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, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Single Dads and Sleepovers: I’m a single dad raising four girls. My oldest is turning 12, and she wants to have a sleepover party at our home. My concern is would other parents think it’s inappropriate for a single dad to supervise all the kids? I haven’t had the opportunity to know other parents very well, but most know I’m a single dad. Should I have a female friend stay the night and help me supervise to put other parents at ease? I just want my daughter to have a great birthday, and I’m worried her friends’ parents will say no because they feel uncomfortable about a man looking after the kids by himself.
A: Unfortunately, I have heard from people who refuse to let their daughters stay the night at the home of a child being raised by a father, not because the father makes them uncomfortable in any way, but solely because he’s a man. This is ugly and pernicious, and I’m hoping the other parents in your circle are not like that. I don’t think you should mention your single status at all nor should you bring in a surrogate “wife” to ease the concerns of the other parents. If a single dad explained to me that he was doing this, that information itself would actually make me uneasy. Just come up with a guest list and send the invites, and with a houseful of 12-year-olds, in addition to your other three excited daughters, expect to get very little sleep, Dad.
Dear Prudence Live in New York: Prudie’s Toughest Question
Q. Stinky, Sensitive Husband: I’m concerned about my husband of nearly six years. Recently, his hygiene has taken a hit. He’s showering maybe every three days, has let his hair become unkempt, has infected toenails he won’t treat, etc. I don’t think that he’s depressed, but he is (and always has been) very sensitive about any comments regarding his appearance. When I try to kindly mention that fungal infections are easily treatable or invite him along to get a haircut with me, he says that I’m being critical of him, and he becomes very defensive. I’m honestly not trying to be critical, but I find myself becoming less attracted to his grungy appearance. Is there a way I can help him clean up without causing offense, or do you think he’s simply “given up” after being married for a few years?
A: Letting standard hygiene go is a warning sign of mental illness. If your husband has fallen into a clinical depression or has some other kind of mental troubles, defensiveness would be part of the problem. Shift the conversation away from his appearance and to your concern about his health. Gently say it’s not like him to not be unclean or to let an infection fester. Say you’re worried and you would like to make an appointment for him with his physician, and go with him to talk to the doctor. (I have suggested many times a concerned loved one accompany people to doctor’s appointments and gotten feedback that this is inappropriate or violates HIPAA privacy rules. But as long as the patient agrees to let a loved one sit in, no privacy is being violated. And there can be occasions at which it is helpful for doctor, and patient, to get the feedback of another perspective.) If he utterly refuses, then you have to tell him that he may not understand the seriousness of your concern, but this turn in his behavior has you worried about the foundations of your marriage.
Q. Relationships and Sex: I’ve been dating a wonderful woman for 3 1/2 years (we’re both 27) and am strongly considering marriage. We’re both committed Christians, which has been a deep source of our compatibility. However, I’m concerned about our sex life after marriage, since we’ve decided to wait to go all the way until then. My current girlfriend isn’t nearly as physical as I am, and I don’t want to take the plunge and have a major aspect of our relationship potentially lacking. I suggested we may want to go to couples counseling to talk through her feelings and our issues as a couple, but I am not sure what to do.
A: If you’re a reader of this column, you must know you’ve come to the wrong place for support of virginity until marriage. I get that there is a religious underpinning to this, but seriously, won’t God give you a pass if you take the plunge before taking the plunge? Of course, no matter how well you know each other, all marriages are a bit of a gamble—the mystery of another person is part of what makes marriage fun. But even factoring in the stumbling-around virgin factor, finding out on your wedding day that you seem to be incompatible in bed has to put a damper on how you view the rest of your life. You’re already getting the sense that your girlfriend is happy to keep her virginity because sexuality is troubling to her. That should be troubling to you, and I think you not only need to talk about this but take this issue to its logical conclusion.
Q. Office Crush: I developed a crush on a married co-worker “Jason” shortly after I was hired one year ago. Since he is married, I have been very careful to hide my feelings and not stir up any trouble. To my knowledge, I have been 100 percent successful. But Jason and I have a lot in common, and lately he has been inviting me out after work. As much as I would enjoy his friendship and company, I do not want to go. I am worried that if we end up alone together I am going to jump him. So far I have excused myself by saying, “Sorry, I agreed to help a friend
A: Stop coming up with excuses about helping a friend “insert whatever” and let Jason bluntly know that he’s not going to insert his whatever. I can tell you that you haven’t been 100 percent successful in hiding your desire. Jason has picked up the vibe emanating from you, Ms. Beautiful, and despite his being “mature, gentle, honorable” and married, he’s been incessantly asking you out on dates. Next time say, “Jason, I’m uncomfortable with your asking me out after work, so that has to stop.” Then find someone more appropriate to be an object of your desire.
Q. Re: Slumber Party Backup: I agree that the dad doesn’t have to say anything to the parents of the daughter’s friends other than, “Drop them off at 6 and pick them up at noon,” or whatever. But if I were in his shoes, I might consider inviting another adult as backup at the party—not to deflect parental anxiety but in case they run out of chips or whatever. I wouldn’t want to host a bunch of 12-year-olds plus my own kids without help. Maybe another parent might be willing to join the party?
A: OK, that’s a decent point about the circus that’s descending. But I’m wondering if people would be so certain a single mother couldn’t handle this. If Dad does get an adult woman to help, it seems it would be better to be able to say, “This is my sister, Dana, who’ll be helping me tonight,” rather than a female friend whose presence might raise eyebrows with the other parents that Dad is having a sleepover, too.
