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.)
Q. Sleeping Etiquette: My 9-year-old son loves going to his grandparents’ home (husband’s parents) for vacation and school breaks. He and his grandfather sleep in the same room on separate beds because they have similar sleeping schedules. I just found out that Grandpa sleeps in the nude! My son told me this like it was a secret. I asked further and didn’t get any indication that anything else inappropriate was going on. I asked my husband, and he recollected that his father did sleep naked. I was shocked, and upset, and didn’t feel that this was appropriate. What should we do?
A: You could send a Pajamagram by rush order to Gramps. But if he is a man who has spent decades sleeping in the buff, he’s committed to going commando. You gently asked your son if anything alarming was going on, and you got a reassuring answer. He told you this confession confidentially because he obviously realized that Gramps is hanging out in a way he doesn’t get to see at home and he just couldn’t keep the news to himself. So now have your husband tell your son that he remembers his dad never wore pajamas, and it’s kind of funny, but it’s also fine.
Q. Explaining Mommy’s Rules: Two years ago for my 30th birthday, I decided after many years to finally get a tattoo on my shoulder blade despite my family’s disapproval. I do still respect their disapproval, meaning in part I keep it covered in the presence of my niece and nephew. My sister held an end-of-summer pool party this weekend and I wore the obligatory rash guard despite being in a covered pool. My 8-year old niece asked why, and I simply said that Mommy had asked me to. Being curious, she continued to probe and I told her to ask Mommy. My sister was livid and said I needed to explain my own stupid choices. We are barely on speaking terms as is and I just left in a huff. What’s the best way to handle both the inquisitive kids and my sister?
A: Is your tattoo a swastika? An obscenity? I’m not a tattoo-loving person, which at least I recognize puts me in the minority. But even if I were to think a beloved’s tattoo was ill-advised aesthetically, I’d recognize that it’s none of my business. You are 32 years old. You do not need your family’s permission to decorate your body. Nor do you need to wear a rash guard while swimming to protect the delicate sensibilities of your niece and nephew. The best way to handle this is to explain to your sister this discussion is closed. As for your niece and nephew, next time you’re with them and your shoulder blade is showing, you can explain what the design means to you and sate their curiosity. At least your other shoulder blade won’t have a tattoo that says, “I love my Sis.”
Q. Putting Dog Poop in Neighbor’s Trash Can: Yesterday I came home and my wild-eyed husband told me how a neighbor around the block walked up our driveway to put a bag of dog poop in our garbage can by our garage. My husband told the guy to take it out and the guy got very defensive. I read other message boards, and some people think it’s OK to put the poop in neighbor’s can. I think the guy should have stayed off our property and take it to his house which was half a block away. What do you think?
A: Ah, the opportunity to quote the opening lines of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf: “What a dump!” I get wild-eyed when someone leaves a deposit directly on the lawn in front of my house. I was glancing out the window once and saw it happening and before the miscreant got down the block, I ran outside and said, “Before you walk away, here’s a bag for your dog’s poop.” Watching her bend down was really satisfying. I’ve had dogs for more than 10 years and I am of the school that if your dog made it, you take it, and you toss it out at home. But if the deposit is thoroughly wrapped, where it’s disposed of is no big deal.
Q. I Want Her Back: I have been an awful husband. Instead of being supportive and kind, I have been a cad with very harsh words for my wife. When she got pregnant I was angry and when she miscarried, I was silent. The house, car, boat we bought together weren’t good enough. I told her our marriage was a fraud and that I felt pressured into it. I let my childhood issues get the best of me in every discussion and would say things that even in the moment were not true. The truth is she has stood by me, put me through school, and believed in me when no one else has. Now that I am staring at divorce papers I don’t know what to do. I love my wife immensely and my future is with her. I don’t want to lose her. Where do I start on this long journey of recovering the best thing that has ever happened to me?
A: The best thing to happen to her is that she’s finally dealt with her own issues and is getting rid of you. How convenient that on the eve or her departure, you realize she’s the best thing to ever happen to you, and now you want some way to block her escape from her hellish marriage. I give you points for laying out the case against yourself; it’s overwhelming. Now that you’ve recognized what a terrible person you are, the best thing you can do is go get some help so that if you are lucky enough to find someone else, you don’t repeat the abuse. The origin of your problems may lie in your childhood (and the origin of her letting herself be walked on may lie in hers) but that’s no excuse. So apologize, let her go, and commit to honoring your loss by becoming a decent person. Do not move to a new phase of awfulness by requiring her to get a restraining order.
