Dear Prudence

Help! My Wife Claims I Asked the One Question You’re Never Supposed to Ask a Woman.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 2 of this week’s live chat.

Man looking off to the left confused with a question mark behind him.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by filistimlyanin/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Q. Impolite Politeness: Hello, can you help settle a mild disagreement between my wife and me? An acquaintance told us she and her boyfriend got engaged. To which, I said congratulations and asked the normal “How did it happen?” All sounded good. Then later, I said “Your families must be thrilled,” to which she said “not so much” and trailed off. I took the hint and didn’t ask any follow-up questions. Later, my wife and I talked and I told her what happened. She said it was similar to asking if a woman was pregnant (which I would never do). Who is right here? They both have great jobs and are of an “appropriate” age to be married if that helps.

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A. You’re right and your wife is wrong. You obviously touched on a sensitive topic, but you had no way of knowing. It’s not as if you said “Tell me all about the prenup” or asked, “Do you plan to lose weight before the wedding?” You made a comment about a topic that for most people would be lighthearted. Except in this case, it wasn’t. Your acquaintance let you know with her vague response, and you responded perfectly and respected her by not pushing. You can tell your wife that, yes, if the goal is to totally avoid conversations about sensitive topics, you would never ask a follow-up question about anything even remotely personal. But that would basically keep you from speaking to friends, and I assume that’s not how you want to live.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie:

• Send questions for publication here. (Questions may be edited.)

• Join the live chat Mondays at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the discussion.

Q. Comfort Over Convention: I was wondering what your take might be on leggings at the office. For good or ill, while working remotely during the pandemic, I got used to wearing comfy, stretchy pants (and sports bras instead of underwires, too). I work in a fairly creative industry without any real dress code, and when I returned to the (small) office full time, I kept on pairing my “athletic” wear with pretty, flowy tunics and blouses (long enough to cover my butt).

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No one has said anything about it to me directly until recently! But at an office happy hour, an older woman took me aside and chided me about my “revealing,” “unprofessional” pants. She has no involvement with HR or management—in fact, she’s about at my “level”—so initially I shrugged it off (I mean, people wear jeans to the office all the time). But it’s been bothering me a bit.

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For the record, I am not in a client-facing position often, and when I am, I “dress up” a bit more, I wouldn’t consider wearing leggings to a pitch meeting or brainstorming session where people outside my office would be there! They’re just really comfortable and practical for everyday wear (cheap, too, although they’re nice thick ones). Also, not that it should matter, but I am in my late 30s, relatively thin, and in pretty good shape, so I’m confident this isn’t an issue with my coworker(s?) being offended by my size. What say you? Am I out of line or is “Florence” just old-fashioned?

A. Things changed during the pandemic. Florence is honestly lucky you don’t show up in bike shorts and a sports bra. At this moment in 2022, amid a pandemic and everything else going on in the world, you have gone above and beyond by covering your butt. Don’t give her comments another thought. And forgive her—she’s probably in a bad mood because she’s uncomfortable in her stiff pants.

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Q. Do-Over: When we married we had a very small beach wedding, basically an elopement. 12 people were there. My closest friends weren’t able to join because of the distance and cost.

This isn’t the wedding I wanted to have, but it is the wedding we had. We did have a reception a couple of months after with our shared friends and extended family. However, this happened in the state we currently live in, and none of my oldest friends were able to come due to the cost of travel, kids, etc.

I’m seriously considering throwing a “wedding” for our 10-year anniversary. Today is our 7th and this has been on my mind for at least a year. Another girlfriend and I discussed it and she said the same thing. Our weddings weren’t exactly what we wanted and if given the chance we’d do it over again!

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We aren’t religious and neither of us is particularly versed in etiquette around these subjects. My questions are this: Do we call it a renewal of vows? If not, what then? What are some secular marriage ceremonies? I read your column and see people expect bridesmaids and groomsmen to do certain activities together like dancing. I am just clueless about that stuff. Neither of us has any strong familial cultural traditions either.

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A. “Renewal of vows” works perfectly. If your vows are secular, the renewal will be too. You use the invitation or website to communicate that this will be more like an actual wedding ceremony than, say, a brunch where you stand up and recite a few words. Make the invitations nice and fancy, and try language like, “We’re finally having the celebration we weren’t able to have ten years ago and we’d love for you to be there.”

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Now, I have to warn you. Weddings are touchy subjects! Second weddings are even touchier. You can do whatever you want without worrying about what anyone thinks. But if you don’t want people grumbling about being inconvenienced so that you can celebrate yet again, consider not having a bridal party (or making the experience really easy for the bridesmaids and groomsmen), making clear that you don’t need gifts, and being very understanding if people—especially the people who attended the first wedding—aren’t able to be there.

Aside from standing up and saying vows and providing people with food and drink, there’s no tradition you have to include to make it a wedding. Although speeches by loved ones are a really nice touch that could honor the decade you and your spouse have spent together.

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Q. Bring Your Own B.S.: My long-time partner “Rob” has two undiagnosed conditions: anxiety and alcoholism/alcohol misuse disorder. Both seem to run in his family, as does avoidance.

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Rob has a drink in hand from the moment he’s home until bed but rarely seems visibly drunk. He says he’s too busy for therapy. He scoffs at AA. Several times a year he gets concerned, swears off drinking, then goes back to it. This typically lasts a few days or less. During these cycles, all he talks about is how he is not drinking. I say little beyond “If you want to quit, you should” or “It’s great you made it three days.” I quit drinking on my own a few years ago and saw a therapist.

