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. Opposite Sex Roommate Troubles: I swear if this wasn’t happening to me, I’d think this was a joke. I have a new roommate, two weeks new to be exact, and he had told me on three separate occasions that I cannot wear this particular perfume around him because he gets turned on and had trouble composing himself. The first time he said something asking the lines of “I don’t want to be responsible for compromising your morals, heh, heh.” He actually asked if I would go outside and spray it! If this were an allergy issue, I could understand. But I only spray it in my room, with the door shut, right before I leave. And it’s a Bath & Body Works shower gel and bath spray, not Chanel No. 5. Am I in the wrong for not accommodating the request of a horny 23-year-old male? I am 32, and have made it perfectly clear that this is strictly a business arrangement, no romance involved.
A: If I were you I’d be tempted to switch from Bath & Body Works bath spray to good old Pepper Spray No. 5 and give him a shot right in the eyes. You are being threatened by your roommate in your own home. I know I will hear from the lawyers specializing in tenant rights, but this guy needs to be gone. If it’s necessary to speed his departure, give him a full refund for the month and tell him you want him out. If he gives you trouble, you yourself might want to check with a lawyer about how to remove him. While you’re waiting for him to go, you could get a jumbo container of Axe body spray and use it liberally. That might get him packed and heading for the door fast.
Dear Prudence: Culinary Madman
Q. Sick: I’m a twentysomething young professional with a job I really enjoy: My co-workers are great, there are growth opportunities, and I have a voice in what I work on. Over the past few months, I’ve been seriously ill and I’m not sure exactly how to address this with my managers so that I’m being appropriately open yet professional. It started with an extended hospitalization, and though I thought I would gradually get better, there have been complications that have resulted in a lot of missed work. When I am at work, sometimes I am unable to focus. I think I’m finally on the upswing, but I’ve thought that several times before. I want to ensure that my managers have whatever information they need, and that if they are concerned about the impact my health is having they let me know. How do I start that conversation?
A: In answer to a similar question about balancing illness and privacy in the workplace, I heard from employment attorney Philip J. Gordon who explained that managers cannot be expected to make accommodations for employees’ illnesses unless they actually know about the illnesses. So you need to have this conversation with your boss or bosses. This does not mean this has to become common knowledge in the office beyond what you want to explain. It’s clear that you are doing everything possible to get back in the swing at work, but it’s taking time because of medical complications. So explain that. I hope you will find your managers are supportive and sympathetic—and that you will finally be fully on the mend.
Q. Maybe There’s Room for One More After All?: When my wife and I were married, we decided we didn’t want children and have been adamant about that to all our friends and loved ones. We’ve been married for five years and I’m questioning that choice. First, how do I address this with my wife without causing a rift (we have great communication and are always open and honest). If she stands by no children, I’d be OK with it but maybe she’s thinking the same thing? If we have a child, how do we address it with everyone else? It doesn’t seem as simple as “We’ve changed our mind!” but possibly I’m overthinking.
A: If you have a decent marriage you address it by addressing it. All of us adamantly know many things about ourselves. But I’ve so often done things I’ve vowed I’d never do that I’ve given up vowing and have accepted that surprising oneself makes life more interesting. So present your thoughts by saying you never thought you’d find yourself saying this, but you’ve been thinking that being parents is something you want to reconsider. Since you don’t know where this will go, do not worry about what people will say. But if it does lead to your having children, you don’t owe anyone any explanation. I assure you that you will not be the first couple who were never going to have kids who end up pushing a giant cart up and down the aisles of Buy Buy Baby.
Q. Transgender Parent: My partner of five years and I are now attempting to have children. My partner underwent a sex change from a man to a woman a couple of years before we met. Although she was very happy with this decision, this is something we’ve divulged to very few individuals by her own choice—my mother is one of those who does know. In discussing parenting issues, my mother asked if we would tell our baby at some point that one of his/her mothers had once been a man. I immediately assumed we would, and said so, but when I went home and mentioned it to my partner, she became angered and said we most certainly would not! I was a little too shocked to continue the discussion, but I’m wondering what to say! I in no way shape or form think of my partner as a man, and I recognize that this decision was her own and incredibly personal, but I also feel that this was a huge part of her life that would be strange to entirely hide from our child. She spent more than 20 years of her life as a male—will we purge all photos from her past and cut off ties to everyone who knows? This may not have the same medical bearing as an adopted child knowing their parentage, but I feel it’s important all the same! What should we do?
