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.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions!
Q. When to Let the 11-Year-Old Start Shaving?: I’m the proud single mom to an 11-year-old girl, who has recently started asking to be allowed to shave her legs. Personally I can’t remember when I started shaving my legs, nor does my mother remember when she started. Do you know when the proper time is for a girl to start?
A: The proper time is when your daughter feels self-conscious about not shaving. She does sound young at 11 years old, but this is strictly an individual matter. She may be rapidly heading toward full-blown puberty and she is uncomfortable about the dark hair on her legs. It could also be that her friends have started shaving and she wants to feel grown up like them, even if it means removing some peach fuzz. The next time you shave your legs, get your daughter her own razor and have a mother-daughter depilation session, while you give her some tips on avoiding nicks.
Q. Snowstorm Driving Annoyance: I live in New England and have to drive in snowstorms as a hospital worker. Usually an inch or so won’t faze me, but as conditions worsen, I drive about 15-20 mph, sometimes less. I give myself plenty of time to get into work so that it doesn’t impact me any. However, I always end up leading a long parade of cars who are getting more and more frustrated that I’m not speeding down the road. There’s no room to pull over, and I’m not willing to go faster. However, I get really nervous that so many people are behind me getting angry that I’m not driving fast. How can I get over this? (Please help, more snow is coming!)
A: If you are driving in Massachusetts today in the driving snow, you will be lucky to be going 20 miles per hour. Of course, drivers must take precautions and assess prevailing conditions. But if you are turning the roads into an unnecessary pseudo funeral procession, then you are creating a hazard of your own. Enraged drivers behind you are going to be tempted to pull some dangerous maneuvers if in fact going 30 miles per hour is safe and sensible. You’re right that you can’t pull over, but if you are taking a usual route, map out in your mind places that you can take a right turn onto a side street for a minute or so and give some relief to the frustrated drivers behind you.
Q. Two Wives?: My sister is engaged to a man who has been living with his “best friend” since college, a girl. My sister claims that “Amy” is probably gay and has never been interested in romance. She tells me that Amy is a wonderful cook (my sister never learned) and it makes sense for the living situation to stay the same since it saves them money and college loans are killing her. I think the entire situation is bizarre and a setup for heartache. My sister jokes that between Amy and herself they make the perfect wife! And her fiancé agrees! What can I tell her to get my sister to see that this isn’t going to end well?
A: I’d say this is all so modern of your sister, her fiancé, and his pal: the opposite-sex best friends living together in the “making-do” economy. But tell me everyone doesn’t really think that cooking comes under “wifely duties.” Sis, this situation definitely comes under the heading of “None of Your Business.” The only thing I can see not ending well is your relationship with your sister if you keeping harping on what sounds like a sensible setup. And if this threesome actually is more romantically intertwined than they let on to you, again, review the codicils under “Butt Out.”
Q. Handsy Father-in-Law: Recently I’ve taken up knitting as a way to bond with my mother-in-law. My own mother frequently joins us for once-a-week lessons and we enjoy ourselves immensely. The trouble is my father-in-law. He insists on hugging both my mother and me as we come and go. If we try to dodge his hugs, he makes it worse by rubbing our shoulders or petting our backs as we rush upstairs away from him. Before the holidays he “accidentally” grazed my breast as he hugged me. This all happens in sight of my mother-in-law, but the family accepts his behavior as normal. I want to note that I loathe being touched by men who are not my husband or direct family members. Also, my father-in-law has a drinking problem that the family continually ignores. What can I do to stop his behavior without offending my mother-in-law, whom I adore?
A: You may adore your mother-in-law, but she is party to familywide collusion in ignoring, even enabling, your father-in-law’s repulsive behavior. I’m concerned that while he tries to crudely cop a feel from the adult female relatives in his life (blechh!), no one seems to have explored what he may have done or be doing to the girls in the family. I have heard from other women in your situation and they have taken the response into their own hands, so to speak. They have said that what works is putting out a stiff arm when the pervert relative approaches and saying, loudly, “No hugs!” If necessary, you repeat, more emphatically, “I said, ‘No hugs!’ ” Yes, this should embarrass your father-in-law, and that’s the point—someone needs to call him out. If your mother-in-law is mortified about your protecting yourself from the predations of her husband, then she is not as worthy of adoration as you think.
Q. Re: Leg Shaving: I started shaving my lower legs during the latter half of fifth grade. I was the first girl in my class. I started after riding in the car one day with my mom (wearing shorts) and I said, “I’ve got monkey-legs. They’re covered with so much hair.” I’m lucky Mom was understanding and I shaved my legs that night. Only suggestion I have is that I wish she’d forced me to wax my legs from the beginning so my hair would have thinned over time. I might not be saving up for laser-hair removal on my still chimp-like legs.
