Slate: Advice from 'Dear Prudence' on Mom's facial hair, proselytizing bosses, wedding boycotts and family rifts

Emily Yoffe
Slate Advice Columnist
Monday, November 9, 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, Nov. 9 to take your questions on manners, morals and more.

A transcript follows.

You may also read previous Live Q&As with Prudie.

Emily 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, everyone. Let's get to your questions.


Bay Area, Calif.: I love my mom dearly and am not sure how to tell her (or even if I should) that her facial hair is out of control. After she went through menopause (many years ago) I noticed she had a substantial mustache and beard, but she must have started taking hormone replacement drugs because they disappeared. Now, she is in her late 60s and the mustache is back and very thick and noticeable. Surely she knows she has it; do I need to butt out or is there a gentle way to suggest she do something?

Emily Yoffe: When Mom is mistaken for Dad it's time to speak up. I think any woman would prefer to be told by a loved one she looks like Groucho Marx, rather then go through life having people think, "Hey, there goes one of the Marx Brothers!" Before you tell your mother, investigate where some electrologists or laser hair removal places are in her area, so you can simultaneously break the news, "Mom, while you otherwise look great, I've noticed that your facial hair is getting a little heavy", and propose a solution.


Anywhere, USA: Dear Prudie,

I am having some trouble with my son, "Charlie". This past spring, he got married. He and his bride decided to exclude my other son's children, two boys aged 6 and 9, from their wedding festivities. We are a close-knit family, and this was very disappointing to his nephews. I tried to convince him that his actions were hurtful, but he would not listen. Things were said in anger, and as a result, I and my family chose not to attend the wedding if everyone would not be invited.

Since then, he has cut off all communication with us, he won't take or return our calls, and he even "un-friended" his brother on Facebook. My grandchildren's birthdays came and went, and he didn't bother to send a card or even call them to wish them happy birthday.

Prudie, this is not how I raised my son to behave, and it's the kids who are suffering most from this family feud. My heart breaks for them. With the holidays approaching, they're sure to ask why Uncle Charlie hasn't come. They must feel as though he doesn't love them. How do I encourage him to make amends? I just want our family to be whole again.

- Miserable Matriarch

Emily Yoffe: You say you didn't raise your son to escalate small disagreements into major breaches, but, Mom, you led the rest of the family into a boycott of your son's wedding ceremony! I'd say he's absorbed the upbringing you gave him very well. Your son and his wife didn't want children at the wedding. That is a perfectly reasonable decision to make, even if two of the children excluded were his nephews. It may have annoyed everyone, but what the people with children do is hire a babysitter, keep their complaints to themselves, and enjoy child-free afternoon.

You can try the politician's passive "mistakes were made" locution, but you and the others who didn't go made a whopper of a mistake. Own up. Write a sincere letter of apology saying you made bad decision of your life by not going to the wedding, and the estrangement is tearing everyone apart. Ask their forgiveness and invite the newlyweds out for a peace dinner. Your other son should send his own letter if he would like to repair relations. Do it now -- maybe this Thanksgiving you can all share a family meal.


New York City: Thirty-five years ago I was traveling in Europe with a fellow college student (who I really did not know that well). About two weeks before we came home (it was a six-week trip) -- he asked me one night (on a city street) if I was gay -- and I said "probably." He then slugged me (broke a tooth), walked off and I never spoke to him again.

He has recently connected with me via Facebook - and is quite openly gay and has a long-time lover. (I am currently involved in my own relationship with a woman.) He and his companion are coming to NYC and want to get together for drinks/dinner.

That is fine (I do not hold grudges) -- but there is a small elephant in the room. I cannot envision me sitting across from him and his friend all evening and saying absolutely nothing. Should I bring it up ahead of time or wait until some time we are together? He has made absolutely no mention of the incident so far.

Emily Yoffe: Each week I am forced to revise my original opinion that Facebook is a great innovation for keeping people in touch, to believing that it is merely a canvas for members to act out strange, unresolved conflicts and desires.

