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. Ex Stays With My Mom: I’ve been a single father for the last seven years. All this time I’ve raised my daughter, and her mom moved away and never paid child support. Last year, I finally sued to get child support. My ex-wife claimed she was broke and this month started paying only minimum-wage child support. This Christmas she will fly into town to see our daughter. She’ll be in town a week. She informed me that she’ll be staying with MY mother and using my mom’s car! I called my mother and she says that she just can’t say no. I’m pretty peeved because my mother knows how hard it’s been for me before and during the child support case. She told me if it upsets me, she would tell my ex no. But I feel like I’m in a no-win situation. My daughter’s excited to see her mom. And my mom says if I’m unhappy then I need to tell my ex-wife she can’t stay with her. I feel betrayed, especially since my mom doesn’t even like my ex-wife! Should I just suck it up for the holidays or risk my ex-wife telling our daughter how I won’t let her visit for Christmas?
A: I agree that your mother should have discussed this with you before opening her home to her prodigal former daughter-in-law. But far more important than where your troubled ex stays is what happens when she sees your little girl. This is going to be a very emotionally volatile Christmas for your daughter, and you need to prepare her, and yourself, for the roiling emotions that follow. Please talk to the school counselor about this and get some suggestions for a professional you and your daughter can talk to to guide your through this reunion. Privately with the therapist you can air your frustration with your mother. If this represents a long-standing pattern with her, you need to be able to address it. If it is more of a singular event, you need to make clear that what hurt you is the subterfuge. But you can also say you understand your mother’s feeling torn about wanting to make it possible for your daughter to see her mother. It doesn’t sound as if your mother is trying to undercut you—she doesn’t even like your ex—but she probably felt pressured and ended up not being forthright with you. Your mother handled this poorly, but don’t let your anger at her deflect you from the central task of helping your daughter deal with a mother who abandoned her and likely will continue to do so.
Q. Penis Size: I wanted to ask a no-nonsense woman about that age old question that all men have. “Does size really matter?” I have asked this question to my wife several times, and her answer every time is, “You’re fine.” I’m just over 6 inches. The only problem is that the inflection in her voice tells me different. She is constantly reading romance novels and I can’t help but think that she secretly wishes for “more.”
A: I’m going to guess that your wife is not reading romance novels for the descriptions of gigantic members, but for the confidence with which the heroes wield them. Imagine how you would feel if your wife was constantly asking you for reassurance that her breasts were big enough and her thighs thin enough. I think you would feel she’d be a lot sexier if she thought of herself as being sexy. The romance novels may be fulfilling your wife’s longing for someone who is more assertive in bed. So read a couple of the books and try taking a page from them. I think you will note, none of the main characters brings out a ruler and whines, “See, I’m definitely bigger than average!”
Q. Love or Friendship First?: I am a 23-year-old female. Since the day my friend introduced me to her current boyfriend, I have been totally and completely in love with him. They have been together for about two years now and my feelings are still very strong. I have told myself over and over that I need to stop and move on but I can’t let it go. I am constantly comparing every guy I meet to him and they don’t come close. He and I share more interests than he and his girlfriend do so we get along really well. But what makes it really difficult is the fact that I can’t get away from it since he is dating my friend and we see each other often. I feel like I need to tell him how I feel but I don’t want to risk losing my friend over it. Any advice?
A: As Cher famously said to Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck (accompanied by a slap to the face), “Snap out of it.” Sorry, honey, you don’t fall “totally and completely in love” at first introduction. You may have been wildly attracted to this guy, but since then you have concocted a self-indulgent fantasy life around coveting the boyfriend of your friend. You don’t tell him; you just stop hanging around them. If you have to put a damper on the friendship because you can’t control your emotions, so be it. Since you have been unable to conduct a love life of your own because your friend is involved with the man of your dreams, you should talk to a therapist about getting unstuck.
Q. Re: Ex stays with Mom: I can see why this rankles, but really, it’s the best-case scenario! I presume that Grandma’s is a safe place for this child. If/when Mom suggests a sleepover, then at least you know they’ll be under Grandma’s roof (and supervision). Your mom is doing you a favor here, so reframe the issue.
A: Nicely put. The mother should have had the wherewithal to tell her son that the ex asked to stay and why she thought this would be a good solution for everyone. But you’ve laid it out beautifully and the son should let this go and focus on his daughter’s emotional health.
