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. My Fiancé Wants to Veto My Bridesperson!: I want to include my best friend “James” in my wedding party as a bridesman. But my fiancé, “Mike,” doesn’t want me to have a bridesman, only bridesmaids. He says it “isn’t traditional.” But Prudie, Mike and I aren’t traditional, either! Mike has never had a problem with James before, and I don’t think it’s a matter of jealousy, because James is gay and will soon be married to his partner. I’ve told Mike I’d have no objection if he wanted a groomswoman, but he says he doesn’t want one and therefore I shouldn’t have a bridesman, either. But I would feel horrible if I couldn’t have James as my bridesman, especially since I was James’ best woman at his commitment ceremony a couple of years ago and will be his best woman at his wedding later this year. Should I push Mike to let me ask James to be my bridesman, or is Mike right? He says we should ask James to be an usher instead, but I feel like that doesn’t do justice to the place James has in my life.
A: I love the idea of gender-bending the traditional lineup—I just hope you’re not going to insist that James wear a chartreuse tuxedo to match the bridesmaid dresses. But no matter what I think, you have to work this out with Mike. He’s having an instinctive reaction against going against tradition, which doesn’t mean he’s a bigot. He may rightly be thinking that the bridesman will be the focus of all eyes and chatter and that will detract from your own ceremony. You and Mike are going to have many issues to hash out over your years together, so agree to sit down over this one and non-defensively hear each other out. You also have to consider the feelings of someone else: James. You haven’t said whether you’ve even broached this with him. If he’s gung-ho, fine. But he himself may be flattered but conclude such an honor would make him more of the center of attention that he wants. Whether or not he stands with your bridesmaids, you can give him a place of honor. Put him on the roster to give one of the toasts after the wedding.
Q. Men and Women’s Post-Baby Bodies: I work in a male-dominated field, so I hear and see it all. More than one male colleague has been disappointed that they have had daughters, and more than one colleague has had unrealistic expectations of their wives’ post-pregnancy bodies (namely, that within two weeks, they’d bounce back to barely-legal teenage stripper proportions, tight and toned, no stretch marks, etc.). I am rapidly closing in on 40 and my fiancé wants kids in the worst way and often tells me how “beautiful” I would be pregnant and how “wonderful” a mother I will be. But after hearing so much negative commentary from men (that they would, of course, never actually say directly to their wives but are evidently all secretly thinking), how do I reconcile myself, my body, even my security as a modern woman with all the caveman, chauvinistic crap? Hearing what I hear, knowing that men aren’t fully honest with the women they claim to love and cherish. Should I just remain single and keep my body eternally taut/toned/stretch-mark free? What the hell is the point of marriage and family if, in less than two years, I am going to be accused of “letting myself go” and be dumped in favor of someone 10 years younger, hotter, sluttier, or whatever?
A: You are in the belly of the beast, but please don’t take this belly talk as some kind of gospel of what all men think. I don’t even think you should take it as gospel about what the men who are saying it think. For some reason, they consider you one of the guys, so you get an earful of ridiculous, crude, blowing-off-steam talk. So these men who supposedly are disappointed with daughters and who want a Lolita as a life partner—have they actually left their families for barely legal young women? No. I’m also concerned about your ability to assess evidence and process data. Do a mental survey of the men and women you know. You will find some women who have given birth multiple times have maintained their youthful figures. You will note some women with no children are not taut and toned. Then look around at your male colleagues. None of them have given birth, yet I am sure there are many guts slopping over belts at your workplace. You are with a good man who wants children. Whether or not you marry him or have them needs to be a decision entirely separate from the silly trash talk you overhear at work.
Q. Which Son Takes Precedence?: We have two great sons. The older is marrying in a few months, but unfortunately the date is within a week of my daughter-in-law’s due date with our first grandchild. We have already told our older son that if his sister-in-law goes into labor, we will not be able to attend his wedding. Several of my direct relations think I am incorrect to make this decision. They point out that we were there for our younger son’s wedding and being with my older son on his special day should take priority. We feel I should be there when my grandchild is born, who is correct?
A: Please step away from the maternity ward and attend the wedding. You don’t even say if your daughter-in-law wants you buzzing around when she gives birth. Many women would rather have relatives arrive after the event when everyone is cleaned up and has had a chance to catch a breath (or take a first one). Your son is only going to be married once—let’s hope—while your grandchild is going to be hanging around for a long time. There is no necessity for you two to be in waiting room awaiting the birth. Obviously, your older son will not have his brother there for his wedding, but it’s ridiculous his parents are thinking of missing it, too. Tell everyone you’ll be there for the wedding. Then if there is double happy news for your family that day, the morning after the festivities, you will make a beeline for the baby.
Q. Driving Fear: Last fall, I was in a car accident (my bad judgment, no injuries, car damaged but fixable). Since then, I’ve had huge anxiety about driving, to the point where I can’t sleep the night before I’m supposed to drive somewhere. I live in a city with very poor public transit, so opting out is not an option, and I feel silly having to get rides everywhere (not to mention it’s a pain for the other people in my life). I used to enjoy driving, and absolutely hate living with this kind of fear, but I just can’t seem to shake it. What should I do?
