board with the fact that biology aside you two are every bit equals as mothers, there is an ugly undertone of you being a second-class parent. I admire you for not resorting to the classic pie-in-the-face when your wife claimed your dessert. But now that Mother’s Day is over, you two need to have a private discussion in which you say that the Mother’s Day dynamic is terribly undermining to your relationship and your sense of being full partners in the raising of your child.
Dear Prudence Live in New York: Who Opens Prudie’s Letters?
Q. Relationship Drama: My friend committed suicide last Thursday night. Because of that, and circumstances surrounding that suicide (I saw his body before the police got there, and I was among the first to hear about it), I suffered a severe panic attack. (I suffer from a panic disorder.) I had to be sedated. I told my boyfriend of four months (“Kevin”) what was going on so he wouldn’t worry when he couldn’t get a hold of me. He responded by asking me whether this would become a regular thing, and then told me that he didn’t know if he could be with me if it would. Prudie, I doubt this is going to become a regular thing, as there were some pretty severe extenuating circumstances behind it; but at the same time, I can see his point. A recent boyfriend should not have to see me through this kind of thing. I’m not really sure it’s right to stay with someone under these circumstances. Should I work this out on my own? Should I stay with him? I do care about him a lot, but I don’t know if this is really the best time.
A: I’m so sorry for this loss and your trauma. However, painful as it is, it’s useful that Kevin’s character was exposed in such a stark way so early in your relationship. You walked in on a death scene. You don’t need to suffer from panic attacks regularly in order to have one under those circumstances. If a boyfriend of even only four months can’t come to your side to help you through such a dire experience, now’s a good time to explain to him that the “regular thing” is going to be that you two no longer see each other.
Q. Polyamory: Out or Not?: My husband and I recently opened our marriage to be polyamorous (more deep bonds with other people than the “running around” some consider open marriage). I’ve told a couple of female friends and I’ve lost them as friends. My boyfriend and I have a wonderful relationship, and he gets along well with my husband and our children, so I can see a time where he may end up meeting my very Christian father. Dad already hears me speak of my friend Roger often, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he picks up on the actual nature of our relationship. He’d be seriously floored and averse. Losing friends was bad enough, I do not want to go through this with my father. Can I keep it that we are “friends” even if eyebrows start to raise?
A: Now that gay marriage has become so normalized (even if not everyone understands that on Mother’s Day both moms deserve to be celebrated) I expect polyamorists to start coming out of the closet. I understand polyamory is different from polygamy, and doesn’t share the latter’s rigid and noxious views that men run the show and are the only ones allowed multiple partners. I basically feel adults are entitled to make the personal arrangements that please them as long as that doesn’t hurt others, but my concern is what it means to the children. I don’t get the impression that you’ve seriously thought through the effect of this on them since you are so unsure about how to present yourself as a newly constituted family. You’ve learned that blurting out your good news has not engendered congratulations and inquiries about how your friends can get rogered with their own Roger. So letting your father in on your secret doesn’t seem necessary or beneficial. I think you three adults need to do a lot more thinking about your arrangement and its effects on everyone involved, and right now I don’t see the need to make your private lives public.
Q. Roommate Eats My Food: I’ve been living with a roommate (someone I knew only through other friends) for about six months now and I’ve been noticing that from time to time, some of my food seems to go missing. It’s not a lot, just enough for me to notice. A cup of cereal here or there, some milk, handfuls of pretzels or chips, a couple of slices of bread, an occasional piece of fruit. I just seem to go through food faster than I used to when I lived alone. I’ve never caught my roommate stealing food, but I can’t come up with any other explanation. I have a longer commute than he does, so he spends a couple of hours alone in the apartment almost every day. Short of catching him red-handed, I guess I can’t really prove that I know he’s stealing, but I’m pretty positive and I don’t like that he’s taking food without asking permission. We occasionally offer each other a beer, or offer to share leftovers if we have them when we’re making dinner, but we agreed when we moved in together that we would be buying our food separately, and I certainly never agreed that we could just take food from each other’s shelves in the pantry. Other than this, we get along pretty well, but this is really starting to get on my nerves. What can I do about it?
