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.
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I’m looking forward to your questions.
Q. My Husband Is Not Invited to My Niece’s Wedding: I am one of four siblings, all in their late 50s/early 60s. I am a gay man who legally married my partner of 28 years earlier this year. Two of my sisters are lesbians with one married to her longtime partner as well. The remaining sister, the youngest, is married with five children and is a devout Catholic. Her daughter is getting married soon and the invitation arrived the other day, addressed only to me. My other married sister’s invitation was addressed only to her. I don’t know what to do. I emailed the niece’s mother and asked if my husband was invited and if my niece was registered anywhere. I did not get a response. I’m pretty sure he and my sister-in-law are not invited as my sister does not approve of the relationships due to religious teachings. Now I’m hurt and unsure how to proceed. My husband has known my niece since she was born. My sister has always treated my husband respectfully, though she has dropped a few hints about how she feels. In the past I have even paid my sister’s mortgage when her husband was unemployed to keep her and her children in their house. I don’t plan to attend without my husband and am not sure if I should just decline the invitation and leave it at that or if I should let them know how hurtful their actions are. What would you do?
A: If there is anyone who grew up knowing that there’s nothing wrong with being gay, it should be this young bride. So go directly to her. She is an adult and is responsible for her invitations. Tell her, “Maureen, I’m thrilled you’re getting married. However, I just got the invitation and saw that it was addressed only to me. I hope that was an oversight and that my husband, your other uncle, is invited. Your Aunt Cynthia also mentioned that her wife was left of her invitation. So we need to clarify whether our spouses are included.” Then hear what she has to say. If she says she left the spouses off because of her mother’s feelings, you should tell her that she is old enough now to make her own decisions. If her decision is to not invite the spouses of her uncle and aunt, then you need to explain basic etiquette to her. You say that wedding invitations are one of those things that are extended to both parties in a couple. Tell her that if she isn’t including your husband, then you wish her all the best, but you will not be able to attend. And if that’s the case, I wouldn’t worry about where this couple is registered.
Dear Prudence: Middle-Aged Twilight Fanboy
Q. Domme Past: I recently moved in with my girlfriend of two years and things are going swimmingly. She is a beautiful, caring, and devoted partner, and I am thankful for having her in my life every day. As I consider our future together, her past continues to haunt me. Early on in our relationship she shared with me that she spent a summer working as a professional dominatrix. I was shocked and disgusted by the things she did, and by the seemingly unemotional and detached way in which she talked about them. She was also involved with one of her “slaves” outside of the workplace. We have come a long way since then and I am deeply in love with the woman that I know now. We have even experimented with some kinky stuff of our own and are very comfortable with each other. However, every once and a while this comes back to haunt me. When it does, I feel like I lose control of my thoughts and focus only on negative graphic images, whereas since we have such a wonderful and charmed life together, I should really just pick up my head and take a look around. I recognize how unfair this for her and I have finally admitted to myself that I need help working through this with counseling, but am afraid that it will ruin us. How do I let go?
A: Maybe your girlfriend should slap a pair of handcuffs on you and walk on your back in stilettos until you agree to stop dwelling on her past. Your girlfriend freely confessed to you her interesting summer job, so you get points for not being the one to pry into her past sex life. Good for her for recognizing that having spent some time as a professional sex worker is something that one’s partner is entitled to know. But it’s been two years since you got the news that she is good at punishing people. You had the opportunity then to say, “I appreciate your telling me you have expertise in clipping electrodes to nipples, but I’m pretty vanilla, so I need someone with a less stimulating past.” But you stayed and even experimented with her. You’re right that if this haunts you and you have something worth saving, you should talk this out with a counselor. I don’t see how that ruins you. Counseling shouldn’t be drawn-out torture; instead it should pretty quickly clarify whether you’re able to put this into perspective and enjoy your love, or whether you’ll never stop the unwanted video loop running in your head.
Q. Dealing With Inappropriate Reactions to the Loss of Our Baby: My spouse and I tragically lost our beloved baby to SIDS. The vast majority of our family and friends are beyond wonderful and supportive, but there continue to be a few outliers who keep asking us very direct and probing questions about what happened. We’ve also been dealing with certain folks who keep assuring us that this is all part of God’s plan (which I find quite offensive for a number of reasons). In my current state of mind, I can’t trust myself to come up with a measured, appropriate way to deal with these issues, but they are very upsetting to me and I wish there was some way I could ask these people (who no doubt mean well) to stop. Do you have any suggestions?
A: I’m so sorry for your loss. You’re generous to make allowances for people who make things worse for the grief-stricken, but they have to be dealt with firmly. To the nosy just say, “I don’t care to discuss the details of our child’s death. Now please excuse me.” For those speaking for God you can try, “This isn’t comforting to us and I’d rather not discuss religion, thanks.”
