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.)
Q. My Girlfriend the Sex Coach: My GF and I recently started having sex. I’m not sure the best way to explain it, so I’m going to just give you some examples of things she says during sex. “You’re doing great!” “Your technique and fundamentals are really good.” (While going down on her:) “Yes! Keep going! You can do it!” “Wow! That’s good. You must have been practicing!” Mind you, let me reiterate, these are things she is saying WHILE we are having sex. Yes, in the middle of the act, she keeps saying all these words of encouragement. What is she, my coach? I’m just so flabbergasted by this, I don’t even know what to say to her. She doesn’t even really talk dirty, she just will shout all these words of encouragement. I really have to dig deep in my mind for really dirty thoughts to stay in the mood because to me it is so ridiculous that I just want to burst out laughing sometimes. What is this all about?
A: At least she hasn’t said, “And you stuck your landing!” I’m wondering if your girlfriend is an aficionado of the show Girls, because one of the most cringe-worthy scenes was when Marnie and Charlie got back together, and upon having sex again Marnie discovered Charlie’s being with other women had improved his technique, and she shouted out commentary almost identical to what you’re describing. Your problem is, one, that the rule-book of how to have a good relationship says you should bring it up gently when you’re not in bed. You tell your girlfriend how happy you are with her, how wonderful it is that you’ve become intimate, blah, blah, blah. But that her commentary during sex, while meant to be encouraging, is really distracting and you’d appreciate if she’d stop. But what I really would hope is that you simply flop away, laugh hysterically, and say, “Marnie, there’s no way I can score unless you stop coaching from the sidelines.”
Dear Prudence: Horribly Neglected Pet
Q. Slaps End Relationship: While we were fighting last week, my ex-boyfriend slapped me twice. He immediately apologized and was horrified by his behavior. Slapping me was very out of character with him. Nonetheless, I broke up with him. Now I’m not sure what to tell friends to explain our very sudden breakup. My ex-boyfriend works in a field where rumors of domestic violence could ruin his career. I don’t want to talk to others about the slaps, but feel like I pique more curiosity when I give vague answers.
A: Your relationship broke when your boyfriend laid his hand on you. You could have called the police when he slapped you, but decided to keep this private. I think that’s a fair enough calculation for a onetime event for which the perpetrator is deeply remorseful. But I agree with your decision to end the relationship. You of course are free to tell your own story to whomever, but since you don’t wish to make this public, you simply don’t make it public. Some people will say I’m advocating the enabling of domestic abuse by agreeing to your decision to stay silent. But not every situation that could end up in the legal justice system should go there. Losing you is a very severe punishment, and let’s hope this lesson lasts your ex a lifetime. Sure, people may be curious, but you have no obligation to feed their snooping. “We just realized our relationship has run its course” is all you need to say. If there are follow-ups, reply, “This has been a difficult time. Thanks for understanding.”
Q. Returning a Gift: A close family friend and I have kids that are around the same age, and we both always buy birthday gifts for the other’s children. Recently, I gave my friend’s daughter a gift for her birthday. The gift came from a store that only has a website—there is no brick and mortar store to return a gift to. About a week later, my friend contacted me to tell me that her daughter didn’t like the gift, so she sent it back, and she was upset that the company that I bought it from wouldn’t pay for the return postage. She told me that the next time she sees me, I can give her a check for the return postage, and also mentioned that, since her child is extremely hard to buy for, she doesn’t know what else I can give her. Is it my responsibility to pay for the return postage and also do I need to replace this gift for her child? If not, what can I say to her?
A: You don’t need to replace the gift, but you might want to replace the friend. If she has the audacity to ask for reimbursement for postage for the gift, just say you’re sorry her daughter didn’t like the gift you picked out, but you forgot your checkbook, so you’ll just have to run a tab.
Q. Overbearing In-Laws: My husband is getting treatment for a very serious illness. His family members want to come and visit and stay with us. I’ve told him that short visits are fine, but that I can’t handle overnights, or visits that require me to “entertain” them. It takes so much of my energy to make sure he has what he needs. I’ve left it to him to give them the message, but I’m not convinced he has been firm enough. How do I make this clear to them without becoming the bad guy?
A: I hope your husband makes a swift recovery. But I’m wondering if you’re properly reading the behavior of your in-laws or whether you can’t get yourself out of your automatic entertaining mode. If all your husband’s family members are a bunch of entitled ninnies who expect you to cook and clean for them, then yes, they should stay somewhere else. But I’m wondering if you’re prematurely not giving them a chance to be wonderful. It could be these people want to know what they can do to make both of you more comfortable. You also need to get a clear reading of what your husband wants. It could be that he would like to have his parents around for a few days. If you’re willing to let people stay, before they come make clear what you need. You get on the phone and say caretaking is extremely demanding, and you would be so appreciative if when they come they could do some grocery shopping and laundry, take your husband for treatments so you can catch up on your other duties, and sometimes pick up meals at nearby restaurants. Listen to what kind of reaction you get. If it’s resistant, then you are free to say that because of the need for quiet and rest, it’s best if visitors stay nearby, but not in the house, and you will give them a list of motels. See how the visits go, and don’t be afraid to speak up on behalf of your husband and yourself. But unless you know these are people who never rise to the occasion, first give them a chance to do so.
