Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Danny Lavery: Good afternoon, everyone. Let’s chat!
Q. Am I raising a May queen? I am a horror fan. I also have a 7-month-old daughter, who often sits in my lap while I watch horror movies. At what age can she comprehend what she is seeing, and when should I stop watching horror films and gory content in her presence? I don’t want her to grow up thinking it’s normal to capture men in bear suits … or do I?
A: Parents of young children, please feel free to chime in! My totally nonprofessional guess would be sometime between the first and second years, or whatever age toddlers start wanting to watch TV and movies. But doctors and child care professionals have a pretty good sense of the stages of childhood development, so I think there’s probably a pretty straightforward answer here. (And you want her to be able to choose when she wants to watch scary stuff when she’s a lot older, if only because you don’t want to have to deal with nightmares that wake you both up at midnight.)
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Q. Does Jillian Michaels win if I lose weight? I am fat. Despite this, I’m in mostly good health (just a little joint and muscle pain), and for the first time since I was young, I love my body! I’ve always been a big woman—now I’m just a little bigger. I’ve been joining some fat-positive and fat-liberation movements, because, you know, we deserve to have rights and be a part of life! But lately, my foot has been hurting, and even though I am on good terms with my body, I’m noticing certain physical pains that I don’t remember having when I weighed even just 100 pounds less. I think I would like to start trying to lose weight again (just without the fad diets, while exercising reasonably), just until I get comfortable.
Only … Jillian Michaels recently said some fatphobic thing about the singer Lizzo, and it puts into perspective again how vile people can be to fat people and still get away with it. (After all, The Biggest Loser is back AGAIN.) Am I betraying a worthy cause by losing weight? I love my fat self, but I want to be comfortable again. I know my body is my own, and I can be fat-positive as a fat person or as a thin person. I’m not even talking about getting thin, just losing some weight, but I feel like a fraud for even thinking about it. Should I stop following my fat-positive peers and take a step back while I’m losing weight? Am I a fraud?
A: It’s a difficult position to feel yourself to be in, I think, when you hold yourself responsible for the awful things so many people say about fat people, as if you can personally either stem that tide by remaining at some particular weight forever or betray the cause and let down fat people everywhere by pursuing a moderate diet-and-exercise routine. I’d encourage you to talk to your doctor, if you haven’t already (while also realizing plenty of doctors de-prioritize their fat patients’ health concerns), to find out what other short- and medium-term options you have for treating your joint pain so you’re not just grimacing and bearing the pain right now. Even if you do lose weight, if you’re pursuing a safe and non-crash diet, you’re unlikely to lose 100 pounds in less than a year—you deserve to seek out effective pain management strategies in the meantime. That is, I think, the key aspect of fat positivity you should apply here: not that you owe it to anyone else to stay a particular size, but that regardless of your size, and regardless of the pace of any weight loss or gain you may experience over the course of a lifetime, you deserve an opportunity to treat your pain, seek medical attention, and be met with respect. (There may be other factors at play that don’t have anything to do with your weight, and it will be important to investigate all the possibilities so you don’t overlook an important cause of your pain.) That doesn’t mean you have to abandon the goals of fat liberation or stop following the work of fat-positive people; if nothing else, I hope you can stop putting so much pressure on yourself to embody either perfect self-acceptance on the one hand or idealized quick-but-moderate weight loss on the other.
Q. Move in: My daughter is getting a divorce. She has been making noises about moving in with me. I have a small condo. I love my daughter and my grandson but I know that if they move in, they will never move out. I will be raising my grandson until he graduates. My daughter has always taken the easy road. She always had to be bribed to do her chores. She quit every sport or activity she tried as soon as it got hard. She quit college to marry a rich man (whom my husband and I never liked) and be a stay-at-home mom. She needed a nanny to accomplish this. I love her, but I know her. I still have the dog she got rid of in college because it was too much of a “hassle.” I lost my husband last year after a long illness. I am burned out on being a caretaker. How do I talk with my daughter and support her while keeping her from returning to the nest?
A: Don’t let her move in with you. The good news is that she cannot move in with you against your will. If she “makes noise” about wanting to move in with you, tell her clearly that won’t be possible and that she’ll need to make other arrangements. If you’re worried about your own resolve, ask some of your friends for solidarity and support; if she tries to manipulate you or threaten you by claiming that you’re hurting your grandson, have an exit strategy so you can end the conversation. If you have a history of giving in to your daughter against your own better judgment because she’s good at wearing you down, practice walking away from conversations that have become endlessly repetitive or unproductive. Become more comfortable with your daughter’s discomfort.