You may want to have dinner with a college acquaintance who once hauled off and slugged you because he was projecting his own sexual confusion, and with whom you haven't spoken since he smashed you in the mouth. I would not. If you want to go, say or don't say whatever you like. I would say to the invitation, "Thirty-five years of not seeing you is such a long time, but not long enough. Let's try to get together, perhaps, in another 35."


Washington, DC: Prudie, how does one get out of an emotional rut? I screwed up a relationship with a beautiful intelligent woman who I now want to marry (she lives in NY). My attempts to communicate with her have been ignored. But I'm stuck head over heels for her and can't seem to move on. Dating hasn't worked. Being active volunteering hasn't worked. Time heals all wounds, but time hasn't worked yet either. What's my next option?

Emily Yoffe: I'm assuming you screwed up by screwing someone else or by being such a lousy, neglectful boyfriend that your beautiful intelligent woman came to the smart conclusion that she should walk. Perhaps your revelation that she's the one comes not only from the fact that you now realize you want to marry her, but also from your desire not to let her have the last (non)word. How thrilling it would be to trash your relationship, then win her back!

She doesn't want you back.

So accept the fact that life presents us with opportunities to find more than one "one", and that you have learned a mighty life lesson when the next one comes along.


Arlington, Va.: My son has a immunodeficiency condition that doesn't allow him to get a flu vaccine or any of the other vaccines (mumps, rubella, chicken pox, etc.). As a result, we'll have to put him in a private school that requires all kids to have the shots, except for extraordinary conditions like my son. My sister, on the other hand, is a conspiracy nut. She believes, with certainty, that vaccines cause autism and has not vaccinated any of her 3 children. As a result, I don't let them near my son. My sister is furious with me, telling me that the odds of her kids being sick and passing it on to my son are so low that I shouldn't worry about it. She has rallied my family to agree with her, and they are pressuring me to attend all family gathering with my sister's kids and my son. Should I cave for family harmony, or should I stick to my guns?

Emily Yoffe: This requires a consultation with your doctor, so that you can make your decision -- and let your family know what it is -- based on sound medical advice. Of course sound medical advice is the thing your sister is probably not willing to hear since there is no evidence that vaccines cause autism. It is people like her who put everyone else at risk by counting on the rest of us to vaccinate so herd immunity protects her kids. As with the letter from the mother who organized a boycott of her son's wedding, it is very unpleasant to be the recipient of a family-wide decision about whether what you're doing is appropriate or not. So try to convey to people that you have a serious medical issue to deal with, and you would appreciate loving understanding as you make it, instead of judgment and pressure.


to Anywhere USA: I have a friend who got married and no one from the grooms family came to the wedding. The mother had somehow gotten everyone to boycott the wedding. This couple has been married for over 25 years and have 6 wonderful children. The grooms side of the family missed a lot of happiness because of the mother's boycott. In the last couple of years they have tried to get back together, but this mother caused a lot of pain to a whole lot of people over a little thing. Just like the mother in the letter. And I want to ask her, how many 6 and 9 year old kids really want to go to a boring wedding anyway? What a mess she has created. She has caused so much pain over this stupid thing. Hope she can fix it, but I think it is going to be a long process.

Emily Yoffe: I agree, there is a long road of reconciliation ahead. She has to re-earn the trust of the son whose wedding she missed. She can start by concluding she is at fault and take the blame.


Baltimore: Is it wise to confront my sister-in-law why she never sends my son a birthday gift, whereas I have always sent her kids one for their birthdays?

Emily Yoffe: No it not generally wise to "confront" family members about their perceived transgressions, especially when the confrontation is a demand they they pony up gifts. Yes, it's annoying, but does your son need another gift? And since there is no gift exchange, you can feel free to send nice but inexpensive gifts to her kids.


Falls Church, Va.: This is about religion at work.

