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 email@example.com.)
Q. Feeling Dirty: My boyfriend and I have been together for over two years. Around 10 months ago we moved in together. Things have been pretty normal except one thing. Let me tell you first, that I grew up in a house where we did not speak of bathroom behavior. As a result of that, I am quite uncomfortable talking about going number two. I am as secretive as I can be when I have to do my duty. Now that “Ron” and I are living together, I have to divulge certain information on a need to know basis. More specifically, if I have diarrhea. These times I have had to explain, “You may not want to go in there for a while.” The weird thing is, 15 minutes or so after telling him such, Ron initiates sex. I find it gross and confusing. He knows how uncomfortable I feel as it is. This has happened four times so far. He denies a pattern or that it’s unusual. Am I the one being weird about this?
A: If he has a kink about this, just think how thrilled he must be to discover that you have a very sensitive stomach. Given your family background, it’s understandable that you’d like your boyfriend to be in a different ZIP code when you move your bowels. But moving on past your own family’s hang-ups is going to be good for you in the long run, especially if you suffer from long runs. I agree that it does sounds like more than a coincidence that your boyfriend wants to have sex every time you limp out of the bathroom pale and spent. Sure it sounds weird, but if you look up fetishes, if this is one of his, it will end up sounding pretty mild. You’ve asked, but he refuses to acknowledge that he has fecal attraction. (I can’t take credit for this phrase—I found it while trying to quickly Google this kink.) I suggest two things—if you frequently get diarrhea for unexplained reasons, you need to see a doctor. And if you are recovering from a violent evacuation and are really not in the mood, just tell Ron now is not the time for sexual healing.
Dear Prudence: Jealous of Boyfriend’s Dog
Q. Tipping: My girlfriend and I have an argument going and are looking to you to help us. Whenever we go out to eat, I pay for the meal and tip on my credit card. When I tip, I always tip at least 20 percent, but I tip in such a way that the total bill comes out to a whole dollar amount. For example, if the meal was $28.42, I would probably tip $6.58, for a total bill of $35.00. Having the total bill be a whole dollar amount is my slight OCD quirk. My girlfriend thinks it is rude to tip those odd change amounts, envisioning waiters with pocketfuls of “useless change” at the end of their shift. My response is that I am a courteous customer, a good tipper and that any extra money is good for the waiter/waitress. What are your thoughts?
A: If you are tipping servers at least 20 percent, I’m sure they don’t mind what calculations are used to arrive at this. Given that most people tip in whole dollar amounts, if it’s added to the total after tax, the servers are going to be getting an odd amount of change, anyway. There’s nothing rude about what you’re doing and if your girlfriend is so concerned about this harmless quirk, she should be the one whipping out her credit card.
Q. Boobs at the Dinner Table: My husband and I recently moved to a new city and are trying our best to make friends. Last night we went to a dinner party organized by my co-workers, one of whom brought her baby. Imagine my surprise when, as we’re all seated at the dinner table, “Lauren” whips out her breast and starts feeding baby right alongside us! I have no problem with breast-feeding and I know baby has to eat, too, but I admit I was a little surprised to see bared breasts at the dinner table, in particular at a gathering where not everyone knew one another. Am I being a prude, Prudie? Or can I balance being supportive of breast-feeding and still draw the line at what I have to watch while I eat?
A: I’m very glad you didn’t announce: “Lauren, I’m lactose intolerant, please take your milk elsewhere.” When I was a nursing mother, I excused myself from the table unless it was an all-female event. But OK, OK, I understand that leaving means the mother might miss the whole meal. If you’re going to stay, every nursing woman knows how to accomplish this discreetly so that baby and breast are covered. Given the general din of a dinner party, no one would even have heard the baby’s lip-smacking praise of his or her meal. You are new in town and want to make friends. You may personally have been put off, but declaring aloud you are disgusted with the behavior of those at table is best left unsaid.
Q. Telling SIL to Tone It Down: My husband’s sister gifted me a beautiful diamond necklace for my birthday. I wanted to thank her and also invite her for my birthday party, but have hesitated based on past experience. Last year, she showed up for my party in a flashy designer gown and was the center of attention with her humorous anecdotes. I don’t possess her shapely figure or her wit and cannot afford designer clothes. Is there a way I can ask her to tone down the act this time? I don’t want to sound petty and insecure while doing it.
A: I suppose you could tell her that the party this year is going to be casual so you’d appreciate if she’d wear a Hefty bag. Then you can give her a dog muzzle at the door so as to cut back on the humorous anecdotes. I actually don’t know if your sister is the life of the party and everyone leaves having been thoroughly entertained, or whether she’s an attention hog who take over the evening. You concede she looks great and is very funny. Guests like that are generally perceived to be a plus. So either you invite her and enjoy the sparkle and liveliness she brings, or you leave her off the list and deal with the consequences.
Q. Not Liking PDA Is Rude?: My brother and his girlfriend make out passionately in front of everyone, including when people are sitting on the couch next to them. They’re not teenagers—both are in their mid-20s. Our immediate family, as well as several extended family members and friends, have expressed our discomfort in being basically forced to watch them making out. We have attempted to be very welcoming of the girlfriend. Recently, she and my brother announced that our family is rude because we ask them not to exhibit PDA in front of us. That it’s a sign that we don’t like her and in order for us to accept their relationship, we need to be OK with their displays of affection. His GF has actually been rather hostile recently and it’s apparently due to the fact that we’re all “rude.” I guess I’m just looking for confirmation that none of us are crazy to feel like we don’t need to witness our brother making out with his girlfriend constantly and how you would suggest handling the situation.
