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 email@example.com.)
Q. Not Model Material: I’ve been dating X for about 6 months. We are both in our late 20s, settling into our careers and thinking about the future. I have never been great at choosing men, but he is everything I could ask for—he’s my match intellectually, he’s sensitive, funny, great in bed—and attractive. Very attractive. He is by far the most physically attractive man I’ve ever dated, let alone gotten serious with. My problem is: I’m not so attractive. I’ve been putting off his advances for commitment because I’m so self-conscious about our difference in the looks department. I wouldn’t be so hesitant if every girl he’s dated wasn’t a model, and if his parents weren’t so shallow (his father tells his mother she is fat on a daily basis—she looks like Christie Brinkley). Should I just end things now? I’m never going to be a model!
A: Maybe he’s interested in you because of you. After dating a string of models, he might also find it deeply refreshing to go to dinner with someone who can actually eat a meal, or who can pass a mirror without being mesmerized by her reflection. I also bet you’re much more attractive than you’re giving yourself credit for. If his father is abusive to his mother, that does not mean he will do this to you. But that is something of concern you can mention. If you go to dinner with his parents and his father berates his mother for having dessert, afterward you can bring it up. Do it gently: “I was uncomfortable with what your father said to your mom. And she’s so thin and gorgeous, what is he even talking about?”—and gauge his reaction. I hope he’s able to recognize this destructive dynamic. In any case, you have found a great guy, so do not break it off because he’s everything you have been looking for!
Q. Husband’s Abusive Ex-Wife Volunteers With Vulnerable People: I moved to a small town five years ago and quickly befriended, then began dating, my husband “Graham.” Everyone knows everyone here, so I often run into Graham’s ex-wife Mindy. Around town, Mindy enjoys a sterling reputation and many people fault Graham for the divorce. No one but Graham’s therapist and me know Mindy abused Graham emotionally and sometimes physically for years before he found the courage to leave her. I despise her and feel sick that she often volunteers with children and people with learning disabilities. I would never betray Graham by sharing with others Mindy’s true self, but I fear that one day other examples of her abuse will emerge. Do I violate my moral obligation to my fellow people by remaining silent?
A: Male domestic abuse is a deeply hidden but real problem. Few men call the police—they are too embarrassed or fear they won’t be believed, so the Mindys of the world get away with it and never even get a criminal record. However, there is no evidence that she is harming the people she volunteers with. Some abusers limit their striking out to their nearest and dearest. Stay out of this. Your telling the truth will only make you look like a strangely vindictive second wife who’s spreading unfounded rumors. Nod and be pleasant to Mindy and hope she stays single and doesn’t find another victim.
Q. Bra Free: I wear a size 32DD bra and I have been considering going braless. When I see women with smaller breasts out and about without a bra, I feel jealous of their freedom from all of the trappings of undergarments. It doesn’t help that I’m allergic to elastic and I constantly have itchy hives from wearing a bra (I also get hives from socks or pants with elastic). Is it really so horrible for a large-busted woman to go braless in public?
A: As I recall, the late Bea Arthur, who had a similar physiognomy to yours, once said that a personal trainer suggested she try jumping rope. She told him this wouldn’t work because she would end up with two black eyes. Going braless will not give you the sense of abandonment you crave, but will likely result in your feeling hemmed in by the looks you get from strangers. You need to go to a specialty bra shop. The saleswomen there will have helped many people like you, and they will be able to get you a elastic-free bra that will keep you in place—which ultimately will make you feel more free.
Q. Funding Sister’s IVF: My sister and brother-in-law are having a hard time conceiving. Over the weekend, she asked me for a gift to help her fund IVF treatments, which are not covered by insurance. My husband and I came up with a number that we felt comfortable giving to them but haven’t had the chance to speak with my sister yet. This morning, my sister sent out an email to about 50 family and friends asking for a gift to help fund the IVF in lieu of a baby shower. I still plan to give her the amount my husband and I agreed to, but a lot of family have been emailing me privately or texting me asking about this situation. They have reasonable concerns: that my sister will need several rounds of IVF and that if she gets pregnant they will still need the items that a shower usually provides, and that the monetary gifts given might not be enough to go through with the IVF. None of them want to ask my sister directly in case they come off as insensitive. Should I tell my sister that people have these concerns? I don’t want her to think people are not giving her money because they don’t care—when in reality they just have concerns.
A: Of course people have concerns when they get a mass email requesting money to help fund someone else’s personal activities—such as, I’ve got my own needs to take care of, and this is out of line. Your sister’s request was presumptuous and very unlikely to come close to funding what would likely be multiple procedures. What people would spend on a few onesies is not going to cover IVF. You should direct your sister to Resolve, the support group for people dealing with infertility. They have a Web page about getting loans for IVF, and that’s the way your sister should go.
Q. Voting for Another Party: With Election Day coming up I face a recurring problem. My parents are both Republicans and I view myself as a Democrat. And to add to the situation, my dad is the type of person that gets upset if you don’t see things his way. Back in 2008, when I first voted how I truly felt, I felt like my dad nearly disowned me for going against his views. Ever since then I’ve toed the line and voted for Republican just to avoid conflict. My question is: Is there any way I can vote the way I want and keep the peace without lying to them?
