Danny is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Is bragging about DNA results racist? My husband and his friend were recently bragging about their 23andMe results. They are both Caucasian. They mentioned several times, and were pretty smug about, the fact that they don’t have “any black in them.” I was speechless. I felt like my husband was a stranger after 22 years (17 married). I am Puerto Rican. Our son and half of my family are obviously of African descent. I may be overreacting, but it felt like a betrayal. I mentioned it to him later and he said I was overreacting. But I can’t forget about this conversation. This was six months ago and every time I think about the comment, it makes me upset. I have not mentioned it again, but I feel like I must. Am I crazy to be so worried about this?
A: Yes, it’s incredibly racist. Your husband and his friend were being incredibly racist. He said you were overreacting when you brought it up because he was defensive about his racism and wanted to make you feel bad for noticing it. Your husband, after nearly two decades of marriage, suddenly spent an entire conversation crowing about not being black, rejoicing in his shared whiteness with another man in front of you, then insisted you were the problem for noticing his racism. Of course you can’t stop thinking about it; of course it makes you upset. I encourage you to mention this again not only to him but to your friends and family so they can better support you as you figure out what you want to do next. Stay worried! This is worth being worried about.
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Q. Reasonable accommodations: I have an almost–2-year-old toddler and am beginning to think about trying for another child later this year. I am a high school teacher, and with the first baby, it was a struggle dealing with work and the fact that I was pumping. When I got pregnant the first time, I essentially begged the assistant principal who makes the schedule to give me the same free period on our block schedule, which allowed me to pump at the same time every day. She has since retired, and I’m already cringing at requesting this of any of our male assistant principals. Second, I have the ability to lock my classroom, which I did whenever I pumped before, but there are a number of people who have keys to my classroom who just use it without knocking. I happen to teach in a trailer behind the school that sometimes deals with A/C issues, so mechanics from the county just show up with zero notice. Not even our reception staff would know in advance. This is in addition to the rotating custodians who clean after school. I had one nice custodian who, after I told him I would be pumping for 30 minutes right after the bell, would wait to come in. None of the others “remembered” and I was regularly walked in on. My male department chair offered me his office to pump when I told him, and the idea of that truly skeeves me out. I want to do things better this time and not have pumping be such an added stressor. It boils down to the fact that everyone I need to talk to is male, and with an old and falling-apart school, we don’t truly have accommodations for nursing moms. What can I reasonably expect?
A: With the standard disclaimer that I’m not a lawyer and you should supplement this with your own research, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, you’re entitled to “a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk … and a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk”—meaning you don’t have to accept your own classroom as a pumping station, given that so many other employees have keys and regularly enter without knocking. Beyond that, I think it’s totally appropriate to say you’re not comfortable using your department chair’s office and pushing for a better solution. The responsibility to come up with a safe, reliably private, reasonably comfortable space for pumping is your employer’s, and you’re legally entitled to demand it. I wish there were something I could do about the fact that apparently everyone senior to you is a man, but this is the best I’ve got for now.
Q. Do I really have to come over? Over the past few years, I have tried dating a few men who seemed genuinely interested in me, but I always end up with the same dilemma. After we text for a few days, I like to meet them to talk in person and get to know them. It doesn’t have to be a big dinner event; coffee or a drink will do. I just want to see them in person. After two dates, they never want to meet again—they just want me to come over. I am not comfortable going to a man’s house I don’t really know. If I don’t come over, they never want to go out again. The last man I met only wanted to come over (to my house) and wouldn’t even commit to meeting me at a coffeehouse to talk in person. I’m in my early 60s but this isn’t my first dating experience. Is this the way things are now? I don’t think you can really get to know someone sitting on the couch (or otherwise). Going out and doing things is how you see their real self in public with you. It doesn’t have to cost money—even a walk or a bike ride. Any suggestions on how to navigate this? I have tried to convey this thought while talking and texting but it always ends up the same way. Am I looking at this the wrong way?
A: I mean, I do think you can get to know someone from sitting on a couch together and talking or having sex with them. Nor do I think there’s necessarily anything inauthentic about the self a person presents in their home! So I’d encourage you to at least be open to the possibility that people are still “themselves” if they want to have a third date cooking dinner together at home. But it certainly strikes me as reasonable to remain a little cautious on a third date and to insist on getting together in public because you’re not yet ready for the kind of emotional and physical intimacy that comes with going home together. If these guys are completely dismissing you just because you’re not interested in hooking up on the third date, I think that’s a sign these are not the guys for you.
