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. Help Me Tell Him!: I found out a few weeks ago that I’m expecting a child. My husband has two children from a previous marriage. About two years ago I got pregnant and my husband went into a violent depression. He didn’t speak to me for weeks except to tell me how I had ruined his life. Then, when I miscarried he celebrated. I started bleeding in the grocery store, and he fell to his knees and “praised God” for this wonderful blessing. After months of therapy, we decided to try to make the marriage work, under the agreement that we would never have a child together. However, I now find myself pregnant again. And, I want this baby as much as I wanted the last one. The trouble is, I decided back then that I would never want a child with my husband. There is a very good chance that my husband will divorce me and leave a man-shaped hole in the front door as he grabs his two kids and runs as far away as he can. I am not ready for the end of the marriage I have put so many years and so much work into. But, I’m even more not ready to hear my husband try to talk me into an abortion—which is not an option. And, I think it would be traumatic for my stepchildren to watch me carry a baby to term and then put it up for adoption. They are well old enough to know what’s happening. Plus, I could never part with my child. I have to tell him. But how?
A: The day your husband started praising God in the grocery store because you were miscarrying his child was the day the man-sized hole in your life should have opened up which you should have repaired with reinforced concrete. You say you put a lot of work into this marriage. But that’s like saying you put a lot of work into building a house at the site of an annual mudslide and you’re staying until the walls collapse around you. Instead of fleeing this awful man, you stayed, then didn’t take the kind of precautions (sterilization of both of you, for example) that would have prevented another pregnancy. Unless you are fearful for your safety—which is a significant concern—you need to tell your husband you’re pregnant. I don’t know how you do it except to say, “I’m pregnant.” If he reacts as you expect, your next step is to contact a divorce lawyer.
Dear Prudence: Wicked Widow-to-Be
Q. My 13-Year-Old Daughter Is on Lunch Strike!: My 13-year-old daughter has not eaten lunch since school started three weeks ago. I found out when I went to add money to her lunch account. When I asked her why, she said she isn’t hungry, which I know isn’t true because she rarely eats breakfast because we are usually running late in the mornings. When she gets home in the afternoon, she eats everything in sight and promptly falls asleep. As far as I can tell, she loves school and looks forward to going every day. She has tons of friends and never complains about school. She is very pretty and she knows this because people tell her all the time how pretty her face is and I have even caught her gazing at herself in the mirror. However, she is 5-foot-6 and about 50 pounds overweight. Last year she started wearing a hoodie to school every day even in 100 degree weather. She says it because the classrooms are cold, but she keeps it on during the bus ride home and the walk home from the bus stop which is at 10-minute walk. I think she wears it to cover up the extra weight she has around her waist. I have encouraged her to exercise and offered to put her in physical activities but she declines the offers. I sent her to school today with a packed healthy lunch and threatened to come up to the school and sit with her and all her friends if she didn’t eat it. If it matters, I am about 100 pounds overweight myself. How worried should I be?
A: Mom, you were a 13-year-old girl once. Imagine how thrilled you’d have been if your mother showed up in the cafeteria, sat down next to you, and force-fed you until you had a clean plate. Worrying isn’t the point, taking action is. Your daughter is significantly overweight and has a mother who is morbidly obese, so both of you need to address your eating issues. Instead of nagging your daughter about each meal tell her that it’s obvious you have struggled with your weight all your life, and you don’t want her to go through the same thing. Say you’re obviously no expert in good eating habits and nutrition, so you’re going to find one—for each of you. Talk to your daughter’s pediatrician and get a referral to someone who specializes in teenage girls. You need your own nutritionist. It’s possible you could both see the same person, although you each need private sessions. But it also would be helpful to have some joint counseling so that you and your daughter can talk about setting guidelines for how she can make the best choices about what she eats without it becoming a power struggle with you. Being 13 years old can be hard even for the most slender and confident kids. It can be miserable for kids who feel ashamed about their bodies. Stop nagging and micromanaging, Mom, and take steps to lay a healthy foundation for your daughter’s life.
Q. Relationship: I’m a 28-year-old man who recently started seeing a woman. We have an understanding that what we have is casual, but she has a 6-year-old child, who I’ve seen a couple of times a week since we started seeing each other a couple of months ago. I don’t do relationships, but work with kids, so I’m good with them. The other day, he told me he loved me. Now I haven’t even said this to his mother and don’t intend to. We have great passion and affection, but it’s just physical for me. But I feel horrible as I don’t feel that those words should be used unless meant, but this resulted in him saying “I love you” with it not being returned. What do I do? And if the child says it again, how should I respond?