Q. Inappropriate Jokes: My father very often tells inappropriate and sexist jokes. He often makes my mother the butt of these jokes in front of their friends and her family. (He never says these jokes in front of his family because they would disapprove.) These jokes often involve calling her various sexist words such as wench, or broad, or making it seem like she is always nagging him or refusing to let him do the things he wants to do (this is entirely untrue). I started noticing this a couple of years ago when I would come home from college, and now that I’ve graduated and have moved back home, he makes these types of jokes every day. I have tried to intervene on her behalf but he always tells me he’s just joking and to “lighten up” or that I just don’t understand his humor. My mother tells me not to get involved because it just eggs him on. I don’t know what else to do to get my dad to stop this offensive behavior, especially since my mom refuses to stand up for herself and doesn’t want me to intervene either. Any suggestions?
A: Find a job, save your money like crazy, and get a place of your own as soon as possible. Some couples have a mutually teasing relationship that both enjoy. That doesn’t sound as if that’s the case here, but your mother has made it clear she would prefer to ignore your father’s remarks than deal with his behavior. By not responding to his bait, she’s just letting people draw their own conclusions about your father. You say you just started noticing this in the past few years. It’s possible this behavior isn’t new, it’s just that as you were becoming a young adult you took more interest in how the adults around you behave. You’ve expressed your distaste to your father and your concern to your mother and it hasn’t made any difference, so now you stay out of it. Sometimes parental marriage dynamics seep into one’s unconscious, and without meaning to people find themselves repeating the same lousy patterns. So be aware in your choice of partner you don’t pick someone who gets inordinate pleasure in picking on you.
Q. Friends With Former Bully: When I was in the eighth grade, “Tammy” seemed determined to make my life a living hell. She spread rumors about me, alienated me, and even had a boy I like ask me out as a prank! She left me alone in high school, but I still felt sick whenever I saw her. I am now 30 years old and Tammy contacted me on Facebook. I ignored her first few requests but she was persistent and eventually I agreed to meet her for drinks. While we were out I brought up eighth grade and she said, “Did we even know each other in eighth grade?” I was floored that she didn’t even remember me! The problem is, she says she had a great time with me and wants to continue hanging out. It seems like she is lonely and really needs a friend. But I don’t know if I can just pretend everything is OK when, not only did she not apologize for her actions; she doesn’t even remember them! Should I just get over it and become friends with my former tormentor?
A: Middle school is over, and so is Tammy’s bullying of you—including her harassing you now to be her friend. Her story doesn’t hang together. The only time you two seriously interacted was in eighth grade. Otherwise you ignored each other through high school. So it’s odd that she would want to renew an acquaintance with someone she claims not to have known. You let her badger you into getting together, perhaps expecting an overdue apology. Since none was forthcoming and you can’t stand this woman, do not let her into your life. Sometimes children who are bullies are just nasty people. Sometimes they themselves are being mistreated and are acting out against a vulnerable target. If Tammy is the latter, you can have sympathy for her in an abstract way, while explaining that you’re just so busy you don’t have room in your life for former classmates you never really knew.
Q. A Politician’s Wife: Recently, my husband decided to take a role in local politics. This requires a lot more socializing on his, and my, part. The problem is, I’ve always been terrifically bad at it. I try so hard, but always end up saying something offensive without realizing it. I’ve been like this my whole life. The social niceties and conventions that others seem to intuitively grasp are like learning a foreign language to me. My husband loves me, but I know these gaffes are probably not benefitting him. What is the best way to proceed? Beg off any but the most necessary events? Pretend I’m painfully shy? Forge ahead and understand I may get better but never be good?
A: You’ll likely never love this and never be dazzling at it, but you can certainly learn how to make inoffensive small talk and refrain from saying, “You might want to try the no-carb diet” or “I never realized how many old people like you lived in this district.” Find a media trainer. This person will take you through various scenarios you will encounter while you deal with the public and help you develop a set of appropriate remarks for almost any occasion. Whether or not your husband finds success in this new endeavor, you will feel better about yourself in any social setting when you’re less worried about blurting out something you regret. This doesn’t mean you have to smooth out all the interesting quirks of your personality, it just means you’ll learn how to be a more confident you.
Q. Re: Domme past: Prudie, a dominatrix is NOT a sex worker! S&M clubs are specifically about dominance and control and it is a kink, yes, but the clubs aren’t about the sex! This is why these clubs are legal around the country and not like brothels. She did not have sex with every customer that came into the club, she merely gave them the experience they paid for. Assuming these clubs are all about sex is actually ruining what they are trying to do for their community by providing a safe place for people to be open about the control they want in their lives. I hope you can find some better information on dominatrix work so that you can learn about how much these people have to deal with when it comes to assumptions and negative talk!
A: I didn’t mean she had intercourse with her clients, I was using the term broadly speaking. I hope we can agree that strippers or phone sex workers are in the sex industry and don’t have intercourse with their clients. I don’t see how it’s negative to include S&M in this category; people don’t go to these venues for tax advice.
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