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, everyone. I look forward to your questions and comments.
Q. Raging Husband: My husband has anger issues coupled with an obsession over our neighbors. My husband’s anger has gotten to the point of hair-trigger rages. He has been obsessively watching the neighbors and getting livid over any perceived infraction. The police have been involved many times and tempers are flaring on both sides. This came to a head last week when hubby pushed neighbor’s kid for being on “our property”—the sidewalk. He is lucky to not be in jail. I convinced him to go to the VA (he is noncombat veteran) where they put him in lockdown. So he is going to be getting out but still doesn’t think he is in the wrong. The docs haven’t made much progress. If he comes home and does something again he goes to jail and loses his job, our home, everything. We are hanging by a thread financially. What do I do?
A: I usually hear from the poor beleaguered neighbors who are subject to the rages of the lunatic next door. So it’s instructive to hear from the wife of the sick man. Your husband is very dangerous, both to your neighbors and to your own family. He has struck out at a child, and I don’t want to think about what he’s capable of doing in this paranoid state. You need to talk to the counselor at the VA and explain you are afraid your husband could hurt the child next door. You should also talk to the police, and your neighbors, about putting a plan in place to protect everyone. You say the doctors have made no progress so you are about to have a rage-filled, paranoid husband back in the neighborhood. You must do everything you can to stop this—he’s certainly capable of turning his rage on you. This is a scary, volatile situation, the kind that we tragically look back on and say why didn’t the authorities do something. So before you get to that point, you must press those authorities to keep your husband in treatment and away from your home until it’s clear he’s not in a delusional state.
Q. A Drink and a Smoke for a Dying Friend: My dearest friend is dying of cancer. She used to enjoy alcohol, and to a lesser extent, tobacco. She had a problem with alcohol and made some extremely poor decisions while under the influence. In order to salvage what was left of her marriage, she agreed to her husband’s terms that she not indulge, ever. Since then, she has received her terminal diagnosis. She is still honoring her pledge to her husband, but also is really craving a drink and a smoke. He has become super-controlling, dictating what she eats, drinks, and spends (both money and time). I don’t want to undermine her promise to her husband in any way, but I would love to see him relax a little, and allow a dying woman to indulge in something pleasurable to her. Any thoughts on how I might approach him, or should I just butt out?
A: I hope he’s doing something to make her final days easier, because from your description of their marriage, I can understand why your friend may have found solace in drink. I think you should talk to him, but he sounds like a Class A jerk, so you run the risk of being cut out of her circle of approved visitors. Start by telling him that you know her drinking caused him a great deal of pain. However, the pain she’s in now is terminal, and you would like to be able to have an occasional cocktail with her if she’s up for it because you think it would help ease her final days. You could even suggest he talk to a hospital social worker to discuss what it would mean for someone in his wife’s situation to have an occasional drink and cigarette. But if he’s in complete control, and he won’t go along, then back off and just be there for her.
Q. Wedding Venue Stress: My fiancé and I are starting to plan our wedding, and I’m having an issue with the venue. I always assumed I would get married at the country club my parents belong to, which is beautiful and convenient. The issue is that I just found out my fiancé’s ex-girlfriend got married there as well. They dated for almost 10 years, and while I know it was not a happy relationship, I sometimes struggle with the fact that she was a major part of his life for a lot longer than I have been (two years). The wedding consultant at the club plans to share photos from previous weddings to give us ideas, and I’m afraid the ex’s photos will show up. How can I keep our venue from stirring up feelings I don’t want to have?
A: I assume your fiancé used his private parts with his awful ex, yet he washed them off and you have had no problem with these recycled goods reminding you of her. It’s a country club, not a shrine to his ex. Please be grown-up enough so that the possibility of seeing photos of this unbeloved marrying another man will not make you come undone.
Q. Love & Marriage: My girlfriend of almost two years, part of it long distance, is turning 30 in a few weeks. She’s basically decided that if I haven’t proposed to her by then, she’s moving on. I love her very much but I don’t feel ready to make a big step like that, and I certainly don’t want to do it because of a deadline. This has put a real strain on our relationship—every disagreement devolves into a fight about “commitment.” I don’t want to lose her, but I don’t think this is a healthy way to move forward. Any advice?