A: You work with kids, so I wish it had occurred to you that showing up as a regular presence in the life of a vulnerable 6-year-old and “being good” with him was going to give this child a powerful sense of connection and longing. Your letter should also be a warning for single parents of young children. Those kids should be protected from the adults’ social lives until the parent is in a relationship that is serious and established and it’s clear that everyone’s getting to know each other makes sense. If you’re going to continue to see this woman for uncommitted sex, then you two need to figure out a way to do this without passing through the life of her little boy. But don’t just disappear. The next time you see him, you should have a private talk with him. You can tell him that you appreciate how strong his feelings are for you and that he could tell you. Explain that love is a really powerful emotion—and word—and that some people only say it when they know someone really, really well. You’re one of those people. So tell him that you feel lucky you’ve gotten to know him, that you’ve enjoyed talking to him and hearing his stories (or whatever it is you’ve done together), and you like him so very, very much.
Q. Original poster about pregnancy: I am in my 20s and have never had a biological child. It is very hard to find a doctor that will do a tubal ligation for a woman with my stats. As for my husband, he had a vasectomy over a year ago—which I guess failed. Regardless, we DID take the precautions we thought were necessary. And now I’m stuck facing this horrible ordeal all over again. Worst of all, I can’t celebrate my child!
A: I remain baffled how you could even contemplate having sex with this guy. I know there are some post-vasectomy children walking around, but they’re rare. How unfortunate your husband’s vasectomy wasn’t successful (if he even had one). So now you’re dealing with “the pregnancy thing.” I also think you should deal with the therapist thing because you need to do some serious rethinking about your life before you become a mother. Keep in mind, just because you’re married to a dreadful person does not mean you can’t celebrate your own pregnancy. And if you fear for your safety, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE about what steps to take next.
Q. Wedding Etiquette: I am in my late 20s and my fiancé is in his early 30s. As you can imagine, the last year was chock full of weddings and next year will be the same, culminating with our own wedding. Finances are tight. Very tight. It is already a struggle to get the funds together just to travel to close friends’ weddings, and giving a gift on top of that is really tough. I opted to do the following: For good friends I go to the wedding and give a homemade gift. I have a glass-etching kit and I etch the bride and groom’s names and the wedding date along the edge of a round mirror and it can then be used under a centerpiece on a table or hung on a wall. For more distant friends or acquaintances I have sent my regrets, but no gift. How much of a faux pas am I making here?
A: I love your gift and wish you’d been invited to my wedding (except that I eloped). If you’re getting invites to weddings from people whom you have to look up in your contact list to clarify who they are, then a simple regret is fine. But if you actually do know them well enough to legitimately make the guest list, then sending along one of your lovely monogrammed mirrors would be a gracious thing to do.
Q. Re: 13-year-old not eating: Prudie, I was concerned that you focused your answer on the girl’s being 50 pounds overweight. That is not really a health crisis. Not eating all day IS. Sure, I think that the advice might be the same, but it is so, so important to approach this girl not by saying “you’re fat and need help to get healthy” but by saying “you’re not eating all day, and that’s extremely unhealthy and just won’t work.” Counseling to discuss food issues (and other issues—maybe this isn’t food-related at all) does sound like a good plan. More so than a nutritionist.
A: Let me clarify. I meant she needs to see a professional who specializes in young people and food issues globally—including identifying eating disorders. The girl needs someone who can help her with body image, good food choices, the destructiveness of skipping meals then bingeing, etc. I didn’t mean someone who’s going to tell her eat kale as often as she can. The mother should start with the pediatrician and get some names of professionals who can take a broad overview of her child’s issues, and who can recommend additional types of counseling if necessary.
Q. Is It Always Like This? I divorced my husband of six years this spring, and even though the initial excitement of a new lease on life was exhilarating, I have found actuality to be just dreary and dismal. I fear I am spiraling downward and I have no way to stop it. My friends have given me some support, but I really don’t think they fully understand the depth of my despair. I really don’t know if I am reacting normally to this life change or if I need some help. When I pleasure myself (which unfortunately has been necessary since the split), I always end up in tears because it reinforces how lonely I am. Recently, I have even taken to only shaving one leg so when I lie in bed at night I feel like a man is next to me. Should I expect this sort of reaction even after close to a year of mentally ending my marriage? Is there hope I will see light and feel at least some happiness again? Thank you for your advice.
A: Consider keeping notes for a novel; that detail about one unshaven leg is striking. The depth of your despair is not normal, even though it seems completely normal to find that the reality of being suddenly single is not the rainbows and lollipops of your fantasies. You don’t say why your marriage ended, but it can be helpful to sort out what went wrong with a counselor—not for rehashing purposes but to try to keep from entering unwittingly into a similar situation. But you sound depressed, and fortunately if you address this with a professional, you might quickly see an improvement in your mood and a return to a sense of excitement about this new phase of your life.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. Talk to you next week.
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