Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we will be diving into the Dear Prudie archives and sharing a selection of classic letters with our readers.
I have been happily married for 22 years and we have two children. Almost every day (barring sickness and/or camping trips) I have risen, showered, shaved my legs, and spent nearly an hour putting on makeup and fixing my hair. I’m tired of it, so I recently stopped doing it on Sundays. Mind you, I don’t look like a total slob, I just put on moisturizer, put my hair up in a pony tail and wear track suits or other casual clothing. I still think I look better than half the women I encounter out and about in public, but my husband is having a fit about my grooming-free Sundays. He is worried that this is the beginning of a “downward spiral” for me into a messy, slobby woman with permanent razor stubble. He points out that he still showers every day (true—and it takes him 15 minutes from start to finish) and that, while he doesn’t shave on weekends, I’ve told him that his stubble is sexy (it is) but he finds nothing sexy about my new look. I have no intention of stopping doing all of the stuff I’ve usually done the other six days a week, I’m just tired of wasting all that time on it when we historically do nothing more than a little yard work or possibly a trip to the grocery store. I think he’s being ridiculous and his nagging about it is really getting on my nerves. He says it’s not fair of me to change things in the middle of the game like this. I say it’s not fair of him to expect me to tart myself all up every. single. day. Who is right here?
Thanks for this reminder that it’s time for me to do my seasonal winter leg shave. Your husband is being a jerk, but I am baffled by your morning toilette. If you’re washing and styling your hair every day, then stop. Unless your head is an oil derrick, you should be able to go several days between shampoos and you need a hairstyle that only requires brushing in the morning. As for your makeup routine, you need to have a casual look that takes you 10 minutes, max. If you don’t know how to do that, go to a department store makeup counter and get a lesson. And as far as your husband is concerned, I love the notion that it’s not fair for people to “change in the middle of the game.” Buddy, change is what the game is all about. I assume you take off your makeup when you go to bed so he’s not in shock at seeing you bare-faced. I also assume that you are an autonomous person who can decide how gussied up she wants to get to rake leaves. Tell him you have noted his concern but makeup-free Sundays are not the slippery slope to bag lady, as he can see when you do your entire beauty routine every Monday. Say that if he finds your unadorned appearance so disturbing, you will accept that there will be no connubial bliss on Sunday night because of his difficulty coping with what you actually look like. —Emily Yoffe
From: Help! My Husband Won’t Let Me Go a Day Without Makeup. (Jan. 21, 2013)
My wife and I live in a small apartment at the back of our landlords’ lot. They are a sweet, retired couple who have been very kind to us. The back door of their house faces our front door, and we walk past it when we come and go. One morning we decided to take our dog on a quick walk before leaving for work, which we don’t normally do. When we returned, as we came around the back of the landlords’ house we caught the man with his pants down, apparently having sex with his dog. He very quickly stood up, pulled up his pants, and acted as if he was just tying his shoe or something. We said good morning and quickly scooted back into our house. My wife and I both asked what the other saw and we were in agreement that him having sex with the dog is what it was. Should we just move out quietly or stay and pretend nothing happened? Do we tell his wife? Do we confront him directly? We are afraid we could get kicked out for speaking up. But I am afraid for my wife’s safety. They live with and take care of several young grandchildren and I am afraid for their safety, too.
Yes, your landlord just screwed the pooch. The answer to what you do is contained in your letter: You are worried about the safety of your wife, his grandchildren, and presumably your dog. I think concern is justified when you’re describing someone with no sexual boundaries. What he’s done to his dog is likely illegal either under a specific bestiality statute or an animal cruelty law. This New York dog lover was sentenced to more than six years in prison for using his position as a building superintendent to repeatedly enter an apartment and violate the tenant’s Labrador puppy. As for what you should do, I spoke to Maia Christopher, executive director of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. She said often people who see sexual misconduct don’t want to believe their own eyes or don’t feel empowered to take action. (Thus is explained the life of Jerry Sandusky.) Christopher says that when shocking behavior comes from someone you know and like, it can be even harder to report, but she points out that seemingly nice people can also be sexually deviant. Christopher additionally raises the possibility that this grandfather may be showing signs of dementia. You have no evidence your landlord is harming his grandchildren—maybe his sexual attraction is limited to the four-legged—but the authorities need to investigate what’s going on in this home. So calling the police is the way to get this started. Obviously, doing so leaves you with no choice but to move out. It’s hard to imagine running into your landlord when you’re both out for an evening walk with your dogs. Surely you don’t want to find yourself saying to him, “I think Princess is looking a little peaked.” —EY
From: Help! I Caught My Landlord in a Compromising Position With His Dog. (Feb. 21, 2013)
My mom is 66 years old and has never been married or dated very much. She’s not rich and looks good for her age, but not unusually so. Last month, she told me her boyfriend was moving in with her, and this weekend I met him. Prudie, he’s my age (31), devastatingly handsome, nice, and seemingly intelligent. I’m totally baffled. My mom seems head over heels for him, and as far as I can tell, he reciprocates. I don’t even want to think about why my mom and this 30-year-old hottie are dating, but should I meddle or leave her alone? A part of me worries she’s being scammed in some elaborate way, and another part is just reeling. Advice would be much appreciated!
