Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we dive into the Dear Prudie archives and share a selection of classic letters with our readers. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns.
Because this is anonymous, I don’t have to pretend here that I don’t know that I have great, firm, wrinkle-free skin at almost 50. I just won the genetic lottery in that regard. The problem arises in that people often peg my age at mid- to late 30s. Great, right? Not really. Recently I found myself at a work function with younger people. One man in the group starting bemoaning being 43 and the oldest person at the table. That led to a whole funny-serious discussion about being old. I stayed silent because I’m five years older than 43, and telling people my age often leads to the “look,” which is where the other person will sort of freeze for a moment in disbelief and then change to a growing look of horror. Good lord, she’s old! I’ve found there’s a big disparity between how a person perceives and treats someone in their mid- to late 30s vs. late 40s, and it’s led to some awkward moments. I don’t think I should be saying, “Hi, I’m Mary, and just so you know, I’m 48,” when meeting people, so what do I do? Drop a Culture Club reference right away?
You’ve come to me for sympathy? Try being the person at the table who can remember hearing that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Do you really think the phrase “The horror, the horror” runs through the minds of your acquaintances and co-workers when they realize you’re not in your 30s but are in your … FORTIES! (Actually, probably not, since they’re too young to remember Apocalypse Now.) I’m assuming these young people have actually met, interacted with, and even enjoyed the company of such ancient mariners as you. Since you are blessed to look eons younger than you are, maybe you are just seeing surprised recalculation. Maybe they are wondering if they can ask you the secret to eternal youth. If you don’t feel like discussing your age then, sure, keep silent when decrepit colleagues of 43 bemoan their creaking bones. Otherwise, how often does one’s age come up at work, anyway? And be aware that women who are uncomfortable about their age, or make a fetish of never revealing it, end up seeming older than they are. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! I’m Too Hot for My Age.” (Feb. 8, 2010)
I live in a Southern state, and our home is located in a community of houses that are built pretty close together. Our neighborhood is a mix of families and young professionals. My husband and I have a 15-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. Our newish neighbor is an attractive woman in her early 30s. I don’t know her very well, but she seems perfectly nice. My issue involves the fact that she likes to lounge naked by the small pool in her yard. I found out that you can see her from our backyard deck when I caught my giggling son and his friend pointing her out. My husband and I spoke with my son about respecting someone’s privacy, that he shouldn’t make a spectacle of it, or God forbid take photos of her (I hoped to not have to say that to my kid, but in this digital age, it felt necessary to make clear). I brought it up to the neighbor in a “just so you know” way once, when I found out, and she kind of laughed and said she’d keep it in mind. But she continues to do it. And I know it’s her home, and she can lay/walk/dance naked on her property all she wants. And I don’t want to make the neighbor defensive about doing something totally legal. My husband and I aren’t even that bothered by it (although I’m sure my husband is bothered by it less), but I worry now about having people over and hanging out on the deck (like, “don’t worry—that’s just our naked neighbor, try not to peek, pass the wine”) or more importantly, I now worry if my kids have their friends over on the deck (do I have to tell their parents, like sorry, there might be a naked woman within your kid’s line of sight, but we’ll have snacks?). And if I do bring it up again, do you have any suggestions on what to say?
You’ve already mentioned it to your neighbor and she’s declined to stop lounging naked, so I don’t think there’s any reason to bring it up with her again, especially since, as you acknowledge, she’s free to do what she likes in her own yard. Your approach thus far seems fairly reasonable—generally you try not to look, and encourage everyone else in your family to do the same. If, however, you worry about making guests feel uncomfortable when they visit, consider putting up an awning or a series of deck umbrellas that block the view. It’s not as expensive as adding another six feet to your backyard fence, but it will spare you at least some of the worry that your next dinner party will be highlighted by unexpected nudity. (Expected nudity is fine.) —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! My Fiancé Stupidly Spent a Year’s Salary on an Engagement Ring.” (April 11, 2017)
My boyfriend of three years and I are in our late 20s and we recently moved into a modest house together in the same town as his parents. Prior to that move, I had my own apartment and he lived with his parents. We recently were away for the weekend and I let my boyfriend give our keys to his mother so she could hang a photo for us that she had reframed. When we returned, our entire house had been redecorated. New photos on the walls, new pillows on the couches, new kitchen items and existing kitchen stuff reorganized. Upstairs there were new pictures over the bed and new towels. All my toiletries had either been replaced or rearranged, including my medicine cabinet. My laundry had been done, with my underwear and bras folded in my drawer. My closet was rearranged. She also went through my Facebook profile and printed off some photos I had uploaded and framed and hung them. I know this seems nice, but to me it just felt invasive. I feel completely violated. I am embarrassed at some of the things she came across (she went through my bedside table and all my drawers). My boyfriend doesn’t see the problem—she’s always been like this with him and I guess he’s used to it—and it’s causing a lot of tension between us. She spent hours and tons of money, so am I being crazy, ungrateful, oversensitive?
