Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on 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 look forward to your questions.
Jacksonville, Fla.: My partner of eight years recently joined Facebook and connected online with many old friends, and since then, has been moody, withdrawn, disinterested, etc. with me around the house. She recently went to a 9 p.m. “meeting” at a bar, for which she was overdressed, and conveniently, she also did not pick up her own tab. I asked her then about Facebook, but she does not want me to see her Facebook page and insists that it should be private, although we have several mutual friends who have access to her page. We have had issues in the past with her secrecy, some dishonesty and deceptiveness, which causes me to have some trust issues with her. Am I overreacting to the Facebook thing now or should I be worried about her behavior?
Emily Yoffe: I love the idea of Facebook—this social network that is supposed to bring people together and let everyone you’ve ever known know what you’ve eaten for lunch—be a furtive method of cheating. It’s more than a clear violation of Facebook etiquette not to let your significant other “friend” you. The problem is not Facebook, it’s just a utility your partner is utilizing to cheat.
Arlington, Va.: Dear Pru,
I need your feedback. I am a “woman of size”. I have been all of my life. I work out regularly, don’t overeat, but here I am. I’m not asking for diet advice. What I need is something different. I need advice on how to deal with the country’s hostility towards overweight women. Women of size are not seen as date-worthy, have insurmountable negative connotations associated with them (lazy, slobs, smelly… I’m none of those things!), and are in general treated poorly. Being judged for your looks is the last acceptable form of “prejudice”. I guess what I’m most sad about is that this is such a tiny part of who I am, yet never gets overlooked. However, I’m still invisible. So, I guess my question is: how do I overcome my anger at people who feel it’s okay to judge me?
Emily Yoffe: First of all, remember you’re not alone. Most American are “people of size” so at any workplace or social setting you are hardly going to be the only overweight person. Remember, often the way you are treated is in response to the way you act. You say your weight never gets overlooked, yet you are invisible. This sounds as if you spend a lot of time looking for ways to interpret encounters as being about your weight. I am not saying there is no fat prejudice out there. But if you are comfortable with yourself, and act as if you are, you will notice a lot less hostility.
Broad Run, Va.: Dear Prudence,
I am a parent of a 2-year-old boy. As one of his regular social activities, we take him to a Gymboree-style place.
Recently, at an “open play session” (i.e. multiple age groups), there was an older autistic child, who looked to be about six or seven. (I overhead the parents telling someone that he is autistic.) I’ve never spent a lot of time around autistic children, but he seemed to have a lot of the mannerisms traditionally attributed to autism (lack of eye contact, unable to control enthusiasm, etc.) My introduction to him was when, out of nowhere, he came running up behind me and started pounding on my back, screaming at the top of his lungs.
Like (I suppose) most people, I’m all for mainstreaming as long as it doesn’t put my child at risk. However, the play session seemed to be an ongoing litany of the autistic child shoving down smaller children. Every couple of minutes, crying would start and there would a toddler that had just been shoved to the ground by the autistic boy. While the autistic boy’s parents stayed close and interceded after the fact, it almost seemed like the other children were unwitting therapy dolls for their trying to get their child used to other children.
The autistic child’s parents saw what was going on, as did the moderator of the place. I felt like my choice was confronting the parents and/or the owner (thus making a scene), picking up my child and leaving (thus making a scene), or spending the entire session glued to my kid in case the much older and larger autistic child came charging at my child so I could step in between them. I chose the last option.
Was there a better option that I missed? If not, did I do the right thing? I understand the other parents’ plight and the other boy’s need for social interaction, but the boy’s parents putting their child in a play situation with much smaller children, and letting him tackle smaller children over and over again, seemed to be pretty thoughtless on their part.
Thanks for your help.
Emily Yoffe: It’s important that you understand the painful situation the parents of the autistic child are in. However, it’s to no one’s benefit to have a child there who cannot behave within the bounds of safety and respect for others. If you want to continue at this place, you should make an appointment with the manager and explain what happened, and say one child can’t be a danger to others no matter what the reason. This setting simply may not appropriate for a child with the disabilities of the one you describe. And if you felt this boy could have hurt your toddler, it wouldn’t have been making a scene to quietly leave early.
