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 Prudie’s Slate columns here.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I’m looking forward to your letters.
Greenwich, Conn.: My husband and I went on a long weekend vacation to celebrate our anniversary.
Trying to relive our honeymoon, we ordered an in-room couples massage from a reputable establishment in the area. When our masseuse showed up, she was a—to put it lightly, a working girl and proceeded to lay across our hotel bed offering her services. This took us by surprise and we immediately ran into the bathroom to discuss how to kindly ask this woman to leave.
My husband went out to the room and asked her to leave but she wouldn’t without $300 in cash for her time—which he gave.
Was this the right thing for us to do? Should we have given her money or forced her to leave?
We were also a little traumatized by the event and have had some trouble “getting over it.”
Thanks, Prudish But Progressive
Emily Yoffe: Maybe this “reputable establishment” is used to getting calls from politicians, and so it had a different idea of what’s involved in releasing stress than you and your husband had in mind. No, you should not have had to pay for the young lady’s services—unless she developed a sudden expertise in shiatsu. You should have called the place that sent her, explained you didn’t know it was an escort service, and told them unless they gave young lady orders to leave immediately, you would have her escorted out by hotel security and/or the police. Then you should have reported the incident to the hotel management, especially if they’re the ones suggesting the establishment. You could have said that on no list of gifts for significant anniversaries does “prostitute” appear.
As for your trauma—I can understand you were shaken, but look at it another way. When you tell your friends the story of this memorable anniversary, they will be shaking with laughter.
Dear Prudie, a coworker (closest to me) had a baby about 4 months ago. Two months before that, the office threw her a shower and a group of 20 coworkers pooled our money and bought her her dream crib (for $700 if it matters). She thanked us profusely during the shower, but never sent around thank you notes (neither a group one nor individual notes). I don’t believe she sent any notes to anyone in the office.
She returned to work 2 weeks ago, and I’m getting pressure from my coworkers to tell her to “do her duty” and write a thank you note to each of us. We all signed the card, so there’s no mystery who contributed to the crib. Personally, I am a sender and lover of personalized thank you notes, so I see their point; however, I’m feeling awkward about approaching the new mom 6 months after the gifting to say that she owes us written thanks. What should I do?
Emily Yoffe: People who don’t write thank you notes think they’re just some relic from a day when people left calling cards, and dipped their hands into finger bowls. They’re right that thank you notes have an ancient lineage, but they should look further back, to the mists of time when our species first emerged as social creatures. All social beings have a deep-seated need for reciprocity, and if that sense is violated it’s a deeply taken offense.
Your friend and colleague doesn’t know it, but because of laziness she is forever damaging her relationship with her co-workers. They banded together and made an extravagant gesture for her, and she hasn’t take the time (write five notes a night for four nights, and she’s done) to properly thank them. Yes, I think you should pull her aside and say you know how overwhelmed she has been—blah, blah, blah—but explain there’s a simmering resentment at the office because people haven’t gotten thank you notes for the crib. Tell her it may seem silly, but the good feeling she will engender at even this late date if she writes a few lines to each person will be well worth it.
Boston: My husband and I have a friend with high-functioning autism. He is kind, funny and endearing, but has trouble navigating social situations. He has confessed several times in the past that he feels uncomfortable in larger groups, and he also feels awkward when people around him are drinking alcohol, which he has never done before. For these reasons, we decided not to invite him to our wedding, which took place several weeks ago. The next day he wrote on his blog, which many of our friends read, about how disappointed he was not to have been invited! This was very upsetting and embarrassing, and though his public complaint was inappropriate, we felt awful for having excluded him. Our wedding was not large, and he’s not one of our closest friends, but now I realize we should have let him decide whether he would be at ease at the wedding. My husband wrote him a heartfelt apology, and it seemed that we had made amends. But now I feel like I must include him in every social gathering to show him that we like him, and another friend expressed his surprise that our autistic friend was not at the wedding (seemingly accusing us of insensitivity).
For an event that is supposed to be joyful, weddings certainly seem to generate their share of agita. Were we awful to have left our friend out, and how can we make it right?
Emily Yoffe: You’re right your friend should not have complained on his blog about not being at your wedding. (It’s a separate issue that more and more things that once were kept private—like wedding guest lists, and hurt feelings about not being on the list—play out on the Internet for everyone to see.) However, if he, and everyone else, would have expected him to be there, and you didn’t invite him to save him “discomfort” then you made a mistake. Probably the discomfort was mostly yours—I have heard from other couples who leave out friends who family who might mar their “perfect day.” You have apologized already, so now it’s time to move on. But at your earliest chance invite your friend out for dinner, or out with a small gathering, to let him know how much you enjoy his company.
