Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online 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: It’s been a pleasure and an honor to chat with Washington Post readers for the past several years. Today is my last WP chat—but the chatting won’t end, we are bringing the live chat to Slate, the home of the Dear Prudence column. Our first Slate chat will be Tuesday, June 10 (Monday is my daughter’s high school graduation!). Here’s a link where you can get updates to find the chat—and there is no paywall.
I also want to thank the producer of the chat, Bethonie Butler. Her calm professionalism and great judgment has been crucial to the chat every week. Bethonie is a talented young writer, so look for her byline in the Washington Post Style section.
Again, I have enjoyed every minute of talking with you, and look forward to today’s questions!
Q. Husband Doesn’t Like to be a Houseguest: My husband is a very easygoing, reasonable guy in all ways except one. He hates staying in other people’s houses. Whenever I travel to an area where family or friends live, I invariably get insistent invitations to stay at their houses. if I am traveling alone, I take them up on their offer. If I am traveling with my husband, I have to decide who to upset: my husband or my potential hosts. Sometimes my potential hosts are my own parents or siblings, which is where I usually put my foot down, but only after much heated back and forth. While money is not an issue, sometimes I enjoy both being able to save money and spend more time with the people I love. My husband, on the other hand, prefers hotels, he says because he enjoys having alone time to unwind, plus using a bed and a shower that he himself has picked out. The one exception is his parents’ house, I don’t think he would ever dream turning down his mother’s hospitality because he knows it would crush her. I can’t see why he doesn’t understand that I am often in the same boat. We have another trip coming up, with another invitation, so I am getting anxious. How do I find a way to make both camps happy in the future?
A: The compromise seems pretty obvious here: You camp out in the guest room or on the sofa bed, and he escapes to the hotel. If your guy is as agreeable and reasonable as you say, he is entitled to this quirk. Your husband finds an immersion in another family’s rituals to be overwhelming. It’s easy to explain to your family and friends that your husband needs some quiet space to do some work he’s brought along, and that you are looking forward to your slumber party with them. On a longer visit, you may find yourself enjoying some private time with your husband at the hotel. As for the exception he makes for his own mother, it’s his mother, so just cut him some slack.
Q. Brother-in-Law Come-On Update: I wrote to you a few weeks ago about my brother-in-law making a pass at me, and how I felt trapped and unsure of whether or not to speak up. I did tell my husband and he was livid. After a few days, he told me he wanted to tell his sister about her husband’s confession of having affairs out of fear that he might pass something onto her. I was worried, but agreed I’d feel awful if she later discovered a surprise STD. It was little surprise that she reacted with screams, crying, and insistence that I must be lying before hanging up on him. She later called his parents. My father-in-law said he was “doubtful” about my claims. A few hours later, my mother-in-law showed up and asked to speak to me in private. I was really surprised when she told me that he had “always” given her the creeps, and that he had made a few inappropriate comments to her on their latest visit up here. She reassured me that her daughter would likely come around one day. This situation did not end up nearly as badly as I thought it could have, and I am happy that we have now done our part to protect his sister. The rest of the choice is up to her … he is never welcome in our home again.
A: Thank you for this update, and I agree that painful as this was, you totally did the right thing by telling your husband, and he did the right thing by passing on the news. And horrible news it is for your sister to have to realize she’s married to, and has a child with, a total scuzzball. But the testimony from your mother-in-law that she’s been alarmed by him is chilling. I hope your father-in-law comes around and the two of them will be there to support their daughter as she figures out her next steps. When your husband has been banned for cause from your brother’s home, you really need to look at who you’re married to.
Q. Chat Move Logistics: Can you please give your loyal chat fans some more information about the move to Slate? First, there is confusion as to who can participate live—only S+ members, or anyone who wishes to tune in, as here at the WP? Also, as you may know, the commenting platform at Slate is *very* different from the one used here. For example, on Slate, when you click to “View/Make Comments,” a dialogue box overtakes the entire screen and the original post (or in your case, chat) is completely unviewable, absent opening an additional tab. On top of that, there are ongoing problems with the way newer comments appear (or don’t appear). It’s quite difficult to envision how you are planning to recreate the flow of the chat that you have here under that system. I’ve followed you for a long time (you even answered my question once) and it would stink to no longer be able to participate, but I have to be honest: The Slate commenting system is made of nightmare fuel. Many thanks for your consideration.
A: No, the chat will not be behind any paywall, nor is it part of Slate Plus. (And let me make a pitch for Slate Plus, which is our new membership division. It has all sorts of fun benefits for readers, and you help us keep Slate producing great journalism.) For the past several weeks Slate’s crack technology team has been creating a new live chat platform. We hope we don’t have to dub it “Nightmare Fuel”! There may be some kinks when we first get started, but our plan is to have something that approximates the smooth technology we’ve enjoyed here at the Washington Post.
Q. Managing Disappointed Mother: I’m about a month away from giving birth to my second child. Both our families live in the area and we asked my sister and her husband to stay with our toddler while I was in the hospital. My mom however took it extremely personally. Even though we told her she was welcome to come over and spend the whole day with our toddler, it’s just that my sister and her husband would be the ones spending the night—she threw a tremendous tantrum that resulted in her storming out of the restaurant we were in at the time stating that she “doesn’t have to respect decisions she thinks are stupid.” Neither I nor my sister have heard from her in a few weeks now. Unfortunately, its not uncommon for my mom to react this way to decisions I make which she doesn’t like (I’m in my 30s, BTW)—and I’ve made peace with the fact that I can’t control how she reacts. But my question is—what do we do now? At this point, my primary concern is that the next time we’ll see her will be at the hospital after the new baby is born and that she’ll be super bitter and unpleasant, which is not something I’m going to want to deal with. But I also don’t want to deny her the ability to meet her new grandchild.