Washington, D.C.: Dear Prudence, I have been dating someone for the past 3 years. He is in his mid-30s and I’m in my early 30s. He is a wonderful, sweet, and caring person. We have a great friendship and share a lot of great memories. My problem is that I while he is deeply in love with me, I’m not sure I feel the same. I love him and enjoy our relationship but don’t feel some crazy, teenage-type passion that most people claim that they feel in their romantic relationships. He has asked me to marry him and I’m considering saying yes. I’m a big believer in marriage being about shared values, deep friendship, and of course love. Is it wrong for me to say yes to this proposal? Mind you, I have discussed with him my lack of gushing emotions when it comes toward him but have affirmed my love, respect, trust, and admiration for him. He seems to be OK with our relationship as is and frankly so I’m I. I’m I crazy or do I need help for even considering his proposal?
Emily Yoffe: What are your alternatives? Years of awful dating in a search for someone who sets off (temporary) fireworks? There are many different ways to approach enduring love. Feeling a deep commitment, respect, and admiration sounds pretty darn good. I’m sure a lot of women who would adore a decent partner would read your letter and say, “If you don’t want this, I’ll take it!” You don’t even say that you have experienced the kind of boiling passion in previous relationships that this one lacks. You may not intrinsically be a high-boil person when it comes to love. What you’ve got sounds awfully good. I say say “Yes.”
Washington, D.C.: I have a busy job that requires a lot of interactions with people all day long. I take some exercise classes on the weekend to try to get healthy and relax. I’m really annoyed (unreasonably?) by one or two students in classes who feel that they have to talk incessantly, either to a friend or the instructor, “help” the instructor lead the class, etc. I look forward to these classes as a chance to have a bit of peace and quiet and focus on moving my body. I find the noise from these people really disruptive. One woman said that she just wants to make sure everybody smiles. I thought of saying that everybody would be smiling if I throttled her but I restrained myself. Are they egotistical narcissists or am I just a grinch?
Emily Yoffe: When someone is doing something annoying—chewing gum, humming, etc.—it’s hard not become consumed with this offense to the point that it becomes the only thing you hear. If this is an active class with music, see if you can just tune out the yakkers, or position yourself at the other side of the room. It’s also possible that they are annoying everyone else. So after class one day, discuss this with the instructor and see if he or she is willing to put a lid on it.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Hey, Prudie. Don’t know what to do here. My boyfriend was married when we met, something he failed to tell me, and we dated many, many months before the truth came out in a terrible and devastating way. He has since divorced, and I’ve decided to give him a second chance, much to the dismay of others and—I must admit—myself.
The thing is, how the hell do I get past this? We’ve gotten into some huge fights because I bring up his past lies, and I find myself saying ugly things about him and his ex-wife (who also told me some swell untruths) and doing things to intentionally hurt him. I have claimed immunity sometimes because my transgressions pale in comparison to his; clearly, this is neither functional nor rational behavior.
I know, move on, right? Only I’ve tried that. Several times. Doesn’t work. I’ve not gotten this guy out of my system, nor do I particularly want to anymore.
How do I work through these issues without turning into a monster? Is it possible to start fresh? Or am I just lying to myself?
Emily Yoffe: What do you mean you’ve tried moving on and it doesn’t work? Has your boyfriend chained you to the bedpost? Of course you can move on if you conclude that is the only way to get out of a mutually destructive relationship. But as you acknowledge, some part of you is enjoying it too much. This issue goes beyond your relationship and is about why you feel compelled to stay—especially when you find yourself acting in ways you despise. It’s time for counseling to help you sort this out.