I started a new job about six months ago and I think as soon as I started working here, my boss told me he was a very religious Christian. I was raised Catholic, but I'm more like agnostic now. I have no problem with anyone's religion as long as they don't try to hurt me or convert me. My boss seems to ask lots of personal questions, which is a little weird, but I'm a pretty open person and I haven't really minded much. But now it's getting out of hand.

Last Friday, my boss started a debate with me about religion. It kind of felt like he wants to convince me that his reasoning is correct, but he isn't overtly trying to convert me. I'm patient and I don't mind letting people talk, so I listened and responded to his questions. I'm guilty of responding to his questions, but I never bring up religion at work! Now I just want them to stop. He really disturbed me last Friday when he suddenly changed the conversation to, "I don't think it's fair that I have to tolerate things I don't agree with (paraphrased)".

I have decided I don't want to quit my job, which means I must continue to work with this person. How do I get him to stop without making him not like me or insulting him (though honestly, he insulted me during the 'debate')? I guess maybe he already doesn't like me because I don't take the bible-word-for-word and I believe in evolution.

I tried to find common ground by saying that although I don't agree with him on all points, I agree on the general ones, like lying, cheating, stealing, killing, etc are wrong--to that he responded that I should read the bible. This also colors my view of him because his views are so different from mine.

What do I tell myself to keep myself from judging him? At this point, do I try to confront him and ask him to stop so I can stop worrying about when he'll bring up religion next or do I wait until he does and then try to change the subject or otherwise not engage? I don't understand why he would bring all this stuff up at work!

Emily Yoffe: Forget "Judge not, lest ye be judged" because you have correctly judged that your boss couldn't be more out of line by using his power to harass and implicitly threaten you. From now on tell him that your religious beliefs are a private matter and you don't care to discuss them at your place of work. If after that he continues to proselytize or intimidate you, or starts damaging your career, then go to his boss and report him. This guy is potentially a walking EEOC violation, so go to that government website and look up your rights.


Johnstown, Pa.: Dear Prudence,

I hope you can help me with an impartial "reality check".

My wife is pregnant with our first child, and the grandparents on both sides are very excited. After the child is born, my wife and I are considering asking both sets of grandparents, and all other family members, not to visit us for the first three weeks or so. We don't want to seem reclusive or prickly, but we want some time to get to know our little guy and establish our own routines and rhythms without a houseful of guests. No matter how helpful and unobtrusive everybody promises to be, having house guests is just one stress too many during a very special time.

However, we realize it seems awfully harsh to ask our parents not to come right away when their grandchild is born.

Are we being reasonable to ask for a little privacy, or should we accept all of the help and advice that grandparents offer as part of the child birth experience?

Emily Yoffe: Let me give you a preview of your rhythms: Midnight feeding, 2 a.m. feeding, 4 a.m feeding, 6 a.m. feeding -- you get the picture. You will have the rest of your lives to get to know your little guy, and I assume one thing you want out of life with the little guy is a loving, embracing family around him. It is perfectly fine if you don't want guests staying in the house, so tell everyone where the nearest motels are. But yes, it is rigid and odd to ban grandparents for the first month. And grandparents can be really useful for making casseroles, running to the grocery store for more diapers, taking little guy for a walk while you nap for an hour, etc.


Holidaytown: Hi Prudie - The holidays are here and so too are the expectations. My parents are great but every Thanksgiving we load up the car and drive an hour to a cabin in the woods to celebrate with 50 of our relatives and their friends. It's nice in theory except I live four hours away and I don't relish the drive. Also, I don't hear from these extended relatives at any other time of the year.

I know that my Mom especially wants her family to be close but this once a year deal won't do it with second and third cousins. And I'd much rather avoid the stress (for her and me) by enjoying a nice meal at home - or in MY home.

I visit regularly but that isn't enough...already the not so subtle hints are parading down the phone lines. Sigh. What to say, what to do?

