Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, chats with readers weekly. Starting June 10, the live chat will be hosted here on Slate. 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.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Job vs. Dude: I’m very unhappy with my current employer, and I’ve just been offered my dream job—except it is in a rural backwater town where I know nobody, far away from my friends and my city. Career-wise it would be a great choice, and I could probably come back to the city in a couple of years, but I am hesitant. Part of my hesitation is that I am a lifelong urban-dweller scared of leaving my city to move to a small town where I might not meet any likeminded people. The other part is that a couple months ago I started seeing a man I really like and respect. We have long-term potential, which is really exciting to me after a string of dead end relationships in my 20s. I feel like I won’t meet anyone like him in a small Podunk town, but on the other hand, I have only known him for like, two months. I have until the day after Memorial Day to give my answer, and feel pretty lost, I’d be grateful for any and all tips.
A: Oh, this situation is the perfect setup for a remake of Sliding Doors. Do you stay in your miserable job, but marry the man you love, eventually to find happiness in both work and life? Do you move to the backwater, have great professional fulfillment, and discover that the guy in the next office is your destiny? Or do you stay in the job you hate, only to have the new romance fizzle? Or do you follow your work opportunity, find the job wasn’t as promised, and you feel so lonesome you could die? And your deadline for resolving this is … today! Get out the legal pad, make a list of pros and cons, add them up—and then see what your heart says. Another good technique in such situations is to flip a coin. Heads you stay, tails you go. Then when the answer comes up, do you feel relief and certainty, or do you want to flip again until you get an answer you like? One thing I suggest is putting the guy out of your mind (it’s a wildcard as to whether the romance will flourish) and see if that clarifies your choice. Also know that this dream job is not the only better job for you. You were able to get this offer, so potentially there are other offers out there in more amenable settings. But flip that coin now, and tell us what happened!
Q. Office Dilemma: A couple of months ago, my father passed away. Around the same time, in an odd coincidence, one of my colleagues, who is about my father’s age, was diagnosed with the same illness. I feel very bad for my colleague and his family, but I am also having some trouble with how his illness is being handled at work. A number of us, including me, have been asked to cover the work that he cannot do. In addition, because he is working part time but is so often in the hospital, some of our meetings are now being held in his hospital room so that he can be involved. Seeing my colleague at the hospital really upsets me, as it reminds me too much of sitting in the hospital with my father. I am really struggling to keep up with my own work right now, and having additional responsibilities on top of that is really overwhelming. I spoke to my supervisor, but he implied that my own experiences with my father should make me especially empathetic and willing to help this colleague out. I do admire everyone’s willingness to support this colleague, but I find myself dreading going to work. I am in my mid-20s, and this is my first job, so I am unsure of what is common or appropriate for them or for me to do in a situation like this.
A: It’s one thing for everyone in your office to divide up the duties of a sick colleague, it’s another to force someone into a distressing hospital setting. You will be far less productive if you are having to relive the heartache and grief of your father’s decline and death every time you have an office-wide meting. Your boss, while being sensitive to your ill colleague, is being grossly insensitive to you. You also are a junior worker and a novice in the workplace, so you don’t want to be seen as obstructionist. The next time a meeting is called for the hospital room, go to your supervisor and explain that you perhaps have not made clear that while you have all the sympathy in the world for what’s going on, your own father is only recently dead, and being back in the hospital and seeing someone fight the same disease is just too painful and raw right now for you to handle. Say that since all of you are doing extra duty, you would appreciate being able to stay in the office to attend to your work, then will catch up with what was said at the meeting. In addition, if all of you are struggling to keep up with your own workload, talk to colleagues about the best ways to parcel out the work of your ailing colleague, and what to do when you feel you’re falling behind. There likely needs to be an office-wide meeting in the conference room, not the hospital, to address what sounds like a long-term issue.
Q. Open About Being in an Open Relationship: I’ve been married for 25 years, have two kids and all my friends are similarly long-time married couples with teenagers. My friends don’t know that my husband and I have an open relationship. Right now, we both have girlfriends, and the relationships are all going extremely well and we couldn’t be happier. I am thinking about telling my friends that we are not monogamous and that we have these two wonderful women in our lives. The two women have met many of our friends at various events and parties, but no one knows the nature of our relationship. I’m tired of hiding it, but afraid we will lose some friends. Should we come clean?
A: You say your friends have met your girlfriends, but you don’t say what your teenagers know about them. They are the most important people in this equation and you should be focusing on what they know and how they feel. Beyond that, I don’t see why you have to make your sexual choices part of the conversation over the summer barbecue party. You have occasionally included these women as friends, so there’s no reason not to stick to this course. Saying, “You remember Felicia. Guess what, she’s also my lover!” is simply not necessary, and presumably would cause great heartache for your teens when this exciting revelation gets discussed over the pickle tray. If you and your husband were into bondage, or he privately cross-dressed, I doubt you would feel it necessary to let everyone know the nature of your sex life. I know from my inbox that for the polyamory community, anything less than suggesting you rent an airplane with a banner announcing you have an open marriage will result in a flood of criticism. But everyone has different social circles and levels of revelation within them. You are not living a lie with your friends, you are just being wisely discreet if you keep this circle closed.