Q. Haven’t met the BF’s family or friends: My boyfriend and I have been dating for seven months now and have hit some milestones like saying “I love you,” vacationing together, and working through our first fight. He’s met my family and some friends. However, I have met almost no one in his life outside of our mutual friends, except for one friend of his. For a little bit of background, before we started dating, he had recently finalized his divorce (no kids) and I don’t really know what his family’s opinions were of his divorce or ex-wife. He recently brought up the idea of moving in with him, but I guess I’m questioning the seriousness of our relationship since he hasn’t shown any interest in introducing me to anyone. Is it weird that he hasn’t introduced me to anyone yet given the circumstances? Am I overthinking this?
A: “I’d be happy to talk about the possibility of moving in together! [Assuming that’s true—I know seven months is a little early to move in together, although I’m hardly one to talk.] I think there are a few steps in between here and cohabiting that I’d like to take first. I’d love to meet your family and other friends, for example. Does that feel like something you’re ready for? Do you have any concerns or fears on that front you’d like to discuss first? I don’t know much about how that divorce affected you or your relationship with your family, and I’d love to talk about it if you’re up for it.” I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing not to have introduced a new partner to your family after seven months, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable to want to meet your partner’s family and friends before you agree to live together.
Q. Online life, offline woes: When I graduated college, I deeply missed having a readily accessible network of friends and acquaintances. In part as a reaction to this, I’ve lived a very online life since then. I have significant followings on several social media platforms. I’ve planned trips and vacations around when I can get the best pictures. Lately, I’ve even sensed that I’m oversharing, mostly in a bid to get social media attention. (I come to regret the oversharing a few days or weeks later.) I hate this aspect of myself. I’ve decided I want to “detox” from living for, and through, social media. But I’ve gotten so dependent on the constant attention I used to get from it. I only last a few hours, or a day at most, after having deleted everything. I’m worried that I’ll lose touch with many of the friends I live geographically far from, since much of our contact is now online. I am fully aware this is an absurd problem unique to my generation, but it doesn’t make overcoming it any easier. Am I ridiculous for having such a hard time with this? Should I just go cold turkey and find other hobbies? Is a more gradual “detox” the best option?
A: If there are specific individuals you want to stay in touch with, why not send them a DM giving them your email address, or number on Signal, or Gchat handle, so that you can stay in touch while you’re off social media? I don’t think it’s ridiculous to have a painful, complicated relationship to personal disclosures, attention from strangers, and social media at large; you’re far from alone there; I think it’s really encouraging that you’ve realized this is getting in the way of your health and happiness and you need to develop new strategies for getting your emotional needs met. I think taking a cold turkey break rather than trying to “cut back” is probably the best way to start; it will be easier to develop a more moderate relationship to social media once you have a few weeks or months of abstinence under your belt. Anticipate that you will feel anxious, agitated, lonely, bored, and frustrated as a matter of course at first. Social media has been serving as your primary source of affirmation and social interactions for a long time and establishing a different sort of relationship to your own emotions and needs as well as to other human beings is going to take a serious adjustment. Good luck! I think this is necessary and worthwhile work, and I hope it serves you well. If you ever find yourself ready to return to social media in the future I hope you’re able to do so in a way that feels sane, healthy, and manageable.
Q. Low-stakes craft etiquette: I know this isn’t the most pressing question in life, but it’s been tripping me up lately. Various friends, co-workers, and acquaintances have started doing crafting meetups. I know it’s just an excuse to socialize and catch up in a friendly non-alcohol context, and I appreciate it! We’ll meet up in a cafe, or somebody’s home, or a community space, and we’ll chat and do our crafting. I like having artistic friends! My problem is that my crafts are big and messy. I do a lot of cutting, measuring, gluing, sewing, and waiting. I don’t want to bring pots of glue and a fabric cutter to a cafe (or house or library)! Everybody else seems to have nice, portable hobbies. Is it OK to go just to socialize, or do I need to take up cross-stitch?
A: If it’s just an excuse to get together without alcohol, it might make sense to have a low-stakes “social craft” that doesn’t require a lot in the way of supplies so you don’t have to haul a backpack full of specialized glue sticks across town—I don’t know how hard it is to learn to cross-stitch, so I don’t want to suggest that as your fallback in case that means signing you up for months of extremely challenging work. Maybe you can ask one of your tidy-crafting friends to teach you something they’re working on?
