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.)
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Danny M. Lavery: Hi, everyone, hope you’re all doing well. Let’s talk!
Q. Skinny-dipping privacy: My husband and I were able to both take early retirement and build our dream home on several heavily wooded acres with a pool in the back. It has been a godsend and given a certain spice to our marriage. Some wine, music, and skinny-dipping in our pool is one of our favorite activities—or it was. Recently, our neighbor knocked on our door to scold us for being naked around her children! Apparently, her boys decided to trespass on our property to build a tree house and spied on us! There is no way to see anything in our backyard unless you cross the woods on our property. I was struck speechless, and when I told my husband later, he was livid. He went out, bought no trespassing signs, put them on our trees, and then destroyed the tree house. He talks about calling the police if he sees any of our neighbors on our property. I don’t know what to do. This has put a pall over what has been a joyous time for us. I don’t want a feud, but I can’t see a way out of this.
A: I must confess my first response was to be almost impressed with the boys for building an entire secret tree house without your knowledge on your own land. My second response was to shake the first response into sense: Your neighbors are ridiculous, invasive people, and you certainly ought to feud with them. Oh, don’t go out of your way to cause trouble, of course, but some people ought to be feuded with, and the kind of person who would blame you for the fact that her children built a peeping Tom factory on your property is one of them. (They have the entire internet now! You don’t have to build a tree house to watch naked people swimming! This isn’t the 1940s!) Make it clear to your neighbor that what her children did was voyeuristic, inappropriate, and illegal and that you won’t tolerate it in the future—that you’ll call the police, if necessary. Trespassing repeatedly into someone else’s house or backyard to watch them naked is creepy and invasive behavior, and your husband isn’t overreacting. He’s been violated in a place where he thought he had privacy, and so have you. That these boys’ parents think it’s your fault for being naked in your own backyard, rather than their children’s fault for building a platform from which they could regularly ogle you, is deeply disturbing.
If doing so is at all practical, put up a fence between your property and your neighbors’. Then build a huge bonfire with the remains of the tree house and dance naked around it, if you like. They’re your woods, and you get to be as naked as you want in them.
Q. Success through spandex?: I am a successful, work-from-home businesswoman who is an embarrassment to my tween daughter because I don’t look like the other moms at school. Specifically, I don’t wear Lululemon pants. She has asked me not to pick her up from school. How do I get my daughter to understand that her mom is a strong, respected, powerful woman whom she should be proud of? How do I get through to her that success isn’t defined by wearing the right brands but by having the respect of peers? Or should I just go buy myself a pair of Lululemons so she can have the respect of her peers?
A: This can’t be real. Can this be real? This can’t be real. And yet—anything that can happen … will happen. I have two suggestions: 1. Go full Auntie Mame and start picking up your daughter in ball gowns and ripped flannel and increasingly embarrassing costumes; teenagers can be painfully conservative, and this tendency ought to be gently teased right out of them. 2. Let her take the bus home. If she doesn’t like what the bus driver is wearing, she can try offering constructive criticism and see how other people welcome her input on their ensembles.
Q. Safety quandary: My husband currently manages a small retail store, where he has worked for the past few years. He started just out of college, and he’s looking to move on to something better. During his time at the store, he noticed many hazardous, unsafe, and even illegal conditions within the building (it does not follow the city’s building code for a retail space), which made life difficult for the employees. He consistently brought these issues to the higher-ups in the company, offered solutions, and asked for them to update the building, making sure they knew that not doing so was breaking the law. They have always refused to invest the money to fix these conditions.
Now that my husband is about to quit his job, he wants to contact the city’s health and safety authorities and let them know what’s going on. I’m concerned, because one of our long-term best friends also works at the store and will remain there after my husband leaves (she may even become manager). I know this is not her dream job either, but I wouldn’t want her to lose it because of the store being shut down after my husband tells the authorities. I know he will probably take my advice if I ask him not to tell, but is that the ethical thing to do?
A: Let him tell. While it’s kind of you to worry about your friend’s future employment, consider also the possibility of her falling down a series of nuclear waste–ridden ladders or termite-filled trapdoors (I’m not sure what kind of code violations your husband has spotted, so I’m filling in the blanks) because her company would rather cut corners than preserve a reasonable employee mortality rate. The health and safety department may offer your husband’s former company a chance to get up to code before shutting it down; at any rate, don’t encourage your husband to keep silent about dangerous conditions just so your friend can keep working in them.