A: Since this is typical behavior from your mother, you at least have a tremendous amount of experience handling tantrums. And since your mother likes to deal with emotional discomfort by pitching a fit, you obviously made the right decision about where to place your toddler for a few nights. For now, do nothing. Your mother’s the one who stormed off, so let her come crawling back on her own schedule. Let’s hope she does show up at the hospital with a gift and a smile. If she shows up with a head of steam, task your husband with handling her. If she’s stressing you out, he should take her aside and say it’s wonderful to see her, but you’re exhausted and not up for visitors, even loved ones. He should say that when you all get home, you’ll give her a call and let her know when a good time is for a longer visit. You need a simple reward system with her: If she behaves herself, she gets access; if she doesn’t, she’s asked to leave.
Q. Bathroom Manners: My roommate thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to open the bathroom door before washing her hands after using the toilet. I find this gross, as I have to touch the door in many instances where I’m not necessarily washing my hands. She thinks it’s my problem to deal with. Is it? I feel like I have to treat the bathroom in my own home as a public restroom.
A: It is a little odd to open the door before finishing one’s ablutions, but maybe your roommate just wants to clear the air. I don’t think, however, that this is something you need to keep trying to clear the air over, since you’ve both established your positions vis-a-vis the doorknob. I assume you don’t wear gloves when you go to actual public restrooms and you have no Kleenex boxes on your feet when you take the subway. We live in a world of germs and there’s not only no way to avoid them, we need them. But if you’re concerned about what’s crawling on the doorknobs in your home, wipe them off with soap and water (not anti-bacterial gel!) occasionally. Do it without making a demonstration in front of your roommate. Unless you live alone, you’re going to have to deal with someone else’s idiosyncracies and microbiome.
Q. Re: Bitter MIL: Don’t tell her the baby has been born until after you come home. Seriously. You know your mother can’t be trusted not to make a fuss, so you keep the information to yourself until you’re ready to handle a visit from her. Your sister should agree to this, too; no calling Mom to say, “Sis is in labor and we’re with the toddler!” or any communication until you’re back on your home turf.
A: I agree. If Mom stays silent, then she’s simply out of touch. If the letter writer does get some communication from her, and she’s conducting herself appropriately, then she should be rewarded for good behavior. Yes, it’s a pain to have to treat your mother as if she’s a toddler, but that’s what you have to do when she has the emotional development of one.
Q. Re: Houseguest Husband: If the husband thinks it’s fine for them to stay with his parents he should extend his wife the same courtesy.
A: But sometimes demanding the exact same treatment ends up becoming a tit for tat. A successful marriage requires accepting that things balance out in the long run, but not in every instance. She doesn’t mind staying in other people’s homes, he hates it. Accommodating this foible seems worth it.
Q. Wedding/Baby Navigation: I am getting married this week. We are expecting a baby in three months. Yay! My friends and family are as excited for us as we are. My future mother-in-law, however, has asked that we A) not inform her of the sex of the baby, even though everyone else attending the wedding already knows it, and B) not inform the groom’s two younger siblings (9 and 11) about the baby. Which, again, every single other person at the wedding, including those kids’ older siblings, is well aware of. I am six months pregnant, and shaped appropriately. These kids are home-schooled and devoutly Catholic, so I am sure that they have not received any sex education yet. Short of claiming that I have simply developed a profound love of doughnuts recently and informing all guests that they are supposed to pretend that I am not pregnant, how can I tiptoe through this event and subsequent relationship?
A: Congratulations! But surely, even the most bubble-wrapped home-schooled kid has absorbed what a pregnant woman is. This one is for your groom to handle. He needs to tell his mother that neither of you will mention the sex of the baby to her, but since the news has been widely disseminated, she might hear it anyway. He can also say that the wedding is not going to focus on the fact that by the time you two finish your wedding gift thank you notes, it will be time for baby gift ones. But neither are you going to pretend that a grandchild is not on the way. He can say if his little sibs ask him point blank, he’s going to tell the truth, because the truth will be cooing and squalling soon enough.
Q. Advice for Daughter Going to College: Like you, I have a daughter graduating next week. She is a wonderful, sweet, kind and funny young woman. I am proud of her and the choices she has made. She has a wonderful group of friends, both male and female, and they are not into partying. She will be going 2,000 miles away to college, to a technical school where females make up only 25 percent of the student body. When you read about the sexual assaults and harassment taking place at universities, I get worried that I haven’t given her enough advice to protect herself. What advice have you given your daughter?
A: Your daughter sounds like an extraordinary young woman who has negotiated the shoals of high school, and has the confidence to enter a largely male realm—which desperately needs more women! You should feel secure that the skills she’s developed, and her ability to find like-minded people, will guide her on her new adventure. Sure, college, with its freedom and temptation, is going to present her with different challenges from high school. But it sounds like she already knows that having fun and keeping her wits about her are not mutually exclusive. It think it’s too bad that so many recent portrayals of college campuses paint them as less safe for a young woman than a crack den, circa 1990. Yes, binge-drinking is a scourge, and extreme frat culture is repulsive. But there are far more people on campuses involved in social service or a cappella groups then committing crimes. Encourage your daughter to check out clubs where she can meet people who share her interests, and explore things she hasn’t tried. (This is the time for your future engineer to be in a play!) No, she doesn’t have to run from parties, or stand in the corner clinging to a soda. But she needs to understand that she is a novice drinker and at the intersection of alcohol and hook up culture, a lot of regrettable stuff happens. Last year I wrote a controversial story about drinking on campus. I still stand by its message: The best way for a young woman to reduce her chances of being a victim of a sexual assault at college is to know her alcohol limit and stay within it.
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.