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.)
Q. DNA Testing: Both of my children were made possible by the modern miracle of fertility science. My parents and my wife’s parents are aware of the help we received and were thrilled when the treatment worked. My kids look very much like both my wife and me, but my mother-in-law insists that we test their DNA because she has a sneaking suspicion that the fertility clinic used someone else’s sperm. This is a not-so-subtle jab at me. Even though it’s my wife who would otherwise be infertile without assistance, my mother-in-law has remarked more than once about my shooting blanks (I was tested prior to fertility treatment and was given a clean bill of health). She’s willing to pay for the DNA tests, but she wants them mailed directly to her so that no one tampers with the results. I think this is a huge invasion of privacy, extremely inappropriate, and obnoxious. I’ve never had a bad relationship with her, but this could be the start. My wife says we should do this for the sake of family harmony. I strongly disagree. Not only do my kids strongly resemble my wife and me, but common indicators like eye color and blood type match up as well. Should I cave and let my mother-in-law have her nasty way?
A: How unfortunate you two didn’t consider your mother-in-law’s feelings before embarking on producing children. Surely if she’d had a ringside seat at the fertility clinic (you wouldn’t have minded her in the room while you paged through the Playboys with one hand, right?) none of this mess would be happening. Your mother-in-law has the audacity to openly talk about your shooting blanks. But she needs to stop shooting her mouth off now about how her grandchildren were conceived. It is most unfortunate that your wife is so intimidated by this insane intrusion that she is not willing to stand up to her mother. So first, have some discussions with your wife about this, explaining to her that what she sees as family harmony, you see as a grotesque violation. (Note: It’s a grotesque violation.) Say that you understand your wife wants to make her mother happy, but it cannot be at the expense of your children and your dignity. You can also tell your wife that you plan to never discuss this with your mother-in-law again, and will tell her so if she ever brings it up. Stop announcing how much your kids look like both of you. It only feeds the notion that what went on in your bedroom—or in this case the clinic—is the slightest bit of her business.
Dear Prudence: Culinary Madman
Q. Lurid Questions From Straight Women: I’m a 30-year-old gay man who’s (finally) just starting to come out of the closet. I have a problem among some of the straight women I’ve told. Following the heartwarming congratulations and affirmations of our friendships come the lurid questions. Example: Am I a top or a bottom? Those are deeply personal matters that I just don’t feel comfortable discussing. My unease when asked this stuff is palpable and is usually met with, “Oh, come on!” I don’t want to seem like I’m still hiding who I am during the coming-out process, but this can’t be normal straight woman/gay man banter, right? What’s a quick, disarming retort to these truly invasive queries?
A: “Are you?”
I agree that this is an outrageous remark. Turn around their “Oh, come on!” and say it yourself. You could also say “Seriously?” or “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.”
Q. Re: DNA testing: I’m not sure what’s wrong with the LW’s wife, but he needs to quash this line of thinking immediately. Fertility treatments are invasive enough without some harpy loudly weighing in on the outcome. Plus, these people are parents now and need to protect their children from this kind of fear, uncertainly and doubt. MIL needs to be told to stop, one more toe out of line and she’s on a time out, and the wife could use counseling to find out why she’s so willing to cater to her mother’s outrageous demands.
A: Yes, the children should never be subjected to any of this insanity. And if the wife can’t get on board, this marriage needs professional intervention.
Q. Boyfriend’s Fetish—Dare I Ask?: I’m a woman in my 30s with a healthy sexual appetite. I’ve been dating a wonderful man for several months and we have discussed living together. My boyfriend recently borrowed my laptop and saw I had been looking at porn. We laughed it off, but several days later he brought it up again. He warned me if I ever come across his porn, he wants me to know it’s something he enjoys watching, but has no desire to try. He was very vague in terms of what “it” was—essentially “you don’t want to know.” I’m not worried that it’s child pornography; he has expressed disgust for pedophiles in the past. But I am slightly concerned about what “it” is. I worry that finding out might ruin our relationship, but my imagination is running wild as to what it could be. I am friendly with his ex-girlfriend—should ask her about it? Should I bring it up with him again and ask for specifics? Or should I just let it go and enjoy the otherwise great relationship?
