Slate: Advice from 'Dear Prudence'

Emily Yoffe
Slate Advice Columnist
Monday, July 20, 2009; 1:00 PM

Need help getting along with partners, relatives, coworkers... and people in general? Ask Prudence! Emily Yoffe -- a.k.a. Slate's advice columnist Dear Prudence, was online Monday, July 20 at 1 p.m. ET to take your questions on manners, morals and more.

You may also read previous Live Q&As with Yoffe is also Slate's Human Guinea Pig, a contributor to the XX Factor blog, and the author of What the Dog Did: Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner.


Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.


Washington, D.C.: I have a workplace dilemma. I'm on a team of about 15 people, and we are hiring a new manager from within the company. One of the candidates is probably the top contender, is very qualified and presents very well. I have little doubt that this person could perform the job well. But, I happen to know that this person holds personal/political views that are absolutely repugnant to me -- it's an issue that could not be more important for me. The thought of taking orders from a person with such views is horrifying to me. It blasts everything I've ever believed in. What would you do? Thanks!

Emily Yoffe: If you work for Planned Parenthood and your potential boss spends all her time lobbying for the reversal of Roe v. Wade, I could understand you might have a problem. However, it sounds as if this person's views are irrelevant to the business, and so you should make them none of your business. You concede this person is highly qualified; unless he or she proselytizes at the workplace, you should recognize the fact that a great thing about the U.S. is that people of all sorts of viewpoints can leave them aside and work amiably together. This person is not going to be ordering you to accept his or her personal views, this manager is going to telling you how to do your job.


St. Louis, Mo.: Dear Prudence, I was married to a man for 20 years. We had many ups and downs. I left him, it was the hardest thing I have ever done but his negativity was so overwhelming I felt I had to leave or my soul would be totally sucked away. After 2 years, I married again to a wonderful man. My problem is I still have feelings for my first husband and dream of him often. While I love my current husband, my feelings are often confusing: the love for him is not as intense as it was my first husband, which was intense for many years. My first husband has changed, mellowed and wants me back. He never wanted me to leave in the first place. I don't know if I made a mistake in leaving him and wonder if going back to him is idiotic.

Emily Yoffe: Ah yes, how to recapture the intense thrill of the soul-sucking love? You say you ended your marriage to save your life, but now that you're in a decent relationship, you miss the passion of the rotten one. Number one sounds like a lonely vampire hoping to lure you back for more sucking. However, you sound like you need some help figuring out why you would jeopardize a new marriage to go back for twenty more years of misery. I assume you know how hard it is to find someone "wonderful". Concentrate more on being a committed wife to your current husband than mooning about the bad times with your previous one.


Toronto, ON: Dear Prudie,

I live in the city and work closer to the suburbs, involving a 20-minute commute by car. A few months ago I discovered that a co-worker of mine lives close by to me and takes the bus every day. I offered to give him rides to work since we live so close and have been doing so several times a week, both there and back. Now after some time has passed, I realize he is not that close after all. Technically, we live on the same street (a long one), but I actually timed it and on average, picking him up adds an extra 15 minutes to my 20 minute commute. I am beginning to want to take back my offer. Part of me feels like I should be a good citizen and help out another person. I also would feel guilty about giving him the boot to take the bus (about an hour's ride, including wait times). But I am not really enjoying having to almost double my time in the car. He is a very nice person, and I wouldn't want to hurt his feelings. He does not drive, so cannot return the favour. He also does not contribute money for gas, though I have never asked, and really is beside the point for me. I feel so selfish even thinking about "ditching" him. Should I politely tell him it's not working out for me, or suck it up because it's only 15 minutes and it's a nice thing to do?

Emily Yoffe: You need to just talk this out with you colleague. Perhaps there's a half-way solution -- you can drop him in the evening at a nearer bus stop and cut his commute time. Or perhaps you don't mind giving him a lift one way, but don't want to do it both ways. Or, if you realize you just want to get back to your short commute, so you need to tell him you don't want to make this a regular thing anymore, but you'll do it when it's convenient for you. He may be a nice guy, but that he's ridden with you for months without offering to pay gas or give you any other gift of thanks means he's not a very thoughtful one.


