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.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Breast Job Getting in the Way of Wedding!: I recently got engaged to my wonderful fiancé. Immediately after announcing the engagement to our families, my future SIL sat me down for a serious chat. She says she is currently saving up for breast implants and doesn’t want us to marry until she gets them done. She told me she wants to have one family wedding album where she looks perfect and will be heartbroken if I got married against her wishes. The trouble is, my fiancé says we should hold off the wedding for this reason, too. He knows his sister will cause so much trouble and doesn’t want to deal with the family drama. He thinks since we live together there is no hurry for marriage, anyway. I know how much he detests conflict and it’s true we are pretty much living as a married couple, but I feel like this is so wrong to postpone the wedding. He says the other option is to pay for his sister’s breast implant ourselves! Am I crazy for marrying into this family?
A: I’ve heard that people want others’ wedding dates moved because of their pending reproductive plans, or because it’s their anniversary which they think should be commemorated like a national holiday. But this is the first time I’ve heard that starting a new life should be put off until someone can afford new breasts. I often tell brides to stop making themselves nuts in an attempt to create the “perfect day.” But it’s really something that your sister-in-law thinks the point of your marrying her brother is that she can show off her perfect breasts. I have every confidence that right now she can afford the most jumbo set of falsies. That means that’s when it’s time for the photos her chest is front and center. Your fiancé should be saying, “Yeah, Stacy has always been a handful. The fact that she wants us to delay our wedding until she’s more of a handful is an escalation of the crazy, so let’s just ignore her.” Instead he is actually considering footing the bill for the boobs, which is rather extraordinary. It’s often the case that one family member is so impossible that everyone just gives in to make life easier, but it’s a little concerning that your intended “detests conflict” so much he’s incapable of telling his sister she’s being ridiculous. The advantage of this whole thing happening is that your fiancé wants to postpone your wedding. So that gives you time to explore just how you two will handle this and other inevitable conflicts, which is crucial information you need before you tie the knot.
Dear Prudence: Ex-Wife Facebook Stalker
Q. My Uncle and a Playground: Recently, I took my developmentally delayed uncle to a park, set him up on a swing set, and ran to the bathroom. The park was crowded, and when I came back from the bathroom two moms chastised me for leaving my uncle alone. They were also upset he was using a swing, as those were meant for children. I think my uncle, who is deaf and often makes grunting noises, frightened their young kids. I thought they were out of line but was flustered, so I left the park with my uncle. My grandma, who lives with my uncle, is upset with me for not sticking up for him. I feel awful about the whole incident. Was I wrong to leave my uncle alone because he’s a grown man and was in a park full of kids? I’m not sure if it’s inappropriate to take a grown man to playgrounds.
A: It’s very hard in the moment when you’re under attack, and possibly feeling that you were in the wrong, to have the wherewithal to respond calmly and lucidly. Then you go to your grandmother’s and recount this distressing incident, and instead of receiving understanding you get attacked from another side. First of all, good for you for taking your uncle on an outing. The important thing here is that you are a kind and loving person. It is perfectly reasonable that you left your uncle in a safe situation while you attended to your call of nature. Once you returned it should have been perfectly clear to these mothers what the situation was. They were way out of line for their rude and disparaging remarks. Now that this has happened, you can be prepared for the future. If you get hassled again, you can quietly say the park is for everyone. You can say that your uncle has special needs, and he is entitled to enjoy the offerings at this facility. Let’s hope that prompts these busybodies to appreciate how lucky they are to have typical children.
Q. Mistress: I’m the letter writer with the mistress. Thanks for responding to my letter. Having read the comments, I wanted to clarify something, since there was skepticism: I really don’t call or text my mistress. We set up our next meeting before we part ways each time. This is important to me because I really don’t want her intruding on my time with my wife in any way (hence the afternoon sex). I recognize that to many, I am just a cheater and a “scumbag.” I would have said that about cheaters once, too. Seems less simple to me now, and while I don’t feel guilt exactly, the way I have found happiness has surprised me. How that happiness has improved my marriage surprises me even more.
