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: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions and responses.
Q. Beau Lost His Beard: My fiancé shaved off his goatee recently as a surprise. He has been bearded since we began dating over a year ago. I was shocked by the difference—he has a baby face and now looks a less like a 30-year-old and more like a college freshman. I am five years older than he is and now the difference looks more pronounced. I am just not finding him as attractive as I did before. I feel horrible saying this, because he is an incredible person whom I am very much in love with, and he also has seen me gain weight this year without it seeming to change his attraction for me at all. Is it terrible to ask him to grow the beard back? Or do you think I’ll get over it?
A: Of course you’ll get used to him beardless. In a few weeks that will just be his face. But you don’t want to go to your fiancé with a commentary on your own insecurity by saying without his beard he looks like a boy, which makes you feel like his mother—his fat mother—so he should grow back his beard immediately. Couples are entitled to talk about each other’s appearance, preferably in a helpful way about things that can actually be addressed. Stuff like hair length, clothing, etc. I don’t think weight is verboten, but it’s certainly more problematic. (And since you brought it up, a quick and significant weight gain is something you want to attend to for yourself.) You can diplomatically say to your fiancé that you miss his goatee without making a condition of your marriage that he grow it back.
Q. Etiquette Quandary: I design wedding invitations. At least 60 percent of my customers include an etiquette blunder of some sort in the text of their invitations. Sometimes they ask for cash, or specify “adults only.” Worst of all, one customer asked guests to pay for their meals and included information on how to send their payment in advance if they didn’t want to pay the night of. I’ve never said anything about these items even though I have cringed while formatting them, but should I do so? Would I be out of place in letting a customer know that they’re committing a major faux pas?
A: At least the invitations have not included this information: “And to defray the cost of getting this piece of paper designed, please send money to the escrow account designated for ‘Wedding Service Providers.’ ” Thank you for this information about the invitation that hit people up for the entrée—I always think I’ve heard it all, but then I realize I haven’t. Do not say anything. Just do your best to make such crude requests aesthetically pleasing. However, if you are asked point blank: “Where do people usually put the requests for money on the invitation?,” you can gently say that traditionally invitations only provide the names of the couple and parents and date and venue of the wedding. You can add that other information, such as about the registry, is conveyed verbally, or if you have a wedding website, it can be put there. If they don’t take the hint, just be glad you’re not a guest.
Q. Help! My Parents Are Allergic to Responsibility: I’m 36 years old and my whole life my parents have been struggling to make ends meet. I am compassionate for their situation, but now that they are in their 60s, they have no retirement savings, are not willing to work a job if it doesn’t match their exact comfort zone (for my mom it’s up to 20 hours a week, for my dad, it’s only doing his hobby—which he hasn’t ever made money at). They are also lazy and irresponsible and their house is filthy. But they are both loving, kind, generous human beings. We are close and we talk just about every day. However, they have now moved to their dream island without the funds, and I continue to have to either jump in to save them or watch them live close to the verge of homelessness constantly. It is a never-ending stress on my life, and I feel like I’m still single because I can’t imagine dragging another human being into this mess. How can I begin to deal with this without losing my relationship with them?
A: Consider what you’ve said here: You are willing to mortgage your own future to help your parents in the hopeless struggle to pay their mortgage. Somehow you emerged from these two layabouts to become a responsible, productive person. Embrace that miracle and do not let your parents, no matter how much you love them, destroy your own future. It’s time you started attending to your own needs and stopped rescuing your parents. Toward that end, look at the services of National Foundation for Credit Counseling, and see if your parents would be willing to go to a counselor with you to try to get some kind of plan into place. If they won’t, then they are in their 60s, so they can avail themselves of the government programs that put a floor under such reprobates. Given their work histories, Social Security isn’t going to pay that much, but if you are an endless supplement, you will face your own retirement years broke and alone. If they are the loving and generous-hearted people you say they are, they will understand it’s a violation of parental duty to take you down with them.
Wonder what happened with the woman whose husband wanted to road-trip with a female friend? Find out by listening to the latest Dear Prudence follow-up call on The Gist.
Q. Neck Beards in the Workplace: I am a 28-year-old female supervisor and have a new hire with an “interesting” facial hair style—a neck beard. He is a nice young man, but when he’s met people from other departments they come back to me with, “Hey, what’s with the neck?” He doesn’t have any other facial hair. Some of the guys have playfully teased him about it, and he says that his neck is sensitive, and will break out if shaved. They then offer their advice, “Use a sharp razor,” or “Have you tried an electric razor?,” etc., but he shrugs it off. Eventually, he’ll be representing us in public forums and meetings, and I’m embarrassed at the way he looks. What’s the most professional way to get him to shave it off?
A: Welcome to being a supervisor, where you might be forced to address questions of body odor, lack of undergarments, and now, the neck beard. One of your company’s problems is that of all the candidates available, your company chose neck-beard guy without saying something to him about office grooming expectations. But now you have to. Explain to him that his facial—vertebral?—hair is unusual enough that is will be a serious distraction when he represents the company in public. If he tells you his neck is sensitive, say that you appreciate that, but that he needs to address this with a barber or a dermatologist who can help him figure out a way to depilate so that when he speaks for the company people hear what’s coming out of his mouth and aren’t just focused on his neck.