A: That you are old enough to vote means that you need to stop allowing yourself to be locked in your father’s psychological attic. Kentucky Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes was asked by the press whether she voted for President Obama and her refusal to answer the question and the awkwardness that ensued has dogged her campaign. But you are not running for office, you’re just a private citizen who needs to be reminded that we have the secret ballot in this country for a reason. You should vote for whomever you like. You should also tell your father to mind his own business. If he bullies and harasses you, tell him he’s not making a great case for the beliefs of his own party, and that you are going to symbolically cross the aisle and stay away.
Q. Original Poster: Funding Sister’s IVF: I will pass along the Resolve website to my sister. But she is the kind of person who probably already knows about it and attempted to get a loan elsewhere. I am more concerned with my role between my sister and my family. Do I have a responsibility to tell my sister my family’s concerns? She is pretty sensitive and emotional right now, so we don’t know how to bring up these issues to her without making a bad situation worse.
A: You do not have to be the go-between. You can tell the people who contact you that they should just do what they feel is right, and they can address their concerns directly with her. The lack of funding will speak for itself.
Q. Re: Bra Free: I am allergic to elastic too. Please let the letter writer know there is a company called Decent Exposures that my dermatologist recommended. They are great, and make undergarments without elastic (latex free) that are very comfortable, even for big busted women. I hardly notice my bra now that I’m not itching all day!
A: Thanks for the tip!
Q. ”You didn’t even want that child”: My wife and I are expecting our first baby and, while it wasn’t a planned pregnancy, we are overjoyed! One of her best friends, Lucy, has been trying to get pregnant and is getting a bit discouraged. We were recently at a dinner party at her house, and Lucy was talking about it with a group of people. My wife told her they needed to be patient, that sometimes those things take time, and Lucy said that was easy of her to say considering she’s pregnant with a child she didn’t even want. She’s apologized a million times since then, but my wife won’t hear any of it and says she’s never speaking to her again. I understand how my wife feels, but it also saddens me that she’s going to lose one of her best friends due to a (very unfortunate) comment. How can I bring this up without making her think I’m not on her side? Whenever I’ve tried, she got upset.
A: Lucy’s remark was unconscionable, especially in front of a group of friends at a social event. Sure, lots of people accidentally get pregnant and have mixed feelings about it—even if they end up being overjoyed. But those thoughts confessed to a friend should be kept private. So Lucy committed a real violation. However, I agree that one unfortunate remark should not end a friendship. You can have one last try trying to heal this breach. Say something to your wife along the lines of, “I’m not defending Lucy because there is no defense. What she said was totally out of line. But she knows it, and she’s apologized. And I hate to see you lose someone dear to you because of a moment of stupidity. However, I will not bring this up again.”
Q. Re: Not Model Material: I was in this exact situation. When I first started dating the man of my dreams, I was completely convinced that it was some sort of fluke. He is extremely handsome, and I’ve always considered myself on the bottom half of the bell curve as far as looks. To add to that, I’ve been overweight my entire life, and I knew he had a history of dating thin women. Turns out, he wanted to date me because we had become friends first, and he was absolutely mesmerized by my personality and smile. Fast forward three years, some real work in therapy on my self-esteem, and a wedding—I’m now married to the man of my dreams (who’s still a hunk) and I realize that I am not nearly as unattractive or undesirable as I thought when we first started dating. My advice—trust that he loves/cares for you enough to choose to move your relationship to the next level … you’re not some kind of wizard that is forcing these thoughts on him—there are obviously many things he loves about you (including his attraction to you physically).
A: Beautiful! Thank you.
Q. Different Ambitions: My husband and I have been married for five years. I am a successful and ambitious engineer. He is a secretary (minimum wage, no degree required). When I bring up the topic of career advancement, he responds that he is exactly where he wants to be and has no intention to change. He has no career goals other than finding an easy and relaxing place to be for eight hours a day. I am hurt that he doesn’t recognize that it is my hard work that provides his “easy” lifestyle. Even harder to accept is how fundamentally different our outlooks on life are; his being to take the most enjoyment out of life with the least amount of effort, and mine to learn and contribute as much as possible to this world in the short amount of time I will be in it. Is it possible to move forward with such different motivations? Am I being a big fat jerk for being so disappointed with him?
A: Surely before you married you were aware he was not gunning for a C-suite job. Your husband is gainfully employed full-time. You don’t complain that he can’t keep a job or is not valued where he works. So he puts in a full day, then likes to call it a day. Back in the day, even high-powered people left work in time to get home for dinner and were disconnected from work until they showed up the next morning. You sound like a driven person of great accomplishment who is highly aware of how invaluable you are to society. You also don’t sound like much of a partner if you begrudge your husband the comforts that your income provides. If all he likes to do in his off hours is drink beer in front of the television, then that would be a drag. But a lot of people have avocations that are more interesting to them than their work, and they see their jobs as the means to support the other things they want to do in life. You don’t mention kids, but if you want them, having a husband who can be available would be a real blessing. But if every time you look at him relaxing and think, “How dare you?” then you have to address some fundamental issues with this marriage.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.
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