Q. Freshman -15: I’m a freshman in college, and I’ve lost some weight over the semester (nothing significant or health-threatening). I don’t think my appearance has changed that much. The issue is that for some reason, family members (cousins, grandparents) keep commenting on my weight (“Wow, have you lost weight?” “You look so skinny!” “Are you eating enough?”). It makes me uncomfortable and is making me think about my weight a lot more than ever before. I usually just laugh awkwardly or say that I haven’t noticed anything. Do you have any tips for how to respond?
A: “Yes, I’m eating enough. I don’t want to talk about my weight. Let’s talk about something else.” I’m so sorry! I wish I had a grander solution for relatives offering their perspective on the size of their young nieces and nephews and grandkids. There seems to be a real sense that commenting on bodies is appropriate with a 20-year-old, like when you see a 5-year-old after a few months and say, “Look at how tall you’re getting!”
Q. Re: Reasonable accommodations: Can the letter writer not post a sign on the door that indicates the room is in use for pumping?
A: That’s certainly an option, although I can understand if the letter writer would prefer to use a room that’s more out of the way, rather than have to advertise the fact that she’s pumping in an already less than ideally supportive environment. I’d only recommend that as a last resort, I think, after all other possibilities had fallen through.
Q. Re: Reasonable accommodations: Oh, God, pumping in a school is a nightmare. Things that may help: reducing the number of keys to your room (does everyone need a key?), putting a “Do Not Disturb” sign over the lock or handle (laminate it) as it provides another barrier for the types who just walk into your room to remind them to slow down, and getting those drop-down curtains on a roll to place over the door. Drop them during pumping times so that whoever barges in has to figure it out and you get time to yell at them to get the heck out of there.
Listen, your male admin will probably be the exact opposite of helpful, but if you’re in a union, you can get the union involved too. They will tell you there is no room or that you’ll have to use the department chair office or other such nonsense, but there are hidey-holes all over the school. Wishing you strength and luck on this one, and congrats on the new babe! (Also, it’s much easier to pump in your room, mainly so you can do other stuff while you pump, and carrying equipment through the halls is annoying and embarrassing. Be prepared to push back against those who oppose you.)
A: A “Do Not Disturb” sign might feel less daunting than “Stay Out, I’m Pumping.” Obviously there’s nothing shameful or embarrassing about pumping, but part of the problem with seeking support about pumping is that sometimes other people respond inappropriately or awkwardly when they know that’s what you’re doing. Thanks for this!
Q. Re: Low-stakes craft etiquette: I recently tried to start something similar as motivation to work on my crafts. I personally would not mind if someone I got together with didn’t work on something every time, as long as the setting kept me accountable for my own work, so I think there is hope that these friends wouldn’t bat an eye. If you’re concerned, though, and it’s applicable, maybe use this time to plan or sketch out ideas for your big and messy craft?
A: Right. I don’t think anyone’s going to be upset if you show up empty-handed once in a while. And I like the idea of using the time spent together in public for sketching and planning so you can keep all your materials and mess at home. Thanks!
Q. Re: Reasonable accommodations: A great resource is askjan.org, the Job Accommodation Network. It was very helpful for me when I needed to ask for an accommodation for PTSD. From the website: “The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is the leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues.”
A: Thanks for suggesting it. I do hope that the school administration proves more helpful and organized and has a less slapdash response than last time, but I think it’s wise to prepare to have to do a lot of the work yourself just in case.
Danny M. Lavery: Thanks for your help, everyone. Good luck taking up the cross-stitch, if that’s in your future.
From Care and Feeding
Q. My wife drinks too much in front of the kids: Several incidents in the past year have me wondering if I have a future with my wife. Last summer we went to a village festival with friends and took our kids along. My wife had too much to drink and ended up sloppy drunk and puking on the train while our kids looked on. This past weekend she took our daughter into the city for an afternoon of shopping and sightseeing. Her friends invited them to a café for drinks. Five hours later they get home and my wife has peed in her pants during the trip home. She could hardly talk and walk. My daughter was freaking out. My anger and disappointment were obvious. Read more and see what Carvell Wallace had to say.
Danny M. Lavery’s new book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You, is out now.
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