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.
My long-term boyfriend has developed a habit that’s driving me nuts. Whenever he gets tired of his beard, he shaves it into a retro, ridiculous mustache or sideburns. The first few times he did it, I thought it was funny—until I realized I would be living with “the Tom Selleck” or “the Elvis” for more than a few hours. Now I just cringe every time he picks up his razor. He works in a creative field where he can get away with it (and I don’t), so maybe that’s part of it, but in my opinion your mid-30s is too old for ironic facial hair, especially at formal events like weddings. He knows I hate it but continues to do it regularly. Does he need to grow up, or do I need to let it go? I don’t care if he has a beard, a mustache, or goes clean-shaven. I just don’t want to sit across from Gen. Burnside at dinner!
There’s always a balance to be struck between making a reasonable request (like “Please don’t wear a handlebar mustache to Florin’s wedding”) and acknowledging your boyfriend’s right to style his facial hair as he likes it. You say he knows you hate it, but I’m not sure you two have sat down for a conscientious discussion, or if you just said, “Oh God, not the Yosemite Sam” when he last pulled out his clippers. If you haven’t yet done the former, tell him you recognize that it’s his choice and that he may get something out of that look beyond just ironic pleasure at an old-timey set of mutton chops. You might ask him to share what exactly he likes about that look, so you have a better sense of where he’s coming from. But if it’s something he only does out of boredom and whimsy, and he’s not especially attached to the looks, tell him that you vastly prefer him either bearded or clean-shaven. Once you’ve said your piece, it’s time to let it go. After that, there’s not much more you can do to make your case about his face. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! I Hate My Boyfriend’s Ridiculous Facial Hair.” (Aug. 31, 2019)
A few days ago I received a letter at work from the wife of a co-worker asking me to leave her husband alone. She wrote: “My husband, XXX, has told me all about his relationship with you and how every time he tries to break things off you find a way to hold onto him. He says he is too weak to let you go, so you must be the one to end things for the sake of our children and the sake of our marriage. He believes he loves you but I know him better than he knows himself. Please back off, I’m begging you.” The problem is I barely know her husband. We are co-workers, but are not even in the same department. I was introduced to him and his wife at a company function about six weeks ago and at that time had the only conversation I’ve ever had with him (and his wife was present). Should I ask my co-worker why he told his wife we’re having an affair? Should I respond to his wife and tell her I have no idea what she’s talking about? I have been with this company for less than a year so I hesitate to seem like I’m going to be trouble, but as the workplace is the only link between me and my co-worker, should I let HR intervene for me? I am pretty skeeved out by this whole situation. What should I do?
This sounds like the opening scene for one of those workplace sexual intrigue movies starring Michael Douglas. Let’s hope your experience doesn’t become a full-length drama. What happened is bizarre and disturbing and you should make a copy of this letter and walk it over to the desk of your supposed paramour. Don’t ask him why this would happen. Tell him you have no idea what the wife is talking about, but if this note reflects some misinformation he has conveyed to her, he needs to clarify it immediately. I’m going to guess that this guy is having an affair with someone at the office, the wife hasn’t been able to pinpoint who, and after meeting you decided you were the culprit. Alternatively, if he didn’t want her to know who his girlfriend really was, maybe he mentioned your name to get his wife off the scent—which would be idiotic, but perhaps this marriage is not based on highest-level functioning. Let’s hope the husband takes care of this and the letter is the last you hear from the wife. But if it isn’t, and you become the object of a harassment campaign, then document all of this and take it to HR. HR is where great movie plots go to die. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! My Fiancé’s Mother Doesn’t Want My Burn-Victim Father at the Wedding.” (Aug. 6, 2013)
My cousin recently married a lovely girl. My whole family loves her, and she’s always been very sweet to us. She’s intelligent and kind, but the issue is her wardrobe. She’s very pretty but refuses to wear nice clothes, instead wearing baggy, boring clothes. My whole family is fashion-conscious, and I know my cousin has suggested to her several times that she buy new clothing—to no avail. He thinks she’s self-conscious about her size. Her birthday is coming up, and my sister and I would like to take her shopping as a birthday gift to buy her some nicer clothes. My cousin thinks she might not appreciate it, but he agrees that she needs new clothes. He also suggested buying her a gift card to somewhere, although that wouldn’t solve the problem of which clothes she buys with it. We’re all eager for her to dress more nicely. Do you think that taking her clothes shopping for her birthday would still be appropriate?