A: It’s too bad that, “Hey, you two, get a room!” didn’t make them realize they needed to get a room. However, now that you’ve spoken up, she is seething with hostility. That perhaps is preferable to watching them French kiss. So what you do now is ignore their bad behavior no matter what form it takes. If she’s uncommunicative, then people should excuse themselves and go refresh their drinks. If the two of them start humping each other and turn every piece of furniture they’re on into a love seat, you just get up and sit somewhere less exciting. Keep in mind either these two will break up, or they will stay together. If it’s the latter, in years to come you can all titter among yourselves about your memories of when they couldn’t keep their hands off each other.
Q. Food Cop Co-Worker: I am a 24-year-old woman who recently started a new job as part of a small team. At my workplace, food (cookies, etc.) is frequently left out at meetings. Since I’m already a bit curvier than I’d like to be and the easy access to unhealthy foods wasn’t helping matters, I decided to start a more health-conscious diet—one where unhealthy foods are limited instead of forbidden. My new lifestyle has been going great, but I’ve been having problems with a co-worker who seems to be bent on narrating the caloric content of everything that I eat. He’ll loudly decline dried fruit and nuts left in the office because they’re too high in calories, and anytime I reach for a cookie he loudly explains why he himself is abstaining. Worst of all, on one occasion he inquired whether my ethnicity made me prone to weight problems! I have no idea whether he is himself dieting or whether he’s just trying to “help me out,” but his remarks honestly make me want to wolf down a whole box of donuts out of spite. How do I politely tell an otherwise nice and friendly guy to butt out?
A: You ask to talk to him in one of your offices if you have a door to shut, or find a place that does. Then you explain that you are uncomfortable with his narrating the calorie content of food and remarking on your weight. Say he may not even know he’s doing it, or he may have the best of intentions, but you hope he understands that you don’t want to hear it any more. Be professional and friendly and wrap up this brief conversation by thanking him for his understanding. Let’s hope he realizes that making the office an uncomfortable place for the new hire is not a path he wants to go down any further.
Q. Family, End of Life: I am estranged from my parents, with whom I cut contact after over 12 years of therapy. They were emotionally abusive, and I still have panic attacks when I visit friends in the area in which they live. My question is the following: My grandmother, whose side of the family recognizes my mother’s abuse and has been supportive of my decision, is in her 90s and recently went on hospice. I know that a funeral will be approaching. I also know that my parents will be attending the funeral when it happens, and I panic when I even consider being around them. None of this is my extended family’s fault, however. I do not want to attend the funeral, but I am worried about what they will think of me if I don’t. I should also mention that I have bipolar disorder, and my parents are my worst trigger. Should I suck it up and go to the funeral out of respect for my other relatives? (I leave my grandmother out of this, since she won’t know whether I’m there or not.) Thanks for your thoughts on this.
A: You must do what is best for your mental health. You’ve made a strong case that attending your grandmother’s funeral will be a setback for you, so that means you have to stay home. You don’t have to offer a lot of explanations. But to those in the family who know and understand your situation, you can say that you need to avoid interacting with your parents, so since you knew they would be at the funeral, you were unable to go. Then you can ask that a smaller group of you get together for a meal to tell stories and pay tribute to your grandmother. You can raise a glass and say how she came to your emotional rescue, understood the pain of your childhood, and was instrumental in your healing.
Q. Friendship: I had a destination wedding a little over a year ago. My best friend of a decade, “Erica” did not attend the wedding. Instead of calling to tell me that she could not make it, Erica declined our invitation via the RSVP card. I found it strange that she never indicated that she would not be attending during one of our frequent phone conversations. I understand that not everyone has the time or money to attend an out-of-town wedding, but I know Erica had the financial means. Given how close we were, I am perplexed and hurt about Erica’s absence. After my wedding, I explained to her that I was upset about how things had transpired and that I would be needing some space. It has been over a year now, and I have not reached out to Erica and she has not tried to contact me. At times I miss our friendship, but I’m not sure I can move on without receiving some sort of explanation or apology. Am I being unreasonable about this? Should I consider reaching out to Erica?
A: Let me throw something else into the mix. You say Erica declined the wedding via the RSVP card. But unless you had no wedding party, I would assume that a longtime best friend would be among the bridesmaids. Perhaps this is the source of Erica’s grievance. If so, she should have gently said something about your bridal party given what you say was her standing in your life. If this was not an issue, then yes, it’s odd a best friend would decline via card and never mention how sad she was that she couldn’t swing attending the wedding. But this sounds like a festival of passive-aggressiveness. You didn’t address your feelings with Erica after the wedding, you essentially told her to get lost. So now a year later it probably won’t be productive to say, “Erica, it’s been a year. I’m ready for your apology now.” If you want her back in your life take steps to clear the air. If you’d prefer to nurse this inexplicable wound, stay silent.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. Talk to you next week.
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.