Q. Stealing Sister: My younger sister recently started watching my daughter while I am at work. I pay my sister (generously for only five hours of babysitting) and give her free reign to my fridge. Recently, I’ve noticed things missing from my home, including alcohol, cosmetics, and medical marijuana. I asked about the alcohol and my sister became very defensive. She said without proof, I am making wild accusations and it was very hurtful to her. I backed off and let it slide, but since then I’ve noticed even more theft. I even saw my makeup palette in her purse! I’ve resorted to having security cameras installed in my home. My husband thinks it’s silly to go through all the hassle over “some stuff” but it’s starting to add up. I’ve estimated that she’s already stolen between $250 and $300 worth of goods. Am I overreacting? Or should I get “hard proof” then confront my sister?
A: Between the generous pay, the missing booze and weed, and the installation of surveillance equipment, surely professional child care would be a financial savings for you. The only way to save your relationship with your sister is to quickly remove her as your child’s babysitter because eventually you’re going to have to have a confrontation. If I were you, I’d be worried that the consumption of mind-altering substances was taking place during work hours. Since she’s hostile and defensive about her behavior, just find another babysitter, then tell your sister that you’ve decided it’s better for everyone if family members are not employees. And if she has keys to your house, change the locks.
Q. Re: Etiquette Quandary: Since when is “Adults Only” considered in poor taste? What are you supposed to say if you don’t want children at your wedding?
A: When one sends out an invitation, the assumption is that the recipients understand it is only for the people named in it. Therefore you don’t have to have codicils on the invitation that read: “If you didn’t get a ‘plus one’ please don’t bring that guy you’ve been dating for three weeks.” And, “I deliberately didn’t send an invitation to the triplets because this is a wedding, not a nursery school.” However, I’m hearing from lots of people who are saying that if they don’t lay this out, they’re going to need fill the aisles of the church with Legos and Play-Doh for all the kids in attendance. Still, the best way to handle this is for the bride and groom to be in touch with people with kids and have warm enough relations with them that if there is confusion, it can be straightened out with a conversation. If people are traveling with children, there needs to be a discussion about babysitting arrangements at the hotel, etc.
Q. Baby Free Wedding: My husband and I were recently informed (by my mother-in-law, who was told by her sister) that his cousin does not want our baby to attend her September wedding. Our baby will be just under 4 months old at the time. Other children have been invited, but it’s her wedding. Because I breast-feed, my husband and I have decided to politely decline the invitation, as I would need to pump to replace missed feedings, which I would not have a space or time to do at the wedding. I’ve struggled with mastitis, so skipping even one pumping session puts me at risk for a new infection. My mother-in-law is pitching a fit about our not attending and is getting increasingly insistent and emotional, even crying to try to guilt us into coming. I don’t want to be the source of family drama. Do my husband and I need to just get over it and do what my mother-in-law is demanding?
A: I wonder if the invitation read, “Only children able to play with the Legos in the church aisle are invited.” You can’t go. But since the bride is your husband’s cousin, I don’t see why he can’t attend solo. Your mother-in-law’s guilt tripping and emotional blackmail is a separate matter and you would be well-advised to start cutting off discussions with her when she turns on the tears.
Q. Marriage News: My brother-in-law recently remarried. He has yet to tell his 12-year-old daughter. My mother-in-law knows as do a few other family members. We’re all about to attend a family wedding and my mother-in-law told the mother of the bride and others. My husband has spoken to his brother and pressed him to tell his daughter, but still no. The reasons for withholding this information from her are unclear. I’m afraid she’ll find out on Facebook. Should I do anything further in this situation?
A: Your brother-in-law sounds like quite the dad. I assume he’s living with his new wife and that either means his daughter has little contact with him, or that he prefers to keep important and relevant information from her. Your husband should have one more go with his brother. He can explain that all the family members who are going to be at the wedding know so he is setting up his daughter for a painful and confusing revelation if he doesn’t tell her beforehand. If he and his new wife are posting the fact on social media, add that this is no secret and the girl deserves to hear it in person from him. If he barely has contact with his child, then someone (your husband, your mother-in-law) should alert him that if he doesn’t tell, one of them is going to so that your niece is not blind-sided at the wedding.
Q. Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner: I have a former boss from about 25 years ago who lives across the country. He has relatives in my area and every year or two he looks up me and my family. He starts the contact months in advance so that I have a hard time saying no. When he arrives, any plans that I may have had for the day or weekend are derailed and he sits drinking and mumbling about things and people I haven’t thought of in decades. He’s due back in September, how can I end this civilly?
A: I agree its time to end your biannual drunken stumble down memory lane. What you do is civilly tell him that you hope he has a great visit but September is fully booked, so you’ll have to forgo a get-together. You don’t say why and you don’t get talked into squeezing in just one liquid session. He can’t fire you, and you’ll never be asking him for a recommendation. Just be firm, brief, and clear.
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.