A: Talk about protesting too much. “I am not a pervert. I have downloaded reams of disturbing material that gets me off. I won’t tell you what it is. I don’t want to do it in real life. Don’t you dare try to find out what it is!” First of all, this issue means you actually don’t know this guy well enough or for long enough to be discussing living together. So back way off getting yourself committed to someone you feel you want to be investigating. I’m trying to imagine this conversation with his ex. “So, do you have any tips for getting Peter to pick his socks up off the floor? And does he look at videos of women having sex with dogs?” Since you’re having a great relationship, you should continue to enjoy it. However, a great relationship means people can talk about things that bother them. He has now planted a disturbing thought in your mind that’s making you doubt being with him. Explain you respect his privacy and the fact that people have erotic fantasies that they want to keep in that realm. But now you can’t let go of what his is. Specifically, you can tell him that you want to know if the material is potentially illegal, because that could have a direct effect on you. Then see what he says and if you feel mollified enough to let it go.
Q. Re: Lurid question: Having lived in West Hollywood and now D.C., I (straight woman) have a TON of gay friends and yes we do discuss all sorts of things including ones sexual preference/positions/etc. I don’t think it’s meant to be offensive. Also, its often an important factor when I’m trying to set up a gay friend with another friend (goes to compatibility).
A: At the risk of being labeled hopelessly heteronormative, I am grateful that during my dating years no one told me that they had a great guy for me, but first wanted to know if I liked it doggie style. Sexual compatibility may be something that’s discussed in the gay community in a different way than in the heterosexual one. But that’s not the issue here. The letter writer was announcing to friends his coming out, then they started peppering him with questions about what he does in bed. He was appalled, and I say rightly so.
Q. Competitive Moms: My child’s school is full of competitive moms. As an example, one mom, upon hearing that another child was scored highest for reading in her son’s class, confronted the teacher and asked about the girl’s other scores and ranking in the class as a whole—so she could find something that her child “beat” this young lady at. These are kindergartners. I am not like this at all, and I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to be friends with people who would treat their kids as some sort of win or lose scenario. A few of the offenders have asked to get coffee after drop off or such, and I’ve made excuses. I don’t want to be a jerk, but I also don’t want to hang out with jerks. If they keep asking can I tell them the truth about why I don’t want to go, or should I keep saying I’m busy?
A: My daughter will be going to college in the fall, and let me assure you that when you get to this point, you will have a good laugh at the parents who believed that they could perfect every aspect of their children. Yes, this mother sounds psycho, and how sad for her son. (And how in the world does the children’s testing results become public? And what kind of world are we living in where we’re relentlessly ranking kindergarteners?) But hey, it’s only a cup of coffee. Maybe you will find something redeeming about these other women. Maybe, when you laugh off the idiocy of worrying about a 5-year-old’s college prospects, they will learn something from you. Once you’ve taken them up on the offer, if you don’t care to do it again, just politely keep explaining that you’re busy.
Q. Re: Lurid questions: As a gay man I can assure you that it is TOTALLY common for women and even straight men to ask those kinds of questions. If you’re uncomfortable answering them, take Prudie’s advice. Otherwise, think of it like I do: Here’s a chance to make homosexuality no more a taboo topic than heterosexuality. I’ve even had a woman ask once, “I’ve never met a gay man before, and was wondering how exactly does gay sex work?” I explained it in as clinical a way as possible, and she told me she appreciated that I allowed her to be less ignorant. Plus, if you think those rather timid questions are lurid, just wait until your gay friends start in with their questions about you and stories about themselves. I, too, was a little uneasy talking about that stuff when I first came out, but I promise once the nerves associated with having just come out wear off it will be easier, and possibly even fun, to talk about these kinds of things.
A: Umm, I thought answering, “How exactly does gay sex work?” is why the Internet was invented. You are the kind of person who is comfortable answering such questions from curious friends. I also understand your point that within the gay community there can be a different standard for the rules about what constitutes socially acceptable talk about sex. But simply asking a friend what he or she does in bed without a clear predicate that this is a welcome question is intrusive and rude.
Q. Re: For DNA testing: If I were him, I’d be afraid to leave my children alone with mother-in-law, lest she decide to swab their cheeks and send a DNA sample off to a lab without their parents’ consent!
A: Good point. Then she’d likely sneak into the master bathroom and steal the husband’s toothbrush in order to confirm her suspicions!
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Have a great Valentine’s Day, and I’ll talk to you next Tuesday (we’re off Monday, which is Presidents Day).
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.