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. Friend Who Disappeared but Recently Got Married: I went to a fairly cliquey college but developed a friendship with another girl outside of our cliques. We remained friends after college, keeping in touch almost daily via Gmail chat, despite living pretty far away. She was my main confidant leading up to my quickly-planned, very small wedding in 2010. Around that time, she began dating a former classmate/friend of ours. She was invited to my wedding but canceled due to a bout of pneumonia. I never heard from her again. I have spent five years racking my brain as to what I did wrong. I called and emailed her, but never heard anything. I was worried that something had happened to her. Recently there was a blurb in our alumni paper that she and the fellow had married. I was so happy to hear she was doing great! I would love to send her my congratulations, but I worry about intruding. Part of me is also still dying to know what happened. It must have been something I did or said, but I honestly cannot think of anything.
A: She’s gone, girl. You don’t know what happened, and you likely never will. Maybe her now-husband said something in passing about finding you attractive. Maybe she heard a false rumor that you and he were once involved (Shakespeare is full of such misunderstandings and betrayals). Maybe you said something that bothered her—but five years out, you are never going to find out what it is, and if some harmless remark on your part ended a dear friendship without explanation, then she’s not much of a friend. Sometimes there’s no big reason, but people just decide to move on. So be happy she didn’t die of the pneumonia she probably never had, and conclude this is just one of those inexplicable things.
Q. Anglo Girl in an American World: I have a small but persistent problem. I have an English accent. I’ve lived in America for the past six years, have American relatives, and consider it my home. But Americans seem to love imitating the way I talk, repeating my words back to me, demanding I say “crumpet,” freaking out over the fact that I was born somewhere else. They’re not taunting me but I think it’s rude. I don’t make fun of the way they talk. Do you have an idea for a smart, not-too-bitchy comeback?
A: I love Paula Poundstone’s remark about her recent visit to England. She said the most astounding part of her trip was how everyone there managed to keep up their accents 24 hours a day. I have two suggestions for you. One is that you put on a very exaggerated American accent and to their Masterpiece Theater attempts at sounding British, you say, “Hey, good job! You talk British real nice. How’s my American?” Or, when they demand you say “crumpet” you give them some real British talk. Something like, “Bollocks, you’re a tosser. Tell me you’re not usually so gormless.”
Q. Had Fling With Girlfriend’s Married Mother: Should I tell my girlfriend that I had a previous fling with her mother? We did not sleep together (in fact, I’m still a virgin). The fling consisted mainly of hugging, kissing, partially clothed massages, and her riding on the back of my motorcycle. This woman introduced me to her daughter, portraying me as just an acquaintance. What really complicates this is that my now-girlfriend’s mother and father are still married, but the marriage is “semi-open” according to the mother. Whether my girlfriend knows this I’m not sure. I’m also not sure whether the father knows specifically about his wife and me. I don’t want to tell my girlfriend, but this almost feels like a time bomb. Should I tell her now, wait for a better time, or just hope that she never finds out?
A: I can just imagine your wedding day. Your mother-in-law to be is helping her daughter put the final touches on her trousseau when Mom says, “Oh, honey, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you about Micah …” A mother who introduces the young man she has kissed and massaged to her daughter as a potential beau is not someone you can trust. I don’t know how deep you are in with your girlfriend (OK, we know that you’re physically not that deep), but there is an explosive secret between you two and at any time Mom could pull the pin. I think telling your girlfriend will end your relationship, but that’s a chance you have to take. For instruction in how such mother-daughter triangles work out, watch The Graduate.
Q. Re: Disappearing Friend: I disagree you should just write off friends if they don’t contact you for a while. I once had an old friend go dark on me like that—not returning my calls, etc. It later turned out he was dealing with depression at the time, and he just didn’t feel up to talking with anyone. Once his life was back on track, he contacted me again, and I felt so much better to know he was doing OK.
A: But he got back in touch with you and explained what happened. This friend didn’t show up for the wedding and has refused all contact since. That’s a comprehensive blow-off, and the letter writer just needs to move on.
Q. What if You’re Married and Fall in Love With Someone Else?: I’ve been married for 25 years and have been faithful all that time. Recently, however, I met another woman who shares my fascination with horses and spends the same hours at the local facility that I do. In the process, however, we’ve started greatly enjoying each other’s company and have acknowledged that we have strong feelings for each other. We both have families and don’t want to throw our lives away for each other, but we are tempted to use the time we have to enjoy each other’s company and our feelings for each other. We both feel “young” again and wonder if it is selfish to try to have this.
A: If you haven’t been watching Showtime’s The Affair, start. I think you’ll be able to relate to Noah’s unquenchable desire to step out of the bounds of his loving and faithful marriage. The season is about halfway through, so I don’t know how the show’s going to turn out, but I get the impression that the affair will have turned out to be a bad idea. I’m not sure about what you mean by “enjoy each other’s company.” You are enjoying each other’s company right now. Presumably you mean that on the way to the stable, you two take a detour to the nearest motel and get in the saddle without bothering with the equines. Maybe you both can carry off this affair without getting caught and messing up your lives. You each have equally much to lose. But people tend to get sloppy and carried away and spouses tend to notice that something’s up. I’m sympathetic to your desire for a sealed off interlude, but I’m not the person to tell you to take the marital bit out of your mouth and go bareback.
