Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below 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. Happy Feet: My husband loves to get his feet massaged. When he was younger (think elementary school and up), his mom had him massage her feet often, probably once a week. When he told me about this, I was horrified, even after he assured me these massages were purely a therapeutic thing and not sexual. Now my husband has started telling our young daughter about how she needs to start rubbing his feet. I’ve told him that either I’ll massage them or send him to a professional, but I don’t want her massaging anyone. Am I wrong for putting my foot down (sorry for the pun)?
A: And you just brought back memories of how my father would ask his four offspring, when we were little, to scratch his back. Sometimes two of us would go at it and we loved getting the spot he couldn’t reach. This spot was generally just below his shoulder. Let me assure you there was nothing remotely sexual about this, it was just an entertaining primate grooming thing. You are turning something fun into something ugly. I bet your daughter will thrill to working the kinks out of her Dad’s feet, and there is nothing kinky about that. If your daughter gets good enough, you may want some free reflexology yourself, Mom.
Q. Fertile Cats: My wife and I just acquired two kittens, a male and a female. I had assumed we would get them fixed, but my wife thinks that is cruel. She said that we can keep them separated during heat, which apparently is how her family handles fertile cats. To me, that sounds much more cruel than neutering, but my wife doesn’t see it that way. Is there any way to reason with her?
A: What’s cruel is making pets go into heat repeatedly and experience only frustration. When humans live with domesticated animals, they have an obligation for their well-being. Your wife has a misplaced notion of naturalness. Has she ever seen a video of a wild cat of any species stalking and eating prey? That’s natural. Less natural is a little kitty sitting on your lap and purring—but that’s the wonder of domestication. Your obligation is to get your new pets fixed as soon as possible so that all of you enjoy your unnatural new family.
Q. Pot-Smoking Mom: I am a former child of the ’60s and ’70s, and smoked pot regularly until I got married and had kids. If I lived in Colorado or a state that has legalized it, I would still smoke, as I don’t think it’s any different than a glass of wine in the evenings. Until recently, even if I wanted to, I had no idea where to even get the stuff! My almost 21-year-old college son recently admitted that he smoked regularly, and knows I used to. He gave me a joint last week, and my husband and I shared it on a “date night.” My son has said if I ever want some, he’s happy to get it for me. Am I an awful mom for considering letting my son be my “dealer” for occasional joints?
A: I hope marijuana is soon legalized nationally—I say this knowing that it is not a wholly benign substance. I’m glad alcohol is legal, but while it can be a source of pleasure, it can also be one of menace and death. But marijuana is not legal where you live. Even if the chances are small that any of you could be caught and prosecuted, if it were to happen, the prosecutor’s office would likely look unfavorably on parents who encouraged their son to procure an illegal substance for them. The pleasure you get from being able to have a joint from your son for a date night is not worth this risk. Frankly, your son sounds very savvy. Instead of you (hypocritically) objecting to his habit, he has made you party to it. This is awful, Mom, and you should tell your son that you’ve made a mistake, and for everyone’s safety you want to stay on the right side of the law, however much you disagree with it.
Q. Not Attending Co-workers’ Happy Hours Is Affecting My Work Relationships: My job requires long hours and can be stressful. Our department plans regular after-work gatherings for us to get together and have drinks and some fun with co-workers. I went to two when I first joined the office and felt uncomfortable both times. They were both in loud and crowded bars, conversations were hard to hear, and I don’t even drink. It also made my commute home twice as long. Even since, I’ve not attended, and I believe it’s negatively affecting my work relationships. My co-workers are friendlier to each other than to me. I’ve suggested a more toned-down place like a restaurant, but the organizers typically choose a downtown bar. I feel like my options are to either continue not going and just be that person in the office that nobody really knows, or go to the happy hours and feel really uncomfortable the whole time. What do I do?
A: Surely everyone gets to know each other quite well enough during the long, high-intensity days at work. This may be less a function of your being left out of the fun, than the fact that you may be an introvert surrounded by extraverts. You’ve made a good suggestion to mix up the socializing by going to some quieter venues, and your idea has been rejected. But all this doesn’t mean you are always on the train home when they’re all having their third round. If this is a weekly or so gathering, decide to drop by every month or so. If you go, you don’t have to stay to the end, just make some (incomprehensible) chit-chat for half an hour or so, then drift out the door.
