Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. It’s Already in the Trash: I know I’m not going to look great here, but here goes. I am a cis female living with my parents, brother, and nephew. Growing up, when I, my sister, or my mom had our periods and deposited them in the communal bathroom, my dad would throw a fit and demand that I take them out because he found it disgusting. (He was a doctor too.)
My brother adopted this attitude and my mother and I ended up using a separate trash can and bag to compromise.
Now, I have been using panty liners as well as period pads and as I had to give up my room for my brother and I have to share a bathroom with my mom. However, she got tired of me using the bathroom at night so I was forced to use the communal bathroom and deposit my panty liners there too. I’ve been careful and tried to be mindful of the trash can.
Today, I woke up to a full trash bag at the foot of my bed. When I asked why it was there my brother angrily told him I needed to take care of my “bloody pads.” When I told him they were not period pads, he still went off and said it was unhygienic and I needed to take responsibility because the trash was overflowing with my pads. It was not. It was overflowing because of his son’s wet diapers. To me, a diaper isn’t much different than a panty liner or an incontinence pad. I pointed this out and that most of my pads were disposed of in the bathroom I share with my mom—he said that was full too and I should put my refuse in my makeshift room (the front room where my bed is) instead of the bathroom.
We had a huge argument over it and my mom told me to back down and just use her bathroom from now on. I’m still furious. I make sure to keep my pad waste separate and I am careful about hygiene. I don’t know why I have to act like I don’t exist or don’t have bodily functions just so my brother and dad don’t have to see a pad in the trash.
A: Do you know what the most upsetting line in your letter is to me? “I’m not going to look great here.” How do YOU not look great here? The fact that you wrote that makes me think the whole absurd conversation about pad disposal is just one of many times your dad and brother have treated you horribly throughout your life, and made you feel less worthy because you’re a woman. It’s destroyed your self esteem and damaged your healthy instincts about what’s right and wrong.
Let me make it plain: Your father is a misogynist and an asshole, he’s raised your brother to be the same, and your mom is signing off on it. “I don’t know why I have to act like I don’t exist or don’t have bodily functions just so my brother and dad don’t have to see a pad in the trash” is the right question to be asking, and I’m getting the feeling there are other ones too like “Why should I always have to be the person to give up my room?”
I want to tell you to talk to your family, but it feels like the threat of your dad throwing a fit looms large, and I don’t know how safe you feel or how much influence you have, realistically. I don’t want you to suffer the consequences if he loses it in response to what I’m guessing would be one of the first times you’ve pushed back against the way he treats you. You don’t say how old you are or if moving is an option but if it is: Get the hell out of there.
If it’s not, I’m afraid this is one of those times I don’t have great advice except to encourage you to remember that you live with some really messed-up people and they, not you, are the ones who “don’t look great here.”
Q. Cute or Not: For years, I’ve referred to young kids (including my own) as munchkins. Recently, though, I’ve been reflecting on the term and wonder if it is ableist since the original Munchkins were people with dwarfism in the Wizard of Oz. Some quick Google searching didn’t turn up much on the subject, mostly people wondering whether it was offensive to a child to use a term that might imply they have dwarfism! What is your call?
A: I wish everyone in the world could throw their concern for offending others into a big pot. People like you, who are worried about the history of the word “munchkin” and its implications, would throw theirs in. People who can’t bring themselves to stop using racial slurs or to call people by their correct pronouns would toss theirs in, too. And then the concern pot would be stirred up and redistributed so everyone got a normal amount. What I’m saying is: If you are not in fact our friendly, neighborhood “Let’s try to get Prudie to say something really, really progressive that I can make fun of” letter writer, you’re overthinking this. Maybe take the extra serving of compassion and sensitivity that you’ve obviously been dealt with and use it to do something to make life better for munchkins who aren’t as lucky as yours.
Q. Dumping the Dumper: I dated an amazingly-seeming guy for more than six months, who it only became clear was totally incompatible with me when we moved in together. Specifically, I am extremely private about bathroom activities, while he doesn’t even bother closing the door. He tries to talk to me while one of us is using the bathroom, and gets mad if he tries to come in while I’m in there and the door is locked. This has killed both my attraction to him and my sense of comfort and sexiness around him. He refuses to change his ways, and I refuse to change mine. I see this as just a “nobody’s wrong, we’re just not compatible” situation, and would be pleased to break up amicably. He, on the other hand, angrily swears that if I dump him over this, he will tell everyone we know what an immature, uptight psycho I am. To me, this feels like a childish ploy to make me stay, which is pointless if I no longer even want to have sex with him. How can I get him to extend the same open-mindedness to my quirks as I’m willing to extend to his, and not trash me once we go our separate ways?
A: You know how on a first date if the person rants about their awful, crazy exes, it’s a dead giveaway that they are actually the one with the issues? Similar situation here. I promise you that if he goes around name-calling you, he’ll look like an angry, bitter jerk and everyone will see it. Even if he simply says “We broke up because I wanted her to poop in front of me,” any reasonable listener will think, “Well why did you force the issue?” You don’t need to work on getting him to extend open-mindedness to your quirks. Forget that. You need to run as fast as possible in the other direction—not so much because of the bathroom stuff, although he definitely showed a lack of respect for you and your boundaries by being pushy. You have to break up, without regard for the consequences, because his promise to destroy your reputation reveals him to be emotionally abusive. Just be glad it’s early on in the relationship and he only has your views on bathroom door closing, not finances, kids, or anything more serious, to use as fodder for threats.