Q. Future In-Laws Visiting at Same Time My Friend’s Baby Is Due: One of my childhood friends is expecting her first baby right before Christmas. I am very excited for her. I live in another state, a few hours’ drive from her. However, I have my future in-laws coming to visit for the holidays for the first time, which I am also very excited to host (they live across the country; and we only get to see them once a year). I mentioned to my friend that I am not sure if I can make it to see her until after the holidays (and after the baby’s born) due to the upcoming in-law visit, and she seemed upset and expectant that I am there right when the baby is born. Prudie, I do work full-time and live a few hours away in another state, and my friends and family from back home seem to forget this quite a bit. Both are important events to me, but what is the proper etiquette here?
A: The holidays will end and the in-laws will leave. But the baby is a permanent addition to your friend’s life, and in general it’s more helpful to come after the baby is born and run some errands, fill the freezer, and admire the new addition. You didn’t say your friend has no partner or family to support her. If you friend lacks support, she’s going to need more than having you around for a few days leading up to the birth. But let’s assume she’s not on her own, and would just like you around. If you had promised to visit but have to cancel because of the in-laws, you should apologize profusely, but your friend should understand that a once-yearly visit from the in-laws is a command performance. So get on the phone with your friend, hear out her worries and concerns—she probably mostly needs a supportive sounding board. Then tell her your schedule, pick some dates, and get your visit on the calendar.
Q. Re: Size insecurities: Oh, goodness, put that idea away right away. Your wife married you, right? Which means she married all of you, having found that you “measured up” to whatever her standards were. And take it from someone with a wide “range” of experience: size, except in extreme circumstances, is completely irrelevant.
A: Agreed. He should stop bugging her for reassurance that he’s big enough and start showing her he knows what to do with what he’s got.
Q. Missing Relatives: I have a bit of a problem coming up with Thanksgiving. I have an elderly aunt diagnosed with Alzheimer’s who will likely not be able to stay in her home for much longer. My father has had to move in with her for the time being while we sort out the various legal issues since she has no one to rely on and is not capable of properly caring for herself. My family is holding up as well as can be expected and we’re planning on having a dinner at her house so that she can have a nice Thanksgiving at home while she still can. My family of four and a family friend are currently the only ones coming. The issue we have is she has been saying that she’s invited everyone in the family! We know that’s not true because there are family members that literally can’t come (some that are deceased). But how do we break it to our beloved aunt when these people don’t show up? We’re fairly new to this and this is our first Thanksgiving dealing with her illness.
A: You answer her honestly and compassionately. “Aunt Sadie, Grandpa Bill died five years ago.” “I miss cousin Louise, too, but she couldn’t come from California. I think she will visit in January.” Accept that you may have to say some things repeatedly. Change the subject and point out that you made her favorite stuffing, or that there are two kinds of pie for dessert. Be patient and kind. Take a look at the advice for dealing with loved ones with this terrible disease at the Alzheimer’s Association website.
Q. Re: Snap out of it!: I get what you’re saying here, but it may not actually be the best quote to use for this LW, since in the end of the movie Cher and Nic get engaged after falling in love almost at first sight!
A: Ha, great point! You’re right, under no circumstances should the letter writer see Moonstruck. She should just definitely snap out of it.
Q. When Can I Introduce My Kids to My Serious Girlfriend?: My ex-wife and I separated earlier this year and divorced in August after being very unhappy. I have been seeing someone since June who I’ve known for a long time. I am happier now than I can ever remember being. I’ve already met her kids who are in college. Mine are 10 and 15 years old and my ex and I have joint custody. We’ve all been to family counseling and the kids have been to counseling on their own and the counselors agree that they’ve adjusted really well and so they are no longer doing therapy. My ex-wife believes, very strongly, that I should not introduce my girlfriend to the kids until we’ve been divorced for three or four years. I am planning to introduce her after the holidays so as not to cause any undue stress on the kids. I’ve done some reading on this and the experts say you should wait at least a year past the initial separation and then only introduce them to someone you’re serious about. As I am pretty sure I want to marry this woman, I think this qualifies as serious. I think my ex is more upset that I am happy than she is worried about the kids.
A: Since you’ve been to a family therapist you like, I think you should go back and run this question by her or him. That person knows your family and everyone’s dynamics, and can help you figure out both how to introduce your new love to your kids and defuse as much as possible your ex’s anger. I don’t think there’s a specific timetable for such an introduction. But I agree the new person shouldn’t pop up as an immediate feature of the divorce, and parents should only introduce people to their kids they are serious about. One of the benefits of divorcing your wife is that she no longer gets to dictate what you do. Her three to four year timeline is silly, and yes it will probably drive her crazy that you’re happy. But one of the pitfalls of having been married to her is that she may try to undermine you with the kids, which you have to be prepared for. So, talk it out with someone who can help guide you through this delicate passage.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Have a great Thanksgiving! Talk to you next week.
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