Wash, D.C.: Dear Prudence:
I live in D.C. and get my nails done regularly at a place downtown. I am a “regular” client of one of the technicians, who does a great job. Her English is pretty good, but there are still some exchanges that I can’t quite make out. But, I am pretty sure that sometimes she says very prejudiced things about African Americans. My past experience in southeast Asia (but not in Viet Nam, where she is from) suggests that those cultures may be more comfortable with certain forms of racism than we are. In any case, I’m very uncomfortable. In regular conversation, if someone said what I think she said (not using vile terms, just saying that “they” are all one way or another), I would call them out. But with the language issue, there’s always a chance I misunderstood. Do I have to stop going there? What can I do?
Emily Yoffe: The next time she says something you think is vile, go ahead and as her to repeat herself because you weren’t sure what she said. If it is vile, then you’ll know, and if she says, “Never mind” you can be pretty sure it was vile. Then just tell her that these kinds of comments make you deeply uncomfortable and you just don’t want to hear anymore racist remarks—you can add that such comments have no place in the workplace. If she won’t stop, there are plenty of other excellent manicurists around.
Providence, R.I.: I am hoping you clear up an argument I have been having with a friend. About 7 months ago, I found out from my doctor (and 2 second opinions) that due to my health, I will never be able to have a child and even attempting will probably kill me. I am coming to grips with this while at the same time 6 couples I know have announced have announced their pregnancies. I am happy for them, but on several occasions, I left quickly after congratulating the couple as I felt I was about to get very emotional in a bad way. I have been told I am acting selfishly by leaving and that I “should be over it by now.” Am I wrong to leave if I feel I might cause a scene and take away from a friend’s happiness or should I “suck it up” and hope I don’t break down?
Upset in R.I.
Emily Yoffe: If your choice is between breaking down and leaving, then yes, you did the right thing to leave while you still had a smile on your face. I often hear from people with fertility problems who think it is the obligation of people who are pregnant or have young children to tiptoe around them. Of course your friends should be sensitive to your situation, but everyone else cannot pretend their lives aren’t going on, or make pregnancy and children a verboten topic. It is going to take you time to come to grips with this. Please join a support group for help in coping with this, and to have a place to vent. That should help you eventually be able to stay in the room when the pregnancy announcement is made.
for the “woman of size”: Check out the Fat Acceptance movement! It’s a wonderful way to work on combating the kind of prejudice you describe, and to connect with other people (mostly women) who have similar experiences. I’m particularly fond of Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose blog, but just google Fat Acceptance, and you’ll see lots of options.
Emily Yoffe: Good advice, thanks. But I also think the “woman of size” needs ways to think less about her size.
Worried sick: I am not a jealous woman, and I have never checked up on my husband. This weekend I was cleaning out our old bills and took a moment to look at our cell phone charges. There were a few calls and text messages on his phone to a number I did not recognize and at odd times of day. There were enough of these that I looked at his phone to see who it was. The number was not listed and no record of the calls and texts was kept. I called the number this morning from a pay phone and it is a woman I know of. My husband and I talk all the time and he never mentions this woman. Am I over reacting?
Emily Yoffe: Well, you have taken action, but you haven’t really reacted yet to the information you’ve gotten. Maybe it’s all perfectly innocent, maybe it’s not. But if you want to find out if your husband is being deceitful, you need to come clean about what you’ve found out. Just lay it out to him the way you laid it out here (try to be as dispassionate as possible) and let him respond. Do not let him twist the discussion into one about your snooping. Admit you snooped, but explain the issue on the table is what your snooping turned up.
Virginia: Dear Prudence: My son goes to a private school that is heavy on parent volunteer involvement. I work full-time as an attorney, and, as a result, don’t often have time to volunteer. However, I did volunteer for an event that required a limited number of volunteers. I never heard back from the parent who was coordinating volunteers, so I assumed I wasn’t needed. I opened my email this morning to a not very nice email from the aforesaid parent who told me that it was “difficult” because I didn’t show up. How should I handle this situation? Thanks.