A: I suppose roommates can have this kind of punctilious agreement that everything, down to the condiments, is separate. But it’s really hard if you’ve run out of your own bread not to take a slice of an available loaf when you want a piece of toast for breakfast. Either you need to say to your roommate that you need a strict agreement that food is sacrosanct, or (my suggestion) you say that you understand that occasionally dipping into staples is almost irresistible and that you should each contribute to a fund to make these available for both of you. Surely something around $20 a month should cover the noshing.
Q. Re: Mother’s Day: The LW should make it a Mother’s Day weekend, one day she gets to be celebrated and the other day her wife gets to be celebrated. That should even it out without taking away from a potentially fun tradition.
A: Yes, that’s one good solution. But what is disturbing is that the biological mother has so thoroughly claimed the day as hers. If the other mom has to explain she’s a mother too, the issue goes beyond each woman getting her own Mother’s Day dessert.
Q. Son’s Extremely Obese Fiancée: I need help about my son’s extremely obese fiancée. I might need advice on how to get over my own discomfort and how to address rude comments from family. My son is engaged to a girl who was a little more heavy than “chubby,” when they met, but who has in the last two years gained another 150 pounds. She makes me uncomfortable because she eats the most unhealthiest of diets—fried foods and sugar, basically. My son battled weight issues as a teen but fought hard and lost it all and kept it off for eight years. I’m upset that her influence is also causing him to gain weight. I know there are other weight issues here … I am not that thin, and most of my family members are heavy. Other family members make comments to me about how she will break their furniture, whether she is one of those people who ride carts at Wal-Mart, how they don’t invite them over because she eats too much. Really bad stuff. Is it even in my place to suggest she gets help? I feel terrible for feeling this way.
A: A weight gain of 150 pounds in two years is extremely alarming and if your son’s fiancée were drinking excessively or behaving in other obviously destructive ways you would say something to him. So say something. Explain your love Audrey, but she is endangering her health, and you are worried about their future together. Then even if she can’t shut her mouth, you have to shut yours. If your son is old enough to marry, he’s old enough to make his own decisions about whom to marry and what to eat, even if they are poor ones. As for family members, just shake your head and say that all of you should be sympathetic about how hard it is not to overindulge.
Q. Re: Gay marriage and polyamory: Why did you lump gay marriage and polyamory together in the same sentence? They are not, in any way, related. This inappropriate association is how folks get crazy ideas that gay marriage and beastiality or gay marriage and child sex abuse are linked. I am happy being married to my same-sex husband. I don’t want a boyfriend (or two).
A: My point was that when you expand the definition of marriage beyond one man and one woman, society can expect other consenting adults in other configurations to say that their choices deserve recognition. Polygamy has an ancient history and is legal in many parts of the world. As I said, I find the rules of polygamy to be damaging and we’ve seen it’s potentially dangerous to young girls and terrible for “excess” boys. But polyamory is supposed to be a more equal arrangement among agreeing adults. I’m certainly not suggesting legalization of polyamory. But it’s also unfairly judgmental of you to compare such relationships to the criminal acts of bestiality or child sexual abuse.
Q. Gambling debt?: For Mother’s Day, I decided to treat my mom to a weekend of gambling, as she has always enjoyed this, and she hadn’t been to a casino in a long time. I checked it out with her ahead of time, made the reservations, drove us there, etc., and we spent two nights in Reno. While at the actual casino, we sometimes drifted apart and did our separate things. I was quite lucky, and won a slot machine payout of over $1,000. It was nice, as it basically paid me back for the weekend, and left me a bit of extra money. My mom lost several hundred dollars. The problem is that now she expects me to pay for her losses. In her words, “What’s the big deal, you won anyway?” She feels that since I hosted for this trip, I somehow “owe” her for her losses because I won. I have no intention of paying her back for the money she lost, and she can certainly afford it. But now she is furious with me. Help! Did I do something wrong?
