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. Guilty Conscience: I did something bad. Two years ago my brother-in-law died suddenly. Needless to say my in-laws were completely devastated, and my MIL was put on sedation for a few weeks. My husband’s pushy cousin stepped in and took over a lot of the decisions being made. One of them was to place my BIL’s beautiful guitar that his mother had given him in the coffin to be buried with him. I didn’t feel it was my place to speak up, but I thought it was a stupid thing to do. After the visitation at the funeral home I said to an attendant that I thought it was awful that they were going to bury such a valuable object. Since it was to be a closed casket funeral he offered to take the guitar out and set it aside before the coffin was sealed, and I agreed. Later he gave it to me and I brought it home and hid it. Now all this time later my MIL often bemoans the fact that we did such a dumb thing, and says how much she wishes she could have the guitar back to remember her son by. If I speak up and tell what I did, everyone in the family is going to be furious at me, including my husband. I would feel terrible selling it so it remains hidden. Should I face the music and give it back?
A: You did something good. Yes, it was deceptive, and by those lights there are some people who would say ergo, it was bad. But you weren’t going against your mother-in-law’s express wish—even if now she were regretting it. You were stepping up to prevent the pushy cousin from pushing her emotional agenda into your brother-in-law’s coffin. So you conspired with a mortuary attendant to consider your family’s long-term emotional interests and rescue this dear object. Your mother-in-law will always mourn her son’s premature death. But surely it will strike some celestial chord in her to have returned this instrument once held in the hands of her beloved son. To make this happen, first you have to tell your husband. Don’t cast this story as one of your wrongdoing. Say that in the moment you acted because you thought his cousin was making a terrible decision. Tell him that having rescued the guitar you’ve been unable to know what to do with it, but it’s been so painful to hear your mother-in-law wish she could hold it again. Explain you’ve just been too embarrassed to let her know she could. Say it would mean the world to you if he would tell her what happened and give the guitar to her. I’m guessing she will be eternally grateful to you.
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Q. Perfect Guy, No Sexual Compatibility: I am in my early 30s and have been dating a wonderful man for the past six months. He is successful, generous, and funny. He absolutely adores me and we share the same values and beliefs. However, he has very little relationship and sexual experience. He didn’t date much when he was younger, instead focusing on his career. I am an extremely sexual and passionate person, and have a ton of past relationship experience. Sex in the beginning is always so exciting because it’s new, but now it’s become vanilla, and when I try a bit of coaching it becomes awkward. He also asks for my permission to do things or won’t do things until I initiate them, where I’m used to, and enjoy, a man taking charge. (And yes I have told him this.) I’m getting to the point where I dread the bland sex I know will be coming, and it’s so frustrating because besides this factor he is everything I could want in a partner. I’ve dated lots of men where the sexual capability was excellent, but our relationship compatibility was not. I have found such a great man—but our sex life is killing it for me. Is there anything I can do at this point? Or is this the beginning of the end?
A: Imagine yourself five years down the road, having a weekly scoop of vanilla (or maybe not that often) but afterward feeling understood and adored. Only you can decide if that trade-off makes you imagine a contented future, or on in which you’re frantically searching Craigslist for guy who offers no variations on vanilla, just 50 shades of gray. You say your boyfriend spent his youth focusing on his career, not sex. But there are many successful people whose professional ambitions never got in the way of their sexual ones. There’s a reason you spent your free time exploring between the sheets—your libido demanded it. Your boyfriend’s libido sounds like it limps along, polite and undemanding. There are many women who would be ecstatic with such a situation, but you are not one of them. You offered this guy a sexual awakening, and he’s let you know he prefers to catch a nap. I know your experience tells you that the great lovers are lousy people and vice versa, but that’s just not true. If you have to keep taking charge to try to get him to take charge, it’s pretty clear you two simply lack a spark.
Q. Baby Bump: My brother and his wife have been trying to have a child for several years to no avail. They’ve made every reasonable attempt but are both heartbroken when the results are negative. I am a single woman in my 30s who never wanted children of her own. However, last month I discovered that I am pregnant. As I considered my options, I thought about whether my brother and his wife would be interested in adopting my child. The father is a healthy, intelligent individual who is also not interested in parenting this child, and while I could look forward to being Auntie Velma, I find myself averse to taking on the role of Mommy. Is this a reasonable offer to make to my bro/SIL? And how would I broach the subject?
A: Once upon a time, it was fairly common for an unmarried pregnant woman to give her child to other family members to raise. Thus singer Bobby Darin was brought up thinking his grandmother was his mother and was told his biological mother was his sister. (The same thing happened to Jack Nicholson, too.) Your case would be vastly different, but it is loaded with potential complications. One is the possibility that you might find yourself feeling differently after the birth. Or, once the baby arrives you could be more certain than ever that placing your child with loving people would be the best thing you could do for everyone. Your idea could bring great happiness to all of you, but it does have to be handled delicately. I think you should first explore this with a therapist or other professional who specializes in adoption issues so that you have an objective person to help you think this through and figure out how to broach this with your brother and his wife if you decide to go ahead. If they love the idea, then you all need legal representation, not because you don’t trust each other, but because it’s important to make sure everyone’s interests are looked after.
Q. Re: Guilty Conscience: I don’t understand why everyone would be furious (except perhaps husband’s cousin, whose idea it was), but if the LW really thinks that, it might be nice for the guitar to mysteriously appear on the doorstep on the anniversary of her brother-in-law’s death, a “gift” from a mysterious source.