Emily Yoffe: Be big and take the hit for the miscommunication. Explain you are terribly sorry but that after you sent your email saying you were available you didn’t hear back—maybe the email got eaten—and so assumed your help wasn’t needed. Say you realize now you should have followed up to double check what was going on. Expect you will be the subject of much disparaging talk in this hothouse world of prep school parent volunteers. Try not to care.
Re: Snooping: “Admit you snooped, but explain the issue on the table is what your snooping turned up.”
So snooping is OK as long as you find something?
Emily Yoffe: I know snooping is supposed to be worse than the violations that snooping turns up, but I have a more complicated view. In general I am against snooping. And I think married people still have a right to privacy in their communications. However, in the course of paying bills, etc. you stumble on significant evidence of cheating, well, I think that trumps the expectation of privacy. And I often hear from people whose spouses have cheated in the past, and who are now picking up suspicious signs, and who check the email or cellphone and find what looks like confirmation. And I think following your hunches in those situations is justified.
Re: exercise yammer: Oh, been there! It was a spin class with a participant who “whooped!!” every couple minutes. She either thought she was helping generate enthusiasm or was just drawing attention to herself. Either way, I actually took to wearing earplugs to class! Can you imagine, a class with booming music and having to wear ear plugs? Finally, I talked to the instructor and SHE was annoyed, too. One day I just looked at the whooper and said, “will you knock it off, that’s very distracting,” taking the brunt of the now-hostility for the rest of the class. One other participant said, “thank you!” I say, tell the talkers that they’re distracting you. I’ll bet you make a lot of friends in that class doing it.
Emily Yoffe: Good for you. However, there was that case in NY where the whooper wouldn’t stop, so the person who asked was driven so insane by the whooping he threw the whooper off the bike. The assault case went to a jury and the thrower was acquitted—no question he did it, but the jury sympathized with him. In case the talkers or whoopers are real jerks, it’s best to have the teacher handle it.
I opened my email this morning to a not very nice email from the aforesaid parent who told me that it was “difficult” because I didn’t show up.: I disagree with Emily. busy mom should not apologize for SAHM not knowing the basics of communication, organizing, delegating. Mom should return to email saying “sorry I missed the event, but without a firm followup, I can’t keep my schedule open for unconfirmed events. My office schedule keeps me busy and I need definite verification of all appointments.”
Emily Yoffe: I see your point, the lawyer-mother’s kid goes to this school, has play dates and is on sports teams with the child of the volunteer-mother. Send a legalistic note like that and the volunteer-mother will forward it to everyone else to show what a jerk lawyer-mother is. Sometimes it’s better to take the hit for the sake of smoothing relations.
Oakton, Va.: Prudence,
On Saturday I was out with my partner, Ted, and his friend, Sally, at a Japanese Steak house. Sitting with us was another couple who we didn’t know. We were all getting along well—laughing and having a good time. The husband of the other couple, Joe, asked Ted if he was married. Ted said no. It irked me a bit and he and I spoke about it. I understand that my partner prefers to rally around the it-isn’t-anyone-else’s-business flag, especially strangers, who ask about our relationship. (We both pass for straight quite often.) Of course, Ted and I aren’t married, but we have been partners for 5 years.
Is there a way to address this question that is funny and honest without bringing the party to a halt? (I fear there is self-loathing under this question.)
Emily Yoffe: There is no need to make a joke when answering this question, nor should a simple, straight answer about being gay bring the party to a halt. I understand your annoyance because in response to the question Ted should have indicated you and said, “Mark and I are partners.” You two need to privately work out how you both want to answer this question in social settings in a way that makes you each comfortable.
Baby Blues: Hello:
I’m pregnant with my first child and due in 8 days. My husband and I are thrilled to death and cannot wait to meet the newest member of our family.
My mother is driving me crazy. She and I have never been close—we are essentially like oil and water. She had a vacation planned for this week for quite a while and I thought she understood what that might mean—if the baby comes early, she may not be able to see it for the first couple days (no big deal, we’ll still be around and it won’t change that much! or so I thought).