A: At least you can hope your mother is not going to kneecap you for not paying what she thinks is a gambling debt. It would be one thing if your mother had handed you a silver dollar and said, “Please play this for me.” It’s another if lady luck shone on you this Mother’s Day and not on her. You comped her for her celebration, so she should be grateful that she had so much fun and that her losses were relatively minimal. Accept your entire windfall as payment for being such a thoughtful child.
Dear Prudence: Her Lying Eyes
Q. Re: LW with panic disorder: The LW clearly said s/he suffers from a panic disorder. Why is it a character flaw of the boyfriend’s if he admits he may not be able to be in a long-term relationship with a person who suffers from a panic disorder?
A: Because she just saw her dead friend and any decent person would in the aftermath of that be kind and supportive. Yes, people with medical or psychological conditions should also tell their partner about such things. So this is a lesson for both of them to think through as they find new loves.
Q. Extended Family Always Wants Our Time: My husband and I moved away from our hometown almost 15 years ago. We left behind all our immediate family (both sides) and as a result have gone back to our hometown for “vacations” throughout the years. We now have two kids that are a bit older (3 and 8) and would like to start doing more of our own vacations. My husband is going to have a milestone birthday this winter and I’d like to take our family on a tropical vacation to celebrate. The problem? We won’t be able to return to our hometown for our typical “summer” vacation as I’d like to save money. My own parents are OK with this, but my MIL is not happy. She was planning on us coming and is distraught we won’t be able to make it. I invited her to come here instead (we live in a vacation-destination state) but she is unwilling to travel and seemed resentful when she mentioned us taking a “winter vacation” someplace warm. How do I fix this? For the record my parents visit annually but my husband’s family will not travel here despite having more freedom of time and financial resources. Thoughts?
A: It’s perfectly fair that not every vacation for the next decade plus consists of a return to your hometown. But you have to recognize that keeping children connected to their extended families also has a value that’s equal to sun and surf. If your in-laws are physically and financially capable of visiting, then your husband should talk to his parents and try to convince them it would be a great change up if your children got to show his parents your hometown. It could be that your in-laws are uncomfortable with the idea of bunking in your house, so he should say that there are great accommodations nearby if they prefer to have more privacy. And if they won’t come, and your family can’t afford two big trips in a year, your husband can always suggest that his parents underwrite your summer visit to your parents’ town.
Q. Love Him or Leave Him: I have been dating a wonderful man for about four months now. He is a model boyfriend 90 percent of the time, but it’s that 10 percent that concerns me. He binge drinks and when he does his personality changes significantly. He goes from being a kind-hearted caring man to someone that ignores me for long periods of time, is nasty, and blames me for everything. All his friends are huge drinkers. He does not drink daily, but tells me that once he starts he cannot stop. It happens at least four times a month. He apologizes and seems truly sincere and sad, and then it just keeps happening. He refuses to admit he has a problem. I want to give him an ultimatum, but everyone advises against it. I cannot deal with the drinking, but I truly love the rest of him. Is it wrong to give the ultimatum? I’ve given him several chances to “control” the drinking and each time he fails. I have told him I think he’s an alcoholic he does not agree. Are you aware of any good free resources for binge drinkers, it seems most cater to alcoholics? It is very easy to just tell me to walk away, and that’s what all of my friends think, but when you are in the situation, it’s just not that black and white.
A: However you want to define his problem his relationship with alcohol is toxic not just to him, but to you. In the four months you’ve been together, by your count you’ve witnessed at least 16 episodes where he is an abusive drunk. Forget the ultimatums, he’s chosen the bottle, and you need to walk. This situation is actually plenty black and white, and the longer you hang in there during episodes the greater your danger of ending up black and blue.
Q. Re: For the Polyamorist: A cautionary tale: A friend went through this with several other couples. It all ended badly and everyone ended up getting divorced. It was painful and expensive for all involved (including the children). I think it was fun for everyone in the beginning, but over time, it caused a lot of stresses in everyone’s marriage and other relationships. I’m not saying this will happen with your situation, but please think through your decisions carefully.
A: I agree that upending an existing marital arrangement is fraught with all sorts of potential emotional perils.
Our commenting guidelines can be found here.