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. Should I Come Clean?: My identical twin brother had a drunken one-night stand with a woman two years ago. When asked for his name and contact the next morning, he gave my details—his idea of a joke. I looked her up on Facebook out of curiosity when she texted me, and realized she and I had a lot in common. I met up with her and eventually we became an item. I always had a nagging feeling that I should confess how we actually met. I keep putting it off, fearing her response. I want to propose to her, but feel like maybe I should come clean before we take the next giant step. I’m a fan of your column and I know you often advise people to keep mum about irrelevant sexual details that would only hurt the other partner. Does this come under such category?
A: I don’t think you can say, “Will you marry me?” without also having said, “Remember that drunken one-night stand that started this romance? It turns out you were sleeping with my evil twin.” I have to assume your girlfriend knows you have a twin and that you have “introduced” her to him. So the situation you’re presenting is not a matter of keeping the details of one’s previous sexual escapades private. Instead, you and your brother are conducting a long-running farce and both of you have engaged in a level of deceit that singletons find impossible to imagine. Your girlfriend and your brother got it on one drunken evening. I don’t see how you ever feel comfortable with you and your girlfriend being around your brother if the drinks are flowing and his tongue gets loosened. Although, if he gives the best man’s toast at your wedding after having too many champagne cocktails, he could tell the crowd quite a memorable tale. You have to tell your girlfriend now with the knowledge that it could torpedo your relationship. But surely you’ve seen enough entertainment to know the twins rarely get away with their nasty tricks.
Q. Wedding on the High Seas: I am a soon to be bride who has planned her dream wedding on a transatlantic liner. The wedding is very small (20 people all told) and my fiancé and I have worked hard to be able to pay for the tickets for everyone. Everything is now booked and almost entirely nonrefundable, and the voyage is supposed to be in three months. Recently, my fiancé’s uncle has died in a boating accident. Now my prospective in-laws are baulking at the idea of the transatlantic wedding, and demand we cancel, losing several thousands of dollars, because “they now feel uncomfortable near the sea.” Prudie, we booked the wedding about six months ago, when my fiancé’s uncle was alive and well, and everyone was OK with it. We have no money left because what we did not spend on the ceremony is going into our new flat. My in-laws’ economic situation is not great, and they have made clear that they want us to cancel this ceremony without expectation of contributing, My fiancé is very unhappy at the thought of losing the money but also very unhappy at his parents threatening not to come to the wedding. What do we do?
A: How ludicrous that your future in-laws would want to capsize your wedding because of a totally unrelated tragedy. I assume if they had to fly to witness your marriage, they wouldn’t be canceling if they had lost a loved one in the Malaysia Airlines disaster.* You two have picked up the tab for this event, which is remarkable and unnecessary, but it’s outrageous that now your fiancé’s parents want you to lose all this money so they can stay on shore. Your fiancé has to tell his parents that you both understand and share their distress at your uncle’s death. But then he has to say that you two can’t let this terrible accident scuttle your plans. He has to tell them their not being there for his marriage would cast a pall on this happy event, but the event is going on whether or not they come. Then let it go and focus on having a bon voyage.
Q. New Baby: My husband and I have a 1-year-old baby and we both work full time. Except that one of us is a teacher who has several weeks of vacation throughout the year and summers off. Our finances are tight, but we manage. Our baby goes to day care full time (a huge expense) and we cannot pull her out for the summer to save some money because we’ll lose her spot. The non-teacher has raised the idea of the teacher finding a summer job (as many teachers do), but the teacher is 100 percent against that idea. The teacher has never worked over the summers and this would be the first year. The non-teacher thinks it’s unfair for the teacher to sit around all day hanging out while there are bills that need to be paid, chores to be done, etc. Any advice on how we can work through this?
A: You magnanimously don’t say who’s the teacher and who isn’t, but then present a totally lopsided version of the pros and cons of the teacher getting off his duff for the summer and contributing to the family instead of being a bum. So let’s assume the teacher is your husband and for him one of the great attractions of his profession is the long summer break. So is just isn’t going to work for you to say, “Hey, buddy, I’ve got news: You’re working for that tutoring company this summer.” However, it is fair that a partner with no obligations for a couple of months steps up and gets to those delayed chores, does the bulk of the grocery shopping and cooking, etc. But all this should be discussed not in a punitive way, but with a generous spirit. Sure you can acknowledge that he has a stressful job during the year and earns a well-deserved break. You can even say you feel a little jealous. But it is not unfair that someone who has a job with a built in hiatus gets to enjoy it.
Q. Breast-Feeding/Pumping at Work: I recently returned to work from maternity leave. I am breast-feeding my son, so while at work, I am pumping three times a day. There is a “lactation lounge” that is available for use, but it is a 10-minute walk from my office. To go there and back three times a day results in an hour of lost time, not to mention the time spent pumping (although I do bring my iPad and can catch up on email while I am pumping). Beyond that, there is often a line in the lactation lounge, and so I have to wait for up to 15 minutes before I can take my turn. I share my office with a female co-worker who is often out of the office for meetings. My question is this: Would it be appropriate for me to ask my co-worker to let me know in advance when she will be out of our office so that I can time my pumping with her meetings and pump in our office instead of having to make the trek to the lactation lounge? Or is that too personal/strange of a request?