A: There is a group of professionals especially for you. Please contact the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists and set up an appointment to get help. These people are specially trained to get drivers back on the road who have run into problems, be it recovering from a stroke or dealing with panic issues. If you have a kind, reassuring professional by your side, I’m sure you will be confidently behind the wheel again soon.
Q. Re: Which Son Takes Precedence?: The grandkid will not notice your absence at the moment of birth and will not remember it if you aren’t there. Your son will definitely notice your absence at his wedding and resent it forever. Pick one.
A: Also, the expectant parents will surely not only understand the grandparents absence, but I assume they will welcome it.
Q. Parents’ Secret: My mother died recently and in doing the paperwork I found they were married a year after they told everyone else their anniversary date is. Apparently others in the extended family knew this. My parents married two months before my brother was born. When I told my dad that the paperwork I found (per his request to look for) was wrong, he got upset and said I had to ask my mother about it (a little hard now she is gone). He then said that no one was to know of this. I know if I tell my brother he would be crushed (but it might be a good payback for all the years of the way he treated us). Do I keep the secret? I always wondered why when someone got pregnant before marriage my mother never got upset. Do I just keep my mouth shut?
A: Back in the day when out of wedlock births and even conceptions were shameful, people used the “premature baby” excuse when an 8-pounder arrived less than nine months after the wedding. But your brother would have been a true miracle if your parents had conceived after their real marriage date.* What happened happened decades ago. Your brother may be a terrible person, but it’s not as a result of the trauma of being born after two months’ gestation. In the grand scheme your parents’ cover-up is a trivial and now silly lie. But there’s no purpose in exposing it. Except, as you acknowledge, to say to your brother, “Nyah, nyah, Mom and Dad had to get married because she was bursting with your rotten self when they finally tied the knot.” If you have issues with your brother, deal with them directly, instead of trying to land a gratuitous blow.
Q. A Good Problem to Have: I have what’s actually a good problem to have. I have a job I absolutely love and work in an office with three other women. The problem is that their favorite hobby seems to be complaining about their husbands. After they’ve all taken their turns they seem to think its my turn. My husband is a wonderful man who brings me coffee in bed, cooks and cleans more than I do, makes sure I have time to indulge in my interests alone, and willingly subjects himself to musicals because he knows I enjoy them. After three rounds of “my husband didn’t clean up/help watch the kids/spent all weekend with his friends instead of helping to clear out the garage like he promised” it really puts an end to the conversation when I offer up that my husband suggested we go to the art museum to see that exhibit I’ve been dying to see. This just seems to be the office culture, and I want to get along with these women, but I also don’t want to lie about how wonderful my husband is.
A: Wife Swap is a reality show in which two married women switch places with each other. I’d love you participate in Office Swap with the woman who works among the trash-talking men. I will put aside the issue of offices being the places people go not to earn a living, but to escape from their families and complain about them. But as with the guys at the office in the other letter, the women you work with may like their husbands more than they are letting on, but it’s a relief to engage in a round-robin of complaining. You are sensitive to the office culture, so you have a delicate dance here. Instead of chiming in about your perfect spouse, maybe your comments could be more affirmations of their complaints. It sounds as if you don’t have kids, so you can say something like, “You must feel like dumping the nachos in his lap while he’s watching the game and you’re changing diapers.” If they press you about your complaints, you can make light of your perfect guy. “I just hope it doesn’t turn out my husband has a secret family stashed somewhere, because this weekend he went to the museum with me.” Also, when the marathon begins, you can occasionally find yourself having to go to attend to actual work.
Q. Re: My Fiancé Wants to Veto My Bridesperson!: This last summer, my brother was my bridesman and my husband had his sister as his groomswoman. At first, my then-fiancé was totally opposed. He said, “Has it been done before?” and “What will people think?” and “That’s not tradition!” And to that end I said, “Yes, Hon, it’s been done before” and “People will think it’s it wonderful that these two have such amazing people in their lives that they want to include in this important event” and “Yup, and that’s OK, because we are making our own tradition of love and acceptance and celebration of everyone who loves us regardless of what’s under their clothes.” And FYI my husband is a military-service-person where tradition is highly valued, but he came to understand that it isn’t about gender, but rather about celebration and love.
A: Thanks for this. Having a reasonable discussion and acknowledging your spouse-to-be concerns is the way to go. And how nice for the original letter writer to hear this gender reversal can be done and everyone watching thinks it’s delightful.
Q. Re: Bridesman: I had a bridesman at my wedding nine years ago (yes also a gay close friend). I assure you, no one even noticed. He wore the same tux as the groomsmen, he just stood on my side. No big deal.
A: I am surprised at the number of letter writers who have done this. Universally, it worked out great and no one seated and observing fainted away.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next Monday.
Update, Jan. 21: The answer about the back-dated wedding was clarified to explain how much of a miracle a baby born after two months’ gestation would have been. (Return.)