Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, will be online at Washingtonpost.com every Monday at 1 p.m. to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. (Read her Slate columns here.) An unedited transcript of this week’s chat follows.
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I’m going to be here every Monday at 1 pm eastern to answer questions about life’s big and little (which sometimes actually are big) dilemmas. I look forward to it!
Old people and coffee shops: What is it with grumpy oldsters and coffee shops? They act like they own the joint! I took my kids into a coffee shop on Sunday morning and they gave my tots the stinkeye. My lovelies have just as much right to roam around at 8 am (not bothering anyone) as they do to slurp and silently rustle their Washington Post. People mis-remember how quiet their little darlings were at two years old.
Emily Yoffe: Hey, these people are reading the Washington Post! They should be getting awards. Maybe you are misinterpreting the stinkeye—maybe they just read about the AIG bonuses and are looking at your little darlings and thinking, “You poor kids—YOU’RE going to be paying for the AIG bailout when you grow up.” Look, people are entitled to look grumpy. Just ignore them and enjoy your latte.
And now I will be hearing from people who say, “I just want to read my Washington Post in peace. Can’t people take their toddlers to Gymboree?”
My older sister doesn’t like me: In high school I was very pretty and popular, and my older sister was a bad combination of smart, artsy, and indifferent—in a word, poisonous to my own social standing. I was very mean to her, and her weird friends, and made sure my popular friends were, too. So now the irony sets in, because now we are in our 30’s, and my sister has become very successful in a field that utilizes her talents, and has actually became almost pretty. Every time I try to tell myself that she and I should be friends now, it starts out fine, but then I am overcome with the same old mean tendencies. For her part, she seems willing to talk to me, but when I start making fun of her or criticizing, she’ll just stop contact and go about her business, so I feel like I am the only one making an effort. How can I make my sister be friends with me, now that we’re grown up?
Emily Yoffe: This is a fascinating twist on the mean girl story which I think the movies haven’t tackled: What if your own sister is the mean girl? The one thing you have going for you here is that your recognize your own awful behavior—sort of. Yet, you seem, even at this late date, unable to control yourself. I have to admire your sister for taking the tack of enjoying her own life, pursuits, and friends, and ignoring you and your nastiness. Yes, you’re making an effort: an effort to keep your old dynamic in which (for some reason) you seem compelled to rip someone else in order to make yourself feel good. But it doesn’t make you feel good does it? How about if you drop the high school act, make a conscious effort to stop criticizing, and actually try to find out about your sister and her life. An apology for your years of rudeness might also help. Your older sister sounds like a great role model—so start taking advantage of this and modeling yourself on her.
Washington, D.C.: Good morning to you, Emily.
My boyfriend and I are moving in together in a few weeks. We’ve been together almost three years, and this wasn’t a decision we came upon rashly. I am very excited about us really starting a home/life together.
That said, I am not without worry. I own a (small) home, and he will be moving in to my place. I haven’t had a roommate since college (let’s just say it was “several” years ago). Then of course, since we aren’t engaged or married, there are the boundaries that need to be set as far as what is “our” money, etc.
We’ve never had to talk about any of this before. I’m not afraid to talk to my boyfriend about these things, I was just wondering what the most tactful, loving way to go about this would be. I really want to make it clear that none of this tempers my excitement about our new life. But it’s incredibly important and I feel it needs to be done before he moves in. Any help?
Emily Yoffe: This is one of the difficulties of living together. When you’re married, things are just assumed to be “ours.” But there’s no need to tiptoe around this—not clarifying your financial situation will only lead to misunderstanding down the road. Do you expect him to help pay your mortgage now that he’s moving in? Or do you not want him to establish some kind of claim on your house? Do you expect to split the expenses 50-50? Do you want to set up joint checking? All this has to be figured out. Sure, it’s not romantic. But also not romantic is six months from now deciding the relationship isn’t working out because you two could never discuss the financial practicalities of it, and are now really mad.