I understand the surprise, as it’s an awfully large age gap, but your mother is only in her mid-60s and seems to be in perfect command of her faculties—it’s a little soon to fear “elder abuse,” especially when men in their 60s appear to regularly fall prey to hot thirtysomethings without anyone worrying about their well-being. You don’t say anything aside from this man’s age or appearance (is he borrowing money? Does he treat her with respect? Is he trying to isolate her from her usual friends or hobbies?) that suggest he’s taking advantage of her. Until you have evidence to the contrary, I think you should treat your mother’s new boyfriend as just that: your mother’s new boyfriend, not some grifter with a Cocoon fixation. She’s barely reached retirement age; it’s not as if she’s about to be consigned to a nursing home. That doesn’t mean you have to embrace him uncritically—by all means, trust but verify. If he starts treating your mother in a way that suggests a potential for abuse, you should absolutely intervene, but there’s a non-zero chance that he’s just happily dating an older woman. (It happens! No need for bafflement!) —Danny M. Lavery
From: Help! My 66-Year-Old Mother Is Moving In With Her Hot 30-Year-Old Boyfriend. (June 28, 2016)
I have an honesty problem. No, I am not a compulsive liar or cheat, but there is one thing I rarely enjoy answering honestly. To reference a Slate article from the summer by L.V. Anderson, “I go to school in Boston.” Even as a college junior, I still feel uncomfortable when people ask where I go. Anderson is a proponent of being upfront and declaring my school emphatically, but in reality, that tends to not work well and often serves to alienate people or have them treat me with sudden coolness. I dislike feeling almost embarrassed about where I go, despite being incredibly proud of my hard work. How do I tell people where I study honestly but with humility?
For those of you who have no idea about what exactly the agony this letter writer is going through, let me translate: This person goes to HARVARD! That’s H-A-R-V-A-R-D! The biggest brand name in the world! My colleague L.V. Anderson set out to find out if the purported phenomenon of saying, “I go to school in Boston” and its corollary, “I go to school in Connecticut,” really exists. It does, and I know that’s true because I’ve encountered it. Over the years, I have heard from many Ivy League grads who say that when they are asked where they go or went to school and they reply, they often get a kind of huffy, “Well, you must be smart,” or an abashed, “Wow, you must be smart,” either of which makes further conversation awkward. But all you Ivy grads surely should be smart enough to figure this out for yourselves. Okay, I didn’t go to Harvard, but here’s my advice: When you’re asked, say, “Harvard.” It’s a fact. If the other person wants to get jealous or insecure, that’s their problem. In addition, once I finish the guaranteed best-seller I’ve been collecting string on for decades: “Harvard Morons” (it will have an appendix titled: “Yale Morons”), your answer should be less of a problem. —EY
From: Help! I’m Too Embarrassed to Tell People I Go to Harvard. (Oct. 7, 2014)
I work with several master’s and Ph.D. students, almost all of whom are women, during the course of my research at a large state university. My work with these students sometimes involves introducing them to new data sets or software, but it is mostly a peer relationship, as I am not a professor and these are advanced and talented students. The other day, I was pointing out a new data set to a female student and asked if she wanted me to walk her through it. (It took me a couple of hours to get my head around it.) She told me I was mansplaining and that she knew what she was doing. This was brand new, very complex data that we just received. She (nor anyone else) knew we had the data yet or had ever worked with it. I thought maybe it was my tone of voice, but I don’t think I was speaking in a condescending way. I was genuinely excited to get everyone started. I thought mansplaining was explaining things to women that they already know. I don’t want her to think I’m being a jerk (she’s genuinely one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met), but I also don’t want to never offer to help again. Am I missing something here?
If you were attempting to show a colleague a new process that you were familiar with and she wasn’t, then you have nothing to apologize for. Simply being male while offering to explain something does not mansplaining make. You did not, in fact, explain anything at all; you merely asked if you could walk her through the system, and she declined rather rudely. If she wants to struggle through the new system without help and waste her own time trying to figure things out by herself, that’s her prerogative, but you have nothing to apologize for, and there is nothing you need to amend about your approach of offering assistance when you are disposed to give it in the future. —DL
From: Help! I Was Accused of Mansplaining for Offering to Walk a Peer Through New Data. (Dec. 19, 2016)
More Dear Prudence
I’m in my early 30s, and I’ve found the man I want to marry and start a family with. He feels the same way. We still live apart for one reason: my cat. My boyfriend is extremely allergic to cats and needs a fur-free home. I’ve had my 8-year-old cat his whole life. I love him, and this breaks my heart, but I am considering finding him a new home. The problem is my guilt, as well as the reaction of my animal-loving friends. They’re all completely incredulous that I would give up my pet. They say, “But he’s like your child!” and “You made a commitment to this animal.” To complicate the situation, I spend most of my time at my boyfriend’s place, so my poor kitty has been developing some behavioral problems because he’s frequently alone. I feel horrible. What should I do?