Emily Yoffe: So you would prefer to see your extended family...never? Yes, the drive is long, but hey, a cabin in the woods, a groaning table, and everyone who's related to you getting together once a year sounds like a pretty fun event. You're an adult so no one can force you to go. And if you decide not to, forget the hints and just tell your mother how you feel. But I suggest you get a good book on tape and make the trip.


What about Charlie?: Just a question - his family sounds toxic. Are you really doing Charlie any favors by encouraging them to contact him? I'm curious as to where you stand on this.

Emily Yoffe: As awful as this family sounds, it's terrible to be completely estranged from all your relatives because of what happened on your wedding day. Sure, it's good to be armed with the knowledge that you come from a whacked out family. But it's also better to make a reasoned decision that one's only choice is no contact, rather than have the breach come in such a sudden, explosive way.


In-law hell, Va.: Hope you can help me with this one. My oldest child has a severe dog allergy (to the point of needing medical attention), and my ILs have a dog. After several unpleasant incidents, we decided that she can't go to their house again until she is old enough to start having allergy shots. We socialize with them at our house, restaurants, etc. The problem is that my MIL is insisting on hosting holiday dinners at her house because "she is the granny," even though she knows this means our child can't attend. When we've suggested having things at our place (which is fine with everyone else in the extended family), she sulks, cries, and has tantrums. Her solution at thanksgiving was that my husband should go to dinner at her house with our younger children, and leave the oldest at home with me.

What am I supposed to do about this? She doesn't understand why putting the dog in another room isn't a solution. My SIL is particularly miserable because her kids won't be able to spend holidays with their cousins (my kids). She wants to confront her mother on this issue and tell her that we have to have this stuff at our house now, but I'm leery of having my MIL spending the holidays whining, sulking, and giving everyone the silent treatment, which is annoying to me and my husband and very upsetting to my kids.

I see only two solutions: split the extended family on holidays, or force the issue and have things here even though my MIL will be a PITA about it. Am I missing another option?

Emily Yoffe: This is time for an executive family decision. Since everyone's agreed they would like dinner at your house, your husband and his sister need to explain to Granny that it just doesn't work to split up the family on Thanksgiving and you're all agreed that for medical reasons it can't be at Granny's house, but will be at your house. Then do not let a whining, sulking Granny ruin the day for everyone. Maintain your happy demeanor and ignore any of her outbursts - which will be a good lesson for the kids in how to deal with such people in the future.


Salt Lake City, Utah: Dear Prudence, I am a 40 y.o. married male and I have a couple of very close friends who happen to be women. These are purely platonic relationships, but we often "text" each other and sometimes we discuss personal issues. My wife thinks texting other women is inappropriate and wants me to stop, or she wants me to give her my phone periodically so she can read the messages. I have refused to do either because its personal (and sometimes we talk about her). Who is being unreasonable here?

Emily Yoffe: Ah, you both are. It's wonderful to have friendships with people of the opposite sex. But it's creepy to tell your wife one of the benefits of these friendships is that you talk to them about her. As for your wife, she should know that acting like a proctor for the SATs doesn't increase the trust or closeness of your marriage. You need to tell your wife you understand her concerns about your friendships because you realize you may sometimes be crossing the privacy line with your friends. Tell her her concerns are fair, and that you're going to act on them. Then explain that even so, married people are entitled to privacy, and you are not going to hand over your phone to Ma Bell.


East Coast: Hi Prudie,

Had a great first date last week. However after hours of great and very personal conversation, my date did mention an ex, and even asked if I knew her because we live in the same neighborhood. I laughed it off when he said it and told him of course I didn't know her. Obviously this is a red flag, but is it a "don't ever call me again" sort of offense? Thanks.

Emily Yoffe: It may be a red flag to your date that you are rather tightly wound. You live in the same neighborhood as his ex, so it's a perfectly reasonable question to ask if you know her. If he then said, "Can you kneecap her for me?" then yes, I'd say that's a "don't ever call me again" kind of offense. Otherwise, what are you complaining about?