Roanoke, Va.: My husband and I recently announced to our families that we are expecting our first child this fall. Immediately after we told our mothers (in the same conversation), both informed us that they want to be present when the child is born. Not in the delivery room, but in town (we live several states away) and then at the house when we come home from the hospital. I think this was extremely presumptuous on both their parts and I don’t want to be inundated with family right after giving birth, even though they mean well, both mothers can be quite overbearing! I don’t have any problem with people coming to visit after a few days, I think it would be lovely to have people there to help AFTER we have been home for a few days. Both mothers are quite upset with me now and feel it is their right to be there when the baby is born and I am taking that right away. My husband would like his parents in town when the baby is born, I feel that I just want a day or so of privacy before overbearing family comes flying in. Is it just me and the hormones talking? Should I back down? There have been many tears over this!
Emily Yoffe: Learning to calmly listen while other people make demands, have tantrums, and insist they should get their way will be very good practice for motherhood. Every mother is different. Some want a mother or mother-in-law there for advice and relief those first few days; some want to recover and figure out their new baby before loving family descends. This should be up to you. Yes, it’s going to be difficult to balance the competition between grandmas and everyone’s competing needs, but you have to decide on a schedule that works for you. But don’t keep them away too long—you may find you’d welcome grandmas to hold your little one and cook some meals.
Washington, D.C.: Dear Prudence,
I am a medical student about to be married in December. Obviously, I am not making any money for the next 3 years while I am in school. My mother has very graciously stepped in and is providing for most of the wedding expenditures. We are having some troubles with putting together our guest list. Currently it is split 50/50 between my guests and the guests of my fiance and his family. My fiance is concerned with the guest list being too high and mentioned that I should exclude the more “distant relatives” or people I don’t know that well, since “I seem to have more of those on my list.”
My dilemma is that I feel if my mother is footing the bill, she should have precedence on who she wishes to invite. I am very grateful to her for putting on a nice event for us, and quite frankly, those “distant relatives” are very close with her (they grew up together). Of course, my mother won’t say this because she is very sweet. However, I don’t want her to feel like we are just ignoring her wishes and denying her of the chance to share this happy occasion with those she loves. How do I tell my fiance that I don’t think it’s fair to cut my mom’s guests considering my mother is providing us with the means to have a beautiful wedding?
- Grateful and Worried Bride
Emily Yoffe: It turns out in the wedding business she who controls the purse strings writes the guest list. Even when times were flush, I hated to see families spend nest eggs on wedding centerpieces. Surely, especially now it would make more sense for your mother to divert some of this money from guests to helping you pay off your student loans. However, if she has the money, this is what she wants to do with it, and you and your fiance are letting her pick up the tab for the celebration, then he should be quietly grateful and let her invite Aunt Edna (who you haven’t seen since the time she came to your junior high graduation).
Sanford, N.C.: I am a 14 year old girl in the 9th grade. I’m very mature for my age and have been talking to a 16-year-old boy for about 6 months. I guess he’s my boyfriend. We have been out together and we talk all day long. The problem is my mom. She is really against it. She doesn’t even know him and she’s always telling me how she doesn’t approve. She hasn’t ever really talked to him so she doesn’t really know him. We haven’t been able to hang out for about a month because she doesn’t want to take me anywhere he that will be. It’s hard because I just got out of an emotionally abusive relationship and then he dumped me for another girl ten months later. This boy has helped me through it and I really care about him. I haven’t even told my mom he’s my boyfriend yet. I’m afraid if I do she will be even worse. I am ok now and I think I should be able to see this boy. He is nothing but nice and I really, really like him. How do I convince her to let me see him?
Emily Yoffe: Have you come to the wrong place! I’m the mother of a 13 year old girl and I’m with your mom that while I may understand that everything in human evolution is pushing you to want to spend all your time with your “boyfriend,” everything in human evolution is pushing your mother to say, “No way.” You mention that you have already had and “emotionally abusive relationship.” That’s a screaming alarm for any mother, and yours is right to want you to concentrate on school, your activities, and friendships before you embark on another consuming relationship. Maybe, if you show how mature you are by concentrating on those things, your mother at some point will relent and let your 16 year old come over for supervised milk and cookies one afternoon. But by then, he may have drifted off—as 16 year old boys are prone to do.
Puh-leeze: To the mother taking her kids to coffee shops to roam around: Seriously? This is how your kids want to spend their day? And you don’t think that a small child “roaming around” (implying that they are out of your reach) would concern people at a places where hot beverages are placed on small, tipsy tables in cramped spaces? Tables that are generally just about eye-level for a kid? Sure, maybe your kid never bumps into anything, but most kids do, routinely. Which is probably why your fellow patrons are a bit concerned.