A: I, too, came in for a lot of criticism for not calling you a scumbag. I understand that you think you have walled off this relationship and because you only have sex with your girlfriend (does she call herself a “mistress”?) during the work day so it doesn’t intrude on your marriage. It’s also not surprising that you feel less tension in your marriage. That’s because you’re having sex with someone else! Yes, I said as long as you’re doing this it’s good that you’re actually more present in your marriage and not carrying on emotionally with your paramour. But this affair will end. And if you think the secret to sustaining your marriage is permanently having something on the side, you may find that leads to surprises you didn’t anticipate.
Q. Chatterbox Mom: My mom is divorced and retired. Love her lots, but she’s a horrible gossip. She constantly tells me her friends’, neighbors’, and other family members’ personal business. I also know she discusses my life with others because folks have asked me about things and when I inquire how they knew X they indicate my mom informed them (of a medical procedure, for example). It’s never “secret”-worthy intel, but it’s often pure gossip I prefer she not be sharing. I find myself telling her less about my life because of it, and recently she’s expressed hurt that I’m not sharing more with her. I’ve tried to change the subject when she tells me things about others I’d rather not hear, but she seems to relish her role as the “town crier” (she also seems to enjoy being judgmental about whatever she’s gossiping about, which is probably part of my issue with the entire situation). I want to level with her about why I’m keeping so quiet, but not sure how. She does have a temper.
A: Sure your mother is mad, you’re cutting off the oxygen that feeds her gossip fires. If your mother is retired I’m assuming you are a grown woman yourself. Your mother has a temper, but you’re way past the point that she can confine you to your room, take away the car keys, or wag her finger and yell at you. Your reluctance to make clear your feelings about her gossiping about you and others only has the effect of making you more harassed because she’s nagging you about feeling hurt. You tell her by telling her. Since she’s noticed your distance you say, “Mom, you’re right, I haven’t been telling you what’s going on with me because I don’t want to hear it spread all over town. I tell you things in confidence—such as my medical procedures—then I hear back from other people that you’ve told them. I just makes me really uncomfortable. I also don’t want to hear about their private lives from you. I love you, but I want to talk about things other than gossip.” It sounds like your mother desperately needs something to fill up her time more productively. Maybe she could volunteer at an animal shelter—she can gossip to her heart’s content about Fluffy’s heartworms and Bowser’s anxiety disorder.
Q. Moving On After Terrorist Attacks: A few years ago, my husband and I were Peace Corps volunteers in Kenya. We lived in a rural area and did not have electricity or running water, so when we needed some Western comforts we went into the city and spent leisurely afternoons shopping and eating at the Westgate Mall, the recent site of some very violent terrorist attacks. There has never been a terrorist attack on a place that I am so familiar with and have spent so much time, so this attack was especially shocking to me. Then I found out that a friend and her 2-year-old daughter were in the mall during the attacks and had a very close call, but thankfully made it out safely. Ever since I heard this, I have been obsessed. I spent a lot of time in the cafe where they were sitting when the shooting began, and I also have a 2-year-old daughter. I keep picturing myself and my daughter in her situation and I can’t get it out of my head. I am working myself into a very dark place thinking about how unsafe the world is and feeling terrified to send my daughter out into it. I know this is exactly the sort of reaction that terrorists want people to have and I don’t want to let my fear keep me or my daughter from experiencing life. How do I get this out of my head and not let it paralyze me?
A: Of course you’re imagining that had you stayed in Kenya you might have been there on the day these evil people went on a rampage and turned the lovely place you knew into a mausoleum. If you grant yourself the fact your imaginary act of fearful sympathy is completely normal, it might allow you to let go of the obsessive nature of your thoughts. It has only been a short time since this terrorist attack, so give yourself some time to settle back to normal. It sounds as if you’re back in the States. Some simple searches as to the utterly minuscule chance of any of you being the victims of a terrorist attack should help you, too. Force yourself to go on outings with your little girl and your friends. Just resuming your normal life will be salutary. You’re a mother and becoming one means that you have someone whose safety is more important to you than anything. Dealing with that and keeping it in perspective is one of the important tasks of motherhood. If after a reasonable amount of time you can’t let it go, then talk this out with a professional. I’m sure even a few sessions will help give you some tools to reassure yourself.