Q. Guilty Conscience: A few nights ago I went out for a night on the town with a close friend, her sister, and her sister’s boyfriend. By the end of the night, after several drinks too many (not an excuse, and I know you don’t approve), the boyfriend and I found ourselves alone. He came on to me, and even though I know it was wrong, I ended up making out with him. Later that night, he came to my room, I’m guessing to take things a bit further, but I immediately sent him away. I’m wracked with guilt over this betrayal, but I am also worried for my friend’s sister, who I’m pretty sure is planning on marrying this guy. Part of me would just like to forget and pretend nothing ever happened, but another part feels that she should know what type of guy this is. Since we’re not really close, I have thought about confiding in my friend, and letting her decide what is the best course of action. Of course that would mean coming clean and admitting to something that I am really ashamed of. Do I need to make this confession, or is this one indiscretion best left swept under the rug?
A: Thanks for conceding the alcohol is not an excuse. I think this young woman should know what kind of man she is hoping to marry. But then your enlightening her would also mean your close friend would have a different understanding of your character. You’re right that if you were to tell, since you don’t know the sister that well, your go-between should be your close friend. Because if you were to tell the sister directly, she’d immediately tell your friend, who would be hearing an ugly story secondhand. But telling what a creep the boyfriend is reveals what a creep you were. Bad as this all was, in the end, it didn’t go beyond the locking of lips. It’s likely that if you were to tell, the boyfriend’s alternate version would be that you got drunk, came on to him, and he pushed you away. You are ashamed of yourself; let’s hope the boyfriend is, too. If this is a pattern for him, that should become quite apparent over time. So I say zip your lips. And that goes for the moment when you’re tempted to order that third martini.
Q. Bothersome Boss: I share the sole office at work with my married boss. He loves to make jokes about me looking at porn (I don’t), he frequently comments on my FB posts and talks about the affair he had while he and his wife were separated. There’ve been numerous other flirtatious incidents that combine to make me squirm in discomfort on a regular basis at work. It took months to find this job and the market is dismal at best, so finding another job isn’t a solution that’ll happen anytime soon. I’m unsure how to handle it in a diplomatic manner that won’t pollute my generally easy-going work environment.
A: Start looking, because this guy is a creep. The next time he mentions porn or his affair you firmly say, “Fred, this kind of discussion is not office appropriate. I cannot do my work in such an atmosphere, so please let’s stick to normal office banter.” You block him on Facebook. You stay polite and professional, and you get your resume out there because creeps tends to stay creeps.
Q. Mother-in-Law’s Dementia: I take my mother-in-law who is suffering from dementia out for errands and coffee about once a week. She enjoys these outings and usually they go well. She is unable to answer most of the questions we are asked from servers and clerks, so usually I jump in with the answer when she stumbles. But sometimes she has to answer a question—“Do these shoes hurt your toes?”—and sometimes she says something really inappropriate out of the blue. She might comment on a person’s weight or other body characteristic. Occasionally she will just blurt out something really mean to someone halfway across the room. The other day she yelled “Will you just shut up?” to some kids and parents playing nearby in the park. She knows she has dementia and repeatedly calls herself stupid, dumb, and occasionally mentions she should just die. I hate to explain her condition in front of her, but I really feel I need to for the sake of the person trying to help us or to just plain apologize when she’s really hurtful. How do I handle these scenarios?
A: You are a really good daughter-in-law and I hope your husband appreciates what you’re doing. I think you should bring your mother-in-law in on the conversation. You should tell her she’s not dumb and you don’t want her to die, but sometimes her illness makes her say impolite things to people, so you’re going to explain to them that she suffers from a disease. It’s true she probably won’t remember this conversation, but the next time she has an outburst you just say to the object of her derision, “I’m so sorry, my mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s and that’s the disease speaking.”
Q. Work Friend Turned Work Spy: A woman I work with used to join me and a few others for drinks after work occasionally, and her company is fine enough. However, over the past six months due to a minor promotion, she has become insufferable. She is constantly ratting people out to our principal (I work at a school,) looking for ways to get those she doesn’t like in trouble, and even going as far as to make up things that aren’t true. None of this has been directed at me personally, so I have stayed out of it, while remaining sympathetic to my co-workers who are victims of her power trip. The root of this issue is the way the principal handles HR, but I’m not interested in speaking with her about that. My problem is that this woman is always asking me what I’m doing after work and trying to invite herself along with me and another friend I work with. We both feel uncomfortable socializing with her since we’re disgusted at her behavior, however, I don’t feel I can be direct with her since she has the ear of my boss. She’s starting to become more persistent and I don’t feel comfortable lying and making excuses indefinitely. Any advice on how to handle her?
A: I understand wanting to give wide berth to this loon, but if several of you know she’s making things up to hurt “her enemies” it’s disturbing that no one wants to call her out on it. However, you allude to the fact that the principal may be equally unreliable. Oh, your lucky students! Since school is out, even if you are all administrators, surely everyone’s on reduced hours and a summer schedule. That makes it really easy to tell this nut that over the summer you’re taking advantage of the long days of sunshine to garden and walk your dogs. Then just disappear at the end of the day. If you are getting together with your pal, you two should make plans via email, leave separately, then rendezvous. Let’s hope several months of this stops the spy from asking when she can get together.
Q. Re: Regarding the returned gift: This might be the opening you need to suggest an end to the gift exchange altogether. Gift giving like that can tend to become a burden, might as well end it now.
A: Good point! Although a book of stamps might be an appropriate gift.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Time for a cocktail. Talk to you next week and have a good July Fourth.
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