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. How Soon Is Too Soon to Put the Moves on a Recent Widower?: A couple of years ago, I attended an out-of-state conference with a married, male co-worker. During conversation, we discovered that we had a lot in common, such as where we went to school, political orientation, and favorite books and movies. One night, we ended up as the last two of our group in the hotel bar before it closed, and I asked him if he would like to grab a few beers and continue our conversation upstairs in my room. He said, “Oh, I couldn’t do that. I’m married. I can’t disrespect my wife by being in a woman’s hotel room.” That was the only time I have ever given an opening like that to a straight guy who declined. He graciously allowed me to laugh it off, and we have managed to remain appropriately friendly ever since.
Fast forward two years. His wife has died tragically young after a short battle with cancer. Without putting too fine a point on it, I want to marry and have babies with this man who was unwilling to risk even the appearance of impropriety by visiting another woman’s hotel room. Integrity and faithfulness like that are worth more than diamonds. And he is handsome, smart, and kind. So, how do I approach him before any other predatory female does? And how soon is too soon?
A: Maybe you should lay off this grieving widower because your need to reproduce with him before the “other predatory females” get their claws in makes me shudder. You don’t say how long ago his wife died, but probably it’s a good idea to wait until she’s cold before you start sending out your engagement party invitations. If you’re friends with this man, you send a condolence note. Put out of your mind that you’re about to make a move, and stay friends and stay in touch. If he’s interested that will become clear when he’s ready. If you really have respect for this man, you will respect his loss and his grief.
Q. Youth in Distress: I am a 17-year-old junior at a very competitive school. Lately, I have been staying home and falling behind in my classwork. I also have to work to save for my future, and I feel like everything is slipping. I don’t think I can keep up in my academics, work, and social life. I am always so exhausted from school and work that I convince myself some down time on the computer is worth it, and then I end up falling asleep and feeling ashamed for not accomplishing anything. I’ve considered a therapist to help add some structure to my life, but my parents are extremely conservative and would not be open to this. I’ve also thought about secretly getting one, but I would have no means of transportation and my parents will surely see the insurance bill. I realize this could just be a crisis of teen angst and irresponsibility, but I just need help getting past it. What can I do to maintain my sanity and academic success?
A: I’ve got a radical idea for you: Sleep! I don’t know if you’re taking a physics class—and I never did so I’m winging it here—but there should be something in quantum mechanics about being in three places at once, and about the limits of space and time. Meaning something’s got to give in your schedule because you cannot carry a demanding school load, start saving for your retirement, and see friends (and seeing friends is a crucial teenage right!). I hope you can talk to your parents about how overwhelmed you are. It would be great if they could release you from the demands of work. Maybe you can say you’ll put in killer hours at a summer job, but right now, with college looming, you need some relief. If you let go of the job, that might allow you to feel more in control of your life. I understand what it’s like to be at the computer late and night and say you’re just going to look up one more thing, and before you know it, it’s 1 a.m. So don’t be like me—look at the bags under my eyes! Start instituting a small change that will make a huge difference—for example, make it a rule that screens go off at 11 p.m. If after trying this, you still feel your life is out of control, then tell your parents you think some short-term therapy will help you get on track.
Q. Hunting: My daughter recently went hunting with her boyfriend. I was not thrilled about this, but since we frequently ate meat I didn’t really object. But then I saw a photo of her posing with her kill, which made me sick. I’m now a vegetarian. When I look at my daughter, I now see a psychopathic killer. How do I get past this?
A: When you’re in a restaurant and you see everyone around you digging into their chops and ribs, do you see the face of Jeffrey Dahmer everywhere? I hope your daughter ate what she killed, which is more honest than what most carnivores do, which is let unseen (and underpaid) people do the dirty work for us. You get past this by accepting that you have your beliefs and she has hers. I just hope she doesn’t mock you when you order the dish of the moment, the cauliflower steak.
Q. Holiday Horrors: To tell the truth, I am sick to death of the holidays. My husband and I are both in the medical field and it is difficult to get off and then spend a week in a tiny house bursting with a bunch of ill-tempered relatives (last time my husband and I shared a room with my sister and her husband. It was not fun.) So this year, we decided to have a small celebration at home and then fly out to see everyone before the new year—smart idea right? Well, according to my mother and various relatives, I have broken my grandmother’s heart by not being there on Christmas. The fact that I will see everyone a day or two later makes no difference and the entire hullabaloo makes want to cancel our tickets and just go skiing instead. My husband tells me he will support whatever decision I make, but I am just not sure what to do. It may blow over once we get there and then again I might be spending a week hearing how I ruined Christmas. What do you think?
