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. Death Around the Holidays: A man I work with and with whom I’ve had an affair the last two months died suddenly over the weekend. I am pregnant with his child. He didn’t know. His current wife, now widow, doesn’t either. How do I broach this subject? His estate is rather large.
A: I’d say I’m sorry for your loss, but since apparently you aren’t, I won’t bother. For your financial interests, contact a lawyer specializing in family law. I don’t have any advice on where you go to get help for your lack of morals—or heart.
Q. Can’t Move On: My husband and I got together while he was still married. They separated three months later and divorced. It was the worst thing that either of us had ever done, but through the years, we have done our best to be the best partners, family members, community members, friends, and employees that we can be, and try to move on from our less-than-perfect beginning. Earlier this year (six years after his divorce was finalized), we married. Our families are thrilled for us, and we’re eager to have children (there are no children involved in any other way). Our problem is that my husband’s ex-wife is constantly harassing me on social media, and by emailing my work and personal accounts. I would love to cancel all of my social media accounts, but I work in the industry, and cannot do so. As it is, I post mostly professional content, with very few personal posts—nothing that I would be ashamed for anyone to see. I have never responded to the weekly attacks in any way, and I never post anything that I think would directly bait her. Please help.
A: I hope you’ve done everything you can to block her from your accounts. Get in touch with the social media provider and explain you are being harassed. Sure, you broke up her marriage—six years ago!—and she’s entitled to dislike you. But she’s not entitled to carry on a bizarre campaign of public intimidation. (And believe me, she only makes herself look disturbed.) Contact a lawyer and have her or him send the ex a letter stating that the contact with you needs to cease or else you will take all the legal action open to you to stop this offensive behavior.
Dear Prudence: Office Bra Etiquette
Q. Wedding Etiquette: This is no monumental problem by any stretch, but just wondering what the etiquette is these days. I have not been to a wedding in over 20 years but in 2013 I was invited to and attended three, all couples in their mid-20s, one of the brides my niece. In each case, I gave a nice gift and my niece was given a pretty substantial financial gift. I did not get a thank you note from any of them. Is that how things work now, thank you notes not required? I guess they were never “required” to begin with but over 20 years ago, I attended a lot of weddings, like when all my friends were getting married and always got some kind of note. Just curious.
A: My inbox would suggest that is often how things are done these days, but it’s not because etiquette has changed. When you send a gift for which you have not received an acknowledgement in a reasonable amount of time, it is perfectly fine to check with the recipient to make sure it was received. I have known of O. Henry–like situations in which the bride was miffed at the lack of a gift, the sender was miffed at the lack of a thank you, and it turns out the gift was lost in the mail or stolen. Even if you assume the niece got the money because the check was cashed, you can double-check to make sure it wasn’t pilfered. If that that doesn’t result in a thank you note, then think of your future savings when you decline to send a baby shower gift to ungrateful people.
Q. Teen Excluded From Clique: My eighth-grade daughter has been dropped by the “in crowd.” She doesn’t get invited to the big parties, pushed out of the lunch table and pointedly left out of group projects. She had a falling out with one girl and it’s escalated to this point. What do we do? We kept her in sports, church groups, and a social club for mothers and daughters. Girls are nice to her face but clearly she is out of the loop. She is miserable and wants to be home schooled. I am not sure that’s the answer either. We can’t afford private school and there isn’t another public middle school. How can I help her?
A: Please read Sticks and Stones by my Slate colleague Emily Bazelon, and Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons. Both will give you great insight and advice on dealing with the painful situation. When the winter break is over, bring this up with school administrators. The advice in the books will help you figure out how best to frame it to them and work productively to address this problem. Accept there is no magic solution, but being a steady source of support and counsel for your daughter is crucial to helping her work through this sadly common problem.
Q. Crazy Cat Lady Blues: I was evicted out of my apartment a year ago due to its being sold to new owners. Since then I have been living in my parents’ basement and paying rent. Last spring I started back to school so that I would finally finish school and have a job that would allow me to be on my own. I also have a cat and lately feel like a loser because of my living situation. I’m starting to feel like I may never move out of my parents place and am doomed to be a crazy cat lady. What should I do?
A: Being crazy and having a cat makes you a crazy cat lady. Otherwise, you’re a lady with a cat. What you do is work hard at school so that you finish your degree and develop relationships with professors who would be happy to provide you with references. Keep up with your litter box scooping so your place doesn’t smell. And eventually you become a lady with a job, an apartment, and a cat.
Q. Re: Wedding etiquette: I went to a wedding in November 2012 and didn’t get a thank you note until about June of 2013. I know people have a year to send a gift, but if the gift is given at the time of the wedding, does the couple have a year to respond? I had assumed they weren’t doing thank you notes and was honestly shocked to finally receive one (and even then it was a generic pre-printed photo card that they didn’t even sign).
A: First, I don’t know where the “you have a year to get a wedding gift” idea comes from. If someone has a citation, I’d like to see. Sure, some people don’t get around to getting a gift until after the wedding, and that’s fine, but there isn’t a rule that you should wait to see if the marriage takes. As for thank yous, no matter when the gift comes in, the thank you should go out as close to immediately as possible. I was going to say better a thank you seven months later than never, but not if it’s a pre-printed card that is a marker for a thank you, but not actually one. If someone has been long remiss in expressing appreciation, the note should contain an apology for the delay—as well as actual words to the gift giver expressing appreciation for the specific and thoughtful gift.