If an old man came to Gymboree and took a nap in the bounce house, he wouldn’t be “bothering” anyone in as much of the same way your kid isn’t “bothering” anyone. But I bet you’d still wonder why he felt the need to spend his time in a place that obviously was not designed with him in mind.
Emily Yoffe: Okay, you make a good point. Just make sure you are reading the Washington Post when you shoot a grumpy look at those toddlers.
Arlington, Va.: Dear Prudence (btw - love the song),
My mom has been particularly cantankerous lately. She practically speaks in zingers that really sting. I left yesterday (she’s 300 miles away) feeling like I don’t want to be back for a long time.
She and I have never had a fab relationship—my teenage years were quite difficult on both of us, but we’ve matured and since my son arrived, have talked almost everyday. So I’m a bit stung, and hurt.
Do I confront her? Do I get tougher skin? Do I chalk it up to menopause?
Emily Yoffe: You don’t confront her, but you do talk to her. It’s taken you a long time to rebuild a decent relationship, so don’t let it suffer through simmering resentment. When you talk to her next just tell her that you felt stung by some of her comments. Say you’re sure she didn’t mean to be so harsh, but her opinion of you matters, and you felt hurt. You can also ask if something else is going on that’s upsetting her in general. So don’t escalate this, but don’t be left to stew.
Nosy Parker: How nosy can you be around your neighbors? When their house is up for sale, can you poke around during the open house? Can you open closets? The last time an ambulance stopped in my street, I ran out to see who it was for, and was chided for being a “looky lou.”
Emily Yoffe: You mean I have to stop going to open houses in the neighborhood? That’s my only hobby! Since you are not there to buy, however, it’s one thing to get a look at how the kitchen is laid out, it’s another to look in the medicine cabinet and open the dresser.
As for an ambulance, it’s only natural to want to know if a neighbor has fallen ill (and perhaps see how you can help if something dire has happened), it’s another thing to run out and stare raptly as the EMTs strap someone to a gurney.
It sounds like you may be crossing that delicate line.
New York, Fla.: I recently learned a friend of mine, quite close indeed, runs an escort service and employs dozens of girls that provide sexual services to clients. My issue is that she is quite close to me and my kids. We usually talk every day and see each other often but I feel I cannot cope with this aspect of her life and want to cut off contact. Should I tell her I know?
Emily Yoffe: What has your friend told you she does all these years—run a very specialized temp service? This person is a close friend, and I don’t see how you just cut off contact without saying anything, and at the very least confirming with her this information is true. Just be honest, and tell her what you’ve found out. If she denies it, you can tell her why you think your information is reliable. If she confirms the information (or you come away believing it) then you should discuss with her that you are worried about her being involved in activities that are both illegal and morally questionable (to say the least). You owe her and the friendship that much before you decide you want her out of your life.
College Park, Md.: Things get on my nerves very easily, e.g. a loud co-worker who speaks in a high-pitched voice; co-workers popping chewing gum all day long. Any suggestions on how I can better cope with annoying co-workers, when I suspect the real problem may be that I have a low tolerance for irritation?
Emily Yoffe: Belching, munching, farting, humming co-workers are one of the most recurring problems I hear about from readers. (How lucky am I that I work at home and only the dog notices me doing these things?) I have no global answer, but you sound wise to realize that in your case the problem may be your low tolerance and easy distractability. Try a technological solution: ear plugs or noise canceling headphones. Maybe you can also request to me moved to the remotest cubicle.
Alexandria, Va.: So, a recent guy friend just got in touch with me after I reached out to him on LinkedIn. We worked together when I was 23. He was the nicest person ever. He made a point of letting me know he’s single again and said many nice things about me, let’s get together, etc. Problem—we’re 57 now! I don’t have my girlish figure anymore. I’d love to get together again but I’m Afraid!
Emily Yoffe: He’s 57, too! What are the chances he looks like Harrison Ford? Get together with him! Don’t warn him to look for the lady with the midriff bulge. Just wear a flattering outfit (don’t try TOO hard) and go and enjoy your reunion. If you liked you then, think of how much more interesting you’ve become in the past three decades.