San Diego area, Calif.: Hi Prudie,

My fiancé who was deployed to Afghanistan was killed as a result of an IED a month ago, today (Monday). I have since gone back to school, sorted out things in our home (kind of), and am trying to make it through the semester as I know he would want me to do. One of the things I'm having the hardest time with at this point, is the looks I receive from people. I realize people don't know what to say, and therefore give me the look of pity. I am trying so hard to deal with this and smile again and do normal things like grocery shop and such. But it's when I'm actually having a normal moment, that people see me and give me the look. Most of the time it's from people I don't even know, whether it is other students at school, or neighbors from the new neighborhood we moved to just before my fiancé deployed, who have all heard about his death via the news, newspapers, internet, etc. When people give me the look, I myself don't know what to do or say in response. How do I handle this?

Emily Yoffe: I'm so sorry for your loss. But you may be reading knowledge into the looks on the faces of strangers that just isn't there. And for people who do know what happened and feel terrible for you so looks of sadness cross their faces -- just accept that people are hurting for you and hope you're doing all right. You do not have to acknowledge a silent look, so just keep going about your business and rebuilding your life. You might also want to find a support group of people who've lost loved ones in the military so you can talk out what's happened with people who really know what you're going through.


San Francisco: I grew up in a family full of ancient and not-so-ancient rifts. As a result, I never had a chance to develop relationships with (or even meet, in some cases) those who had been incommunicado since before my birth. It's quite possible I would have found them not to my liking, but I've always regretted not being given the chance to decide for myself. And let me tell you, several decades removed from some of these slights, they rarely seem to warrant the cessation of contact that ensued.

If you want to become estranged from Aunt Sadie and all her kids, just remember that your own children might wish they'd known their cousins. Today, I am virtually alone, though I know there are a bunch of cousins out there with their own families. it's sad.

Emily Yoffe: This is a good argument for not letting a disagreement harden into a multi-generation feud. That's why I hope the family with the mother(!) who boycotted her son's wedding can have some kind of reconciliation.


Facial Ha, IR: Kid should NOT say anything, unless the mother is visually impaired. The mother can see the hair, maybe she has just decided she does not mind it or does not want to deal with removing it. I just passed a woman on the street yesterday who was dressed quite smartly and had a goatee--got my attention but it's her business. Clearly she can see that she has a goatee. This kid does not like her mother's facial hair--too bad.

Emily Yoffe: If I ended up in old age with a goatee and my daughter didn't say, "Mom, you're looking like Abe Lincoln," -- I shudder to think about it.


Atlanta: In your view, is it possible for two consenting adults to have an affair, end it and remain "just friends"?

Emily Yoffe: It sounds like you're trying to make an argument to someone your cheated on that, "Hey, even Prudie says now that the affair's over, X and I can be friends!" Yes, your scenario is possible. But more likely is that once an affair is over, the cheaters need to agree not to see each other anymore in order to reestablish trust with their spouses.


TAPS: An organization for those who have lost loved ones in the military: TAPS.

Emily Yoffe: Thank you.


Ft. Wayne, Ind.: I am a 70 year old woman who has not had a special man in my life for 7 years-due to health problems and just the fact that there has been no one that really interested me. I will admit, I have had a very full and interesting life from ages 35 to 62...maybe some might say, too interesting. I loved it.

There is a very quiet man in a group I belong to, and suddenly he and I have begun to talk and I find him of interest---not for marriage, but for a companion to possibly do things with. Once he starts to talk, he is not quiet at all. He is a widowed 80 year old man. But, what is an 80 year old man interested in? At this age, will he be interested in sex, or just a friend to do things with? I do not know how to approach the situation. Any ideas? Someone to go to dinner, concerts, and such with, would be so nice.

Emily Yoffe: You approach it by enjoying his company and just seeing as you get to know each other what comes up.


Emily Yoffe: Thank, everyone. Talk to you next week.


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