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.)
See Emily live! She will be talking to Slate editor David Plotz and taking questions at Sixth and I in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 11. For tickets and more information, click here.
Q. Help, My Husband Looks Ridiculous: My husband has been self-conscious about his crooked front teeth his whole life. He rarely ever smiles or shows his teeth. Once we were able to afford decent dental insurance our first priority was to have his teeth straightened. Imagine my surprise when he returned home from the orthodontist with gold-colored braces decorated with rhinestones. This is something called a “grill” and is very popular with rap musicians and professional athletes. My husband is a 42-year-old software engineer and we live in the heart of the Midwest. At first I thought it might be some kind of a joke—something that he’d bought that just slipped over his teeth but no—it’s not a joke and they are semi-permanently attached to his teeth for the next 12–18 months. I’m embarrassed, our kids are embarrassed, his parents are confused, and my parents think he’s lost his mind. I can only imagine what they think of them at his work. He says he loves them and they make him feel sexy. He also says that the people he encounters smile when they see them and he is not having them removed. He looks ridiculous and I find myself fantasizing about taking a pair of pliers to his mouth and removing them myself. What can I say to him to convince him to go back to the orthodontist and have these things replaced with something an adult should wear?
A: When my daughter wore braces I was surprised at how they have become a cosmetic accessory, coming in a rainbow of colors. I loved that instead of keeping their lips hugging their teeth for several years, the kids proudly showed off their fuchsia smiles. Your husband has been hiding his teeth for as long as he can remember. Now for the first time he is experiencing that when the smiles the world really notices and smiles back. I fully understand the bad taste his cheesy choice has left in your mouth, but as you’ve seen neither mockery, outrage, embarrassment, nor pliers have dissuaded your husband from being a grill master. As hard as it will be, it’s time for you to shut your own mouth. One last time tell him you’ve made your displeasure clear, but since the braces are cemented in, you’re going to try to live with it. It’s possible that if all of you back off, and the thrill starts to wear off, when your husband goes in for orthodontic adjustment he comes back with something less rap and more software engineer.
Dear Prudence: Blackballed Son
Q. Gifts for the Host: I have a friend I have visited (and stayed with) once or twice a year for the past seven years. During visits where he was in a relationship, I would treat him to a few dinners and drinks during my extended weekend stay. When he has been single, we have always had sex. I would still buy him a drink or two, but I always assumed someone I was having (albeit casual) sex with did not require as many expressions of my gratitude for hosting. It’s never seemed to be a problem, but I mentioned this to another friend during an appropriately themed conversation and he informed me that intercourse was not a substitution for flowers, dinners, or wine. I am visiting my (single) friend next week. Should I plan on bringing a gift to go along with any possible adult fun?
A: I’m wondering if this could be a special filter for Airbnb: number of bathrooms; proximity to a city; intercourse. I’ve read a lot of etiquette books and I can’t remember the entry about gifts for the host when not only is he providing you with a bed, he is sharing it with you. You two certainly have a flexible understanding, but I think you should separate your gratitude for the place to crash from the crashing waves of sexual satisfaction. So arriving with a good bottle of wine will mean you’re a thoughtful guest no matter what the sleeping arrangements. Then as the visit progresses you will have a better idea of what feels right as far as further thanks.
Q. Re: Grill master: Everyone needs a little crazy in life. If you’ve gotta wear braces as an adult, why not make a joke/statement out of it? Let him live. It might be the creative outlet he’s been looking for, and at least it’s not a stripper.
A: Good point. And finding the grill is hilarious might make the novelty wear off faster.
Q. Permatern: I’m a recent college graduate who has been job-hunting for the past 16 months. During this time I’ve done three internships, and it looks as if this one may actually have an opening. Trouble is, I’ve been placed on a job with another potential hire who doesn’t seem to care about the job as much as I do. I’ve been consistently doing twice the work, putting in longer hours, and running myself ragged trying to impress my boss. Now I’ve learned that they want to hire both of us, and keep us working together. How should I explain to my supervisor that this work setup is awful, and how do I keep from exploding from all of the pressure of a potential job?
A: First get hired. Then have a conversation with your slacker co-worker and say you two need a clearer division of duties. Then go over daily and weekly expectations and say if he or she doesn’t get the stuff done, you will not be able to keep doing it. Let’s hope that’s enough to get a change in attitude. If not, wait until a few egregious episodes occur, then go to your supervisor and say you need a clarification about how the office functions. Say that you’ve talked to your co-worker but you find you often have to scramble to cover that person’s obligations and you’re concerned that this takes time away from your own duties. Keep it cool and factual. Let’s hope you have a boss who’s good at fixing problems.
