Dear Prudence

The Right to Bare Arms

Prudie counsels a woman whose bridesmaids are refusing to wear long-sleeved dresses.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg

Sam Breach

Mallory Ortberg, 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

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Q. Wedding bell blues: My fiancé and I are paying for our wedding in its entirety. I had the (apparently ridiculous) notion that this would allow us control over things, but I’m already running into trouble. I recently treated my attendants to lunch followed by a trip to the bridal shop. They were excited about seeing my gown and looking at some for them. They were shocked (appalled might be a better word) to see that my gown has sleeves. They were even more appalled (horrified) when I told them theirs would also have sleeves. The fact is, I hate today’s wedding styles. It’s just too much skin. The fighting continued as we looked at bridesmaid gowns. I picked one with sleeves; they wanted one with spaghetti straps. I finally offered what I thought was a reasonable compromise: I’ll buy the dress they want and have made, at my expense, short bolero jackets which will cover their shoulders and upper arms but not detract from the dress. I would like them to wear the jackets for their walk down the aisle and all the formal pictures. Once the reception starts, they can take them off and throw them in the trash as far as I’m concerned. They are still complaining, and I’m ready to fire them all and elope. I told them it was either the gown with sleeves or the jackets, and they are all angry with me and making snide comments about “Bridezilla.” Am I out of line, or should they be willing to compromise? Have I mentioned I’m paying for everything?

A: This does not seem like the optimal use of your collective time and resources! What you’re asking (and offering) doesn’t sound unduly burdensome, but at this point you have to ask yourself how important sleeves are to you and what exactly you are willing to sacrifice in order to get the sleeves you want. What would be the worst possible outcome for you? What would be the best? What are the possible compromises that lie between? Only you can decide how much of a battle you’re willing to wage over this. One might hope that, if these are truly close friends of yours, and you have not been making a series of unreasonable requests, you could now say, “I know these might not be your favorite style, but it’s important to me and I’m willing to cover the cost so none of you have to pay for the jackets or dresses—would you be willing to wear them during the ceremony and photos?” This might be received better than “You can wear the jackets or you can get the hell out of my wedding party.”

At this point, it sounds like your bridesmaids are leaning toward (begrudgingly) accepting your sleeves gambit, but I don’t imagine that an aggrieved, resentful, shoulder-covered bridal party is what you want. After all, Captain Bligh felt himself to be a reasonable man, too, but I don’t know how much comfort it offered him during those 47 days on the open ocean. If the sleeves have been the only bump in an otherwise joyful road, consider letting the jackets go; if this is simply one in a series of interminable arguments and snipes, consider having a longer conversation with your friends about how you can communicate better and make decisions as a group. For their part, they should be accommodating and supportive (within reason); for your part, you should make sure you are not treating them as forced conscripts in a pageant. On the bright side: You are learning, perhaps earlier than most, that money offers only the illusion of control.

Q. Dumped by my friend: Earlier this year, I ended a casual relationship with a guy because he was interested in more of a commitment than I was. It was awkward at first, but we’ve remained really good friends since and have now been just friends for longer than we dated. A little over a month ago, he started dating someone new. Now, he’s told me that she’s uncomfortable with him continuing to be friends with me. He told another mutual friend he can’t be friends with her, either, because she’s single. He told me maybe, eventually, we could be friends and I told him it was unfair to expect me to be on retainer. I’m obviously hurt and have conveyed to him my concern that giving up one’s friends for a new partner is a pretty big sacrifice. He hasn’t changed his mind, and I respect that there’s not much else I can do about it. My question is: We run in the same friend circles and see each other frequently. That’s obviously been strained lately. Any suggestions on dealing with this snub without cutting myself off from this friend group as a whole?

A: If he’s planning on cutting every nonpartnered woman out of his social life, it sounds like your friend will be seeing a lot less of your group in the future. Since you did not initiate this friendship hiatus, I don’t think there’s anything you have to do other than be polite and say “hello” when you see him, as long as he’s not going so far as to pretend you don’t exist when you enter a room. If he’s uncomfortable in your presence, he can make alternative social arrangements.

Q. Advice on boss?: I took a job at a startup six months ago and it’s been very rocky. They replaced a team of five with one person (me) and the leadership consists only of the CEO. Today he asked me a question and I gave a suggestion. He then looked at me and, in front of the entire office, said, “That’s stupid.” He paused and called out again, “Guess what guys? I have an idea!” and used my exact suggestion. About 50 percent of the office clapped and laughed while the other half ignored him. I feigned a headache and am now “working from home.” What should I do? Call him out? Work from home until he plays nice? These sorts of incidents are happening daily and I could really use some advice.