She has been calling me daily (very untypical for our relationship) telling me not to deliver until she returns so that she can see her first grandchild within 24 hours of its birth. The message conveyed is very strong—she cares more about how the birth of the child fits into her schedule than what is healthiest and safest for the child and myself.
I’m disgusted. This child will decide when it is ready to make its appearance and will do so at the healthiest time. She doesn’t seem to care about this—only how it fits her schedule. I’m trying very hard to be patient with her, but it just makes me so angry and stressed. While this feeling is nothing new for our relationship, I would have hoped that a new, beautiful little life would have had some sort of impact to her superficial, self-centric lifestyle. I know she’s excited, but when the first words out of her mouth are me me me, it’s really hard to be sympathetic (and not tense). I’m at my wits end.
Emily Yoffe: Has she asked that you tie your legs together to keep the grandkid in until it suits her schedule? As I’ve said before, dealing with the self-centered, ridiculous demands of one’s parents is good training for dealing with such demands when they are issued from one’s children. Tell your mother the baby will arrive when it arrives and you don’t wish to discuss this any further. If she persists, say, “Mom, this discussion is upsetting to me, so I’m going to get off the phone now, bye” and hang up. Get the book, “The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists” for help in drawing boundaries with such a mother.
Email etiquette: For many people including the parent of the high school prep student, please mind a few pieces of e-mail etiquette. Remember that many people have different levels of familiarity with e-mail. One very important feature is that if you expect a response, you should ask for one or note that you expect on in your message. If you expect one in a certain time frame mention it (“I hope to hear from you this weekend”, or “If I don’t hear from you by Wednesday, I’ll assume I’m not needed.”) Do not assume people with be on the same wavelength with you. Be very careful to be as clear as possible. Even if it takes a little more space, there are no extra charges for extra text and brevity has caused a huge number of avoidable misunderstandings. Finally, always clearly identify yourself. I don’t know everyone’s address and firstname.lastname@example.org really doesn’t tell me who you are.
Emily Yoffe: Good points.
Rockville, Md.: Dear Prudence,
How to politely decline a vacation invitation from my in-laws? They want to pay for a 5-day trip to a local resort. I’ve been on vacations with them in the past, and it usually means that everything is on their timeline (e.g., when to eat, where to eat, what activities to do). Attempts to go against their timeline have been met with hurt feelings and great disappointment. I do not want to seem ungrateful, but I have a 16-month-old who alas has his own timeline. So, waiting to eat dinner with my in-laws at 8:30 p.m. does not work. Their helpful suggestion of “just give him a snack to tide him over” are anything but. Unfortunately, my husband does not want to cause a rift either. Apparently, years of going along with their timeline has taught him that it’s usually the path of least resistance. Thanks for your help!
Emily Yoffe: Now that you have a toddler, you need some new rules for dealing with your in-laws. It is amazing when the people who raised you or your spouse seem to have to have totally forgotten what it’s like to have a small child. Probably a resort vacation is not the best place to start the retraining, so just say maybe you will take them up next year when the baby is older. In the meantime, start setting new timelines. Visit for brunch for example, and say dinner doesn’t work for you now because the baby has to be in bed by 8:30. For a big celebration, make an exception, otherwise, kindly, but firmly, reset the schedule.
Reston, Va.: I have recently learned that two of my co-workers have been having an affair, probably for at least a year. Apparently, I am one of the last to learn of this. The whole thing has me quite disappointed in their behavior since I know what it’s like to grow up in a family where there is unfaithfulness going on, and these two individuals have a combined 4 young children between them. But all that aside, what I have become really grossed out about is that apparently they have been having intimate assignations in a part of our office building where we periodically have training/meetings, but which is otherwise often unoccupied. Any suggestions about what, if anything, I should do?
Emily Yoffe: You may be disappointed and disgusted, but calling in the hazmat team to decontaminate the places where they’ve coupled is unnecessary. It’s good you were the last to know. Now that you do know, unless the affair has a direct impact on you (they are in your department, one supervises the other and it’s affecting everyone’s work, for example) pretend you don’t know.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. I look forward to next week’s chat.