Midwest: I have a question about a very unusual, delicate situation. A dear friend of mine was married two weeks ago. In the course of celebration, I and many of our other friends purchased wedding gifts to give to her. However, we weren’t all able to give them at the reception, for various reasons (not being in town, waiting for it to arrive in the mail, planning on getting something from a special vacation location later in the year, etc.) The bride unexpectedly passed away six days after the wedding. It’s a tragedy, of course, and we are all grieving. My question is…what do we do with the gifts we weren’t able to give her? Do we still give them to the husband? Return them if possible and donate the money to a charity in her name? What if returning them isn’t possible? He has two small children from a previous marriage, and so we are all doing everything possible to support them, and I’m sure he could still use new plates and glasses, but none of us want to give him reminders of what should have been a very happy time in his life. Thanks.
Emily Yoffe: How horrible! And now you don’t make a ghastly mistake of saying, “I know Janice would have enjoyed this trivet, so I hope you can use it in your new, single life.” If the family has asked for donations in her name, yes, it would be a good idea to return the gift and use that money it toward a contribution. If you can’t return the gift, jeez, then regift it, use it yourself, whatever, just don’t sent it along to the grieving widower.
Washington, D.C.: Prudie—help! I have a weird situation and I can’t find advice about it on the Internet.
After years of fruitlessly spending time on a creative pursuit I’ve had an enormous success. I just got the first of several paychecks for a multiple of my annual salary. Great, right?
But I don’t know how to tell my friends or family and so I haven’t said anything even though this happened a month ago. I’m old enough to have seen money tear apart a lot of friendships and families, even between genuinely good people. When I think it, though, any approach seems wrong. Matter-of-fact is arrogant, celebration is vulgar, trying to act like it didn’t happen is phony and maybe even condescending. I feel like socially it’s a lose-lose.
Emily Yoffe: Congratulations! But I don’t see what your problem is. You tell people you sold the screenplay and you’re so excited; or that documentary you’ve been slaving away on for years has just been picked up by a distributor; or your history of macramé plant holders has been chosen by Oprah as her fall book club selection. The point is your creative efforts are being recognized in the marketplace, and everyone who knows how hard you worked should be happy for you. It’s not anyone’s business, and you don’t have to mention, just how gratifying the marketplace has been.
Seattle: My father was abusive to me and my youngest brother, and in addition to the physical and verbal abuse, I was also molested by this man. I told my mother, or tried to tell my mother, a couple of times when I was younger that it was going on, once when I was 11, and again when I was 14. She ignored my attempt to ask for help, and swept it all under the rug. It was just a non-event.
Several years later, when I was about 16, my parents got divorced because my father was having an affair that he was not willing to give up—just one in a string of others. I saw this as a sign that my mother was finally seeing him for how he truly was, and took that opportunity to talk to her about the previous years of abuse. She claimed she never knew about it (a convenient go-to excuse for everything regarding her husband apparently) and swore to never try to rekindle their marriage now that she knew about this.
Fast forward ten years later, they have remarried each other. She says now that he was ‘saved’ and goes to church with her every Sunday, and that I must have been mistaken about some of what I ‘remember’. In other words, she is happy to just have her husband back and is eager to sweep everything under the rug, once again, even if that means thinking of me as a liar.
I have since moved to the west coast—they live on the east coast, and have a family and four children. My parents have been re-married for many years now, and after several years of frankly avoiding speaking to her and her new-again husband (I refuse to call him ‘dad’ any longer), I finally started accepting phone calls from her a few years ago for the sake of my 3 daughters—her grandchildren, who are teenagers now. My youngest son is 5 and has never met them.
She occasionally makes remarks about why I don’t visit, or suggests that I let my daughters spend the summer there with her.
She is clearly in the complete denial phase again, and I just don’t know how to respond. Normally I just say we’re busy or we have a trip planned or some other excuse. I have no intentions of EVER visiting these people (my parents) ever again, and I have no desire to ever have them around my own children. I barely tolerate phone calls, which is my limit, for the sake of my kids, and those are only with my mom, never my dad.
I do not want to dredge these painful memories out of the closet again, as I feel I have moved on and dealt with them. But what can I say to my mother to get her to close the ‘visit’ topic forever without cutting off all communication with her, which would hurt my kids?
Emily Yoffe: Your mother suggests you send your daughters to spend the summer! Is this so grandpa can find some new victims? You need to tell your mother what you’ve expressed so well here: you are willing to have phone contact so your children will have some relationship with her. However, there will not be any visits because your father is a pedophile who sexually assaulted you, and you will never, ever allow your children to be in the same room with him. You can tell your mother if she is unsatisfied with this arrangement, you can go back to having no contact whatsoever. And your letter leaves me worried that your father is still out there in the community, possibly hurting other children.