Los Angeles, Calif.: Any thoughts on how to tone down stress? My fiance gets sad when I’m not happy, which is sweet, but hard to take when I am stressed out and just trying to get through the week. (I can’t be happy 24-7, and if I’m focused on getting things done I’m not going to be laughing or joking. He worries that I’m too serious.) I’m dealing with a high-stress job, a close family friend just diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer (I am helping the family with paperwork), a wedding in 2 months, and my fiance just got laid off. The combination makes it hard for me to relax since either I am sad about the family friend, or I am focused on what I need to do next to help the family, plan the wedding, and succeed at work. My fiance is supportive and has picked up most of the housework since he lost his job, but I still find that there aren’t enough hours in the day and I can’t seem to lose the stress.
Emily Yoffe: It sounds as if you’ve got a couple of issues here. One is that your life sounds overwhelming right now. The other is that added to this is your fiance’s need for you to be happy, which understandably adds to your stress. He may in part be particularly insecure about your mood because he is so insecure about his ability to support himself. So he’s trying to make sure his unemployment is not making you unhappy, which makes you unhappy, etc. So you need to do two things: realize you can’t do everything all at the same time; and be able to talk to your fiance about your interactions about your unhappiness.
You will be no good to anyone if you collapse, so whatever you can delegate on the wedding front, for example, do it. Make sure you build in breaks from your obligations—to run, go to yoga, take a hike, go to a movie. And tell your fiance that when he gets anxious about your mood, it only makes your mood worse, and figure out a way you can be checking in with each other, without driving each other crazy.
San Francisco: There’s no dead tree Washington Post here. OK to read on my iPhone while looking grumpy?
Emily Yoffe: If you’re out of the metropolitan Washington area, yes please read the Washington Post online while looking grumpy (hard not to look grumpy while reading the paper these days).
Springfield: I had a party several weeks ago, and invited a lot of people with whom I’ve worked for many years. But I didn’t invite everyone I work with, because I don’t know some of them very well, and because, well, I didn’t want a “staff” party. But I found out afterwards that there were a few people who really wanted to come, but nobody told me, so I didn’t invite them. Now I feel badly, and two of them have even made comments like “oh, well you’ll have to invite me to your party next year.” I have good friends in my workplace, but I’m wondering now if inviting co-workers to a party is a bad idea, since I can’t (and don’t really want to) invite all of them.
Emily Yoffe: This is kind of the elementary school birthday party dilemma. My daughter’s school had a rule either you invite the whole class or less than half the class. Sure you’re allowed to invite the co-workers with whom you’re friendly, but if that is the preponderance of your co-workers, then other people are going to get their feelings hurt when on Monday everyone is saying (as they shouldn’t!), “Thanks for the great party.” But once people start asking around, they should realize they weren’t the only ones who were left out, that it wasn’t an office party (minus them), and that people are entitled to their out of work social lives.
Portland, Ore.: My husband of 2 years doesn’t like my relationship with my daughter (thinks I’m too generous, too accepting of decisions she’s made)… and he finds it impossible to simply enjoy her company when she’s visiting from out of state… and, will end up letting his disapproval show. This has come between my daughter and me… where she used to love visiting, now she’s reluctant. This has become worse recently because she has a new boyfriend who my husband doesn’t like…
What should I do? My husband thinks he has a right to his opinion. I hate what’s happening with my relationship to my daughter.
A few details: she’s 28, just finished her PhD and is looking for work in her field. She’s very kind and helpful. My husband’s objections are that she’s not looking harder for work and that she’s accepted a boyfriend who’s “beneath” her… and, that I’m enabling it somehow.
Emily Yoffe: This is one of the things that really burns me up—when a new spouse tries to harm the relationship their spouse has to a child from a previous marriage. Your daughter sounds wonderful as does your relationship with her. Is your husband jealous that there’s someone else you who love equally to him and is capable of taking your attention away from him? I think you and your husband need to get into counseling. If he succeeds at poisoning your relationship with your daughter—as he appears to be doing—there’s no hope for your marriage, is there?
