Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, chats with readers weekly on Mondays here at 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Q. Husband Slept With My Sister; It Wasn’t Part of the Deal: My husband knows that he has a free pass when he goes out of town on business trips, and our policy is don’t ask, don’t tell. Recently he went on a trip to Las Vegas where my younger half-sister works. I gave my husband her contact info so they could meet up as family members do and catch up. Later I come to find out he had sex with her! I’m mad that he chose to do it with a family member, while my husband insists he thought it was fine because we are not that close and did not grow up together, and he’s only ever met her twice. Did I bring this on myself by allowing him free passes, or should he have looked elsewhere for sex?
A: Your husband may have gotten a free pass to the buffet at his hotel, but it probably had some fine print on it about how many meals he could get out of it, so he should understand every “free pass” comes with fine print. You and your husband may have a “stays in Vegas” clause to your marriage, but he just busted himself by telling you that your attempt to make sure he had someone nice to have dinner with ended up with him having a companion for breakfast. (And when he’s away, do you have a pass to play?) I agree with you that he knows his lame defense, “You barely know your half-sister,” is half-baked. However, what’s happened has happened. So you need to tell him without rancor why you are hurt, and he needs to understand he owes you an apology, and you two need to clarify your rules.
Q. Hygiene or Lack Thereof: My significant other’s two boys stay with us every other weekend. He has been divorced from their mother since they were very young, and they have not been taught good hygiene practices. Although we have finally gotten hand-washing after you use the bathroom down, they come from their mother’s house in absolutely filthy clothes and usually haven’t showered in a week. I’m pretty sure they sleep in their school clothes most nights and rarely change. The 9-year-old’s (this is really gross, sorry) underwear are so dirty we usually just throw them away. He is also a chronic nose-picker and doesn’t cover his mouth when he coughs. The issue comes from the fact that I want them to shower and change immediately when they come over Friday nights, and I spend a large part of Sunday afternoons after they have left on cleaning and washing the blankets where the nose-picking and coughing has happened. My significant other complains that we are making his kids feel dirty and that it makes him feel like I don’t like his children. I do like them! They are sweet kids. He does remind them to use a Kleenex and wash, but as soon as he leaves the room, it’s the finger right up the nose. I have repeatedly reminded the child, but I don’t want to be the wicked girlfriend, so I usually just go somewhere else. Should I just relax my standards, or is this unacceptable for the majority of parents?
A: Your boyfriend is the one who needs to clean up his act. His sons are neglected to a point that borders on abuse. Sure, many kids resist getting in the tub, but children who sleep in their clothes and have underpants that are so filthy that they need to be discarded are kids who are living with a mother who is not up to the job. I can only imagine that their classmates refuse to sit with them because they stink. The nose-picking could be some kind of compulsive behavior or a form of self-comfort. This is not simply an issue of teaching the kids good hygiene—and good for you for stepping up—but of addressing with your boyfriend his responsibilities as a father. He’s got to stop sweeping the real issue under the rug, which is not how nice you are, but how hurting his children are. Once he recognizes what’s going on, it could be that he needs to consider whether he should have primary custody. This means some serious talks ahead for the two of you.
Q. Dateless Daughter: My daughter, who is 21, is home from college for the summer. I love her dearly, but she has a very limited social circle and rarely dates. I, on the other hand, am often asked out on dates and say yes from time to time. Her father and I have been divorced almost five years and have an amicable relationship. But, if I want to go on a date, my daughter is extremely negative and even accused me of whoring myself out for companionship! What should I do? Sit at home all summer?
A: Ah, the joys of having your little girl home with you—and being slut-shamed for it! There seem to be two issues here. One is that even though you are mother and daughter, you are both adults, and you both need to respect each other’s space and privacy. You need to tell your daughter that although you love having her back, you are not going to be insulted about the life you’ve been living since you and her father divorced, nor do you need her permission to do as you please. However, what you describe about her raises concerns that she may well have more global problems than prudery about your dating life. Likely she’s still got unresolved issues stemming from your split. But you mention her limited social circle and lack of dating experience. Maybe she’s an introvert who could use a little more help getting herself out there. Maybe she’s depressed. Take this opportunity to have a gentle talk with her about how she’s feeling about life and whether over the summer she feels she would benefit from talking things out with a professional.
