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. Friend Obsessed With My Baby: I had my daughter about six months ago. In my circle of friends I’m the only to have a baby, so needless to say she gets a lot of attention. One friend in particular seems to be a little obsessed with her, and it kind of freaks me and my husband out. She’s constantly buying things for her, referring to herself as her godmother (she’s not, my sister is, and she knows it). She asks for pictures of her throughout the day to help get her through work, and mentions that while she’s looking for a new job she would never relocate because she wants to be near my daughter. And recently when she comes over, she asks if she can wear her in my baby carrier so people will think she’s her child! I appreciate that she is so supportive of us, and I know most people find their childless friends grow absent once they have a baby, but this is just a little over the top. My husband and I nervously joke about her stealing her someday. Are we right to feel a little strange about my friend’s attention? Or am I just being possessive and overprotective?
A: My immediate response was, “Time to move, leave no forwarding address, and change all of your names,” so, no, I don’t think you’re overreacting. I’m hoping your friend’s favorite movie is not The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. She’s not being supportive, she’s being obsessive, and she’s giving me the willies. Put a stop to this now. Don’t let her drop by, when she says she’s the baby’s “godmother” say, “No, you’re not. My sister is.” Refuse to let her wear the baby. Do not send her photos—in fact I think you should put her in one of those Facebook corrals that limits someone to just seeing your profile. You need to take the temperature of this situation and see if you feel comfortable explaining that she’s suffocating you right now and she needs to back way off, or whether she’s actually somewhat unbalanced and you just want to rapidly and firmly distance yourself. Do not be drawn into whiny conversations or tearful demands. You and your husband are freaked out, so act.
Dear Prudence: Raunchy Upstairs Neighbor
Q. Come Clean or Not?: I’ve been married 10 years and have two kids, ages 7 and 5. My husband is a wonderful person and things are generally good between us. Several years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom and became very depressed. I began drinking during the day occasionally, then that progressed to drinking alone often, and hiding it from my husband. I felt terrible about it, but had trouble stopping. During that time I also was unfaithful to my husband, which was really out of character for me. In looking back, it feels like a complete breakdown of my character and mental health. I’ve stopped drinking and have ended the other relationship and things are getting better in life in general. Before that period in my life, I shared all my thoughts and feelings with my husband. I miss the emotional intimacy of feeling that we knew everything about each other, but I question if telling him about what I did would simply be for my own benefit (to get it off my conscience) but cause him unnecessary pain. Is it best to just move on and try to put it behind me or to confess and try to start over from a place of honesty?
A: You have given me a chance to reiterate my fervent belief in honesty—but. The but is about whether to confess an out-of-character transgression that’s over and has not been repeated. The obvious reason to do so is as you state, making sure there is true openness and honesty in a relationship. The argument against is that it offers relief for the guilt-ridden but just transfers the mantle of pain to the innocent partner. I believe in the latter, and part of the penance of having violated one’s marriage is living with the guilt of the violation and making sure it never happens again. You finally recognized how destructive your behavior was globally and stopped. I do think your husband should know just how serious your drinking had become so he can support you in your sobriety. But I don’t see the purpose of hurting him so long after the fact with news of your infidelity.
I’ve given similar advice to other letter writers and have heard back from a few. One was a married man who had seen a dominatrix on the sly, satisfied his curiosity, and wondered if he should tell his wife. I said no, and he wrote back to me, “Thank you! You rock!” In another case, I counseled a woman who had had a brief fling to keep it from her husband. She decided to go the honesty route and it was her husband who wrote to me. He said he was grateful to his wife for coming clean. He explained her confession resulted in lot of tears, pain, and some trips to the therapist, but he felt his marriage would ultimately be stronger. So there you go. I personally feel life will provide plenty of tears and pain without ginning it up. I think the most important information in your letter is that you were a secret alcoholic. Don’t hide that fact, because staying sober is crucial for yourself and your family.
