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. I Don’t Want Racist Money!: I am a high school senior, and will be applying to colleges and for scholarships soon. I am having a disagreement with my parents regarding one possible scholarship. I am eligible, because of an ancestor that was a Confederate, to apply for scholarship money from an organization that promotes the “grand history” of the Confederacy. I can’t stomach their beliefs, and I do not want to apply for their scholarship, nor use their money to go to college. My parents think any money is good money, and that getting one of these scholarships doesn’t say anything about me as a person, but I completely disagree. I think it would imply that I was proud of my Confederate ancestors, which I am not, and that I support this organization, which I don’t. Am I being “too PC” or are my parents wrong in not considering the source of this possible money?
A: College is so expensive that I can understand your parents wanting you to apply and ease this burden. However, I agree that this money is tainted, especially as it comes with the strings of requiring some kind of promotion of the grandness of the Confederacy from its recipients. Surely, to apply, you have to do more than just give genealogical proof that you are related to someone who fought to keep slavery intact. You would likely have to write an essay about how you believed in his cause, and how you will use the scholarship funds toward the glory of it. That would be fraud and you should not engage in it. Your letter is a reminder of just how many unlikely scholarships there are out there. So you and your parents should start researching whether you are eligible for financial help from a source that you can honestly embrace.
Q. Maid of Honor Toast: My wedding is in less than two months, and I just heard from my maid of honor (my cousin) that she doesn’t feel comfortable giving a toast at the reception. She told me that she has a terrible anxiety disorder (which is true), sometimes vomits before presentations, and worries she won’t be able to get through the toast without shaking uncontrollably. I haven’t asked my MOH to plan a bridal shower or bachelorette party; I’m just asking her to give a toast, which I’ve told her can be as short as two to three minutes. She is insistent that it will be damaging to her emotional health if she is made to do this. She’s asked if she can do a toast with another bridesmaid (but I’ve already planned out who will give the other toasts) or if she can turn her toast into a newlywed game, which I think is tacky. I want to be sensitive to her anxieties, but I also kind of just want her to suck it up.
A: Definitely force her. Your wedding will be the most memorable of the season when out of anxiety she regurgitates her champagne all over your and your groom. Your cousin has a global problem that I hope she is addressing with a professional. It could be her crippling anxiety is affecting, say, her ability to be effective at work. But your wedding is not the proper venue for some kind of immersion therapy. Your cousin has worked herself up into a state, and your insistence that she give a toast is only going to result in a performance which will be uncomfortable for everyone. I like your cousin’s idea that she do the toast with another bridesmaid. They can write out their dialogue, and if having a friend there to buck her up would get her through this, I don’t understand why you are nixing this. But I think the kindest thing for you to do would be to hand this duty to someone you love who loves to work a crowd.
Q. Too Cool for Retail?: I graduated from college last year at age 27 after several years of putting it off to be a caretaker to my dying father. My aunt and uncle (surrogate parents to me now) were ecstatic, and very encouraging when it was harder for me to find a job than I had expected it to be. After three months of looking at entry-level corporate jobs and not getting past the second interviews, I went back to work for a department store that I’d worked at previously, and I absolutely love my job. I own my house and pay all of my bills on time, don’t have any debt, and have started saving for the future. My concern is about my family, who blatantly comment that I “can’t be working retail forever,” and that I “need a real job.” I feel hurt by this—I work hard at my job!—but more importantly, I worry that maybe they’re right, because there aren’t too many avenues up the ladder in a retail setting from where I sit. What should I say to my family, and should I plan on changing careers in the future? I’ve worked in my industry for a decade now.
A: There’s something amiss with family members who don’t think that a source of employment for millions is a “real job.” Let’s lay things out. You love your job! How many people can say that? Your job has allowed you to be financially independent. Yes, jobs are supposed to accomplish this, but not all do, alas. Let me add, that as a person who shops retail—as virtually everyone does, even in this time of virtual shopping—it is always delightful to encounter an employee who loves what she does, is helpful, and makes the whole experience useful and successful. So brava to you! The only glitch I see here is that you say you see no ladder up. That means there’s some mismatch between your skills and your employer’s recognition of your talents, or that you need to take your skills to a retail outlet at which there are greater prospects for moving up in management—if that’s what you want to do. If you would like to ascend, find some sources who can give you advice on getting on a management track. But otherwise, as much as you may love your aunt and uncle, they sound like terrible snobs who on this subject should be ignored.
Q. Baby News: I am nine weeks pregnant with our first child. We are a little older and I’ll be 32 when the baby is born. My problem is I don’t feel any need to tell anyone, other than my husband, that I am pregnant. He is very excited and can’t wait to tell everyone and has so far respected my wishes that we wait to tell family. But frankly I don’t care to ever tell them. I mean they’ll figure it out when we bring a baby to Fourth of July. We are pretty close to all of our parents and siblings. What’s wrong with me? Why am I not more excited?