Q. Gay Wedding: My boyfriend and I are a gay couple that have been together for nearly seven years and have been engaged for the past year. While there is literally nothing that would change for us in our home state of Texas, we would like to do something formal and traditional. Our families have been very open to our relationship, and we have never heard any negative comments (aside from a religious zealot known as my grandmother). My question is how to invite other family members who are heavily religious but have never criticized our relationship. My gut feeling is that they would be extremely uncomfortable with the idea of our wedding, as they strongly follow the ideals of Focus on the Family. Is there a tactful way to say, “We would love for you to be there but completely understand if you decide not to?” Or do we simply send the invitations and see what returns?
A: Part of the reason, I think, that the issue of gay marriage has been so transformed so quickly in this country is that people like you and your partner have been open ambassadors for such loving partnerships and have been able to reach by example those who have deep qualms about marriage equality. Obviously, some of your family members have had to wrestle with their love for you and their happiness that you have a wonderful partner and how that aligns with their religious beliefs. But that’s for them to work out, especially when it concerns how to RSVP to your wedding invitation. Your marriage doesn’t come with an asterisk, so neither should its announcement. If they don’t want to be there, let’s hope they decline politely. If they come, let’s hope they do so with open hearts.
Q. Re: Husband With the “Free Pass”: Obviously the husband is the primary culprit here, but I’m also curious why she hasn’t had a frank conversation with her half-sister. That’s also discussion that needs to be had!
A: She definitely needs to start with the husband. He possibly told the half-sister that the reason the wife made the connection in the first place was because of their semi-open marriage agreement. But even if that happened, one would hope that a sister would run fleeing from a suggestion that a way to get to know her brother-in-law better is to sleep with him. But you’re right: Next on the agenda is sis—and it’s a good thing we’re a long way from the family holidays.
Q. Guest Relations: I live in a one-bedroom apartment in an extremely tourist-attractive city. I often get friends, relatives, and visitors crashing on my pullout coach instead of at an expensive hotel. I don’t mind, except I won’t play tour guide. My work schedule is hectic and at odd hours sometimes. I will leave coffee, cereal, and the newspaper on the table, but that is as close to playing host as I can get. My cousin and her two kids stayed with me for a few days last week, and I thought everything went OK until I got a call from my mother. Apparently, I was unbearably rude to my cousin and her boys by slamming the door when I left for work, locking my bedroom up, and not answering my phone promptly enough when they got lost getting back to my apartment. My jaw nearly dropped to the floor. I had an important meeting that day, and when I had a chance to check my messages, she had already found her way back safely. My bedroom has my office, and I can’t let anyone use my computer, where I keep sensitive files. It is not like I locked up the bathroom. How should I respond?
A: You shouldn’t respond, but if you hear directly from your cousin, do send her a link to Airbnb. You, however, are not running a bed and breakfast for the comfort of your frugal family members and friends. Letting an entire family crash in your one-bedroom place and providing them with a free breakfast means they owe you a big bouquet, a bottle of wine, a dinner out, and effusive thanks. I hope your mother was just reporting what she heard, not calling to berate you. But in any case, please take this as a cue to be more selective about your guests and to feel free to tell your cousin the next time she’s in town that you can guide her to websites that have accommodations she will find more comfortable.
Q. Asking Vegetarian Stepdaughter to Eat Meat: My 13-year-old stepdaughter, who has been coming over every weekend, will be moving in with us permanently as of next month. She is a vegetarian by choice (ethical reasons). Whenever she came over, I made her a separate vegetarian dish, or she would cook something very basic for herself (like eggs) and have some of the vegetable sides I prepared for the rest of the family. Now that she is going to be a permanent resident here, would it be out of line for me to ask that she eat meat? My other daughter has multiple allergies, and it’s already a handful trying to cater around that. I can handle preparing an extra vegetarian dish once or twice a week, but I don’t think I could do it permanently. I work long hours, and nope, asking my husband to pitch in isn’t an option. (Believe me, I tried.)
A: I’m more concerned with the “Nope, asking my husband to pitch in isn’t an option.” So he expects that you will work long hours and then every night accommodate the needs of two eaters with special needs, and feed him? Sorry, his attitude is baloney, and that’s what he should be eating every night if he expects you to be a short-order cook. Your 13-year-old is entitled to her moral stance, but she is old enough now to put her mouth where her morals are. You and she can choose some vegetarian cookbooks, she can find easy recipes she wants to make, and her father can do the grocery shopping so that she has the ingredients. Maybe all of you can create a spreadsheet of meals that satisfy everyone’s demands and for which everyone can pitch in. And that brings us back to the fact that unless your husband is taking up significant other domestic burdens, you two don’t need cooking advice—you need marital counseling.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone, we made it! So please check back Monday at noon for the next chat edition. And my thanks to the team at Slate who made this move possible.
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