A: I love your solution because it’s a solution I have long advocated—if holidays are problematic, skip the holiday itself and just make a visit when things are less crazy. It sounds as if in your family, the crazy might extend itself past the holiday season. You know your family’s capacity for grudge-holding. If your visit will consist of grumbling about the ruination of Christmas, then skiing it is. But if you love your old but demanding grandmother, and know she’ll stop being such a curmudgeon once she hugs you and you two exchange inadequate gifts, then go. Whatever you decide, a decision that gets you out of listening to the night sounds of your brother-in-law sounds very wise.
Q. Re: For Hunting: I’ve been a vegetarian for 12 years, and many people in my workplace and community hunt. I agree with Prudie’s comment—hunting your own meat is far less disturbing than what you can buy in the grocery store. “Hunting” needs to look into hunting a bit more—the skill and time that’s needed to fill your freezer with fresh meat is substantial. Most importantly for me, a hunted animal is one that spent its life doing what nature intended, rather than being locked in a stockyard force fed antibiotics, and it had a fair chance to escape the final bullet. Factory-farmed animals live short, desperate lives and can meet an unmerciless end.
A: Great points about the quality of life for the hunted animal versus the factory-farmed one.
Q. Nude Neighbor: Hello, I live above a neighbor who leaves his windows open and enjoys exposing his nude self to women passing by. He has always enjoyed this from behind his windows and has never come out of his house in the nude. Female visitors to my house have also said that they have been surprised by his exposure, thinking that it was an accident. He does this when he knows I am checking the mail or a woman is coming up my stairs. I don’t know how to confront this issue because it’s in his own home and if I do see him in person, it’s always just an awkward “Hi.”
A: You can call the cops. My in-depth legal research (thank you, Google) shows that you can in fact be engaged in indecent exposure from the privacy of your own home if you are obviously dangling things at the window in hopes of shocking passersby. Very likely the cops will give him a warning, and let’s hope that might be enough to prompt him to draw the blinds, so you don’t have to wear a blindfold when you go to get the mail.
Q. Re: For School Junior: Your very competitive school likely has a counselor of some kind on staff. Make an appointment—you can talk during the day, so transport, getting parents involved, etc., won’t be an issue. If the counselor thinks you could use another kind of therapy, he/she will be able to help you figure out options, and can help you approach your parents about if you need to. And yes, more sleep would help! Good luck. I also went to a very competitive school and a few sessions with the school counselor really helped me.
A: Of course, I should have mentioned the school counselor. Thanks.
Q. Hostess Gift Etiquette?: My father-in-law gave us a wine fridge stuffed with wine as a wedding gift a few months ago. We were recently invited to his house for dinner and I asked my husband what gift we should bring over as a little hosting treat. He said we should bring the wine. I told him that I thought it was quite rude to give someone a gift they clearly gave you but my husband believes it’s nice to share. What’s the etiquette here? (For the record, I brought over a nice cheese board but we’re dying to know who was right. We’ve got a dinner bet on this one.)
A: Regifting is fine, but not to the people who gave you the gift. If your in-laws were over, opening a bottle of their wine would have been great. In this case, your husband is taking you out to dinner, because I go with the cheese board. But having brought a nice gift to them this time, I hope in the future dinner with the in-laws doesn’t require laying out significant cash to thank them for a family meal.
Q. Sigh Guy: My otherwise wonderful husband has a habit that often sours our time together. He is an excessive sigher. He sighs loudly upon entering a room, leaving a room, sitting down, getting a snack, etc. I have tried telling him that sighing is a signal that a person wants to talk about something or is unhappy in some way, but he brushes it off by saying that sighing is involuntary. I maintain that it’s passive-aggressive behavior and that if he sighs, I’m naturally going to inquire about it. The continual sighing is starting to drive me batty. Am I wrong to think that he can and should control his sighing?
A: Maybe it is more involuntary than you know. It may be some form of tic and he really can’t do that much about it—and it has nothing to do with you. I’m wondering if this has gone on since you’ve known him, and you used to overlook it, or it’s an escalating expulsion of breath. You’ve pointed it out, and he says he’s not even noticing he’s doing it, so you need to try some breathing exercises and come to a greater sense of peace about this.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. Talk to you next week.
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