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Recently, an old friend had a serious drinking-related health issue. Rob is terrified and wants to switch to weed. It’s not legal where we live. I have a small stash of low-dose edibles that work perfectly when I’m really under a lot of stress, and use them less than monthly. I’ve suggested he talk to a therapist, maybe try one meeting, etc., instead of replacing one daily substance for another. He gets angry, defensive, and shuts that down. He has a big job and a lot of stress. But so do I.

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Now he’s pestering me to give him edibles and claiming I “refuse to help.” I’m OK sharing some but not all, especially as he’s unwilling to look at what’s under all of this. He knows guys he can get weed from but says he’ll do it later, presumably after he goes through mine. Replacing my stash will be an effort I don’t feel like undertaking and I know he won’t. Based on history, this too shall pass but if it doesn’t, what’s a good course of action?

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A. This is so, so hard but the sooner you can accept that nothing you can do will change Rob’s relationship with drinking, the happier you’ll be. Do not become his edibles source. That will only rope you in more—and raise your hopes that you can do something to change his entire personality. In fact, don’t do anything other than putting some serious thought into whether you can be happy in a relationship with Rob and all of his excuses, stress, and avoidance.

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Q. Don’t Want to Be the Ref: My husband and our teenage daughter do not get along. He has very little patience for her demeanor and her busy social life and she cannot stand his demeaning stance. The sad part is that they are both incredible human beings who are really nice to everyone around them. Their personalities together just do not mesh. I have counseled them both individually numerous times over the years but nothing has worked. I feel that their relationship has soured for life. He doted and indulged her when she was young, but lost all his patience for her when she grew up. It hurts her deeply and in turn, she lashes out. It’s a vicious cycle. I am done playing referee. College is around the corner. Can this be fixed or shall I just give up?

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A. The relationship can be fixed. But I don’t think your refereeing will do it. Use this time to nurture your relationship with your daughter. Don’t damage it by trying to coach her on how to be close to her dad. Be the mom she needs. Part of that, I think, is remembering that she and her father don’t bear equal responsibility for the distance between them. She’s a kid. She should be allowed to have a busy social life and an unpleasant teenage demeanor—both extremely normal things!—without losing her father’s love and affection. You know how you’ve been patient with her and remained close to her? If he’s such an incredible and kind human being, why hasn’t he been able to do the same? Encourage him to get over himself. If he can’t and their relationship is in fact soured for life, always be there to remind her that it wasn’t her fault.

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Q. Bro, You Stink: What’s the best way to tell someone they stink? My brother, Steve, is a lovely person who will help anyone in a crisis. The trouble is, he refuses to take care of himself.

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We recently went on a week-long family trip together. By the second day, Steve overwhelmingly stunk. He didn’t seem to notice until my father directly told him to take a shower in the evening. Throughout the trip, Steve wouldn’t shower regularly or wash his clothes unless we bugged him about it.

This isn’t a new problem. In college, he was made to sit in a different part of the church van due to odor. Steve’s in his 30s, so I would have hoped he would have figured it out by now. What’s the best way to break it to him? In the past, trying to get him to meet basic hygiene or care standards caused Steve to react like you were baselessly nagging him.

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A. You don’t have to tell Steve he stinks. Steve knows he stinks! He was told to shower this summer because he stinks. He had his own personal church van seating because he stinks! Believe me, he has it figured out. He either doesn’t care or has a larger issue that means he can’t take care of his own hygiene. If you’re going to nag him, your time would be better spent asking after his mental health. Nudging him to consider looking into whether he could get a professional diagnosis and corresponding treatment related to his mood or his ability to manage daily life. But, he’s an adult and whether he does so is his business. So if that doesn’t lead to any results, look into getting one of those little vials of essential oils that you can pop into your pocket when you’re going to spend time with your brother and sniff as needed.

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Q. Re: Impolite Politeness: How did it happen? That, more than the families being thrilled comment, is the part that oversteps. Is LW asking if it was an accident?!?

A. This is about an engagement, not a pregnancy. So I’m assuming LW is asking how the proposal happened—at a restaurant, on a hike, at sunset, at home with the dog, etc. Which seems totally appropriate to me.

Q. Re: Comfort Over Convention: It’s never OK for a non-HR or non-supervisor to comment on dress. But I disagree that leggings are fine in every office. It might be worth asking HR if there’s a policy. Also—pretty much a bummer that LW throws out some specifics about their body as proof of the appropriateness of the leggings. If it’s okay for a slender person it’s okay for a fat person.

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A. The comment about being thin and in good shape went right over my head, and you’re absolutely right. This has nothing to do with the size and shape of their body.

No, leggings aren’t fine in every office but LW isn’t a Supreme Court clerk. This is a creative industry. I think it’s very safe to say they’re fine.

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Jenée Desmond Harris: We’re going to wrap it up here! Remember to be (or at least pretend to be) happy for friends who share good news and refuse to let your colleagues leggings-shame you. I’ll talk to you next week.

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More Advice From Slate

I was recently on a red-eye trans-Atlantic flight. After boarding, but before takeoff, I noticed that a passenger across the aisle took a picture of my 1-year-old child and posted it on a social media app. (I assume that he was mad that he had to sit next to a child on a long-haul flight.) I confronted him. He deleted the photo from his phone, but the photo was already posted on the internet. A month has passed, and I am still deeply disturbed by the incident.

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