It may also help to think through ways you are willing to offer your support to her, whether through helping her update her résumé, offering child care while she’s meeting with her divorce lawyer, finding support groups for single parents, etc. None of these involve saying, “Come on home—stay forever.” You don’t have to choose between either letting her walk all over you or consigning her to a lifetime apart. There are plenty of options in between.
Q. My friend gave me a painting: A few weeks ago, I went to hang out with a friend of mine and we had dinner and chatted for most of the evening. While at their house, I noticed that they’d been working on a painting of two cats dressed up in military regalia (akin to one of those joke Renaissance-style pet paintings that you can buy online). They were making this painting for another friend, and I politely complimented their work before moving the conversation elsewhere.
Yesterday, out of the blue, I received a photo from this friend of a brand-new canvas with a painting of my own cat wearing Kylo Ren’s costume from Star Wars with a First Order symbol in the background. Prudie, I hate this painting. I hate that it’s my cat. I hate that it’s the First Order, the Star Wars analogue to Nazis. I hate that in the near future this painting will be in my possession. I hate everything about it. I wish I had never seen it.
I have absolutely no idea where this friend would have thought that this was a gift I wanted, since my compliment of their first painting was strictly along the lines of: “It looks nice. I bet your other friend will like it.” I am positive that I did not express a desire for a painting for myself, let alone one of my own cat. Since this friend has revealed themselves to be the kind of person to personally paint a custom Renaissance-style cat portrait and gift it to me at the mildest hint of polite interest, I’m worried that they are also the type of person to comment if I don’t hang the painting where they can see it the next time they visit.
What do I do? I would rather quit my job and move across the country and assume a new identity than hang this painting anywhere in my house, let alone in my living room or a common area. I equally dread the idea of having this friend confront me about not hanging up the painting.
A: I don’t know why you would wait for your friend to “confront” you about not hanging up this painting when you could just say this: “I appreciate that you thought of me, but I’m really not comfortable having my cat drawn in a First Order uniform, even as a joke. I’m not able to accept this.” Nip this in the bud. You have every right to object to a painting you did not solicit, and your friend needs to be able to accept that with good grace.
Q. He wants our sex tape, but he just had a baby with another woman: Several years ago, my friend with benefits of three years ended our “with benefits” because he was starting to get serious with someone else. We kept in touch nominally over the past two years, always at his initiation over Instagram DM, but we have not physically seen each other. Around the holidays, his now-fiancé sent me a note asking, essentially, if I was the other woman. I told her the truth of our past relationship but that I took any conversation since as his attempt to be casual friends only. Yesterday, he reached out again, asking me to send him the sex tape we made. Something felt off. I did some snooping on his fiancé’s Instagram, and it turns out they just had a baby (and are very much still together). I told him off, we’ve not spoken since, and I have no desire to speak to him again. But do I owe it to the fiancé to let her know? I’m inclined not to say anything, but what sort of social contract is there about this? For what it’s worth, neither of them is in my social circle and I live in a major city where we’ll likely never run into each other.
A: Keep the video, block him on Instagram, and wash your hands of this almost-certainly-doomed relationship.
Q. In the locker room: I am a trans man. I love to swim, but I quit for a few years because men’s locker rooms don’t have private areas and I couldn’t figure out how to shower and dress comfortably. Recently, I joined a YMCA because they have “family changing rooms”—private, with a shower, bench, and bathroom. Perfect! Problem: I get “looks” and attitude from families with little kids while we all wait for our turn to get into one of the six private rooms—they fill up when it’s busy. They are all wondering what this guy is doing, standing there waiting. Do I say something to management? Maybe they could designate these rooms “family/gender neutral”? I would have to “come out” as trans, which isn’t a problem per se—I am an activist in other contexts. Or should I just go to the men’s room and let it all (not) hang out since it’s 2020? I need the exercise and don’t want to stop swimming. What’s your advice?
A: Certainly I think asking management to designate one of the changing rooms as “family/gender neutral” is a good option. I’ve seen that exact phrase at a number of airports, so I know it’s not without precedent. In the meantime, if you want to use the men’s room, I think you absolutely can. Without making too broad a generalization, usually everyone in a men’s changing room is trying to get in and out pretty quickly without making eye contact with anyone else. But you’ve mentioned that you’ve found it uncomfortable in the past, so don’t feel like you have to just because you’ve gotten a few quizzical looks from busy parents. It’s a shared space, with a lot of competing interests; you’re entitled to change in private, and if a handful of strangers want to wonder why you’re waiting, let them wonder.
