Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week by signing up in the box below. Please send your questions for publication to email@example.com. (Questions may be edited.)
Got a burning question for Prudie? She’ll be online here on Slate to chat with readers each Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
I’m engaged to a great guy, but there’s one ridiculous issue we clash on. He won’t let me put my bare feet on the coffee table. He thinks it’s gross. I think he’s uptight. I’ve done this my whole life almost every time I sit down in my living room. Of course I wouldn’t do this at a friend’s house, but we’re going to be living together. I dread the thought of forgetting and putting my feet on the coffee table, or doing it only while he’s out. That seems kind of pathetic. How can something this silly turn into a deal-breaker? Please help!
—Dancing Around the Issue
I have one word for you: ottoman. Relationships come undone over big things: fidelity, libido, work ethic, spending habits. But they can also be eroded by trivial things: table manners, pets in the bed, who makes dinner. You have met the man of your dreams, and you two are planning to spend your lives together. But now he can’t believe he’s with someone who doesn’t recognize how repulsive and unsanitary it is to prop one’s feet on the coffee table, and you can’t believe he’s turned into a prissy Felix Unger. When it comes to such disputes, the tie-breaker goes to the person who is being driven nuts by a behavior, as long as there is a reasonable basis for an objection. So get your feet off the coffee table and buy a footstool. Or, as a wedding present to yourselves—an investment that will save you two the cost of a pair of divorce attorneys—splurge on a sectional sofa, one whose chaise lounge will be designated just for you and your tootsies.
I am a woman in my 60s with two wonderful children: a 35-year-old daughter, married for 10 years with two delightful children, and a son, who is 29. My son has Down syndrome. He does not live with me because of finances. “George” is moderately mentally impaired. He has a temper (not violent) and is not good at sharing. My problem is with my son-in-law, who I love dearly. He doesn’t seem to be able to relate to George at all. My grandkids love their uncle. I like to take George over to visit my daughter, who also loves him dearly, but her husband always watches George intently and gets into a bad mood when George visits. George senses this and it upsets him. It all makes me sad. My son-in-law is a great husband, son, and provider. This situation greatly distresses me and my daughter because we want us all to be family and do activities together, but we have to do them without my son-in-law, because he just can’t handle George or relate to him. My daughter and I are at a loss and do not know how to handle this.
Your son-in-law may be great in all the ways you describe, but he does expose a character flaw in his inability to embrace your son. If he came into the marriage to your daughter unfamiliar and uncomfortable with people with intellectual disabilities, it was incumbent on him to educate himself, and most of all to accept George and learn how to get along with him. Now there’s an awkward bifurcation of family gatherings because your son-in-law is disapproving of George and it puts everyone on edge. This is something your daughter should address, and I suggest she open this discussion with her husband. She needs to explain that George is a part of the family who needs love and support, and, more than that, their kids adore him. She could recommend that together they go to a few meetings of a local chapter of the National Down Syndrome Society, where your son-in-law can talk honestly about his discomfort and his concerns about managing George’s temper, and get some guidance on improving his relationship with George. Your children are going to learn invaluable lessons from spending time with their uncle about compassion, decency, and differences. It’s important that their father be part of this moral development.
I am a male pediatrician in a small group practice. I have two female employees, one in her 60s and one in her 40s, who are great with patients but who are both are in the habit of coming up behind me and either playfully scratching my back or rubbing my shoulders. I know it’s meant in a purely friendly way but I hate being touched (I never go for massages, etc.). I don’t want to make this a big deal because I know they will both be upset and embarrassed. But if I were the one doing the unwanted touching, I would have long ago been told not only to stop, but threatened with a harassment suit. I know it should work both ways but I’m not sure it does. We have a parent corporation with an HR department that will address this if I push it, but I’m not sure I want to. Any suggestions?
—Hands Off, Please
Dear Hands Off,
Of course it works both ways. Just because the touching is done by a woman and the recipient is a man does not mean that someone in an office has to put up with feeling violated daily at work. I agree that having these women receive a notice from corporate HR that they are physically harassing you is not a good opening gambit. You say the nature of the touching is friendly, not sexual or aggressive, so address this problem directly with the two rubbers. Ask them to come in your office and then explain without rancor or embarrassment that you know their shoulder rubs are meant as a stress relief, but such touching at the office makes you uncomfortable and actually increases your stress. Say that you should have mentioned this long ago, but you’d appreciate their understanding now. Sure, it’s going to be a little awkward, but you’re a pediatrician, so you should have perfected a manner that’s both calming and authoritative.
My husband refuses to go through the full body scanners at airports. He believes the machines were haphazardly installed and aren’t entirely safe, and are a government-funded threat to personal freedom. We are traveling with our daughter at the end of the month and he wants us all to opt out. I do not want a pat-down, nor does my daughter, but this is a huge deal for him and it has caused much arguing. I am dreading our upcoming trip and I don’t want my daughter to become part of a tug of war between us. Should I refuse the pat-down for me? For me and my daughter? Or should I just deal with the pat-down because it’s so important to him? We only travel a few times a year and it’s really just a few minutes of discomfort and humiliation to appease what is a very real concern of his.
—Please Don’t Touch Me
There’s no dispute we need airport security. But I didn’t feel the cause of national safety was enhanced the last time I was at the airport and saw an elderly man in a polar bear sweatshirt get pulled aside for a pat-down by a team of agents. Sure, lots of us wonder about how wisely the TSA billions are being spent, especially when it still fails to find 95 percent of weapons in tests, and we resent the ritual of being passing beltless and unshod through their machines for the privilege of being crammed into economy. But if you want to fly, you submit. Worrying about the health effects of the airport scanners is silly, and if your husband resents this government-mandated requirement, his alternative of being manually examined seems hardly less heavy-handed. He objects to what he sees as government intrusion, but then he goes and insists you and your child submit to his demands. Tell him he’s free to refuse the body scanner, but he’s no believer in personal freedom if he then bullies the two of you out of your own choice.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“In Vino Coitus: My wife will have sex with me only when she’s drunk.”
“Dada Isn’t: How do I tell my 20-year-old son his dad is not his biological father?”
“Mind the Gap: My new guy has everything I want—except his front teeth.”
“Poached Eggs: My mom and stepdad say they can only have a baby with my help.”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Mrs. Doubtfire: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a man whose mother-in-law wants to test his children’s DNA.”
“The Cornered Cuckold: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a man who agreed to let his wife take lovers—only now she’s pregnant.”
“She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a man with mild autism uncertain whether he is being flirted with.”
“Sore Issue: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman who finds taking her herpes suppressive pills annoying.”