Houston, Tex.: Dear Prudence,

Six months ago, I became engaged to a wonderful man who is the love of my life. As we announced our engagement and began planning the wedding, we realized that the last thing we really wanted was a huge, elaborate, expensive church wedding with tons of guests. We're both shy and not very close to our families. It seemed more appropriate to limit the size of the wedding as much as possible. So, on a whim two weekends ago, we flew out to Vegas and got married. We haven't told our families or friends about what we did yet, because we know they'll be disappointed to have missed out. Is there a delicate way of telling everyone what we did without hurting their feelings?

Emily Yoffe: "Hey, everyone, guess what? We're married! We did it in Vegas! We won the marriage jackpot." Stop acting like you've done something TO everyone. Instead act like you've done something FOR yourselves. Sure, your parents may be disappointed, but remind them that your trip to Vegas is a gift to their retirement accounts. And now that you're married, you can throw a big barbecue so everyone can celebrate your happiness.


Berkeley, Calif.: I've heard it's impolite to blow your nose at the table. But my nose runs whenever I eat hot soup or spicy food. What should I do about this if I'm at a restaurant or formal dinner?

Emily Yoffe: It's more polite to address your nose issues than season your soup with the drippings. Always carry with you a fresh tissue or handkerchief and use it without making a big show. Surely you can do a mopping operation without sound effects.


Annandale, Va.: What do you say to a spouse that is so unhappy and miserable in his current job that he is thinking of leaving? I support him in what he does, but I am terrified that with the current state of the economy, it will be hard to find another job. And our family needs two paychecks. But his current job is slowly out sucking his soul and is detrimental to his health -- physical and mental.

Emily Yoffe: It sounds as if he is operating out of desperation, not rationality. Missing mortgage payments, or not being able to afford the groceries also has detrimental effects physically and mentally. Obviously, if his goal is to find another job, he needs to do that while he has a job. Instead of quitting, and having to explain while he voluntarily joined the ranks of the unemployed, his misery should be motivating him to use every contact to find a better situation. If he needs to quit to keep from being destroyed, then that's what he has to do. But before he takes that step, tell him you will support whatever decision he needs to make, but you want to help him figure out the best one for himself and the family.


Cherry Hill, N.J.: Hello. My son is about to marry a wonderful woman. Her parents are divorced, and apparently it's very bad situation. Her father remains single and lives several states away. Her mother is now married to her father's former best friend and says there was nothing going on between them prior to divorce. However, the dad does not know of this and mother and step dad refuse to tell him. They have left it to their daughter to do so, and she has agonized over it for 7-8 years. Now all will be in one place at one time, and daughter is torn in two. She has asked my thoughts, and I've gently replied that I do not feel it is her responsibility to reveal this. She's the "child" in this, even now and her mother and step dad should handle it. She believes they never will and fears her Dad will see as a conspirator in hiding truth from him. My son will tell her dad of this with her, if need be, to support her. She is so stressed, they're considering eloping to avoid this. Your thoughts? Suggestions?

Emily Yoffe: This reminds me of the Henny Youngman joke, "My wife just ran off with my best friend, and boy, do I miss him." However, this situation is no joke, it's truly sick. How lucky for your future daughter-in-law that she's marrying into a healthy family and that all of you love her. Yes, she will need your support through this. I actually think she and your son (she could use some help) should sit down with her father before the wedding and break the news. It obviously should have come out years ago, but the father will rightly feel mislead if he shows up at the wedding and learns the truth there. Be there to help her through the emotional fall-out, which may include the father boycotting the wedding.


Carlsbad, Calif.: To Annandale, Va. -- I have found that starting to look for a new job while in an unhappy job does wonders for the morale and sense of empowerment. I encourage your husband to start looking -- pronto. Not only will he land another job without an interruption in paychecks, but his personal outlook and attitude will improve because he's taking his destiny into his own hands.

Emily Yoffe: Good point that the misery might lessen once the unhappy husband feels he is taking steps toward something better, rather than just running away.


Washington, D.C.: "But my nose runs whenever I eat hot soup or spicy food."

I love spicy food, but when I eat it, I sweat like a fat man running upstairs AND my nose runs like the bulls of Pamplona.

The key is simple: I don't eat spicy food in public unless I'm with someone I know very well, or don't care to impress. I NEVER eat spicy food on a date.

Emily Yoffe: But going out for Mexican food might be a good way to tell if someone would be willing to stick with you through better and wetter.


