Dear Prudence

Poached Eggs

My mom and stepdad say they can only have a baby with my help.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudie, 
My mother and stepfather want me to donate my eggs to them so they can have a baby. I declined to do so. But they have been pushing and prodding at me about it and won’t take no for an answer. Now my grandmother is calling me a “home-wrecker,” saying that my mother and stepfather will get divorced if they’re incapable of having a child. My family refuses to go to a donor outside the family because it wouldn’t be “their” child, and they say my genes are 50 percent from my mother. They also won’t consider adoption because they say “those kids are disgusting and messed up.” They plan on having my eggs harvested and raising my child as their own. I am a university student who lives at home, though lately I have been crashing on friends’ couches in order to avoid going home because the situation has gone from hard to ridiculous. My family has been controlling and emotionally and verbally abusive all my life, and until recently I didn’t realize that normal families aren’t like this. I have no way to escape because I can’t afford to move out—I have a job that doesn’t pay that well, and I’m also a full-time student. What can I do?


Dear Fertile,
Thankfully you are in no danger of waking one day to find a nursery’s worth of your eggs having been physically removed against your will (a ghastly thought that recalls the urban legend of travelers waking up in ice-filled hotel bathtubs short a kidney). But what could happen is that your will to resist is weakened through intimidation, extortion, and threats. Your family sounds like a dystopian nightmare out of Margaret Atwood. It’s good your education outside the classroom has made you aware that the way you were raised is wrong. But this realization comes at a time when you’re not yet financially or emotionally independent. It’s unfortunate that circumstances are forcing you to turn away from your family, but doing so will give you the power to resist this grotesque plan and set you on the path to psychological health. As a full-time student you must immediately avail yourself of the resources of your university. Go to the counseling center, describe what is going on, and say you need help. Explain that you are afraid to go home and have been sleeping on the couches of friends. You need a counselor’s guidance in extracting yourself from this situation. You should also be referred to the financial aid office to help you get declared an “independent student,” and thus eligible for grants and housing to allow you to finish your education. Be prepared that breaking away is going to bumpy—it’s scary to imagine life apart from one’s family, even if one’s family is pernicious. But you can start building a new life in which your physical and psychological safety are bedrocks.


Dear Prudence: No Kissing on the Mouth

Dear Prudence,
Last year, my husband was a finalist for a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity. We were both flown to the lovely island city of the organization. I learned there were high expectations for entertaining and community involvement for both employee and spouse. It would have meant my leaving a fulfilling job, but I was told there would be plenty of social and intellectual opportunities for me, and the organization thinks of itself as a family. My husband got the job. Almost a year into our new life, my husband is blissfully happy. Our elementary-aged daughter and I are not. My daughter is pleasant and outgoing and has always been popular. I have invited just about every child in her new class over for visits and activities; almost without exception these invitations have been politely declined. I offered to volunteer at a couple of nonprofits, but was told they were all set. The other women in the community attend work-related gatherings at our home, but when I have tried to pursue a friendship, I get a polite cold shoulder. I’ve lived in many states and have never had a problem making friends. One person explained to me that the culture here, while superficially friendly, is pretty insular, and people feel “outsiders” aren’t worth the effort. I want to return to our previous city, where I could get my old job back. But my husband wants to stay here for the rest of his career. We’ve talked about this, and he’s not budging. I feel like I have to choose between marital happiness and happiness in the other areas of my life, and I am beginning to worry that the rest of my life might just prove more important than my marriage. Do you see any alternative?


Dear Lonely,
You imagined an island paradise, and instead you feel you’ve been stranded on a desert island. Culture shock and homesickness make for a hard first year. But feeling this way after such a big move is also within the range of normal. This is 2014, and while there may be duties expected of spouses by your husband’s employer, I don’t believe that spouses are expected to solely devote themselves gratis to the organization. You would find new challenges and a community of your own if you got a job. If you can’t find one, since you say you live in a city, I simply don’t believe that every nonprofit is turning away able volunteers. If your daughter is happy and outgoing, surely she will make friends on her own. You could also expand her social network by getting her involved in sports or arts activities outside of her school. If this is your husband’s dream job, it sounds as if it would be pretty devastating to his career to abruptly walk away from it. If that’s the demand you’re making of him, no wonder you’ve both retreated to your separate corners. If you are lonely on your island, I’m sure you would find yourself equally unmoored if you divorced and returned to your previous home. Commit now to spending another full year before you consider doing anything. Take that time getting to expand your world beyond the walls of your husband’s organization. Since you live in a place that surely must attract tourists, put out an open invitation to have friends and family visit. Being their guide to your new home might help you see how good you have it.


Dear Prudence,
I recently started dating an amazing woman: She’s smart, hilarious, ambitious, and very attractive. We’re both lawyers in similar practice areas, so it’s nice to be able to talk to each other about our work. However, for the first time in my dating life I feel insecure. She works for a higher-ranked law firm and has already had conversations about becoming a partner. I’m no slouch, but I haven’t had the same degree of success, and find myself wondering why such a beautiful and successful woman would want to be with me. I know insecurity isn’t appealing, but I’ve never dated a fellow lawyer in the past, so comparing career success was never relevant until now. She seems to be really into me and has mentioned that her success seemingly turned guys off in the past. Am I right to be concerned?

—Raise the Bar

Dear Bar,
Since you are falling for someone with excellent analytic skills, you should take pride in her good assessment of you. Think how refreshing it must be for this woman to have found a man who not only understands her work but seems to delight in her success. You’re only right to be concerned if you allow anachronistic beliefs about gender, ambition, and accomplishment to cloud your thinking. So don’t let them. Sure, you could tell her that her success makes you feel like a schlemiel. Then she will be put off by your insecurity, and you won’t have to worry anymore about what she sees in you. You should celebrate that you each have launched promising careers. Maybe you will both reach for the most demanding rungs of your profession and get there. Maybe one of you will decide to become an entrepreneur, or work for a nonprofit, or stay home for a while with the kids. If you come to feel you have met the person who could be your life partner, and she feels the same way, it doesn’t matter who makes partner first.


Dear Prudence,
During a game of Scrabble with my 14-year-old niece, my father-in-law played the word coitus. After the game I told him that I thought it was an inappropriate word to use with an adolescent, and he responded that he thought I was being overprotective and prudish. He also pointed out that she paid no attention to the word except to use it to play an X on a triple-letter square and win (she’s a killer at this game). I still think he should have used the same letters to play scout. What do you think?


Dear Forfeit,
I hope the word your niece played was buxom, foxy, sexy, or vixen. You were vexed that your father-in-law used what you see as an X-rated word with your niece, but the crux of the matter is she beat him, which must have made her exult. If one opponent is sixtysomething, and the other a teenager who excels at the game, I don’t think the older player is required to box himself in and purposely not maximize his word choice. Since she’s so skillful at mixing it up on the Scrabble board, I doubt she’d even want someone to nix a good play simply to save her sensibilities from being taxed. I say relax. Nothing toxic took place, and there was no reason for this coitus to be interrupted.


Discuss this column with Emily Yoffe on her Facebook page.

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