Q. Just an extra cup?: I work in a very small office and am close with a co-worker, and we are the only coffee drinkers. When I make coffee in the morning, I offer to make him a cup too, since it’s only marginally more effort—and I end up pouring it and bringing it to him too. It annoys me that he never offers to make the coffee or even bothers to go get it after it is made. I’ve tried offering to teach him to use the coffee machine (he declines) and only making coffee for myself (he notices but laughs it off), but then I just feel like I’m being petty and passive aggressive, since we are friends who help each other out in many ways. There are probably gender dynamics going on too, as I am a woman. What’s a noncomplicated and fair way to get caffeinated in the morning?
A: Spend exactly as much time thinking about your co-worker’s coffee as he spends thinking about yours—none. Do not try to browbeat him into offering to make you coffee because you’d prefer to have him reciprocate something he never asked you to do. The most uncomplicated solution here is to do nothing. You are creating extra and unnecessary work for yourself. Make your own coffee, and don’t worry about his; he’ll learn to use the coffee machine (or acquire coffee elsewhere) when you stop bringing him a cup full of coffee and unspoken resentments every morning.
Q. Actual attention problems: I’ve been looking into it, and I have reason to suspect that I have ADD/ADHD that went undiagnosed due to my gender. I’m a girl, and seem to have a lot of the symptoms of inattentive ADHD—at least that I can find online, which I know isn’t the best source. I’m interested in pursuing an actual diagnosis, but don’t know where to start. (And is it worth it if I don’t want to look into medication? I honestly don’t know!)
A: Since ADHD isn’t diagnosed by a single test, you’ll probably want to look for both a primary care physician who can perform a basic physical that rules out other possible causes, as well as a psychologist who can make a diagnosis after examining your family history and evaluating the length and severity of your symptoms. If you’re adamantly against considering medication as a treatment, find a doctor who prioritizes cognitive behavioral therapy/psychotherapy for symptom management, dealing with stressors, improving time management, and other coping skills. Look for a doctor who’s aware of how differently ADD/ADHD can manifest in women and girls and takes a holistic approach to treatment. Clarity is always better than uncertainty, and action is almost always better than inaction; seeing a doctor and exploring your options, even if you decide not to pursue them immediately, is a definite improvement over looking up your symptoms on the internet and leaving it at that.
Q. How to break up a long-distance relationship?: What is the most sensitive, healthy way to break up a long-distance relationship? I’ve been with my boyfriend for more than a year. He lives about three hours away, and we see each other one or two weekends per month. I have decided I don’t want the relationship to continue (nothing dramatic—I just don’t think it’s sustainable anymore). How do I tell him this? Is it cruel to wait until he’s visiting? We both deserve to have this conversation face to face. Should it be when I’m visiting him (which happens less often for logistical reasons)? What’s the standard protocol?
A: I give you permission to end this over the phone. If you’ve seen each other on average of twice a month, you’ve been on roughly 25 dates, and that’s just below the Mandatory In-Person Cutoff that I have just made up. A face-to-face conversation is preferable to a talk on the phone, but it’s not realistic in this instance, as you’re not likely to see each other anytime soon unless you arrange a visit. Don’t drive all the way up to see him just to break up, and don’t make him commute to his own Getting Dumped Ceremony. Do it over the phone—be kind, be honest, apologize that it had to happen over the phone, but remember that logistics trump niceties in certain situations.
Q. Twitter relationship: Every time I get on Twitter, I plan on reading updates and news, but eventually I’m always led to tweet at someone famous or noteworthy. This leads to waiting for some type of response and ultimately being frustrated when I get zero responses. I understand that people can’t answer every single message, but at least try to acknowledge it. Should I just refrain from sending messages and questions? Am I just being too sensitive? I just wish people would have the common decency to reply if they are putting themselves into the social media realm.
A: Do you truly think that being on Twitter means every person should acknowledge every single message he or she receives from strangers? What an odd idea. Do your best to disabuse yourself of this misguided notion. Just because you’ve started talking to someone you don’t know—online or in person or via carrier pigeon—doesn’t mean you’re in a conversation. Having a mailbox doesn’t impel a public figure to respond to every piece of junk mail he or she receives, and being on social media doesn’t mean that same public figure is personally responsible for addressing every question or comment that gets thrown his or her way. Relieve yourself of this outrageous expectation, and stop @ing famous people who don’t know you if it’s going to get you all steamed up when they continue living their lives without you in it.