Q. The Workplace: I am a rising junior in college who happens to be petite (I stand at a height of about 4-foot-8-inches). Growing up I lived in an inclusive community, so from second grade onward, I was seldom teased and as a result, being short statured never bothered me. That is until now. Being seen as someone younger than I actually am, I fear has the ability to jeopardize any internship or job prospects I may have in store. I aspire to obtain a master’s in Public Health or Health Management. I have the grades, the drive, and know I’ll be capable of succeeding, yet I feel my height will continue to fuel insecurities I have even if I do land a coveted upper-echelon position because I don’t look like a legitimate leader. I’ve opted for higher pumps but even then I still only stand at about 5 feet. Is there anything I can do?
A: This is going to be a lifelong issue for you, so sailing forth with confidence about your abilities, and not self-consciousness about your stature, is going to be key. One easy way to tackle your concerns is to address them as purely cosmetic issues. More than most people your age, you want to have a polished look that projects sophistication, but doesn’t seem like you’re trying to be Mom. So get a stylish haircut—lots of long hair will overwhelm you and project “girl.” Go to a cosmetics counter and learn how a light but sure hand with make-up can make you look more adult. And find a personal shopper in the petite department who can help you put together the kind of professional (but still youthful) wardrobe you’d need in a workplace. Being able to look at yourself in the mirror and see a young career person reflected back can help you shed the sense you aren’t measuring up.
Q. Let’s Play the Family Feud!: Several years ago my wife and my sister had a big blow-up. The long story short is that everyone had been drinking (except me; I was driving), my sister said something stupid, my wife called her a childish name, and my sister proceeded to verbally and then physically assault my wife (it wasn’t quite to the point of calling the cops, but close). My wife cut off all contact with her from that point on. I supported her decision—first, because it was justified, and second, because my sister has always been a nasty bully. My side of the family is about to embark on a series of big family events and my sister and her family obviously will be at the celebrations. I feel I need to attend, and it seems cruel to leave the grandchildren at home. So far the compromise is that my wife will stay home alone, and I’m under strict instruction that the kids should have no contact with my sister. But with three small children, this is far from ideal and honestly I’m a bit concerned that showing up without my wife will raise enough questions that it will take some of the spotlight away from my parents. Should I just tell my parents that none of us can make it and we’ll come later for a private celebration? Should I plead with my wife to just suck it up and attend?
A: The bully certainly wins if it means your wife can never be at a function hosted by your family and that it’s virtually impossible for you and the kids to go, too. All of you showing up is not a signal that all is forgiven. But it’s way past time for your family to move to a cold peace with your sister. While your sister physically assaulted your wife, which is inexcusable, the precipitating incident was mutual. It was an ugly scene all around, but one that should be psychologically laid to rest. At this point your wife and sister should be able to be in the same room, exchange polite “hellos,” then excuse themselves to freshen their (nonalcoholic) drinks. But who’s the bully now when your wife tries to dictate your ability to see your family and forbid her young kids from engaging with their relatives or even talking to their aunt—for reasons they can’t understand. This will only send the children the message that adults are strange and irrational and make them deeply uncomfortable at a time when they should be basking in familial warmth. All of you should go. Your wife should run through in her mind seeing your sister and saying, “Hi, Arlene. Hope you’re well.” Just being able to act normally will reduce the outsize power your sister has exerted over your family for too many years.
Q. Re: Short stature: It’s all about attitude. When I was in high school, we had a government teacher who couldn’t have been more than 5-feet tall. She also scared the bejesus out of high-school football players.
A: Love it! Thanks.
Q. Marital Advice Needed: Last night my husband of five and a half years told me, “I used to love you.” I sensed his declining affection and compassion for a couple of months now. His idea for a path forward to rebuild our relationship is to focus on doing things together. Despite this, we still get along and have a lovely life. I am hurting and can only talk to my therapist about it. Also, I want children and he doesn’t want them anymore. I’ll be 35 soon. Any words of advice? (Gah. Just reading this I sound like a cliché.)
