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. Baby’s Birthday Argument: For the last three years my husband has insisted on throwing a huge (50-person) party for my daughter’s first, second, and third birthdays. Each time I’ve argued against it but given in because he was so adamant. Now we have two kids and I (tried) to put my foot down, saying that the parties are really stressful for me, and I’d rather have a very small party with kids from her preschool. Prudie, he told me that it was fine, but I had to understand that not inviting all our friends and family would cause irreparable damage to the relationships, and that everyone would feel differently about me after being excluded. He also said that a kid-focused party, with kid activities, is silly because it doesn’t provide the adults with memories for years to come. So now I’m dreading the party and feeling like my husband is insane. Please tell me how to negotiate this.
A: What will happen when you just have appropriately small events marking these early birthdays is that your relationships with your family and friends will be vastly improved when they realize they don’t have to make any more memories of the annual baby blow out melt-down. If your husband has put you in charge of putting together these extravaganzas, he’s highly manipulative. If he’s going to pout and blame you for destroying relationships with everyone because, as a mother of two young children, you just aren’t going to wear yourself out hosting huge parties at his demand, then you’ve got larger problems in your marriage. He told you it was “fine” to stop the parties. So take that as his final answer. If he then makes your life miserable because he let you have your way, tell him this silly thing is making both of you miserable and you need a neutral party for help.
Dear Prudence: Failure to Communicate
Q. Incest Porn: I recently opened up Google Chrome on my boyfriend’s iPad and it was on private browsing. So I hit “back” a few times, I found “Find a Shemale Lover” which was attached to a fake Gmail account. I tried logging in using the same password for his computer and BINGO. I went to user history in Gmail and found incest porn. I don’t know what to say or think. I confronted him and his reply was, “It’s not like I want to be with my mom!” “And I am bored with regular porn.” So my question(s) are why do people watch incest porn? I have small nieces, should I be worried? Fine, he’s bored, what happens when he runs out of porn genres?
A: And my question is: Why aren’t you focusing on the fact that your boyfriend is perusing “Find a Shemale Lover” websites? It’s true your boyfriend must be very bored with porn if he needs “incest porn” to get aroused. I think the average person would start envisioning their family members and screaming, “No, not incest porn, I beg you!” Since you mention your nieces, I wonder if this incest porn is not about mothers, but actually another name for child pornography. If so, since your boyfriend is downloading and possibly exchanging it, he potentially could find himself in major legal trouble. But you are glossing over the fact potentially more germane to you that he’s possibly using the Internet to find sexual partners. That could have serious consequences for your health. This whole episode indicates that while your boyfriend needs a new password, you likely need a new boyfriend.
Q. First-Vacation Blunder: I have been with my wonderful boyfriend for a year now, and in the past few weeks we started discussing and planning the idea of going away for a long weekend to go skiing. While shopping around for flights, he suddenly dropped a bomb on me—he invited two friends of his to come along with us! Without even running it by me first. I was livid and we had a big fight about it. He doesn’t see the problem with inviting people without asking me, and not to mention I thought it was a given that first vacations were reserved for the couple alone. Am I being unreasonable? Any advice on how to handle this?
A: What he did was rude and it’s kind of extraordinary he doesn’t understand why unilaterally making your romantic get-away a group event would upset you. You are the one who knows whether your “wonderful” boyfriend is sending you a message that the idea of a weekend away with you makes him uneasy, or whether he’s oblivious to the nuances of being a couple. My advice is not to escalate the blow-up, but to use this as an opportunity to assess where you’re both at in this relationship, especially now that you’ve been together a year.
Q. Should the Jerks be Invited to the Wedding?: My fiancé and I are drawing up the invitation list for our wedding. The problem is that I have a large number of bigots in my family who have been outright nasty to my fiancé on several occasions. They also launched an intense, very hurtful campaign to try to get me to break up with him. I only want the cousins who have treated us well at the wedding. My parents insist that family loyalty, good manners, and even numbers dictate that I include everyone. My fiancé doesn’t want them there but sees a tactical advantage in inviting them and letting them be the bad guys. What’s the right thing to do?
A: My understanding is that good manners do not include trying to ruin the relationship of other people or spouting ugly bigotry about them. Yes, excluding family members is best done judiciously and only because of serious violations. But it sounds as if you have pretty good grounds. However, I love your fiancé’s attitude. No wonder you want to marry the guy! Since he’s all right with inviting the jerks and leaving it up to them to decide whether to behave graciously or make complete fools of themselves, I think you should have everyone there to celebrate your happy day.
Q. Re: In reply to “incest porn”: Prudie, it’s terrible that you would advise this woman to leave her boyfriend because of his taste in pornography. Don’t you know that there is not even a gap but an ABYSS between our real-life desires and our fantasies? I’m a female in her mid-30s who enjoys a very normal, monogamous, vanilla sex life. But, for as long as I can remember, regular porn’s never turned me on. What does it for me is weird stuff that I myself can’t even believe turns me on: fat black lesbians, incest stories (not with children!), and even bestiality. None of these things would ever appeal to me in real life (YUCK!) and there’s a good chance that’s what’s going on with her boyfriend too—please change your answer and let her know there’s plenty of us out there who just have an active imagination but no desire to bring it into the real world.