A: Arghhh, no! What a gut-wrenching discovery that would be, one that would possibly send the mother-in-law to some charlatan for a séance, or feeling horribly manipulated by someone with malign motives. I agree that I don’t think people will be furious. Yes, she should have spoken up sooner when the mother-in-law started expressing remorse about the guitar. But better to be honest now and straight-forwardly return it.
Q. I Don’t Want to Watch Her Give Birth!: My best friend has found herself unexpectedly single halfway through her pregnancy (boyfriend ran off with somebody else). She is heartbroken and I’ve been doing everything I can to support her. She has now asked me if I can be there for her during delivery. The problem is, I was a support person when my sister gave birth and I felt like vomiting and fainting the whole time. I am still traumatized by the memory of the birth—there was nothing magical or sentimental about it for me. I couldn’t think of a nice way of telling my best friend I would rather be knocked unconscious with a brick, so made the mistake of saying yes. Is there a way I can back out of my obligations without hurting her feelings, or am I now stuck as a horrified audience to her baby’s birth?
A: It will not be supportive if during the big event you faint and crack your head, thus requiring medical support of your own. Your friend may have asked you not only because you two are close, but because she knows you’ve assisted a pregnant woman before. She just doesn’t know you’ve never stopped reliving the horror. All this still mean you can be the person to bring your friend to the hospital and be there to hold her hand as labor progresses. But you have to let her know that when the big reveal gets underway, you need to be in the waiting room, for the benefit of everyone. Tell her if she wants to ask someone else to stand by her, you totally understand. Also suggest she look into hiring a doula, someone who is trained specifically to provide the kind of support you can’t because you would be breathing into a paper bag with your head between your legs.
Q. Re: Incompatible libidos?: Why not at least try sex therapy? Great guys don’t just grow on trees. That said, I’ll second the statement that great guys who are great in the sack do exist and are worth the wait.
A: Great guys aren’t easy to find, and yes, she could try sex therapy. But this sounds to me like a fundamental incompatibility. I doubt her diffident milquetoast is going to turn into a Viking no matter how many homework exercises a therapist suggests.
Q. Drunk Cheating: This morning, as I returned from a weekend trip out of town, my boyfriend of three years sat me down and confessed that the previous night, he had gotten drunk and had sex with his boss (tomorrow is actually the woman’s last day as his boss—she recently accepted a position elsewhere). Obviously, I am devastated. We love each other tremendously, and had recently started discussing marriage. To make matters worse, this is not the first time he’s done something like this. A little over two years ago, he drunkenly made out with a mutual friend. Further complicating the situation is the fact that four years ago, I actually got drunk and cheated on my first serious boyfriend, so I guess I can empathize. I know that the drinking is a problem. For both of us. But beyond that, I don’t know what comes next. I don’t know how to move past this. I don’t know if I want to leave him, but I don’t know if I can stay.
A: You acknowledge you both have a relationship problem with the bottle. That is the first thing that must be addressed, whatever you decide about whether your romantic relationship can survive. I suggest that together, or separately, you go to AA, or find some other program at which you can figure out what needs to happen with your drinking, from abstinence to better control. Until then, I don’t see how you stop the pattern of alcohol-fueled bad behavior and regrets.
Q. Baby Shower Bonanza: My best friend, who I love dearly, got married last year and I arranged all the trimmings—bridal showers, stagette, bridesmaids weekend and afterparty. I was happy to do it for her as she has been very supportive of me over the years. However, she just announced that she is pregnant, and made it clear that she expects the same level of social planning for this life event—gender reveal, shower, mommy spa day, etc. The problem is I’m still paying for the events from the wedding, and working two jobs does not leave much time for planning elaborate parties and weekends away. How do I tell her I can’t be her event planner?
A: I’m surprised your friend was able to get pregnant, given that she seems to think the celebrations should never have ended. When you’re still paying off someone else’s wedding bills a year later, you’ve been taken advantage of. I’ve weighed in on my distaste for the gender reveal parties and all the endless, expensive hoopla surrounding life’s milestones. So you need to reveal a simple truth to your friend about her expectations now that she’s expecting: Sister, you’re on your own.
Q. BIL Cheated On My Sister: Several months ago my sister confided in me that her husband had recently admitted to having had 12 prolonged affairs throughout their marriage. She swore me to secrecy—I am not supposed to know about it and she has never wanted to talk about it since. I do what I can to check up on her and be supportive while respecting her wishes, but knowing this secret is starting to drive me crazy! She does not want me to act any differently toward her husband, which is hard. My father thinks of his son-in-law as honest and trustworthy and is entrusting him with end of life decisions, estate planning, etc. I am afraid to speak up—I do not want to cause pain and strife. While I keep telling myself it is my sister’s decision to say anything, I fear I am being cowardly by keeping silent.
A: At least your sister has not gone through life with a husband lacking in the libido department. He also seems like he must have fantastic time-management skills. Twelve prolonged, and presumably some overlapping affairs, and no one except his wife the wiser! Where he is wanting is in basic, human decency. Your sister obviously felt she had to tell someone, but it’s too bad that having dumped her secret on you, she seems not to even want to address the fact that her husband makes a mockery of their marriage. You are entitled, however, to tell your sister that her secret is weighing on you, especially when you see your father trusting him with important family decisions, because you no longer see her husband as trustworthy. You could tell your sister that without spilling the beans, you want to flag your father that you have concerns about him placing such sensitive family issues exclusively in the hands of your brother-in-law, and feel there should be oversight by other family members. But after that, you’ve done what you could and it’s your sister’s decision to stay with this louse.
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