A: If you want children, this man is seriously wasting your time. “I don’t love you, I won’t have children with you. Hey, let’s go hiking!” Maybe he’s already “hiking the Appalachian Trail” and he just doesn’t have the guts to tell you there’s someone else. This is very painful and I’m glad you have a therapist. But unless there’s a clear and quick commitment from your husband to restore your love and consider children, don’t fritter away your fertility on this dead end.
Q. Re: Petite workplace should get everything tailored!: Tailoring is important for anyone who wants to look polished in dress clothes, but it’s especially important for those of us short in stature. It’s not always cheap, but some hemming, sleeve tapering, shoulder and waist adjustments, etc., can prevent you from looking like you picked up your big sister’s old suit. Well-fitted clothes really, really help project a professional image.
A: Another really good point and a reminder of the adage, “Dress for the job you want.”
Q. Keep Getting the Same Wrong Man: Well it happened to me again, Prudie. I went out with a guy a few times, we liked each other, talked endless everyday on the phone and via text over the course of two weeks, and then he dropped off the face of the earth. I’m 27, fit, attractive, working my dream job, and I take care of myself and my many wonderful friends. But I haven’t gotten beyond three dates with someone in two years. I seem to attract guys who are looking to rebound. The ones I don’t like cling to me and the ones I do run away from me. I don’t sleep with guys early on (the only sex I’ve had in two years are a few one-night-stands that left me feeling even more alone). When not dating, I feel like a fairly happy and well-balanced individual, but these rejections are wearing me down. I feel like my time is running out (as stupid as that seems, since I am so young) but at this point I won’t get to spend years getting to know someone. I’ll never find love. I really liked this most recent guy, and we had such a great rapport, I’m not sure how I’ve screwed it all up again. All of my friends are married and moving on with their lives and I’ve been left behind with every emotionally stunted loser in the tri-county area. I’ve pretty much thrown in the towel on dating. What am I doing wrong?
A: Part of the problem may be contained in your letter. It could be you’re conveying a great deal of anxiety and desperation, especially when things start clicking. There you are thinking, “Maybe this is the guy. Maybe this is the guy. Or maybe this is the next guy to dump me unceremoniously and I’m 27 and I’ll never, ever find love!” That underlying anxiety can communicate itself in lots of nonverbal ways that men pick up like dog whistles. I know being 27 feels really old to you because it’s the oldest you’ve been. But you are young and should be much more relaxed about what’s still ahead. I also think you should check in with your friends and ask them to be really blunt with you about this. Say you know they’re not on dates with you, but are they picking up anything in your style or attitude that’s turning off interesting men. If any of your friends know some of the guys who abruptly stopped calling, you could ask them to do a little surreptitious reconnaissance for you and ask casually, “Hey, why did you stop seeing Courtney, I thought you two were enjoying each other?” And since you’re 27 and feeling desperate, it could be that’s a good time to just take a break from looking for love. Enjoy what life has to offer a healthy, successful young person. Being someone happy in her life will have a salutary effect no matter if Mr. Right is not right around the corner.
Q. Mother-in-Law’s Dementia: Last week you stated you hoped my husband appreciated what I do for his mother and the answer is yes, almost every time. And often after a week of intensive and difficult in-law care he will say on a Saturday morning, “You’ve done so much for my folks this week, what should we do today that you’d really like to do?” But the real credit goes to my mother-in-law who was always, before illness struck, supportive, interested, noncritical, and fun to be around. Now that she is ill it is her three daughters-in-law who live the closest and WANT to help with her care. A good lesson for me and my relationship with my children and their significant others. These lessons are taught from one generation to the next. Thanks for the advice, Emily.
A: This is the letter from the daughter-in-law who takes her mother-in-law with dementia out for social events, but is worried that her once lovely MIL sometimes verbally strikes out at strangers because of her illness.
Thank you so much for this update and amazing tribute. I’ll say this is taught from one generation to another. As Ruth said in the Bible to her mother-in-law, Naomi, “Whither thou goest, I will go.”
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.
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