A: Ah, memories of puberty. Your mom sounds great, but shaving should work for the average primate!
Q. Money Matters Part II: I wrote to you last week about the inheritance I received from a recently deceased late boyfriend. His mother was trying to claim the money. You suggested I consult with a lawyer. I did and my ex’s mother has no right over the money whatsoever. My ex signed the will after we’d broken up, and even if he’d done it before, it wouldn’t change a thing. Considering his parents are pretty darn rich (and his father would never even consider asking for it), I’ve decided she’s not getting any. His relationship with her was pretty nonexistent, and I got to understand why during the nine years we were together. So, regardless of what others think, this is what feels right to me to respect and honor him.
A: Thank you for this follow-up—I really appreciate hearing what people did after their letter ran. Thanks also for the legal clarification that the mother has no claim to the estate. Last week you wrote that while your inheritance was substantial, you wanted to give it all to charity. I hope that means that you, like your boyfriend’s parents, are “pretty darn rich.” If you aren’t, consider giving some money away and keeping some so that the rest of your life is financially easier—after all, that was what your ex wanted for you.
Q. Help With Bipolar Adult Daughter: My beautiful daughter has bipolar disorder. She is vegan and hesitant to use artificial medication to manage her symptoms. Typically she is able to find the tools to cope but when she goes into an angry paranoid state, her mania makes it hard to be around for a couple of weeks at a time. She is underemployed, angry at our capitalist society, and feels I am trying to control her by helping her in ways she doesn’t ask, and not helping her in the ways she needs. She has a hard time dealing with the red tape involved with mental health services. When she isn’t in this state, she is a thoughtful, loving, and kind person with extreme compassion for people. What can I do to cope with the intermittent vitriol and not make her feel as if I am overbearing—while at the same time letting her know she can’t treat me like crap when she’s manic? I want her to know I always love her, even when she is hard to be around.
A: Sadly, her condition helps lead to her erroneous conclusion that medication will poison her. Obviously, she needs a sensitive practitioner who will not just manage her medication, but will do true therapy—not just a 15-minute check-in and a new prescription—to help her be as highly functioning as possible. She is cycling through destructive bouts of mania and depression (bipolar disorder was once called manic-depression, after all). If she were stabilized on medication, you would see much more of the thoughtful, loving person, and less of the paranoid one. The dilemma is that she’s an adult, and the laws about people with mental illness are designed to protect their civil rights—a wholly worthy goal—but they go so far that sometimes, tragically, people who desperately need help don’t get it because it is so difficult to compel treatment. If she is not a danger to herself or others, there is not that much you can do. Except that when you’re daughter is in her a more rational state you have to gently discuss with her how the two of you can work together to find her a practitioner she feels in sync with who can help her buffer the highs and lows.
Q. Family Loves Him (but I Don’t Anymore): For the past few years, I had been seeing a man who is 10 years my senior (24 for me, 34 for him). I am just finishing my master’s degree for psychology and he is an executive at a Fortune 500 company. He was talking marriage, and I had told him that I was not ready. We had gone back and forth and he surprised me with a ring a few months ago. I turned him down. Then I found him in bed with another woman. I broke up with him and have tried to get on with my life. Everyone in my family is saying I am making a mistake. A cousin actually told me that its better he get these little indiscretions out of the way now rather than when we are married. Help me explain to them that I am better off without him (I found out he had cheated on his first and second wife!).
A: If your family is under the impression that this guy is so loaded he is going to be some kind of Santa Claus for your extended family, you should put him in touch with the parents and cousins of wives one and two. I’m sure they are not rolling it in just because this guy made a vow to successive women (while crossing his fingers). You are getting a degree in psychology, and it sounds as if that helped you see that there is no future with this rat. But surely, you have studied family dynamics, and I’m going to put it back to you to explain to your family you are happily free of your jerk of a boyfriend, and if any of them want a go at his income, he’s now single.
Q. Re: Snowstorm Driving: Two words: snow tires. Get some good ones, maybe even studded, and put them on all four wheels. If you can find a set of rims that aren’t too expensive, you can have a winter set of wheels and keep your shiny rims for the summer months. I too grew up in Massachusetts and had to deal with occasional snow, but I’ve spent most of my adult life in places where winter lasts about six months of the year. Good tires are the key to slippery roads. (We’re in the middle of a 6-10-inch snowstorm right now and the schools didn’t even close!)
A: Agree about the snow tires. And others have suggested that this driver get some hands-on instruction in winter driving. I’m from Massachusetts and live in Maryland now. I can’t tell you how many days school was canceled for my daughter there because the bottom of the children’s feet might get wet from a sprinkling of snow.
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