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, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Husband Hates My Glasses: My husband and I have worn glasses since we were teens. We’re now in our mid-30s and have two boys together. A few years ago, he started feeling really uncomfortable to be in glasses. He doesn’t like how he looks in pictures with them. He tried contacts, and didn’t like them. Last year, he went for eye laser surgery, and he has been happy with his vision and feels good about himself. Since then, once in a while he would ask me if I wanted to get the laser surgery as well. I said no. I’m comfortable with the way I am. The past few months though, he’s grown more persistent in wanting me to either change to contacts or getting the surgery, because he said the glasses make my eyes look small. I’m Asian, so I think it’s just how I was born. He pointed out a photo where he said I look like I was sleeping, while in fact I was smiling at the time. Prudie, how can I ask him to stop? I’m really comfortable with my glasses, and really if we have the money for the expensive laser eye surgery, I’d rather spend it on a nice family vacation.
A: From the sound of your letter your husband is not Asian, so it’s a bit of a shock to hear that after many years of marriage he is just discovering that Asian eyes have an epicanthic fold. If a co-worker repeatedly pointed out his interesting observations about the size of your eyes, or that when you smile your eyes make it look like you’re sleeping, you’d probably be marching over to HR. It’s great that your husband is happy with his change. But pressuring one’s spouse to have elective surgery for cosmetic reasons is a very dangerous game. Tell him the conversation about your eyes is closed. And if his commentary won’t stop (and are the kids hearing any of this?) tell him you two need outside help.
Dear Prudence: Lesbian on the Brink
Q. Acquaintance With Drinking Problem Wants to Reconnect: I have an acquaintance with a child my son’s age. They played together in preschool and kindergarten and she and I were friendly. But her son was not always a good playmate for mine, so we started drifting a bit. After not seeing them for a while, I had coffee with her and she confessed that she had a fairly serious drinking problem and admitted to drinking during the day, including when she was driving. I was floored and very freaked out, as I had trusted her to drive my son and hers to things like play dates. One of these play dates included a baseball game where she told me my son had wandered off and she lost him for a minute, and then proceeded to tell me she thought he had some kind of attention disorder and that she thought he should see a neurologist (she is a doctor). Now, of course, I am wondering if she was drunk and simply lost him at the game. My dilemma is that she has been inviting me and my son out a lot lately. She has gone through rehab and is trying to put her life together, but I am so angry and alarmed at the possibility that she have been intoxicated when my son was under her care that I don’t really want to see her anymore. So I have two questions: Am I just being mean and unforgiving, and how, if at all, do I explain to her why I don’t want to socialize anymore?
A: It’s kind of a miracle this woman doesn’t have her own entry in the CDC’s mortality and morbidity statistics. So she’s a doctor who likes to drive drunk with the kids! At least she confessed to you so that you can make your own considered decision. I hope what she made clear was that she is now sober and maintaining it. (If she was telling you she’s still driving drunk, then you have an obligation to pursue this with the appropriate authorities—school officials, her physician partners, etc.) Since your kid doesn’t like her kid and since you no longer trust her, you can have a blunt talk with her. Tell her you are having a hard time getting over finding out she drove drunk with your child. Tell her that you appreciate her coming clean with you, you are very glad she’s gotten help, and you fervently hope she can stay sober. But right now your friendship needs a hiatus.
Q. Childhood Bully Running for Office: I recently found out via Facebook that the man who bullied me when I was a teenager is running for public office. At that time he was extremely cruel and acted violently toward me. We spoke once after I graduated from high school, but I’ve never understood why he targeted me and he seemed to have no remorse. I’d like to make public what he did to me in order to ensure that he doesn’t become an elected official. Would it be appropriate to write a letter to the editor of the local paper? I’m already planning on donating what I can to his opponent, but since I live out of town I can’t work for him.
A: During Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign one profile of him contained an ugly story about a high school hazing incident he and some other students committed against another boy in their class, who later came out as gay. There was debate about whether exploring a candidate’s teenage behavior (as long as it’s not criminal) is fair game as a measure of someone’s character. There was also debate in this column recently about whether the cheated-upon girlfriend of a candidate for state Legislature should reveal his work in the pornography business.
I think people are entitled to grow and change and not have their pasts constantly tossed in their faces. But good luck with that in the Facebook era. What you describe sounds as if it went beyond the typical high school bully jerk, especially since you mention violence. People who are running for public office have to know that they are putting their whole lives out there for public assessment—ask Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner. But how much the public cares about someone’s past is also proportional to the office. If this guy is running for some local office, not very many people are going to be paying that much attention. You could write your letter, but there’s no guarantee it would run. If it does, your bully could say he’s sorry if a high school classmate continues to think ill of him all these years later, he doesn’t remember these incidents, he apologizes if he behaved badly all those years ago, and he wishes his former classmate well. Then you are going to look like someone who never got over high school and the voters are not going to care. Weigh carefully the cost to you of taking this public. Talk to some trusted friends about what happened and whether they think you should go ahead and reveal your story. And if you’re going to try to help get this guy’s opponent elected, you could also have a confidential conversation with that person’s campaign manager about why you feel so strongly your classmate shouldn’t be in office. The campaign manager will be in a good position to weigh this opposition research and how useful and relevant it might be.