Q. Potential Predator?: I have two friends, let’s call them Stacy and Tom. Stacy is a single mom to an 8-year-old girl, Ella, and struggling financially. Tom has recently offered to move in with Stacy, who could really use the rent money. I also know that they have a bit of a past romantically and that Stacy still carries a torch. The problem is that Tom was recently accused of molestation by a girl the same age as Ella. I don’t know if it went any further than accusations, but I know Child Protective Services and the police were involved. Tom blames one of his exes and says she put her daughter up to the allegations. Tom has always paid a lot of attention to Ella, tickling, hugging and the like. It seemed innocent enough before but now … I’ve voiced my concerns to Stacy, who dismisses them out of hand. She trusts Tom. I have no idea what to do next, if anything.
A: Time to contact the authorities again. Everything you describe sounds like bad news, but the good news is that there is a dossier on Tom, and that should allow for some kind of intervention, if only a visit by CPS to show that this is on the radar. People can be falsely accused, but what a chilling coincidence that after such an accusation, Tom is now moving in with another 8-year-old he likes to tickle and hug. If Stacy needs a roommate, she should find a female friend to help her carry the load. This is a deeply concerning situation, and you should pick up the phone.
Q. Re: Accents: While I agree that people asking you to say certain words is rude and annoying, bear in mind that many people (myself included) tend to unconsciously mimic and pick up accents they hear around them. This isn’t done to be rude—it just happens! I have to consciously remind myself not to do it, and I’m sure I don’t catch every instance.
A: What the woman is describing is definitely more than that. But the unconscious adopting of other people’s accents does happen. Years ago my husband and I and our then very young daughter were stuck on the tarmac on an airport bus and an Englishwoman a few rows up started talking fairly loudly about her day of crazy flight delays. My husband then turned to our daughter and said, quite loudly, “Would you like a bah-NAH-NAH?” I started laughing and he said he hadn’t even realize he was imitating the Brit!
Q. Faux “Surprise” “Party”: I received a Facebook invitation to a friend’s upcoming birthday party. She has been very excited about her birthday (she is in her early 50s) and I initially accepted the invitation. Then the nature of the “party” was sprung. She has hired party planners to create a surprise party for her. She knows the day, but not the location or theme. The guests have been told that they must wear a theme-appropriate costume, and provide the food and drink. I do love a good costume, but this really seems less like a party and more like a command performance. Is there a gracious way I can bow out? Do I have to smile and nod when she talks about her party, or is there any good way to gently explain why the RSVP list has begun to dwindle?
A: It’s time for you to be a faux guest. I guess the surprise turns out to be that her guests get to pick up the tab. You just tell her that unfortunately something has come up and you will be unable to attend. Surely, you can experience the event vicariously, because someone who hosts her own surprise party is going to put plenty of pictures of it on Facebook.
Q. Re: Disappearing Friend: I couldn’t be more glad that my friends didn’t write me off during my 7-year bout with PTSD-related depression. If the writer still has the (former) friend’s email address, there’s no harm in offering a congratulations on her wedding.
A: I’m sure an equal number of people can say that for whatever reason they have moved on from a friendship and occasional attempts by the other person to stay in touch and revive it are awkward and annoying. Whatever is going on in the former friend’s life, she didn’t have the courtesy to explain. That makes the friendship a dead letter. If you went utterly silent and refused all contact with your friends for seven years, and then when you were ready, your friends came back, that’s wonderful. But there’s no indication this former friend is welcoming contact.
Q. Well-Meaning Religious Comments Are Driving Me Crazy: I run a garden project at the school where I teach. I depend on parent volunteers, and one young mother volunteered this fall to take on a project that required some artistic skills. I was thrilled, until I started getting emails from her. They all ended with “Yours in Christ” often followed by a biblical quote. I am Jewish; our school is a public one, and I have been able to ignore most of the things Christians say in the assumption that everyone is Christian. She is a sweet, well-intentioned lady, but as her emails to me and comments to others increase, I am getting more than a little annoyed. Should I nicely tell her that not everyone is of the same religion, and risk losing her, or just suck it up like I do the Christmas music in mid-October at my local department store?
A: I, too, am Jewish, and part of being a minority religion in a Christian-majority country is taking the well-intentioned “Merry Christmases,” etc., in the spirit they were given. (I always reply, “Thanks, you too.”) Presumably this mother ends every email communication with a “Yours in Christ” and the “yours” means her, not you. I say that’s a big so what? More significant would be if at your public school she started proselytizing the students, or saying, “And God causes all the plants to grow …” Then you would need to pull her aside, explain of course you respect her private beliefs, but this is a public school so it’s necessary to leave that kind of religious expression out of school activities.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.