A: You could wish her a happy birthday and as a (parting) gift pay for a six-month membership to eHarmony and Match.com. It’s been two years, she’s 30, and you’re not ready. You can be not ready for the next 10 years and still end up with a brood of kids. She can’t. So if you’re not at the place in your life that you can commit, or she’s not the one you want to commit to, face it and move on.
Q. Daughter Flip-Flopping: I drove my daughter two hours to get an abortion (closest facility available), and then at the last minute she changed her mind. Now, a week later, she again wants to terminate. If she were to back out again, I know that I couldn’t (and wouldn’t try to) force her to go through with the abortion. At this point I’m inclined to say that she should continue the pregnancy and consider adoption, but I’m worried that she might try to self-abort. Should we make another four-hour round-trip which might be for nothing?
A: Your situation is the unfortunate result of draconian laws which are designed to make finding a convenient abortion facility very difficult. However, you are engaging in some serious short-term thinking. The decision your daughter makes will affect the rest of her life. There’s nothing unusual with the emotional turmoil she’s going through. Contact your nearest Planned Parenthood center and have your daughter talk in person or on the phone to a counselor so that she can work through her issues and come to a solid decision. Then when she tells you she wants to make the trip, you tell her you know she came to a difficult decision, and you totally support her.
Q. Don’t Want to Stay With Parents Over Holiday: My husband and I are in our early 30s, with a lot of disposable income. We live out-of-state from my parents and would like to stay in a hotel rather than stay with them over the holidays. We love my parents, but their house is small, they impose an curfew so that they can sleep, and there is no Internet (or time) to keep up with our busy jobs. We are also often drained after spending a whole day with them. They are very excited to have us stay with them, and their feelings are often hurt when we make other plans. What is the best way to break this to them?
A: Your parents may have you in emotional handcuffs, but fortunately, you are not chained against your will to your childhood bed. You tell them by telling them that you can’t wait to see them and you will be staying at the Tickle Me Pink Lodge down the road. If you’re old enough to be married and have a busy job, you’re old enough to not be worried about your parents grounding you.
Q. Re: Raging Husband: I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for you, and hear that you are asking, “How can I keep my life from blowing up?” I’m so sorry, but I think it already has. It may be time to consider how to actively make changes to your living situation, and not be caught unprepared.
A: I agree. This is already horrendous and given the situation she describes only destined to get worse if the husband is allowed to return in his current state.
Q. Duties of a Friend: Last year a very good friend, who was morbidly obese, died early of a heart attack. Years ago I once brought up his obesity and it caused a rift between us that we soon repaired but at the cost of my never bringing the subject up again. Now I feel guilty for not being a better friend. Is there a successful way to talk to a friend about a personal issue like obesity without losing the friendship?
A: Even if you had never told him he was morbidly obese, he knew. Even after you agreed to never bring it up again, he still knew. You said something out of the best of intentions, and he didn’t want to hear it. So you abided by his wishes. You had no power to change his behavior, so just be glad you were able to repair your relationship and enjoy the time you had with him.
Q. Bathroom Etiquette: Years ago I was on a road trip with my boss and a co-worker to a casual event out of town. We stopped at a rest area to use the facilities. There was a bank of five to 10 stalls. When I got in my stall I passed gas. My boss was washing her hands at the time and yelled, “Say excuse me.” I did but have always wondered what the rules are. I am wondering if what happens in a public bathroom stall is semi-private and everyone should ignore what happens in someone else’s stall or if an apology is mandatory to the whole room.
A: Last week the employee of the gardening columnist objected to her farting in the open air. I advised the employee to ignore it and be glad the emissions were gone with the wind. But if you can’t fart in the bathroom, there’s something seriously wrong with the world. You are right, what happens in the bathroom is not supposed to be noted by anyone, unless someone is found à la Elvis Presley. The complication in your case was that the person with the power to hire and fire you made the order. I wish in response you had been able to fire off another one, but I understand that under the pressure of the moment it was easier to comply.
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