Q. Family Has a Dog but Doesn’t Take Care of Him: My brother-in-law bought a Chihuahua puppy for his oldest daughter “Daisy” when she was 7 years old. Daisy was supposed to be responsible for the dog, but the dog is crated for most of the day until Daisy is reminded to take him out to pee. There have been days when I think the dog hasn’t been fed since the day before. My sister has stated that she doesn’t even like the dog and only takes care of him if she’s the last resort. Daisy loves the dog and I know that if he were to be taken away, she would be devastated. I want to call the local SPCA because I truly believe that this dog would be in better hands with another family. (I cannot have pets at my apartment complex.) My sister is aware of Daisy’s lack of responsibility but doesn’t seem that concerned about the dog’s welfare. Do I call the dog rescue anonymously, or I do tell my sister about my intentions and hope that she and Daisy make the appropriate changes?
A: This is gross animal cruelty, and I think you need to have a diplomatic, but blunt talk with your sister. You can say you know your niece loves the dog, but she is too young to be responsible for the creature, and as a result he is suffering terribly. All dogs need affection, exercise, and one shouldn’t even need to mention food and a chance to relieve themselves. Chihuahuas in particular bond intensely with their family, so this dog is being tortured by long days in solitary confinement. You don’t have to tell your sister you are going to call the Humane Society or try to kidnap the dog, but make clear you feel you cannot let this little pup languish this way and if the family can’t provide proper care, other arrangements need to be made. Then if nothing changes, go ahead and make the first step by reporting this ongoing animal cruelty.
Q. Re: Fertile Cats: All due respect, LW, your wife is an idiot, and you can feel free to tell her I said so. It makes me shudder to think what other things she won’t do to support those kittens’ health simply because she has some misguided idea of what’s really good for them. Altered cats live longer than unaltered cats and have fewer behavioral problems. Personally, I’d take the kittens in without asking her, I feel that strongly about it, and make her learn more about how to take care of the little boogers properly instead of going around believing she knows what’s best for them.
A: As other readers are pointing out, unspayed and unneutered pets not only have more behavioral problems, they are more likely to get reproductive cancers. This is one of those situations for which there is no compromise, so I agree with making an executive decision and taking the fluff balls to the vet for snipping.
Q. The Great Laundry Debate: I do 90 percent of our family’s laundry, but what I don’t do is right any inside-out clothing. If it goes into the laundry inside-out, it will be folded that way (this mostly applies to undershirts and underwear). My husband swears it’s the job of the laundry folder to set it all right whereas I argue that the person putting the laundry in the bin should make sure the items are placed in the manner in which they’d like to receive them back. How to settle this debate?
A: First let’s stipulate that your taking on laundry duties is part of a fair division of labor. If not, and your husband doesn’t like your laundry style, hand him the basket. But if this is a job you embrace (and I myself like turning a jumble of clean clothes into neat stacks) then I agree with your husband. It just doesn’t seem right not to right all the clothes before making them orderly. Yes, you can request clothes go into the hamper right-side out. But doing this yourself for a few items per basket, over decades of folding, will likely only take a few minutes out of your productive life.
Q. Re: Fertile Cats: Getting your kittens fixed will make everyone happier. The cat I adopted from a shelter turned out to be not neutered (undescended testicles made him look fixed). It took us several months to figure out why my year-old cat was suddenly spraying all over the house and humping the other cat. He would pee/poop on just about any surface to mark his territory. We went through several months of litter/litterbox changes, kitty Prozac (again, trying to figure out why he was doing all this) and bottles of enzymatic cleaners. Once the vet noticed he had peed in the crate and detected the distinctive odor of tomcat urine, he got a testosterone test and surgery scheduled. Save yourself the time, money, sanity and household furnishings and get them fixed.
A: Eau de Tomcat Urine—the scent that leaves an indelible impression!
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. Talk to you next week.