Clarksburg, W.V.: Dear Prudie, I work for a small CEO-owned company. When I started here a few years ago, the company had a generous bonus package based on employee performance. Bonuses were canceled last year due to economic conditions. Starting this year our whole team has pulled together and worked hard so we are now having the best financial year in the company's history. I've been lucky to work on accounts that have brought in over three times my yearly salary. At today's staff meeting, unexpectedly, I was given an envelope and it was announced to the whole team that I was getting a bonus. In the envelope was a $50 restaurant gift card. I am so embarrassed to have been singled out in front of the group and am not sure how to feel about a gesture, and in light of how well we're now doing, that it seems a little on the light side. Am I out of line for thinking that for that amount our whole team should have gotten the gift cards or should I just be unquestioningly grateful, eat my free dinner and shut up?

Thanks so much for your help!

Emily Yoffe: Talk to the owner, but separate the issues of reinstating the generous bonus packages and this particular gift. Tell the boss how much you appreciate the dinner card, but you want to let him or her know that the good results were the work of the whole team, and you wonder if there is a way to honor everyone by, say, having a appreciation lunch for all, etc. The discussion of the bonus packages should come at a later date -- and keep in mind that while this year may be good, the company may be digging itself out of a financial hole. You should also send a note or email to your team and say that while you were happy the boss recognized the good year you are having, you know, and you let the boss know, that it's because of the work of everyone.


Bethesda, Md.: Hi, I wonder if you might have some advice for me. Recently a good friend started dating a fantastic, gorgeous, smart, bright, funny, delightful woman. In fact, she's so fantastic, gorgeous, smart, bright, funny, and delightful that I have recently found myself extremely attracted to her. I mean, seriously, she's my dream woman.

Now, I would never do anything about it, of course, and I freely admit that part of my dilemma stems from jealousy that he found someone so fantastic to date while I'm still single, but do you have any advice on how to deal with it, apart from choosing not to hang out with said friend as often as before?

Emily Yoffe: Reassure yourself that there is a fantastic, gorgeous, smart, etc. woman out there for you. So start looking. You can even tell your friend that you're so happy for him that he's found someone so great that you wonder if she has any similarly delightful girlfriends she can set you up with.


Portland, Ore.: Dear Prudence, My younger sister, 26, has a problem with body odor. I don't believe she showers daily or washes her clothes regularly. It has gotten very bad, to the point where driving in the car with her necessitates having the windows open; her hair looks greasy a lot. I have tried speaking gently with her in the past about using deodorant, taking regular showers, etc., which ended up with her in tears, although she said she knew I was speaking from a place of love. She recently confided in me that she doesn't take care of herself when she's feeling low. How do I approach her again about this? I'm worried it will affect her job and friendships; I know if I worked with a co-worker who had a strong B.O. that folks would gossip. At the same time, I've already tried to confront her about it, so would doing so again just be hurtful and damage our relationship? Thank you so much for your advice, Prudie!

Emily Yoffe: Forget trying to persuade her to bathe, and instead do your best to convince her to get a complete mental health evaluation. Then get her in the car, open the windows, and drive her there. Dispensing with personal hygiene is a sign of mental illness -- your sister has already confided in you that she feels "low." She needs a diagnosis and probably medication. When her internal issues are addressed, she'll be much more likely to attend to her exterior.


Weddingville: My fiancé and I are in the midst of planning a wedding, and it is becoming a huge source of stress. I'm not a bridezilla or perfectionist in any way, I just want to have a joyful celebration of this happy event with our friends and family. The actual details of bringing said event into existence have been very overwhelming for me. I am not a detail person or a planner. Our budget is extremely small ($2500), so I cannot afford to hire a wedding planner to take care of all the little things that are stressing me out. In my current state, there is nothing happy or joyful about our celebration, it is just a massive headache I have to force myself to deal with each day. I don't know what to do. Everyone keeps saying it can't be that stressful because our event is so small, but even with a small event there are a million details that are making me crazy -- not to mention trying to trim expenses everywhere possible. Help!

Emily Yoffe: Try pretending you are throwing a 10th anniversary party. You probably wouldn't care if the cocktail napkins matched your anniversary colors because you wouldn't have any anniversary colors. So just off-load all the idiocy and go to the default option of either saying no, you don't need whatever is being pushed on you, or getting the cheapest option. Focus on that what this event is about is starting your new life together, not being an event planner. As for the party, forget it being a "perfect day" -- just decide as long as everyone get a decent meal and doesn't end up with ptomaine, you've done your duty.