Q. Hygiene: My husband is an avid runner, and is constantly training for marathons and the like. He also works a part-time job in addition to his full-time job, for extra money for our family. He works part-time as a computer repair guy, being set up for jobs via a service. My issue is that he doesn’t see an issue with using the commute to these clients’ homes as an opportunity for a run. He is a “sweaty” kind of guy, so he shows up to their houses in running clothes and drenched in sweat. I see this as incredibly rude—I don’t like being around sweaty and stinky guys in my personal time, let alone when I’m paying for their services! But he doesn’t see the issue at all and says it’s no big deal. What do you think?
A: This would be OK if he offered a B.O. discount. I agree that it would be disconcerting to invite a professional into your home and then feel like you should drape the chair he’s sitting in with a towel. You’re right, but now that you’ve expressed your opinion, there’s nothing you can do. Maybe your husband will see that he’s able to run a full practice marathon because the calls he gets are from ever more distant customers, since no one who’s close to home who he drips on once ever asks to have him back.
Q. Re: Mommy’s Rules: “I’m not a tattoo-loving person, which at least I recognize puts me in the minority” Hardly. I think we are still the majority, but we are dying off fast.
A: Yes, when we go, we will be the last undecorated people in the coffin.
Q. In-Law Loves Death Row Inmate: I’ve always had a great relationship with my mother-in-law. Several years ago, she became involved in a anti-capital-punishment group that visits death row inmates in our state. Through this she met and “fell in love” with a man on death row for the murder of his wife and her child. My mother-in-law married him last November! She lives 1.5 hours from the prison where she visits her husband every week, and the visits take up the majority of her day. This is sad and difficult for us because she now pushes her two sons, and two grandchildren out of her life. Lastly, my highly educated and well-paid mother-in-law has been exceedingly broke the past year or so due to this jail bird demanding (via letter) that she send him money (she complies). We are extremely worried and have suggested therapy to her, to which she blew us off. What should we do?
A: An alarming change in personality or behavior is cause for a thorough medical evaluation. Your mother-in-law could be showing signs of any number of neurological disorders. The problem is getting her to a doctor. She’s not interested, and the catch-22 is that without there being evidence that she too ill to protect herself, you can’t force her into an evaluation. I think this requires a talk with Mom by her two sons. They can’t approach it from the perspective that they haven’t got to know their new stepfather because he’s a monstrous murderer. Instead they might try the economic tack. They can say they are concerned she is heading toward penury, and since both of them have considerable family obligations of their own, they are worried about her long-term economic health. Maybe that will offer a glimmer of an opening, and if it does, they need to figure out a way to cart Mom to a doctor. But if she won’t hear anything said against her wonderful new husband (does she think he’s innocent, or the wife and child deserved it?) then you have to accept this lovely woman is lost.
Q. Drama Drama: My teenage daughter told me she is quitting high school drama because she found out a local youth pastor is going to be helping out. Apparently, the pastor has creeped her out for years. She says he always comes to the girl’s basketball games, never the boys, and delivers ice cream to the school on the girls’ birthdays, but never the boys’. He has never done anything unseemly to her personally and never to anyone else as far as she knows. My daughter has never said anything like this about anyone else, but I don’t want to cast suspicion on someone who could be perfectly nice. Should I just let her quit and not say anything to the drama coach or should I say something? If I say something, what should I say?
A: This is tricky. You daughter may indeed be reacting to something real, and creepy, about the youth minister. However, your probing has revealed that it’s nothing more than an uneasy feeling—he’s never done anything to her, and she’s not reporting that she’s heard first hand accounts, or even rumors, that he’s been inappropriate with anyone else. On the basis of that, if she truly was looking forward to being in the drama club, tell her you want her to think about sacrificing her participation in it because she has an aversion to this man. Let her know that there will always be other people around and ask if she would be able to limit her contact with him. But I think you should probe a little more deeply about what bothers her. Does he stare, stand too close, talk too intimately about the girls’ lives? Tell her that you don’t want to influence her to say yes to anything that’s not the case. Explain that since she’s never felt this way about anyone else, you want to get a better handle on what’s going on. You want to validate her feelings, and also explain that in the absence of something actionable, there’s really nothing you can do. Then if she insists she would rather give up drama that deal with him, encourage her to find another outlet for her creativity.
Q. Re: Dog Poop—Don’t Do It: Don’t use your neighbor’s trash can for your dog’s bagged poop. Unless that container is hermetically sealed, the smell is going to be awful, especially if it’s days before the next pickup. And many people pull their trash cans inside the garage at night, so doubly icky. Take your crap home with you.
A: I agree with taking responsibility for your dog’s deposits and taking them home for disposal. But a thoroughly bagged one should not reek. On the scale of doggie doo offenses, tossing it in the can is a misdemeanor.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone! Talk to you next week.
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.