Hendersonville, N.C.: I have a family problem that has stumped even my wise circle of friends. My father-in-law has a single-wide mobile home at my husband’s home town at the beach. He has invested quite a bit of time and effort to make it livable for my husband, my five-year-old daughter and me when we come to visit. My problem is this: I can’t go back to stay there. Despite his efforts, the place is a mess. He smokes indoors, and constantly. No matter how much he tries to clean, the smell has settled into the walls and carpets and I can’t stand it. The rest of the house, especially the kitchen, is obviously the domain of a man who has no use for what I would consider basic cleaning supplies. And even if I came to visit armed with said supplies and spent ten hours using them, the smell of stale cigarette smoke would still be there, vile and nauseating. Given these issues, how do I present my feelings to my husband in such a way that will not offend him and his father? I truly feel awful about it, but I just cannot go back, and I don’t want my daughter there, either. Help!
Emily Yoffe: Your marriage should be comfortable enough so that you can say to your husband that you adore your father-in-law and love visiting him, but the cigarette smoke makes staying in the mobile home a no-go for you. Tell him when you visit you need to stay in a motel or with other relatives for your physical comfort. It also might be possible that your husband and daughter could visit Grandpa for a few days without you. The rule would have to be he doesn’t smoke in the house when your daughter is there. Unless she has asthma, etc., a few days in his place surely won’t hurt her.
Thank you notes: I was given to understand that thank-you notes, while always nice and almost never improper, were only necessary when the recipient opens the gift outside the presence of the giver and doesn’t have the opportunity then and there to thank the giver. Thus, if the new mother got the crib at a shower with everyone present and did the requisite fawning over what a wonderful and thoughtful gift it was, it seems she has done her duty.
And since when does failing to send thank-you notes give license for people to get affronted? Presumably you gave a gift because you wanted to help celebrate whatever occasion the gift was for. If people start demanding thank-you notes in return… well that just seems petty. Again, I’m not saying people should just ignore their obligations to write thank-you notes, but getting your knickers in such a huge twist when you don’t get one seems ridiculous.
Emily Yoffe: I hope this wasn’t your stance at your wedding and baby showers because a lot of people now think you’re an ungrateful lout. Sure, at showers people know you liked the gift that they took the time money and trouble to obtain and give to you. That doesn’t mean you don’t sit down and take the time to write a note. This woman can take your position, or she can make a gesture and change how people think of her. It’s often petty-seeming things that really rankle.
Princeton, N.J.: On Friday, my husband and I had an unexpected evening to ourselves and we decided to take advantage of this by enjoying a dinner out. When we got to the restaurant, we had to wait for a table. We sat at the bar for a few minutes, and I happened to notice a teenage couple kissing and cuddling in the corner. I thought it was cute and looked over periodically. When they pulled apart, however, I was shocked to see that my oldest daughter (17 years old) was one-half of the couple! And the boy she was kissing was most definitely not her boyfriend of ten months. Deciding it was best not to cause a scene in the restaurant, my husband and I finished our drinks and went to dinner somewhere else. When our daughter came home that night, we confronted her with what we’d seen. She became defensive and hostile, but I did manage to wheedle out of her that she’d been cheating on her boyfriend for several weeks. I’ve tried explaining to her that her actions may be unforgivable and that she needs to be honest with her boyfriend, but she’s refusing. How can I get her to see that what she’s doing is morally wrong and unfair to a boy who has only ever treated her with respect?
Emily Yoffe: You confronted your teenager about her lousy values and moral failings and she became defensive and hostile? What a surprise! You were wise to quietly exit the restaurant. You should have exercised this restraint when “talking to” not “confronting” your daughter about this the next day. You should have unemotionally explained you saw her out with another guy and you’re concerned that she’s getting in a situation that is going to be painful for everyone. You should have listened if she wanted to open up, and dropped it if she didn’t. Your remaining calm and available to her as this unfolds will be more helpful than driving a wedge between you by berating her.
Crystal City, Va.: My cousin is married to a man who is an extremely aggressive and reckless driver. He tailgates at very high speeds, speeds everywhere, including through residential neighborhoods, runs stop signs, aggressively weaves through traffic—you get the idea. How he has avoided getting into a major accident all of these years, I’ll never know. He does all the driving in the family (my cousin doesn’t like to drive) and drives the kids to school every day. I do whatever I can to avoid getting into a car with him. Here’s my question: should I call the police in the town he lives in and tell them about this guy? One of these days he’s going to kill someone and I think I’ll feel horribly guilty if I don’t do anything about it.