Q. Can I ask guys to not text me boring, everyday stuff? I just recently got back on dating apps after nearly seven years. I haven’t been in a relationship for 10 years. I’m at a bit of a crossroads in my life and might be moving in the next six months, so I’m not looking for anything too serious. Ideally, I’d like something casual but monogamous. The one thing I’ve realized I absolutely hate in relationships is banal chitchat. With the advent of the phone, this makes banal texting very common. So far I’ve met some people online who seem to like regular chitchat. I know some girls would kill for a guy who messages them every day to ask how they are and what they did, but I just hate it. Is it OK to ask guys not to text me unless it’s something really practical or really interesting? Is that the right way to phrase it? I don’t want to come off high-maintenance (although I’m starting to think that maybe I am). I just want a really easy relationship to transition back into the dating world.
A: I wish I could promise you a really easy relationship with regard to transitioning back into dating! But I think it’s the kind of thing where you can either choose to communicate your (possibly) high-maintenance needs clearly and upfront to potential dates, or have a really laid-back, low-processing early dating phase—but probably not both. You can most easily, I think, put something in your profile (or mention it really early into messaging if your apps don’t include lengthy profiles) that you really dislike small talk and prefer to save text for arranging your next dates. But you will have to put up with at least a little bit of “I saw something that made me think of you” or “I had a crazy day at work today” if your dates find the occasional bout of small talk meaningful or helpful when it comes to building trust and intimacy. So you can certainly cut down on a lot of it, I think, but you can’t adopt a 100 percent no-small-talk across-the-board policy because there are more interests than just yours at play.
That said, maybe you do want to take a really hard line and just hold out for the guys who are totally thrilled not to text about banal stuff in between dates. If you’re cool with cutting a lot of chaff over this, you can absolutely hold the line here.
Q. Re: Am I raising a May queen? Studies are all over the map on this one. I’ve opted to avoid it for my kids. Honestly, I don’t think it matters until they start asking, around ages 2 to 3, at which point I’d learn to start loving Paw Patrol.
A: Thanks so much for this. The answers I’ve received from readers are also all over the map! One reader wrote that “kids can be affected by content when they’re 6 months old.” Someone else said no screens for the first three years of the kid’s life is the best way to go. Another advised the letter writer to ask their pediatrician, which is probably the best route to take here.
Q. Re: Am I raising a May queen? I don’t know the psychology of when a child can comprehend what they’re seeing, but from working with kids in libraries, I have observed that kids younger than about 7 to 8 retain and regurgitate information in a truly chaotic manner. Kids always pick up on more than you think they do, whether something is from a movie or from a grown-up discussion you thought they wouldn’t understand. Even if your kid turns out to be a huge horror buff and can handle anything, if you’re concerned about her spouting scary or inappropriate factoids about her favorite movies and scenes to other kiddos (or judgy adults), you might find that a child 6 and younger has a hard time grasping what is “OK” to share, when it is “OK” to do so, and with whom it is “OK” to share it.
A: I think that’s a good point. Kids are sometimes naturally drawn to the bloodthirsty and macabre in ways adults really don’t need to encourage. The other day a friend of mine’s 3-year-old staged a puppet show that included the line “Drink the queen’s sweet blood,” and that kid doesn’t even watch TV, so …
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Q. My husband retired young and does nothing but goof off all day: My husband achieved professional success and wealth early in life. His work involved long hours and lots of stress, and by his 30s he decided that he wanted out. His accumulated wealth could easily support our lifestyle indefinitely, so he retired about 18 months ago, shortly after the birth of our first child. He has not found anything to do in that time! We have an excellent nanny 40 hours a week, and outside those hours my husband is an extremely involved father. We split the domestic duties roughly 50-50, as before, but now I am the only one working and he says he shouldn’t be “penalized” by having extra domestic responsibilities. So he spends the week dicking around (gym, squash, books, movies, etc.). It’s making me crazy with resentment, especially when I come home from a hard day at work. He tells me I should just quit if I don’t like it, and that I shouldn’t worry about being dependent because he’s set up a trust fund for me and our son. But I also think it sets a bad example for our son to see a father who doesn’t have some productive purpose in life. My husband disagrees and says he will be “an excellent corrective to the productionist propaganda schools inflict on kids to make them the unquestioning worker bees the economy demands.” He says he doesn’t care if our son grows up to work hard and that work is a lamentable necessity and it is only “false consciousness” to think otherwise. I’m tired of this devolving into a sociological debate! How can we resolve this? Read what Prudie had to say.