Q. Child of Divorce … Again: I just found out that my mom and my stepdad are separating. My mom characterized the split as “peaceful,” saying that “he still loves you and we still love each other,” but this was the “only solution.” I’m very sad about this split because my stepdad is a truly wonderful, generous, and loving person. I’m also getting married in the spring, and would still like him to be included in the wedding, but I’m unsure how to do so without making everyone uncomfortable. My mom said we would most likely be excluding “the Smiths” (my stepdad’s family) from the wedding, but I think my stepdad deserves to be there, or at least to have the choice whether to be there or not. Since it’s coming up so quickly, I’m worried things will still be raw and that my mom will blow up if I say I still want my stepdad to be there.
A: Your mother is divorcing this man, but he has been a huge and adored part of your life, so you don’t have to symbolically divorce him yourself. And since your mother says the split is peaceful, that helps you to make the case to your mother that you want him to be there at your wedding. Tell her you will make sure he and the members of his family to whom you are closest will be seated far apart from her at the ceremony, and that his family will be seated at another end of the hall at the reception. If she blows up at this news, you stay calm. Explain you know even in a mutually agreed upon split the emotions are raw, but you know that everyone involved is a mature person who’s able to be cordial on this important day.
Q. Re: Harsh response: I found your question to the expecting woman who had the affair to be rather harsh and to miss the mark. Of course it was wrong for both she and the deceased to have had an affair, but now she has a child—who is totally innocent in this—and it is her responsibility to provide for that child. Had he lived the kid would have been entitled to at least 18 years of child support and you’d hope the man would have included the kid in his estate planning. The only thing I agree with from your advice is that she should consult an attorney. But doing so is the right thing to do to take care of her kid—not a heartless gesture at all. Keep in mind that the deceased was just as much a part of the affair as she was.
A: I agree the child needs to be protected, thus my suggestion to see a lawyer. And yes, the newly deceased father was just as much a participant as the woman. I was commenting on the cold crassness of her note—no shock, no sorrow, no recognition that what she was up to was not right, nor any recognition that her news is going to be a devastating blow to the widow.
Q. Re: Wedding thank yous: I went into a depression (I have bipolar disorder) after our wedding several years ago, and I never sent thank-you notes. I kept insisting to my husband that I would do it myself, and perhaps because I made it into such a big-seeming task, I never got it done. It is still a source of shame for me.
A: First of all, you obliquely raise the important point that the gifts are to a couple, so there’s no reason the entire burden for the thank you notes should fall exclusively on the bride. Second, ameliorate your shame. Get some lovely cards that aren’t specifically for Christmas but have a holiday look, and write those notes. You can say you are wishing all the best for Christmas and the coming year, and your resolution for 2014 was to rectify having never thanked your guest for the lovely wedding gift. Mention how much you have enjoyed it and that having it in your home reminds you often of their thoughtfulness. Think how great you will feel addressing those envelopes and finally addressing this source of guilt.
Q. Ending the Dream: I have decided to break up with my boyfriend and move out, as he has finally told me that he doesn’t plan to propose anytime soon. I am 36 and don’t feel like waiting on him anymore. He tells me he doesn’t want me to leave, and blames me for the breakup. I feel I don’t have a choice, though, as he has made it clear that marriage is not in the cards for him anytime soon. Am I right? Or should I stick it out and wait?
A: This is why I always recommend that before couples start splitting the rent, they figure out more than who pays the gas bill and who pays the electricity. You clearly assumed living together would lead to something permanent. He assumed living together would mean you would permanently live together. If you want to have children, you do not have time to continue in this limbo. Hearing that you’re leaving has not prompted him to reassess his life priorities—he just doesn’t want to lose his roommate. Make the break and stop letting him waste your precious time.
Q. Re: Wedding gift thank yous: When my wife and I were married (10-plus years ago) we made a decision that I would write the thank yous to the people on “her side,” and she would write the thanks to the people on “my side.” We thought that would be a way for the folks that knew us the least to get to know us. Each year when we see her, one of my wife’s aunts never fails to bring up the nice thank you note that I wrote. Just a follow up on the wedding note theme from today.
A: The aunt probably had to get the smelling salts when she got a prompt and lovely note from the groom! I love your idea of switching “sides”—a great way to divide the labor and make a wonderful impression on a new person in your life.
Q. Passive-Aggressive Christmas Card: My husband’s family is a close-knit group all living in another part of the country from us. However, we do spend every other Christmas with them. My husband has two aunts: Judith and Mary. Mary is married and has two children, Judith is single and childless. We just received a Christmas card from Judith in which the only message was that my husband should plan to attend Mary’s son’s high school graduation because the aunts attended his many years ago. We were planning on sending a card and a check, not spending what could be $1,000 on airfare and hotel! We think the aunts are being unreasonable in thinking that because they drove two hours to my husband’s graduation, we should fly across the country. What’s a nice, but firm way to respond to the passive-aggressive jabs that there are sure to be more of between now and June? Or are we the ones being unreasonable?
A: You don’t respond to this Christmas message about a high school graduation six months from now. If you’re exchanging cards, yours should have the standard holiday good wishes. When an invitation to the graduation comes, if you decide at that time that you can’t make the trip, your husband sends a heartfelt note to his nephew and encloses a check. You ignore any jabs you hear about the decade plus scoreboard the aunts keep.
Q. Re: Harsh Response: I didn’t think your response was harsh enough! The man is dead less than 48 hours and the LW is already talking about his “large estate.”
A: At least she didn’t bother with the crocodile tears!
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