You better check your diary. She probably annotated it with helpful hints about how her baby boy loves to have his feet rubbed, and observations that you sound snappish and oversexed. The only way any of this would make sense is if she was a producer on one of those extreme renovation reality shows. But what you’ve got is a prospective mother-in-law with no understanding of boundaries. So you need to create some. In your case I think you should go for a moat stocked with piranhas and a team of Dobermans. It’s a shame that until moving in with you, your boyfriend spent all his adult life with this prying, overbearing mother and apparently thought it was fine. He hasn’t grown up enough to understand the gross breaches she’s committed. Don’t bother asking for your keys back—surely she’s already made copies, “just in case.” Tell your boyfriend you’re getting your locks changed and that there also needs to be a change in what’s considered acceptable by his mother. If he can’t understand your point of view, then he might be happier having Mommy tuck him in at night. —E.Y.
From: “Help! My Husband Wants to Donate Sperm to His Ex-Wife.” (July 18, 2013)
I got married five years ago. It has never been a great marriage, but it’s been pretty good. I love my wife most of the time. A year ago I made a very stupid mistake. I got an email from an old girlfriend. We emailed back and forth then met. We talked over old times, kissed a few times, and decided to not meet again. My wife found out. She got mad and told me to leave, so I did. I apologized, and she took me back under a few conditions. First, I had to let her have all my passwords and agree that she could read all my email. I agreed. She also wanted counseling. I agreed to that too. She then told me that I’d have to agree to never be out of her sight unless I was at work or she knew where I was (every outing would have to be cleared with her). I said no to that but told her that if she brought it up in counseling and the counselor said it was needed I’d go with it.
I was shocked when the counselor said that was a necessary step to my wife regaining my trust, but I’d promised, so for the past few months I’ve pretty much only been to work. Everywhere else my wife came with me. I am getting tired of this requirement. I brought it up in counseling this week, and once again the counselor said I need to do this. I asked for how long, and the counselor said until my wife says she trusts me. I can’t live like this anymore, and I want to give my wife a choice: either this condition ends or the marriage does. Other than this things are going OK, and my wife is talking about starting a family. I always wanted kids, so I’d like that but not if I can’t go to the playground with a child without clearing it with my wife. Do you think there is anything to work with here?
I think you should find a new counselor. Maybe your wife will come with you, and maybe she won’t, but you should go regardless. This is not a reasonable approach to dealing with infidelity. The goal of staying together despite your mini-cheating episode should be to process what happened together, express your feelings, forgive, and eventually move on, not outfit you with a permanent tracking device and a cloud of suspicion for the foreseeable future. If your wife still doesn’t trust you a full year after your encounter with this ex-girlfriend, I don’t know that she ever will. Suggesting that the current state of affairs remains in place until she feels differently is unnecessarily subjective. Tell your wife that you’ve apologized and done your level best to regain her trust but that you won’t submit to any further punishment. If she’s not willing to consider a relationship with you that doesn’t involve constant surveillance, you have your answer. If she is willing, you two need to find a new couples counselor together, stat. —D.L.
From: “Help! My Neighbor Is Using a Family Tragedy to Break My Apartment Complex’s Pet Rules.” (Aug. 23, 2016)
More Advice From Dear Prudence
My best friend and I are in our late 20s and have known each other almost all our lives. We’re roommates and I think of him like a brother. He’s been dating a girl for a little more than a year, and he’s talking about getting her a ring. She’s always been cool to me, if also a little flirty, but I guessed that was just her personality.