A: This is a variation of the scarf on the door of the college dorm room indicating to the roommate, “Don’t enter.” What you want to suggest is perfectly fine, as long as you offer the caveat upfront that if she has any discomfort at all about this, you will drop the idea. As for the “lactation lounge” with the line around the door, surely there’s a sitcom here waiting to be born.
Q. Re: High Seas Wedding: If the LW hasn’t already, I suggest they purchase travel insurance. That way if something (else) happens where they really have to cancel, they’re not out all that money.
A: Anyone who is sinking thousands of dollars into a vacation should have travel insurance. But if you read the fine print, while it covers many unforeseen circumstances, I don’t think it will pony up for “My parents are acting like jerks.”
Q. Son’s Request: A few days ago my 10-year-old son asked me to watch a YouTube video. It was a girl putting makeup on her brother. He asked, “Can we do that?” I said, “Not right now; maybe later,” because I didn’t know what else to say. I don’t mind if he’d like to see how he looks, but I feel like I’d be doing something wrong.
A: You were caught unawares and were uncomfortable, so your response was just fine in the moment. Given that you remained calm and didn’t express disapproval, I think letting this lie and waiting to see if your son brings it up again is also fine. I have a daughter, and while she practiced with my lipstick a few times when she was that age, I also would have been uncomfortable doing a full makeup on such a young child. If he does bring it up again, I think it’s fair to have a calm, honest conversation. Ask him what makes this interesting to him and listen open-mindedly. You can tell him doing makeup on him does make you feel a little uncomfortable, but it’s a fair request, and you’ll try it. Then make sure the makeup you use is clean—you don’t want him to get an eye infection because of this exploration.
Q. Boy/Girl Slumber Party Invite Etiquette: My almost 9-year-old daughter wants to have a slumber party for her birthday party in two weeks. She is quite the tomboy with both boy and girl BFFs. We would like to invite all her friends to spend the night, regardless of gender. All of her previous birthday parties had both genders invited. My question is should I say anything on the initiation about it being boy/girl? And what should I say?
A: Even if your daughter has lots of friends it’s not too many for you to pass the word to the parents of the girls that there will be boys there. (That it’s a mixed-gender sleep over will be apparent to the parents with sons.) You just say to the girls’ parents you want them to know boys will be sleeping over, too. For any parents who have questions, you explain your plans for supervising the celebration.
Q. Re: 10-year-old and makeup?: Wow, the question clearly wasn’t about how to use makeup, or even the age of the child. It’s a BOY asking about makeup and this clearly is what freaked the Mom out. This is about gender, not how to use makeup remover.
A: Yes, I totally understood it’s a boy, and I totally understood that this made her uncomfortable. I assume your response means the mother’s answer should be, “Boys don’t wear makeup!” But a generation ago a parent might well have freaked out and said, “Boys don’t wear earrings!” I think staying calm and finding out what makes this interesting to him is the way to go.
Q. Re: Teacher with summer break: You went really easy on the teaching spouse. Too easy. Sure, it is great that the teacher has a built-in hiatus. But it would be nice if at least some of that hiatus is used for either doing things around the house or picking up part-time work. This does not have to be 40 hours per week. But I fail to see how it is an imposition to ask a teacher with a three-month break to pick up some slack at home.
A: I said the teacher should get to the undone chores and step up the running of the household. But I don’t see how the non-teacher follows through with a demand the teacher get a summer job. Now that they have kids, maybe the teacher will come to see that working at least part of the summer is going to be financially necessary. But it will go much better if this is a realization on the teacher’s part, not a punishment from his spouse.
Q. Re: I don’t think it will pony up for “My parents are acting like jerks.”: Most travel insurance policies allow you to buy (at a higher cost) “cancel at any time for any reason” riders to the standard policy. For a trip of this cost, it would be essential.
A: True, but that kind of rider comes at considerable expense. And if they haven’t already got the insurance it’s likely too late now—especially since they would be buying it in order to exercise the cancellation clause. But the point is they don’t want to cancel and I don’t think they should.
Q. Mrs. Scrooge: After dating for two years I recently became engaged to a wonderful man. We’ve since had the finances talk. Money has always been a bit tight and my fiancé is reluctant to go on big trips or do expensive things. I had no problem with this and simply assumed he earned less than I did. In our time together, we’ve taken one big international trip and mostly smaller trips around the U.S. We live in a small condo in Boston’s Back Bay and he doesn’t even own a car. So imagine my shock to learn that he earns nearly double what I do and that he has, at age 29, well over a quarter million in savings. I’m all for prudence (ha, see what I did there!) but surely this is taking it too far and, like Ebenezer Scrooge, forgetting to live life. He says the money is “invested in an IRA that can’t be accessed for decades.” How do I discuss with him that it’s worthwhile to “invest” money in our quality of life?
A: I don’t know how you move in together and then wait until you’re engaged to have a talk about finances—let alone having no idea how much money you each make. Your boyfriend may be pathologically cheap, or he may be brilliantly frugal. (And not having a car when living in the Back Bay is simply a sign of good sense.) But you two are not full partners if your finances are so hidden from each other and you have fundamentally different views of what money is for. If after your engagement you are learning shocking news about your beloved, news that makes you look back on everything with a different perspective, then you two have a serious issue you need to deal with before getting any further in the wedding planning.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.
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Correction, April 1: Due to an editing error, Malaysia Airlines was originally misidentified as Malaysian Airlines.