Q. Re: Chatterbox mom: Please talk to your mother about this. Especially if she is being judgmental about you or other people. I have an aunt who fits this exact scenario who told many extended family members and her own friends about a crisis I was in. When I ran into her friends later at her retirement party, they asked me very personal questions about a period in my life that I do not wish to relive. It was awkward for everybody. I eventually had a conversation with my aunt very similar to what Prudie suggested—and everybody is likely better off because of it.
A: Thanks for the confirmation that sometimes such a conversation actually has the intended effect!
Q. Re: The uncle at the playground: Prudie, thank you for your words in support of the uncle using the playground swing. I am the parent of a developmentally disabled young adult, a young man who craves the motion of the playground swings and seeks out playgrounds throughout our major city. Most people are understanding and supportive, but some aren’t, and children are often confused and don’t understand that this young man should be able to have a turn, too. Your answer helps to educate people. And to the original LW: It’s wonderful that you’re taking your uncle out in the community. I’m sorry your grandmother was so distressed that she flailed out at you when you were only the messenger. Please keep doing what you’ve been doing, it’s so valuable.
A: It’s so important for kids to know that not everyone is the same. Seeing developmentally disabled people out and about enjoying themselves is a good opportunity for parents to explain that it’s great that this man can come to the playground and be welcome.
Q. First wife?: I’m friends with a man who lost his wife to cancer a year ago. He’s starting to date again and struggling with how to refer to the wife who died. First wife sounds weird. Ex-wife sounds weirder. Any suggestions?
A: “My late wife.”
Q. Greedy Brother: Nine years ago my now-late father married a much younger woman. It was a marriage of convenience—she needed citizenship and he wanted some company. Although it wasn’t a love match, they got along well and treated each other respectfully. After his passing, however, we discovered my father never updated his will from 13 years ago! The will stipulates my brother gets most of the inheritance and I get some possessions worth $2,000–4,000 (my brother was a struggling solo father at the time the will was made, but is now doing well). I know from conversations with my father he intended to leave a significant portion to his second wife and evidently never got around to writing a new will. I brought this up with my brother who knew this but doesn’t care. He knows the second wife speaks limited English and doesn’t have the resources to challenge the will. He says it’s enough she got a decent roof over her head and free citizenship. I feel like she deserves more as the wife of our late father who cared for him for three years of illness until his passing. I am so outraged at my brother’s greed I am thinking of helping her see a lawyer and fight this. I’m worried if I do, I’ll risk my relationship with my brother. What should I do?
A: What a lesson this is in the necessity of estate planning, and also about the fallout from dividing estates unequally because of the current circumstances of your heirs. Unless one of your offspring is financially loaded, or the other is disabled in some way, I believe estates should be divided equally. A parent can’t foresee what good or bad fortune will come to their descendants after they are gone. Sure, you will damage your relationship with your brother if you help his second wife get what is really her fair share. But your relationship will already be damaged by seeing him take advantage of your father’s failure to update his will. I think you should help this woman if it’s not too great a financial burden for you. A lawyer may be able to get her a fair share. You don’t have to announce to your brother you’re footing the bill, but don’t lie if asked. If you have to explain, say you feel you both have a moral obligation to make sure she is comfortable, and it would be better if that came from your father’s assets.
Update, Sept. 30: As many commenters have pointed out, though statutes vary by state, almost certainly the law protects a wife even if the husband failed to update his will. The husband’s remarriage in essence revokes the previous will, so the new spouse is provided for. This means the widow really does need a lawyer to get her interests looked after. And while she’s doing that, I think the letter writer should get her own lawyer. If the father’s previous will is invalidated, what goes to the children should be divided more equitably.
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