A: I’m thinking that before your Independence Day surprise, your parents and siblings will have come to a certain conclusion about the fact that your waistline has expanded to 45 inches. You are in the first trimester and you may be feeling physically and mentally overwhelmed. That is not unusual. But if you are feeling no joy about your pregnancy, only a desire to hide and ignore it, that’s concerning, and something you must bring to the attention of your obstetrician. It’s now known that women can suffer through a whole variety of pre-partum mental health distress, and if that’s what’s happening to you, you need to address it. Even finding a support group of mothers who have been through similar feelings could help you put what’s going on in perspective and feel less alone. Lots of people don’t want to announce a pregnancy until the third month, when the miscarriage risk is greatly diminished. But never wanting to announce it is something that needs looking into.
Q. Re: Maid of Honor Toast: If that indicates how you’re going to roll with the wedding, I hope you can relax a bit more. Things will go wrong, things will need to change. This is small, so agree to having her do it with a bridesmaid and don’t let this sort of thing get to you. You will be stressed out of your mind if you can’t be a bit more flexible and roll with things.
A: Also in her marriage being flexible and able to roll with things will be a good principle. Hey, it’s a good principle for life! Nothing is perfect, and trying to achieve perfection at a wedding is a fool’s errand. This bridesmaid has offered a great alternative to a solo toast and the bride should accept.
Q. Post-Relationship Sex: I recently ended a two-and-a-half year relationship with my girlfriend. It was pretty rough, probably more on her since she did not see it coming. I’m moving away soon, but meanwhile, we’re still living together. She said she would like to make the most of our time together and did not want to have her memories of our relationship tainted by a toxic last few weeks. To that end, she still wants to have sex, perhaps to celebrate what we had. I do not think it is wise because she is emotionally fragile, and I’m worried one or both of us would regret it later. On the other hand, of course I’m still attracted to her, and she has said she knows it is not wise but wants to do it anyway. We broke up almost two weeks ago, and though she still is hurting, I don’t think she’s overwhelmed by sadness anymore. Any suggestions?
A: Find a couch at a friend’s house. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve gotten letters from people who decided to have “let’s remember the good times” sex, and then nine months later got an 8-pound memento of the good times—and bad—that will keep them remembering the relationship forever. It’s over and you want out. So keep it out, and move out.
Q. Re: Too Cool for Retail?: I am stunned at the LW’s assessment of no visible ladder up in retail. I worked retail part-time while raising my kids, and I can tell you that retail is unequivocally one of the few remaining vocations where you can climb as high as you want, regardless of education. There are retail CEOs who started as sales associates. There are people in their 20s who have advanced to management in a good-sized store, with a dozen people reporting to them. My first time in retail, I was a store manager with a staff of 10 within six months. All that is required is a desire to succeed and the willingness to work hard to do so. There is no glass ceiling, nor other impediment, if it is an even halfway decent company. If there really is no chance of advancement, change companies!
A: Thank you for this. It is good to hear that this is an industry where industry is recognized. Yes, I know that not every good worker is so rewarded, but indeed it is true that at many retail companies there is a clear path upward. I agree if this excellent employee is totally stymied, she should take her skills elsewhere.
Q. Re: Too Cool for Retail: When you are young, staying in retail seems like a great idea. My 57-year-old mother spent her whole life working retail, and now can’t find anything else. She is on her feet all day, and it has taken a toll on her. There is no problem staying in retail for now, but make sure you don’t trap yourself.
A: And this is the downside. But this young woman who loves her job, and can see making a career in retail, should take steps to make it the most satisfying career possible. And if it turns out what she loves is being on the floor and selling, she should be at a place that rewards such enterprise.
Q. He’s a Horrible Communicator: My boyfriend is, in most ways, great. He makes me feel beautiful and is fun and funny and makes time for me. His texting skills, however, are about as bad as they get. When we first started dating, he would send me random messages throughout the day. Now, I’m lucky if he even responds to mine. It takes him five-plus hours to respond to my texts, and sometimes he doesn’t respond at all. I’ve addressed this lightly with him, but I don’t think he realizes how much it bothers me. I really struggle with a lack of communication in all relationships, whether they be romantic or platonic. But with him, it’s especially painful. Should I let it go and realize this is my own problem? Or should I address more seriously how much this hurts me?
A: I have the feeling that he’s a horrible undercommunicator because you’re a horrible overcommunicator. For insecure people like you, the technological revolution that allows being in touch is not a godsend, but source of grief to your nearest and dearest. When you mention that you don’t hear from him during the day, I’m assuming it’s because he’s at work. I realize there are people with jobs who still devote a lot of time to random, trivial communication not related to the tasks they are hired to do. But maybe your boyfriend has discovered that if he responds to one of your useless texts, that will open an all-day barrage. You should definitely address this problem more seriously but not with your boyfriend. If you can’t curb yourself, seek professional help.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.