Q. Etiquette on Sharing Opinion of Baby Names: What’s the appropriate way to act/respond when your pregnant friend tells you the name she’s selected for her baby? She’s asked what I think, and the truth is I think she’s punishing her soon-to-be child for life with such a silly moniker. But she’s obviously put a lot of thought into it, and I don’t think anything positive will come from me sharing my thoughts. Is it OK to tell a white lie and just say, “Ohh, how original!” And on a similar subject, what’s a good way to shut down the conversation when friends start gossiping about her choice? It’s sure to come up as a topic of conversation among our group of friends, and I don’t want to take part in bashing my friend’s name selection.
A: Is the kid going to be named South East? Red Wisteria? You’re right that when people say, “We’re going to name our child Nimrod Norbert,” and the decision seems final, it’s best just to say, “What a distinctive name!” But you indicate your friend is not simply making an announcement, she’s soliciting an opinion. In that case, you can delicately proffer one. “You’ll be ruining your child’s life,” is not helpful. Something like, “I understand you want an original name, but I worry that your child might end up getting teased when it’s time for school.” Then drop it. South East will always have to option later in life to say, “Call me Sandy.”
Q. Re: Childhood bully: Also please seek counseling for yourself. I got the impression from your letter that you are delighting in a sort of vengeance that this opportunity presents. If your vengeance is derailed by a community that shrugs their shoulders to your account, then you might feel even less empowered by this bully. Work on finding a sense of peace within yourself that does not depend on what happens in this election.
A: Excellent point. A terrible wrong was done to the letter writer, and my colleague Emily Bazelon, in her superb book on bullying, Sticks and Stones, documents the effects of this kind of trauma. But seeking revenge will possibly backfire. I agree the letter writer should seek personal healing.
Q. Friend Calling Too Early!: I have a good friend who insists on calling my house at 8 a.m. and waking up the entire family. I’ve told her that my younger children are not up that early, and I’ve directly told her that I cannot talk on the phone before 9:00. When she calls this early, I never, ever answer the phone, because I don’t want to reinforce the behavior. But honestly, I’m tired of it (we returned from a vacation late last night and were trying to sleep in this morning when she called at 8:00 sharp). I don’t know what more I can say, since I’ve told her not to call this early, and I can’t really turn off the phone because I have elderly parents. Suggestions? I’m about to snap.
A. If she’s calling on a cellphone, not a landline, can you block her call? More important, though, is the question of why your friend is such a blockhead. You told her you won’t answer until 9:00, you don’t pick up so there’s no reward for her in calling, and you berate her when she does it. You don’t mention her other sterling qualities, but unless she’s slipped a psychological gear, a good friend just doesn’t deliberately set out to awaken and enrage those closest to her. Maybe it’s time for a time out on this relationship. Tell her you don’t know what else to say, but if this behavior doesn’t stop, your friendship is going to go on a serious break.
Q. Family vs. Freedom: I am a 24-year-old woman. After graduating college two years ago, I moved across the country to start my career, and I now live nine hours away from my family. When I was in college I visited my family several times a year, but since graduating I now only make the trek for Christmas. My job only gives me 14 vacation days. I use five of those for Christmas, and the remaining nine I would like to use for traveling and going on adventures with my friends and boyfriend. However, this is a growing point of contention between me, my dad, and my stepmom. They are becoming increasingly angry that I do not visit home more, and constantly try to guilt me into visiting. Now we aren’t even on speaking terms because they refuse to talk to me until I visit. I do miss my family, but I also want to see the world while I’m still young and have relatively few responsibilities. Also, in the six years since I moved out, they have only visited me twice, although I have invited them multiple times. Am I a horrible, selfish daughter, or am I spending my youth wisely?
A: Now that’s the way to make a child want to come and see you: Give your kid the silent treatment until she schleps to your home. I don’t know how you resolve this if they refuse to talk to you except in person, but by whatever means possible, try to broach this again. Perhaps say you really miss them and since you have such limited vacation time, you were hoping that this year they could take some vacation and come out and see you. Let them at least articulate why visits are only one way. If they refuse then explain that you wish you all could see each other more, but given your distance and your vacation schedule you’re going to have to keep on the Christmas routine. Then say there are so many technologies that help people stay in touch that you’d like to have maybe a once-a-week Skype conversation and that you might all find it really fun. If they prefer to punish and stew, then enjoy spending your free time more happily.
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