Emily Yoffe: Many communities have signs on the highway asking for people to report aggressive drivers. You would be doing a public service to alert the police to be on the lookout for this maniac. I don’t know what your cousin is thinking, but this guy needs to be stopped.
Washington, D.C.: I was wondering how you would handle this situation. I have a friend that I have been friends with for many years, but have recently realized that because she does not have a car, the only things she asks me to do socially with her involve things she couldn’t get to herself without a ride. Not only that but when she has people over for dinner I am never invited, which would be an easy gesture to make me feel included.
Instead I get the “I’d love to take this pilates class that’s in such and such area (without public transportation), would you like to go with me?”
I’m starting to feel very resentful and don’t know quite how to approach this. Do I say something or just start backing away from this friendship?
Emily Yoffe: Say something before you put the car in reverse and drive off. Explain that you have started to feel you only see her when she needs a ride someplace. You can say many of things you do are fun, but the relationship is starting to feel not very reciprocal to you because of this.
Ignoring the tone … : of the previous message about thank-you notes, the standard rule I’ve always seen is that if you thank someone in person, a note is NOT required. In fact, the Emily Post Institute has this on their web site: “All gifts should be acknowledged with a note, unless the goodies were opened in front of the giver—then you have the chance to thank them in person.”
Emily Yoffe: Fine, but guests expect to be thanked for gifts they give at a shower. This is why people have started the awful custom of having guests address your own envelope at the event. I’m sure (please correct me if I’m wrong) that Miss Manners expects newlyweds and mothers-to-be to write thank yous for gifts opened at showers. Believe me, if you don’t write the note, people will be deeply annoyed.
Dayton, Ohio: Dear Prudence,
Several days ago, we had some friends over for dinner and a board game. During the course of the game my fiance said to me “you are so stupid” and he said it with a fair share of contempt. This has happened before, always with guests present. When I spoke with him about it after they had left, he claims he doesn’t remember. We both don’t like confrontation, but we need to talk about this. I’ve told him the last time that my hot button was being told I’m stupid, and he was truly amazed. How can I talk to him about this and impress on him how seriously I’m taking this comment/behavior. I’ve been upset for several days and know I need to resolve this issue.
Emily Yoffe: Yes, you do need to resolve this. Particularly since your fiance seems to have amnesia about insulting you vigorously in front of other people. Frankly, I think you should put the wedding on hold until you two get some counseling and you see this issue ameliorated.
Los Angeles, Calif.: How do you know when you should give up a career field because it’s not working out? I’ve been trying to break into an extremely competitive field for the past 2.5 years. I’ve some bites here and there, but nothing concrete has panned out. I’m torn. I can’t decide if I should just give up because I’m not qualified or because the field is competitive itself and trying to break in should take a lot of time. Should I take this personally or chalk it up to what I’ve decided to dedicate my life to? I’ve read lots of stories of people who persevere and go on to be really good at what they do after years of rejection, but you never hear about the people who gave up and what they did. What to do?
Emily Yoffe: I wonder how long the letter writer above who just made gobs on money in her creative endeavors slaved away? If you are going into a field where it’s a struggle, but most people with a lot of drive and enough talent can make a go of it, then you need a better idea from more senior people about how to make sure you are making sufficient progress. But if you’re in a field (show business, for example) where the vast majority of wannabes wash out, then one of the worst things you can do is read those stories of the people who struggled for 20 years and finally made it big. You need to draw up a plan—say give yourself another two years, but only if you’re meeting some milestones along the way. And while you do that, look into other careers would satisfy some of these itches, and what it would take to switch.
Bi-Bi Husband: Your advice to the woman who has discovered her husband’s taste for gay porn was generally right on, but you lose points for not pointing out her husband of 30 years—who says he loves her and cherishes their marriage—might not be gay, but bisexual. This piece of advice is missed out nearly as often as “you could give it up for adoption.” You say “It’s possible your husband has always struggled with homosexual impulses, but that he also truly loves you and treasures your years together and the family you’ve made.” Why not just mention the B-word here? Thanks, from all us invisible bisexuals out here!
Emily Yoffe: This is in response to a letter in the column last week from a woman who found out her husband of 30 years views gay pornography, has a membership to a gay health club, and carries Viagra in his gym bag he’s not using for her. I have heard from many people denouncing me for not recognizing the man could be bi-sexual. But so what? When you marry someone you don’t have a caveat that if they discover other aspects of their sexuality, they should be free to cheat on you because of that. He’s been hiding a crucial part of himself. He has to be honest now, and the marriage has to be re-assessed on that basis.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone! And I believe Emily Post will not take you to task if you write the thank you note, anyway.