Philadelphia, Pa.: Prudie, I’m stuck in the awful nether world between trying to extricate myself from a marriage gracefully, and desperately wanting to start dating again (which I don’t want to do until I’ve worked through my marital baggage). Please give me some wise words to stay patient and not act rashly!! Thank you.
Emily Yoffe: Re-read your letter and put in italics the word “desperate.” Desperate dating rarely ends happily. It is unlikely the right person is going to get away because you take the time to act like a responsible person and handle the end of your marriage with dignity. Handling the end of your marriage with dignity will actually make you much more attractive to whoever else might come along.
To the mother taking her kids to coffee shops to roam around: Seriously? This is how your kids want to spend their day? : So once you have kids you’re barred from ever entering a coffee shop again? Dear old or young miserable people: take a deep breath, count to ten, relax. If you want absolute silence while drinking your coffee go home. Or buy earplugs. I could understand if the kids were screaming and running around, that is just common courtesy to buy the coffee and get the kids out of there. But if they are just hanging around for a half hour or so what is the big deal?
Emily Yoffe: Here’s another perspective. Look up from all the bad news in your Washington Post and enjoy the fact that there are adorable 2 year-olds who find the world fun and entertaining and aren’t asking for a billion dollar bailout.
Dear Prudence: My father has been estranged from my family for the past 5 years or so. Basically, we believe he has a mental illness that he combined with alcoholism, which resulted in him quitting his job as an executive and eventually moving in with his parents, with whom he has lived for the past four and a half years. He refuses to look for another job and has not contributed any child support for my minor sibling since 2003.
This is the issue: my siblings deny him any access into their lives because of their own anger towards him (and his tendency to become abusive and angry when he feels his overtures have been rebuffed), but I allow a modicum of access on a social networking site—mainly so he is able to see pictures of my child, whom he has never met. I recently received a message from him regarding the birth of my second child, due this summer. I came down with a serious, life-threatening condition during labor with my first, and his message stated that given the chance I could get it again, he WILL be present at the birth of this baby, even if he has to be hidden somewhere.
Prudie, he yelled at me after my first child was born because I didn’t call to tell him I was in labor (yes, this was AFTER mentioning the life-threatening condition). I don’t want him there for this one. Part of my goal has been to have as little stress as possible to increase the chances of a safe labor and delivery, and the idea of him being there, his presence stressing everyone out, and most likely causing some serious rifts makes me tense already. I know it is up to me and my spouse, and I think both of us are agreed we’d prefer he not be there.
My problem is that I don’t know how to tell him. I am sure even if I agonize over my words and make it as gentle as possible that he will still blow up and I will be hurt by what he says. I am approaching the time deadline where he normally writes “I guess you’ve decided you don’t want to talk to me,” so I need a response soon. Please help. Thanks.
Emily Yoffe: It sounds as if you’ve been handling the amount of contact with him that makes you comfortable very well. You just need to continue to be firm, direct, and polite. Just tell him something like, “Dad, we will let you know as soon as the baby comes and send you photos. But it’s important to me that just my husband is there for the delivery, so I’m sorry we won’t be able to accommodate having you there.” Then don’t let him know what hospital you will be at.
DC: Can I look grumpily at my own kids while reading the paper?
Emily Yoffe: As long as they’re allowed to look grumpily back at you.
for College Park, Md.: For dealing with irritating coworkers, I’ve dealt with it in the past by choosing my biggest pet peeve—popping chewing gum—and then have a short non-confrontational conversation with the offenders. Along the lines of hey, you may not be aware that you are chewing your gum really loudly, could you be a little quieter? It works like a charm everytime mostly because the offenders are embarrassed about it, but admittedly I’m not complaining about everything.
Emily Yoffe: Excellent advice. The keys here are “short” “non-confrontational.” So often people sit in their cubicle and seethe at the offender and then blow up—which is the first the offender has even heard of it.
Washington, DC: For the wife whose husband says her daughter has “accepted a boyfriend who’s ‘beneath’ her”: Perhaps you should cheerfully inform him that, yes, such behavior is a hereditary trait among the women in your family, and isn’t he lucky.
Then, while he’s puzzling that over, take your daughter out to lunch and enjoy her company.
Emily Yoffe: Touche!
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone for such a great range of provocative questions. Talk to you next week!