New York: Dear Prudie,

I graduated college in 2008 after four years of working my butt off, including multiple unpaid internships and many extracurricular activities. Through a combination of a similar work ethic, well-built connections from college and much sheer luck, I have worked steadily in the media industry for the past 18 months. I've seen many friends of equal or greater talent and training not be as lucky considering the times. I have a dear friend who went to a different college and spent four years doing not much of anything. She has spent her time post-college mostly babysitting and writing here and there, mostly for free for websites you probably haven't heard of. Her writing isn't very good, especially compared to my aforementioned friends. Recently, she has gotten frustrated with nannying and says she wants to write and edit full-time and is insisting I help her. She seems to not understand anything about how hard it is to be a writer/editor now. I have made many suggestions, from embellishing her media skills, to maybe pursuing something else in the meantime (going abroad, joining a campaign) and she brushes them all off insisting "it's not for me."

How do I tell her to get a life? I feel like I have done all I can considering the circumstances. She cannot re-do the last 5 years, and I cannot have the same conversation and waste my time everyday.

Emily Yoffe: Since she's your dear friend, and you indicate you have this conversation with her daily, tell her that you've given her all the insights you have for launching her career, and that the guidance center is closed. Then change the subject or cut the call short when she starts whining. Of course, don't forget The Nanny Diaries became a huge best-seller for its unknown authors.


Tokyo, Japan: Dear Prudence, I am a college student currently studying abroad in Tokyo. My relationship with my parents has never been particularly good, but has worsened since I entered college primarily because my parents (my stepmother and father -- my biological mother died years ago) have decided that they would not contribute any money to help pay for my college education. I worked hard in high school and was able to gain admission into several Ivy-league schools as well as other very good universities. At most Ivy-league schools, there is not much merit-based aid (rather financial aid is based on need, and in almost all cases on the income of the parents of the students). I was offered some full-ride merit based scholarships at non-Ivy-league schools, but my parents insisted that I go to an Ivy-league school, although they made it clear from the start that they would not help pay for it in any significant way.

As such, since my family is not destitute, I have had to shoulder the prescribed "parent contribution" on my own through the use of loans and part-time jobs. While I can't say that my life is horrible, it hurts me that my parents would make me shoulder this burden on my own, and the fact that although because my school financial aid program is quite generous if my parents contribution their share I would be able to graduate debt-free, it looks like instead I will have about $15,000-$20,000 of debt when I graduate. This also makes me regret listening to my parents when I was a high school senior, and I wish I had taken the full ride elsewhere.

To get to my question. Because I am paying for college by myself, I feel no need to inform my parents of anything related to my school life, such as my grades, major or future plans. In fact, although I used to keep intermittent contact with them, I've actually stopped talking to them altogether (I haven't talked to them since April), and I didn't tell them that I was moving to Tokyo, either. While I certainly don't feel much filial emotion towards my parents, it does hurt me that our relationship has come to this mainly because of money. I thought our relationship was deeper than that.

What do you think I should do?

Emily Yoffe: Don't create a complete rift through passivity. Get back in touch and tell your parents that you're in Tokyo and what you're doing there. I'm not against deciding to end contact with close relatives, but it should be for good reasons, and it should be a decision, not something you drift into. Instead of being bitter about your situation, be proud of what you've accomplished, and how independent you are -- this puts you way ahead of many of your fellow Ivy grads. Send your parents periodic email updates. Then when you get back, sit down and have a serious discussion with them about what you've been feeling, and your financial situation. Maybe they will offer to help you with your debt. But if not, accept that while you will never be close to them, you have turned this painful situation into a lesson in how to make your own way in the world.


Timonium, Md.: Dear Prudie,

I just graduated from college with a B.A., but given the state of the economy, I haven't been able to find a good job. To make ends meet, I'm working as a waitress and living at home. My parents have allowed me to live there rent-free, which is great, but they do require that I go to church with them every Sunday, followed by brunch with my grandmother. The problem is that I can't stand her! She's singularly critical. She constantly berates me about my weight, my lack of "career direction", and the fact that I don't have a boyfriend. I've tried politely telling her that I don't appreciate her unkind words and I've also tried ignoring her, but she continues to do it. My parents refuse to get involved, so I'm on my own. Any advice for how to deal with her? Thanks!

Emily Yoffe: Tell your parents that you've taken to heart her criticism about your passivity, and have decided to start taking steps toward making your life better. The first one is that while you will go and see Grandma occasionally, you are not going to accompany them every week because her constant berating is wearing you down. They can't physically make you go, and if they threaten to toss you out of the house, then perhaps you can find a cheap roommate situation.


Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week!


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company