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 know ice storms wreak havoc and I hope everyone is safe. A small compensation is that ice-covered trees are so beautiful.
Q. The Sex Is Great but I Want to Wait: I have never been a man who enjoys casual sex. It’s always been more enjoyable to me when I’m with a woman with whom I have an emotional connection. For some time, I have been in love with my best friend Chelsea. Recently we went on a road trip for my birthday, and one thing led to another, and we spent a weekend in bed together. The sex was thrilling, amazing, and, even better, we’ve decided to start dating. I know we’ve had sex, but until we’re more serious, I’d like to stay out of bed. Chelsea has a high libido and I’m worried about offending her or weirding her out. It’s stupid, but I feel like I’m emasculating myself. I feel ridiculous turning down sex with the woman I love, but this would make me more comfortable. How should I start this dialogue?
A: Obviously, you could tell Chelsea what you told me—except I’m concerned what you told me doesn’t make a lot of sense. Chelsea isn’t a woman you’ve met lately. You know her well enough to consider her your best friend. You like each other well enough to celebrate your birthday with a road trip together. I surely don’t believe in pressuring people to have sex, but by mutual agreement you two decided to turn your friendship into a romance. You crossed the sex barrier, and instead of waking up appalled, you delightedly smashed it again and again. So explaining to Chelsea you want to return to being platonic while you explore whether or not you love each other is going to be very confusing. It hardly seems you could know each other better. Your task is to figure out if you work as romantic partners. In that case, continuing to take the plunge seems a requirement. If you tell Chelsea you want to stay out of bed, that will be sending the message that you’re putting her back in the friend zone. Rent When Harry Met Sally. And when Harry gets to his big New Year’s revelation about who he loves, I hope you two celebrate your similar good fortune in bed.
Dear Prudence: Hairy Loan Situation
Q. The Gift of the Bozo: My daughter’s boyfriend is intolerable. He’s obsessed with superficial things: money, status, looks. He is downright rude to people he thinks are lacking in those qualities. My daughter allows him to dominate the conversation, and when they are with other people, that becomes a problem. I love my daughter. I frankly don’t understand why she’s with this man, and she refuses to hear a word against him. I don’t want to alienate her, so how do I include her boyfriend in our family’s Christmas celebrations without ruining it for my other children and my husband and me?
A: This is a difficult dilemma of being the parent of an adult. You see she’s making a mistake, but she doesn’t want to hear anything about it—and you can no longer ground her. It sounds as if you have already tried to explain your objections to her boyfriend and she has rebuffed you. So you invite him and let’s hope she starts to see him through her family’s eyes. You can tell the others that you would prefer not to engage too much with Derek when he makes noxious statements—there is a power to just letting his words hang in the air. But if he makes crude comments about people’s looks, etc., then you or your husband can say, “Derek, I’m uncomfortable with statements about people’s physical appearance, so I’d appreciate not having this discussion at the dinner table.” Remain polite. You don’t want to push your daughter closer to this jerk as she rises to his indefensible defense.
Q. Wedding Invites: I’m getting married next August in a small, private ceremony and having an intimate reception with about 50 people. My problem is what to do about my father. He and my mother split up three years ago because he was having an emotional and physical affair with a married co-worker. I have not met this woman and have no desire to, especially whereas my mother is still so hurt by the affair and can’t even bring herself to refer to my father by anything other than “him” or “he.” I don’t see my father frequently. Maybe once every couple of months or so. Would it be acceptable to invite him to the small ceremony at city hall being attended by JUST family? Or do I have to invite him to the reception as well, where he’d likely have no one to talk to, and would upset my mother?
A: Usually the question I get on this theme is from the child who wants to include both parents, but the mother is demanding the father be struck from the guest list and saying if he’s there, she won’t be. Your situation is different in that you’re going along with your mother’s belief that your father’s behavior puts him outside the circle of people who are included in normal social intercourse. Your father cheated on your mother. I am not offering a defense of him, nor do I know anything about your parents’ marriage. You probably wouldn’t want to know, but would it make a difference to you if your father explained that about 10 years ago your mother decided she was no longer interested in sex? I’m not saying that’s what happened here, but it happens. Your father’s behavior caused the painful break up of your parents’ marriage. But he is not a pedophile or a murderer. He’s a guy who had an affair and his marriage ended. Your mother may forever refer to your father as “he,” but I don’t see any reason for you to go along with this. Your mother lost a husband, but you didn’t lose a father. However, you are on your way to virtually severing a relationship with him. You don’t explain the reasons for your semi-estrangement. It could be that following the affair he decided to cut you off. If so, shame on him. I’m guessing you sided with your mother and have decided to have minimum contact with him. It could be you would find yourself punished by your mother if she know you were having a normal relationship with him.
August is a long way away, and instead of worrying about the invitation list to your wedding, I think you should decide to have a more normal relationship with your father—unless of course, he’s the problem. You don’t have to ask your mother’s permission about this; you are engaged to be married, that means you’re an adult. As far as the wedding is concerned, I don’t see any reason you don’t invite your father to the ceremony and reception. You need to start working now on letting your mother know that there are going to be events over the years that will require them to cordially be in the same room together. And your wedding is a good place to start.
Q. Unwanted Guests: I am about to go on a trip with my husband—our first one in years, to mark our 10th wedding anniversary. I was telling a friend about how lucky we were to find excellent accommodation for cheap price online, which gave us two double bedrooms with a sea view. She must have interpreted this as an invitation, because she jumped in and said she was keen to join the trip with her husband, too. She recently lost her mother after a long illness and began talking excitedly about how she now had something to look forward to. I know I should have told her no on the spot, but I lost my nerve and made a noncommittal reply. Now she thinks she’s welcome to come to our anniversary trip and stay with us. How do I tell her not to come?