A: I think you should look for a new job right this minute, but in the meantime I don’t think working from home in the hopes that your absence will prick your CEO’s conscience is going to be an effective strategy. There’s no leadership structure aside from this guy, and if the incident you described today is the rule rather than the exception, it sounds like working with him is impossible. You’re doing the work of five people, your boss undermines you in front of your colleagues, and you’re faking sick to avoid seeing him—things have already broken down pretty seriously, and there’s no one else in the office who’s willing and able to help change things. So the first move is to find a new job, cut this loss, and move on. Even if you’re the kind of person who hates having a six-month stint anywhere on their résumé, these things happen occasionally, and as long as your job history isn’t riddled with brief gigs, this one shouldn’t hold you back.

In the meantime, however, you can’t work from home forever (although I think you should work from home once or twice a week until you have another offer, just to give yourself a break): You two should talk. I’m not optimistic he’s going to change his behavior based on one conversation, but you have the right to draw the line somewhere, and the line needs to be openly mocking you in a companywide meeting. Tell him that while you want to work together, especially in light of the structure change of your entire team, it’s not possible for you to do your job well if he mocks your ideas in front of the whole office; that you want to welcome feedback but not mockery. Whether or not he mends his ways, you should be on the lookout for a job somewhere—maybe anywhere—else.

Q. Re: Wedding bell blues: Why should the bridesmaids throw a hissyfit about the dress at all? They don’t have to pay for it or ever wear it again. In some religious and cultural traditions, bare shoulders are not accepted at the synagogue/church/significant event. If they’re your friends, they should be accommodating for an hour.

A: I’m inclined to agree with you, but in the event that these friends aren’t willing to accommodate the bride, I wonder if it’s a waste of her time and energy to push the issue, especially if she’s outnumbered. It would be great if they could compromise! I think she should ask for the compromise (wear the jackets during the ceremony, then go sleeveless with abandon) but be prepared to drop it if she’s met with continued resistance.

Q. Ask ex to date again?: My ex and I have remained in contact since our breakup over the summer. We text close to daily and see each other about once a month. I still have feelings for her and often think about asking if she would want to start dating again. I have no clear signs that she would be interested in this (though she participates equally in starting communication and staying in touch now). We were together for a few years, and I miss her as a girlfriend. Would there be any point to bringing this up with her? I am not sure it is worth jeopardizing the current friendship. She is the one who decided to break things off, so I am not sure it makes sense for me to say anything.

A: Go for it. She’s your ex, not just a friend, so you have at least precedence on your side when it comes to bringing up romantic feelings. If she ended the relationship for a specific reason, ask yourself if anything’s changed, or if there is anything you are willing to compromise on, that might change the terms of your interactions. If she says no, you’ll have a very clear answer, and you’ll be able to decide whether or not you want to continue texting every day or scaling back on communication until you’ve moved on and find friendship easier and more comfortable. You have nothing to lose, but if you hear “no” again, you should accept that things aren’t ever going to get rekindled between the two of you.

Q. Re: Wedding bell blues: You missed the boat on this one! The bride picks the dresses. The bride has offered a compromise! She is only asking that her bridesmaids wear the jackets inside the church (and maybe for pics). I think that the bridesmaids are out of line on this one. I have been in four weddings and whether or not I approved of the dress, it is what the bride chose. It is her day—not the bridesmaids’.

A: I think your attitude is generally sensible (for that matter, so is the bride’s in question). I’m just not inclined to encourage her to go seven rounds on this, even if what she’s asking doesn’t seem unreasonable to her, unless the bridesmaids have been jerks from day one, in which case she’s got rather a different problem on her hands.

Q. Sex stuff: Are you even into this?: My partner is a pretty quiet person. This follows suit for sexual activity. I feel like I’m always checking in after the fact to see if he was into something. The answer is always “yeah that was fine.” It’s frustrating because I am communicating often about what I like and don’t like. It feels unbalanced, but when I bring it up, he says that he is very much satisfied. Questions: Is it possible he’s really “fine” with everything? Is “fine” really enough? How—can you get someone to emote more during sex?

A: There are at least two possibilities here. One is that your boyfriend is simply a nondemonstrative person during sex, and repeatedly checking in to make sure he’s having a good time after he’s assured you that he is will only make him feel resentful and surveilled. The other is that something is missing from your sex life that’s necessary for him to be more communicative, but for whatever reason he’s decided not to speak up about it. Either way, you’ve asked him about it numerous times and he’s declined to go into detail, and you can’t force any more information out of him. If he’s generally honest and trustworthy, take him at his word, accept that you’re sleeping with a nonscreamer, and ask yourself if you can be happy in the long run with someone whose general vibe in bed is “fairly chill.” If yes, great. If not, consider looking for someone else you’re more sexually compatible with. Whatever you do, don’t try to get him to become more emotive if that’s genuinely not how he operates or seek to elicit big reactions from him.

Mallory Ortberg: That’s it for this week, friends. Until next time.

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