Q. Re: Office dilemma: I used to work in a major hospital and have never heard of having a business meeting in a hospital room! That seems excessively creepy. If they really want the colleague involved, couldn’t they Skype the meetings? Conference call?
A: Good point. It’s one thing for people to visit their ailing colleague, it’s another for everyone to troop to his hospital room, which is not designed for discussing the latest sales figures. What does the boss do when the nurse comes in saying she needs to check the patient’s urine output? It’s wonderful for an office to be kind and accommodating of an ailing colleague, and for people to visit on their own time. It’s another for it to burden everyone with unfair workloads and unprofessional demands. If this office is spinning out of control over one member’s illness, everyone might have to go to the boss’s office for a reckoning.
Q. Re: Job vs. Dude: Take the job, and consider it a two-year adventure. (And maybe you can even stay in touch with the dude.) Dream jobs are rare, while dudes are like streetcars—the sea is full of them.
A: I’ve heard of the play, A Streetcar Named Desire and the song, Too Many Fish in the Sea. But I’m unaware of the reference to too many streetcars in the sea. I get your point about the rarity of dream jobs. But what makes this choice so hard is that particularly when you get to a certain point in life, there is a dearth of dream guys.
Q. Niece Yelled at by Father: The other day, my niece (14 years old) was spending the night at my home because her mom was leaving early morning to a custody hearing (five hours away). While my niece was at my home, she spoke to her father. Her father was yelling at her incessantly because she wasn’t going with my sister to the hearing. He accused her of not loving him and being ungrateful and claimed she didn’t want to visit him. She tried to explain that it was her mom that didn’t want her to go. I didn’t want to intervene because it was her dad, but after my niece started crying uncontrollably, and saying, “But I do love you dad, I do,” and I could hear him continue yelling at her through the phone, I had enough. I took the phone from my niece and said, “John …,” and he cut me off and started yelling at me (thinking I was my sister) accusing my sister of horrible things. My question is—did I do the right thing trying to intervene, did I take too long in helping my niece? What do I do if this happens again?
A: I hope the hearing was to codify that your sister has custody. I understand that parents in this situation can be at the end of their emotional rope. But berating and barraging his child about her legal duties and demonstrations of love just makes the case for the unfitness of this dad. You absolutely did the right thing by rescuing your niece. In the future, if you feel your niece is being abused by her father, yes, you should step up. You can also gently open the conversation with her about what’s going on. Let her vent about her feelings and worries. You don’t want to trash her father, but you can say you did not like how he was yelling at her, and you know all this is so hard because she loves both her parents. Urge your sister to get her daughter some counseling. This teenage is being asked to carry a heavy psychological load.
Q. Never Speak Ill of the Dead: My mother-in-law passed away about a year ago. Her funeral was a very informal, share-your-stories-and-memories format. Well, she was a lifelong alcoholic with a sharp tongue and a history of difficult relationships. Honestly, she was mean as hell when she was sober, and when drunk she was beyond compare. The share-your-stories format devolved into the sharing of horror stories, thinly veiled as “Oh, wasn’t it funny when …” No one actually sang “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” but I think they could have rung out a rousing chorus if anyone had even hummed the opening bars. Our school-age children have mostly not commented on the nature of the remarks made. But the oldest is a teenager, and she asked me why Grandma did so many awful things. I told her that alcohol leads people into unwise decisions, and that alcoholics often hurt the people close to them. We talked pretty frankly about genetic links, and the fact that all the other family members are very, very careful with alcohol; and she will need to be careful, too. My wife is furious. She feels I spoke ill of the dead. She wants me to somehow repair the damage to her mom’s image, and I don’t know what to do.
A: In your case it’s time for a family viewing of this fantastic Sopranos episode in which people speak the truth at a memorial service for the impossible, murderous matriarch, Livia Soprano. Your mother-in-law may have been a damaging woman when sober and an outrageous one when drunk, but she was your wife’s mother and it’s not unusual for a child to want to cover up the awfulness of a parent, or at least temper it. But I think you handled your daughter’s question with sensitivity and honesty, and also got to throw in an important lecture on the hereditary nature of addiction. If your wife wants to weigh in on her mother’s good qualities, she should do so. She doesn’t have to try to cancel out your talk; it would be best if she could acknowledge that you got it right. But this is her opportunity to say that even hurtful and damaged people are complicated and she can recall some tender moments with her mother. If your wife has never faced what it means to be the child of an alcoholic, she may want to look at some of the many books on this topic here.
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.