Q. Hard to Discuss: I love my girlfriend very much, but there has been a topic that I find it hard to discuss, and it always leaves me upset. When she was 11, she noticed a relative (in her 30s) in a sexual manner who then took advantage of that and engaged in sexual activities with her. My girlfriend insists that she was not molested and that she was never really a child and participated willingly. While I reluctantly believe that she is OK with that, I think that woman is a monster for taking advantage of someone so young. My girlfriend doesn’t think that her relative is disgusting. She herself isn’t a pedophile, but her defense of that woman leaves me angry. I don’t know what to think about any of this or how I should feel.
A: This is a deeply disturbing story because your girlfriend was molested. Even if what happened felt good to her, she was too young to participate willingly or give consent. It just may be that your girlfriend’s coping mechanism for dealing with this violation is to turn it into something more benign. But it’s interesting she even confessed this to you—surely, she must know no one else will see it the way she does. Also disturbing is your girlfriend’s assertion that she was “never really a child.” Of course she was a child, but her childhood may have been monstrous. You don’t want to push your girlfriend too hard. But you love this woman, so you need to tell her that you can’t shake your concern about the things that happened to her when she was a girl. Say an adult having sex with an 11-year-old is never OK, and you’re worried that she thinks it is.
Q. Re: Relationships and Sex: This situation sounds similar to mine a number of years ago; I was sexually active in college, and my fiancée was not. I loved (and still love her) dearly, and we discussed it in the context of cultural and religious issues, and I felt comfortable moving forward with the relationship. It turns out that there have been other underlying issues outside of cultural and religious problems that have come to light over the years we have been married, and intimacy has been a serious problem for her. This has been a struggle for me (yes, I am selfish), but I love her for so many reasons, and we have both worked hard at making this relationship work, and we both want it to work. If you choose to go down the same path, it may be a difficult one—your partner had better be very well worth it …
A: Really good point that for the girlfriend of the letter writer there may be underlying issues about sex that are being glossed over by religion. You are not selfish for wanting a fully participating partner! Your letter is a good warning about not hoping that love and tying the knot will solve complex, fundamental problems that need addressing.
Q. Theft: My boyfriend and I attended a party a few weeks ago at a friend’s house. Unbeknownst to me until after the fact, my boyfriend helped himself to a bottle of liquor from the fully stocked bar. Now our friend’s dad has noticed something went missing and is understandably upset. All parties at the house are now off limits. Our friend asked everyone who was at the house if we knew anything, and I haven’t said anything except, “That’s too bad.” I don’t want our friend to be mad, but I’m also feeling pretty guilty since I know my boyfriend did take something. (He feels bad, too.) What is the best thing to do here to make the situation right? As an aside, there has been another gathering at the house since then, which we did not attend, and dad did not notice until after that party. So it’s possible the bottle in question isn’t the one “Jeremy” took—still, we know it was wrong.
A: Since the parties are at the houses of friends who live with parents, I’m assuming you’re all teenagers. But no matter how old you are, Jeremy needs to own up and return the bottle. I hope it’s still full. If not, and he’s not old enough to purchase a replacement, Jeremy needs to tell his parents what he did, explain he’ll replace it at his expense (if he doesn’t have the money, he’ll need to earn it), and ask for their help. If Jeremy won’t take these basic steps, rethink your association with him.
Q. Dying by Inches: My 16-year-old daughter has a friend who was diagnosed with an eating disorder just over a year ago. Nancy spent several months in the hospital and more time out of town for treatment. She isn’t any better. She’s still stick thin, she’s throwing away food at school, and when she recently ended up in the ER, she signed herself out again without being treated. My daughter was so concerned I contacted the school guidance counselor to see if they could help. The counselor told me Nancy has to want to get better, and she doesn’t. Nancy’s parents say there’s nothing that they can do, either. Nancy is very, very smart, and she knows how to work the medical system. I feel like I’m watching this child die by inches. Is there really nothing else I can do?
A: This is horrifying. Yes, it’s not your business, but because you care about this girl, do some research on in-patient facilities for girls with eating disorders, then present it to her parents. Nancy is a minor, and she needs full-time care. The school guidance counselor sounds useless, and I understand the parents are frustrated and in despair, but their daughter is in danger of killing herself if she doesn’t get into a treatment center that will monitor her on a 24-hour basis.
Q. Friendship Vaccination: A neighbor and her daughter used to come over to play with my son at least once a week. She mentioned in passing that she was opposed to vaccinations, and I pressed for reasons, but she replied that she shouldn’t have told me. When I was pregnant with my second son, I told her that she couldn’t bring her daughter over before the new baby was fully vaccinated. The neighbor claimed to understand my perspective but hasn’t spoken to anyone in our family since. She used to print out anti-vaccination blog posts to put in my mailbox but now won’t make eye contact. Our kids are the same age and houses apart. What do you suggest I do to heal this rift, especially since the infant is now almost 1 and getting all his shots?
A: This pernicious belief that vaccines are dangerous is itself a kind of virus. I wish there were an inoculation against it. There are so many people like your neighbor who are putting the community at risk because they are damaging herd immunity. Your neighbor is not only misinformed; she sounds a little nuts. I’m afraid there’s not much you can do about someone who will no longer make eye contact because you disagree about a public health issue. Stay cordial and find other kids for your son to play with.
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