A: “Rhonda, I might have left a misinterpretation about something that needs to be cleared up immediately before you incur any costs. The trip I mentioned was a romantic get-away for my husband and me—alone. We don’t want to be accompanied by anyone else. I’m sorry if you got the wrong idea about it, but I was just telling you about our trip, not inviting you.” The worst that happens is that she gets so offended that it ruins your friendship. (Actually, the worst that happens is that she goes ahead and books the trip.) If someone is so obtuse that she doesn’t understand what an anniversary getaway is, then she’s not much of a friend.
Q. Memory Page on Facebook: My nephew passed away young and unexpectedly about a year ago. Shortly thereafter, my sister and BIL set up a Facebook memorial page for him, and at first it was extremely useful in getting information out regarding services, donations, and other logistics. Now, a year later, both my sister and BIL update the page daily with remembrances, photos, and solicitations from others to share. Throughout the course of time, people have been posting less and less. Even though I am on Facebook, I feel uncomfortable posting private memories and my own grief in a public forum. My children have also expressed that they feel pressure to post and share daily, but they don’t know what to say. My sister has been sending a lot of text messages and even dropping in casual conversation about people who don’t post on Facebook and how offended she is. I would like to tell my sister that we are all grieving in our own way. I am hesitant to bring this up directly, because she is obviously going through something very difficult. I would appreciate any advice from you or your readers on dealing with this issue.
A: You proceed gently. Grief is different for everyone, and you know your sister and brother-in-law will always be in mourning over their loss. But you can have a conversation in which you say you know the Facebook page is therapeutic for them, but you want them to understand that not everyone is comfortable in such a forum and that you hope the memorial is something that can help them without them feeling as if others are neglecting them if they don’t post. Then urge your sister and BIL to contact the Compassionate Friends organization. This is a wonderful, life-saving resource for parents who have lost children. Tell them that there they will find a community of people who truly understand what they are going through. And do remember on special days—your nephew’s birthday, Christmas—to write your sister a note, or post on the FB page, how much you miss this darling boy.
Q. Funeral Etiquette: What is the etiquette for going to a wake or funeral of someone you knew but didn’t especially like? I would like to go to my friend’s mother’s funeral just to show support for my friend, but I don’t know if my presence is appropriate or welcome since I didn’t especially get along with the person in the casket.
A: Fortunately a funeral is not like an episode of American Idol. The people in attendance do not voice their opinion of the life of the person in the casket. Tell your friend you are sorry for his or her loss and are planning on coming to the funeral. If your friend says, “I know you hated my mother, so please do not feel obligated to come,” then you can make your decision. Otherwise, put on black, give your friend your condolences, and keep your opinions to yourself.
Q. Re: Invites and the divorced parents: Just a comment: My in-laws were bitterly divorced when my husband was in grad school. When our first child was about to turn 1, we invited all the grandparents. When I asked my FIL if he was coming, he asked if MIL was coming, and proceeded to hem and haw … so I knew I had to nip it in the bud. I said to him, “Look—‘Suzie’ will be the granddaughter of both of you for the rest of your life. It would really be too bad if you skipped important milestones just because your ex might be there.” He came, and our daughter is now 20 and he’s rarely missed a milestone. You just have to grow a backbone, or you’ll be dealing with this issue as long as your parents are still alive.
A: Exactly. Good for you for telling the older generation to grow up and not punish the next generation because of their own unhappiness.
Q. Ex Resurfacing: What is the best way to deal with an ex-girlfriend who has resurfaced after over eight years of no contact? She was the girl immediately before me in the lineup. They lived together and their breakup was a bad one. She recently got in contact with him, through multiple phone calls and Facebook messages, after his business card was given to her by a co-worker in a professional capacity. Her messages have been emotionally charged and she has requested that they try rekindling their “friendship.” My husband’s replies have been polite and dismissive, and he hasn’t responded at all to the latest one in which she asked for his friendship and bared her soul about how much she loved him. What is the right way to address the situation without making things awkward? They work in the same industry and will likely run in the same professional circles because their places of business are only 2 miles apart.
A: This is for your husband to handle, politely and decisively. He needs to say something like, “Danielle, I wish you the best but we are not going to be friends. The recent communication has been awkward and it needs to cease now.” Then if it doesn’t, he needs to block her. She sounds rather unbalanced, so let’s hope she just goes away. But if she escalates, he can get a lawyer to send her a cease and desist letter. If he runs into her a polite but curt acknowledgement is all that’s necessary. You should not let this get to you. Obviously your husband wants nothing to do with her.
Q. Liar, Liar: I recently discovered a good friend of mine is a compulsive liar. She has lied to me and our other friends about having a job, where she went to school, various tragedies that have happened to her (her dead mom is very much alive), and why she needs to borrow money (not from me, from others). This friend is charming and gregarious which is why I think so many of my friends and I ignored the warning signs. Now that I know, am I obligated to tell anyone? Right now I want to ease out of our friendship, but I know she and others will wonder why. What if anything do I tell them?
A: You can tell everyone the truth. To Lisa you can say, “I care about you, but you need help. You told me your mother had died, but Lisa, I learned she’s alive. And that’s not the only example. I just can’t trust what you say, and trust is crucial to a friendship.” If the others ask you can say, “Unfortunately, I found out that Lisa told me many things that weren’t true. I’m concerned about her.” Surely, everyone would start discovering this in due time.
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