A: You must have some sympathy for Piers Morgan, who was recently attacked for an interview he did with a transgender activist, Janet Mock. During it, he asked Mock about having been born and raised a man, for which she took offense. How much better it would have been, if there were terms or assumptions Mock didn’t like, if she had explained her thinking to Morgan. As you make clear, what transgender individuals reveal or not is decided on a case by case basis. And here you are, surprised that your partner would not tell your future children about her past. But you two don’t have kids, so you’ve got plenty of time now to talk this out. Keep in mind, decisions such as this are not set in stone. Your partner might say that her childhood will be off limits to discussion. But when faced with actual children who want to look at old photos, she will see this as a chance to explain who she is. And if you two feel you can’t move forward until you come to an agreement on this, then having some help from a counselor might help you resolve this.
Q. Re: Maybe room for one more: Before I married my husband, I told him if he wanted to have children to marry someone else. I was dead set against having children. He stuck by me anyway and after 10 years of marriage I changed my mind. Both families were overjoyed, no explanations necessary. We now have three wonderful kids, and I have no regrets about changing my mind.
A: Thanks for this. Yes, I’d say the overwhelming majority of times in this situation the grandparents-to-be do not ask for explanations, they just start crying then run out and buy a crib.
Q. Elderly MIL’s Care and Expenses: My husband is an only child and my elderly MIL lives hundreds of miles from us. My MIL has dementia and is no longer able to care for herself. In order to get her long-term care, living situation, and finances in order, my husband has had to travel to where my MIL lives a lot lately. This has cost us thousands of dollars and will not end until my MIL dies. I think that my MIL’s estate should help defray the costs of his travel. He is “disappointed” in me for bringing up money at this time. Do you think I am being unreasonable?
A: Caring for an elderly parent who can no longer care for herself is one of life’s difficult and draining tasks. And yes, it is financially as well as emotionally draining. There is nothing wrong with talking about how you can afford this, but you have to be very sensitive to the emotional nuances of what your husband is going through. It would be good if you apologized for expressing yourself in a way your husband thought was cold. Say that was not at all your intent. Then open up the discussion about what’s best for everyone. If your mother-in-law is alone and needs to be institutionalized, it might be better to move her near you. This possibility, and working out how to make sure everyone’s needs are being met, should be something you two should be able to discuss with the acceptance that the conversation comes from a loving place.
Q. Re: Transgender parent: She should really read this and see if discussing it with her partner helps: Girl Goddess #9: Nine Stories by Francesca Lia Block (has a great story of a child raised in this type of configuration—two moms, one of whom used to be a man, hides it from the child).
A: I have not read this book, but thanks for a suggestion that seems so apt.
Q. Tricky Work Topic: I have a good working relationship with my boss, “Derek.” Not long ago I mentioned to Derek that I wanted to change my work schedule so I can fit in a workout; I am significantly overweight and would like to drop some inches. He said it was a good idea—he is a gym rat—and he would consider my particular proposal. Then last week Derek said he couldn’t OK that proposal, but does want me to lose some weight and so he wants me to come back with other ideas. He specifically mentioned a later work schedule, but that would interfere with my family’s dinnertime. I think that his concern is coming from a good place, but I wonder whether we are straying into areas that have the potential to be problematic in the work setting; I know that family issues and weight can both be the subject of legitimate work complaints. How would you advise going forward with this?
A: I would advise that your weight is none of Derek’s business and you erred by bringing it into the workplace. If you want a more flexible schedule, you should simply have made a request for different work hours, explaining that you felt the change would help you be more productive and efficient. Now you’re down the rat hole with your gym rat over your optimum time to fit in a workout. You need to drop this. Explain to Derek his counterproposal unfortunately doesn’t work for you. If there is some work hour compromise you can come up with, present it, minus the discussion of your waist size. If he brings up your weight, tell him you’re sorry you brought your personal life into this discussion and you just want to focus on optimizing your work schedule. Do keep in mind that you can work exercise into a sedentary day by other means than the gym: Park in the furthest space, take the stairs, devote half your lunch time to a brisk walk.
Q. Re: Transgender mom: I have a hard time understanding how this couple would reconcile raising an open-minded child (which, I assume, is a goal of theirs) with hiding his/her parent’s own experience with gender and sexuality.
A: There are so many issues here around identity, privacy, and secrecy. But I think it would be hard to expect a child would not find out this part of her mother’s history. And I agree that being to talk about it in an open, confident way would help insure there was no sense of shame attached to the information.
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