Q. Accommodating the Vegan, Vegetarian, Gluten-Free Guest: My fiancé and I are getting married in a few weeks, and we’re hosting a nice sit-down dinner for our guests. The menu is fixed (primarily because of our tight budget), but now I’m hearing special requests from guests. Initially, we tried to cater to a couple of my vegetarian friends. Now I’m hearing that this person can’t have red meat and doesn’t like fish, that person can’t have any gluten or specific cheeses, this person wants red meat and nothing else, etc. Aside from just throwing a head of lettuce at them, how much are we expected to cater to these specific tastes? Our guest list looks like a weird logic game, but since we are paying a pretty price per head, I want to make sure everyone eats.
A: Ah, yes, it’s the new responsibility of people who want to provide you with food and hospitality to hire a battalion of dieticians to make sure everyone’s special nutrition needs are met. There are people who are seriously restricted for medical, ethical, or religious reasons from eating whatever is presented. However, it is the obligation of these people to gracefully adapt to the circumstances. It’s one thing to make your needs known at a restaurant, it’s another to expect a bride and groom to provide everything from vegan meals to paleo diets. Since you have had a variety of requests, go ahead and talk to your caterer about this. They should be able to provide a menu flexible enough so that most requests can be accommodated by a little mixing and matching of the offerings. Then tell your special needs guests to alert the wait staff when they begin service to leave off anything, for example, with wheat or meat. But that’s as far as it goes. Tell your friends you simply can’t do special meals. Eating less at one dinner will be unlikely to leave any of them starving.
Q. Baby Shower: I am expecting and due in December. A baby shower is being organized and a guest list has been requested from me. Two years ago, my brother-in-law broke up with his fiancée. He is now engaged to another woman. I would like to invite his ex, whom we are still close to. My husband says we should invite the ex, since we’ve known her longer. But I can’t not invite my brother-in-law’s current partner! What should I do?
A: Just give them both a heads-up in a low-key way. Let’s hope everyone has moved on and can be around each other in a cordial way. If not, you’ve allowed your friend and future sister-in-law to make their own choices.
Q. Re: Accommodating the vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free guest: Go with a buffet! I had one at my wedding and I think pretty much anyone (possibly not super-adherent kosher) could have found at least one or two things to eat. Ask the caterer to list ingredients at each dish. Then it is up to the guests to figure it out. I had a buffet because neither my husband nor I wanted out guests “chained” to their tables. There was a lot of mixing and conversation, and we were both so happy we did it that way.
A: Great idea!
Q. Husband/Wife Relations: I know that my wife loves me and we are an excellent team. We get along well and are good co-parents. We enjoy each other’s company. But she doesn’t have any interest in me. Forget sleeping with me (that hasn’t happened in years); she won’t touch me. She pulls back if I reach for her. She takes a step away from me if I’m too close. If I reach out to her in the bed we share, she rolls away. I have tried talking to her about this (should I lose weight? What can I do to fix this?) but she just cries and says she loves me and there is nothing I can do. I just spent the whole weekend romancing her (took her out for a fancy dinner one night, booked us a room in a fancy hotel one night, made her crab legs at home for one night), and it changed nothing. Prudie, I absolutely love this woman but I am starting to feel seriously rejected. Help!
A: If only crab legs were the secret to sparking a fire in a dead marriage. Your wife recoils at your touch and you haven’t had sex in years. That is not being an excellent team even if you both love your children. What you have is a child-rearing arrangement, not a marriage. Tell your wife if she won’t accompany you to a counselor, you will see one yourself because you cannot continue to go through life this way.
Q. Young Widow: My best friend lost her fiancé to brain cancer a month ago. He was 28, she’s 27. They had been together eight years and had planned to marry and have kids. We’re all grieving. However, I’m at a loss of how to help or where to direct my friend. She comes over most evenings, and I cook dinner and we hang out. When she starts staying by herself more often I will make sure people are still going by and bringing her food, and will occasionally clean her house. However, I’m finding it hard to get her to counseling. She’s obviously distraught and it’s past the point I can help with. I can listen. But, I don’t feel like that’s doing any good. She feels like because she’s so young, and without kids, counselors don’t know where to start with her. Same with grief support groups—she’s not interested in how sad a 50-year-old is because at least they got 30 years with their love. Is this something I need to let her work out, is there a place I can (gently) direct her to?
A: Type “young widows and widowers” into your search engine and you will see several groups devoted to the special needs of loss for those who are young. I’m not familiar with these organizations, so I can’t recommend a specific one, but you can do some basic research and eventually present your findings to your friend. She’s right that her experience of loss of the future is different from those who have lost their companion of a rich and fully-lived life. But there is definitely support out there for her. Although everyone knew her fiancé’s death was coming, the reality is still really raw. So keep doing what you are doing and gently help ease your friend back into life. When you feel you are repeating the same phrases over and over, then tell your friend that you will always be there, but it’s time she started talking to those who truly understand what’s she’s been through and show her the information for these support groups. Through them, she should even be able to find an individual therapist who would understand her special needs. Recognize that grief is not linear, but in due time you should see signs that your friend is starting to heal.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.
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