A: I totally agree that indulging in one’s private fantasies is great. I think a lot of sexually frustrated people would find their actual sexual encounters were more satisfying if they could mentally access the strange things that might arouse them. What’s not great is looking at child porn. Although I think our laws on this are insanely draconian and do not distinguish between people who act and people who look, since the letter writer expressed concern for her nieces, I raised the possibility that she discovered her boyfriend was downloading child porn. It also could be that it’s simply a fantasy indulgence for her boyfriend to log onto the “Meeting Shemales” site. But this needs to be clarified, because if he’s actually meeting them, and more, then that’s her business, too.
Q. Trying to get Pregnant: My SIL and I are very close and share a lot with each other. Six months ago my husband and I decided to stop using birth control and “see what happens” for a year. I was excited to tell her and our other close friends that we were ready to start trying for a baby. Both of them became my cheerleaders, and although we’re not actively trying yet, if I get my period my SIL takes me out on a date to treat me to sushi and wine as a “consolation” date. Having her support has meant so much to me, because each month that passes I do find myself disappointed and hoping that this time was the time. Two months ago SIL was told that unfortunately, due to health issues, kids are not in her future. She and my BIL grieved for a few weeks, and I tried to be supportive of her. At first she was nervous to tell me because she said she was afraid it would bring me down. Now, she’s trying to be positive and move on, but she keeps making comments about how even though she doesn’t get to be a mother, she at least gets to be an aunt and that she plans to “steal my kids” for weekend trips then give them back totally spoiled. I’m not even pregnant yet, and she has designs on my kid! How can I tell her I understand she’s still upset she can’t have kids, but I’m not even pregnant yet and I feel like she’s trying to “steal the show” (and the kid!) away from me?
A: Support is one thing. Menstruation consolation dates is another. You and sister-in-law are way too intertwined and you must start creating some boundaries, especially as concerns your reproductive status. You sister-in-law has just received a grievous blow and she needs understanding and help. But someone who is actively seeking to get pregnant may not be the best person to give it. You should suggest that she find a support group for women dealing with infertility; Resolve is one, so that she can discuss all aspects of this with people who know more than you do. Then stop announcing your periods to her. You’ve got to step back and reestablish a more normal relationship, one that respects the privacy of the most intimate details of your life.
Q. Bedbugs and Hospitality: My boyfriend and I recently stayed with a friend (perhaps better described as an acquaintance) and her boyfriend, who recently moved into a new, pre-furnished apartment in a new town. We were there for a weekend, and we had a lovely time with them. The problem, however, is that we suspect that there may have been bedbugs in the guest room where we were staying—when we stripped the bed before leaving, we noticed that the mattress was extremely old and dirty (we saw at least one non-bedbug insect crawling between the mattress and the box spring), and I have developed a few small red spots that may or may not be bug related. This couple just moved into their apartment, and, as I said, it came fully furnished, so they presumably have no idea about this yet. I know for a fact that they plan on having other guests come to visit them in the coming weeks. Prudie, is it our ethical responsibility to make them aware of this situation, or does it just make us seem like ungrateful and suspicious guests? How would you go about telling them? Bear in mind that these are not super close friends of ours, where it would be comparatively easy to say something.
A: Yes, it’s difficult to say, “Thank you so much for your hospitality, and by the way, your home is infested,” but that’s unpleasant news any host would want to know. You have explained the situation very well here sans hysterics, so just give them a call. Say you don’t even have definitive evidence, but since many cities have found themselves plagued with this old scourge, you wanted to let them know it’s possible they need an exterminator so that subsequent guests can sleep tight without worrying if the bedbugs will bite.
Q. Wedding Woes: I am about to get married in a few months. Our families are very religious Orthodox Jews, and though my fiancé and I are not observant anymore, we have agreed to have a traditional ceremony to satisfy our families, despite my own reservations about some elements of the Orthodox ceremony. However, my fiancé’s sister is very, very religious, and I’m getting worried about boundaries! I found a band that I think is perfect—they are great musicians and really unique. However, the band has a female lead singer, and my fiancé’s sister told me that under Jewish law, her husband would feel uncomfortable attending, as a woman’s singing is considered “too sensual.” I’m a committed feminist (and I love to sing myself), and I’m beginning to feel burdened with having to totally rethink my special day in order to accommodate these considerations! How do I make everyone happy—without feeling railroaded at my own wedding?
A: You have the wedding you want. If people don’t want to come, you tell them you are sorry to miss them. There’s a line between being gracious enough to respect the religious beliefs of others, and having to bend to an offensive level of gender apartheid. You simply don’t have to get your choices approved by your entire mishpocheh. If the traditional wedding you have embarked on is not working for you, you find a rabbi who will have the kind of ceremony you want. You certainly don’t need to have the band approved by your future in-laws. If the sound of the female voice offends your brother-in-law, then he’s free to leave the party.
Q. Friends: I recently found out that one of my closest friends slept with another dear friend’s ex-boyfriend. While they had been broken up for over a year, I see this as a clear breach of trust. I haven’t confronted or told, but it’s definitely weighing on me. I wish I didn’t know.
A: Then pretend you don’t know. Because what two adults who are both single do consensually to each other in bed is none of your business. You say the boyfriend had been an ex for more than a year when he slept with his former girlfriend’s friend. Guess what, people don’t get to scent mark others for life. Once a relationship is over, they can pursue other interests. Some of these might be awkward, yes. But this case sounds very run-of-the-mill. So don’t worry about not passing on the news; you don’t have any obligation to be a gossip.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. Have a great week.
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.