Q. Bugging About the Bed: My stepbrother is gay. Flamboyantly gay. Has been since we were kids. We shared a bedroom as teens since the house was cramped and the choices were bunk beds with my three baby sisters or the living room couch. We also shared tents while camping and beds. It has never been a problem until now.
My current boyfriend and I sleep in separate beds because he snores like a freight train and kicks like a mule. He has actually left bruises on me by accident while taking a nap. I have spoken offhandedly about my old sleeping arrangements with my stepbrother before and my boyfriend didn’t seem to find it anything but amusing.
Until my stepbrother and his boyfriend visited us. We all got a bit tipsy and we started swapping stories. My stepbrother called me his favorite cuddle bug and made jokes about our childhood. My boyfriend laughed along with the rest of us, but the next day, he got really defensive and distant.
He kept it up for a week and started making ‘jokes’ about how weird being my stepbrother’s cuddle bug was and why couldn’t we have that. It all finally exploded when I told him point blank he has literally kicked me out of bed before and my stepbrother doesn’t sound like a plane taking off in the middle of the night. Did he miss the fact my stepbrother was gay? Did the brand new boyfriend not tip him off?
My boyfriend told me the entire situation was “too weird for words” and I asked him exactly what he wanted me to do. Invent time travel and get my parents to buy a four-bedroom house? It isn’t like my stepbrother and I have gone out of our way to do this, now that we are adults and can afford hotel rooms. I told him he was the one being weird about it. Now there is a chill between us and I don’t know what to do about it. Help.
A: It’s fine to happily sleep in separate beds because of snoring and kicking. It is fine to admit that something about your partner’s childhood was surprising, or even hard to understand for you. What bothers me about your situation with your boyfriend, though, is that you both seem to have a lot of contempt and hostility toward each other. Cuddling history aside, when you get to the point where your boyfriend is trying to make you feel bad about your past and you are telling him he comes up short compared to your sibling, it might be time to move on.
Q. Lying to Prevent Concern: My nonagenarian father went through two very serious bouts of COVID, requiring hospitalization, despite being vaccinated. A friend, also vaccinated, got such a bad case he required neurosurgery and will probably never entirely recover. COVID is thus a real trigger for my father—he gets incredibly upset at the thought of it. So when my wife got a very mild case, I didn’t tell my father so he wouldn’t get upset. My wife is furious at me for this. She said there’s never a reason for a lie and asks me what lies I’ve told her. (I’ve never lied to her.) I was just trying to save my father, who’s already on anti-anxiety drugs, from further concern. Was I wrong here?
A: You weren’t wrong to keep the news from your dad, but you were wrong to make that plan without your wife’s buy-in (or at least, awareness). Keeping a secret is one thing, keeping a secret about keeping a secret is another. She should have been part of the conversation so she could understand your thought process in real-time. Apologize for that, but not for making a choice to keep your dad’s blood pressure down.
Q. Re: It’s Already In the Trash: It sounds like someone needs to put a schedule together for emptying the wastebaskets before they are full enough for people to notice. I agree that pantyliners are actually cleaner and less gross than dirty diapers, but you’re not going to persuade your brother, who is acting like a baby. Just start emptying the wastebaskets regularly.
A: I feel like he’d find a way to be upset even if there was a single pantyliner sitting in there with an empty toothpaste tube. This is about more than just trash.
Q. Re: It’s Already in the Trash: GET OUT OF THERE AS SOON AS YOU CAN. But in the meantime, buy a small bathroom garbage can with a lid and some small trash can bags. It can sit in the bathroom next to the “regular” garbage can so your rude, misogynist brother and father don’t have to be bothered by this extremely normal thing. Empty it when it’s full and save all your money to move somewhere where you can live without this awful treatment.
A: The extra trash can might be a good stopgap. But yes, again, get out of there as soon as possible. Your brother and dad are jerks who don’t respect you and no trip to Bed Bath and Beyond is going to fix that.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: It’s time to wrap up. Thanks so much for the feedback. Let’s all come up with a “leave me the hell alone” code word to use with our partners, friends, and family! I really think this could solve a lot of problems. In the meantime, have a great week.
More Advice From Slate
My question is extremely embarrassing to me, but here goes: I am a stay-at-home dad to a pair of 14-month-old twin girls. Most of their first year of life was happening during the pandemic quarantine, so my wife was working from home. This made my life easier since she was around to ask to watch our daughters whenever nature called. Now she is starting to go to the office a couple of times a week, since restrictions in our area are lifting. She asked me after her first day at the office how I handled bathroom breaks. I said that I put the girls in their baby proof room (all sockets plugged up, all furniture anchored, no electronic devices, no food) for up to 10 minutes, so that I can do my business and come back. She made a face, and has since been asking me so many questions.