C’mon, man. “We’re all eager for her to dress more nicely.” Is she tarnishing the family name by failing to meet dress code at the club? Worried she won’t get a voucher for Almack’s at the start of the next season? She’s not showing up shoeless at formal restaurants or wearing threadbare rags. She has a sort of boring style, and the rest of you keep hounding her husband to turn her into a fashion plate. If her husband has already suggested to her “several times” that she ought to change her wardrobe and she’s declined, offering to take her on a shopping spree will make it clear to her that this is a concerted family effort to force her to change her entire style to suit yours. While you might be able to get her to buy one or two things you all approve of out of embarrassment and a desire to get through an uncomfortable situation as quickly as possible, there’s no way you can enforce your style mandate on this grown woman for the rest of her life. Maybe she is self-conscious about her appearance. Maybe she genuinely can’t find stylish clothes in her size. Maybe she just likes a basic uniform. But this is not a real problem, and more importantly, it’s not your problem. Buy her something you know she will like that has absolutely nothing to do with clothes and redirect your collective family interest into a charitable cause. —D.L.
From: “Help! My Cousin’s New Wife Is So Unfashionable. Can I Take Her Shopping?” (Aug. 8, 2019)
About a month ago, I adopted a dog from the local shelter. I have always loved animals and it seemed like a good time for me. I did months of research, read Cesar Milan, looked at dozens of dogs, etc., before finding one I wanted to bring home. Well, now that she is here, I don’t like her. More accurately, I don’t like having a dog. She is sweet, smart, and well-suited to my living situation, and yet I still have a hard time getting enjoyment out of the situation. I take her for long walks, play with her, and train her, but I do it all out of necessity and not out of love. Her constant seeking of approval and attention bothers me. I do not look forward to coming home to her. Even though I thought I was prepared, she demands even more time than I expected. I don’t know what to do—I truly feel that both she and I would be happier if she were in a different home, but I hate to be a person who backs out of a commitment I made, especially when there is a life involved! I feel like a terrible person. As a former reluctant dog owner, do you have any advice?
After a month many people might be tempted to say, “Gee, this baby is a lot more work than I thought. I need some time to chill and watch TV, and she’s just crying, and pooping, and demanding food 24/7. I should have gotten a cat!” Many animal rescue agencies advise people that it could be many months before the pet owner and the pet settle into a routine. Your dog sounds pretty wonderful, and if I didn’t already have a full house (I now have two dogs and two cats) I’d be tempted to take her. This poor creature just got out of a shelter, so of course she needs attention and reassurance from you. I hope you have a dog walker come for her during the day, so that she has attention and exercise. If she’s cooped up alone all day, that might just add to her nighttime neediness.
You don’t have to love her now, you just have to take care of her. I’m sure that as you settle in with her, you will start to appreciate what a little gem of a dog you chose. I bet in six months you will write to me and say, “Guess what, at the end of the day, I can’t wait to get home and see Fifi.” But if your resentment only grows, then do this pup a favor and let the shelter know how great she is but that being a dog owner is not for you. If this dog is everything you say, she should find a new home, pronto. —E.Y.
From: “Baby shower rivalry, dog adoption regret, and suspected domestic abuse.” (March 21, 2011)
More Advice From Dear Prudence
I love my kids’ school. It’s quirky, a bit scruffy, diverse, and the teachers are great. Our kids are very happy there, and we have become friends with some of the other parents. Once a year there is a big fundraiser just for the parents. There is a bar and dancing, and it’s a fun night out. I was having a lovely time until the mother of one of my daughter’s best friends told me that she’d just had some cocaine with the mother of another of my daughter’s friends.