Slate: Advice from 'Dear Prudence': No more gifts for the grown-ups, gift-happy grandmas-to-be, Facebook dilemmas

Slate advice columnist Prudence counsels a doctor whose family members won't stop asking for free medical opinions.
Emily Yoffe
Slate Advice Columnist
Monday, November 30, 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. 30 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: I hope everyone's Thanksgiving was good. One holiday down, two more to go!


Houston, Tex.: Dear Prudie,

I just found out my fiancé has been cheating on me with men. He denied it and denied it until I presented him with the email evidence I found, and then admitted he's had oral sex (possibly more? I don't know) with at least 3 different men he met on a "men seeking men" online advertising site.

Obviously, my first order of business is to get tested for any STDs.

I am having a really hard time letting go of this person. Is it possible for him to get help, and to save our relationship? Or should I just let him go? We're living together with our 4 year old daughter, and he's currently unemployed so I feel really bad telling him to move out (to complicate things even more.)

Thanks for the advice.

-Heartbroken and Confused

Emily Yoffe: Let's see. On the minus side: He's lied to you about being bi-sexual. He's serially cheated on you with other men. He's unemployed. On the plus side: [Fill in the blank]

It's a little late for me to ask what you were thinking when you decided to have a child with this man. But you haven't articulated what you are thinking when you say you want to stay with him. Maybe your STD screen will help you realize the risks he is subjecting you to. Ending the relationship doesn't end his role as your daughter's father. But what kind of future do you have with this guy?


Madison, Wis.: Our family consists of our mother and 4 kids (my brother and sisters - all 40 and up), grandchildren (ages 4, 8, 19, and two 22 year olds.) My mother wants to keep exchanging gifts every year - even if it is for one person (secret santa). One of my siblings never has money (long story). His/her child (age 22) won't have money either and neither one may even come to our Christmas get together. Another sibling is barely making it due to the job/recession woes (his/her children are 19 and 22). The other sibling has the young ones. We all intend to get gifts for the young ones, but don't feel the need to give gifts anymore between the adults. My mother still wants to do this and suggested that we put our names in a hat with an item we want on it. My sister thinks it is stupid, she says "why don't we all just take the money we would be buying a gift for and just buy ourselves the gift." I have to agree with her. Money is tight for me, too. She won't participate in this secret santa. I am not sure if there would be many of us that would. My mother, though, is pouting about it all because we don't want to do it. I am fine with appetizers and dinner and visiting with each other. Is my mother being childish or are we scrooges?

Emily Yoffe: Time for a decision by the grown siblings that all of you will only get gifts for the kids -- with a clearly articulated "Get Out of Gift Giving Free" pass for those who can't afford that. Explain to your mother that enjoying each other's company is far more important that buying things you can't afford, and that you've all decided not to participate in adult gift exchange. When she starts pouting, try not to sing, "You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout..."


Atlanta, Ga.: Dear Prudence, My husband of six months has a daughter from a previous marriage. He was only 18 when she was born and hasn't had contact with her since she was a baby. When his ex remarried, my husband gave up his parental rights so his daughter could be adopted by the new husband. Now the daughter is twelve and has found my husband on Facebook and sent him a friend request. He hasn't responded yet. We aren't sure whether the mother is aware of the attempted communication, or, as my husband suspects, has perhaps orchestrated it. I am of the opinion that communicating with his adolescent daughter after over a decade of absence from her life may lead her to invent unrealistic fantasies about him which may undermine her relationship with her mom and adoptive father. What should he do? My instinct is that he should wait until she's emotionally mature enough to avoid idealizing her absent birth father, but I'm not sure if that is fair. For the record, my husband told me about his daughter within the first week of dating. I've always known that she would probably try to connect with him at some point, I just thought it wouldn't be for about six more years.


Emily Yoffe: Besides being a great way to let your friends know your favorite TV shows, Facebook has become a primary means for long-lost or unknown relatives to show up in people's lives. His daughter has made the connection, and it would be cruel to ignore her while you wait for her to become more mature. But because the girl is a minor, you husband should contact his daughter's parents and tell them he has gotten this friend request. He should say he wants to initiate contact in a way that is most comfortable for all involved. Whatever her thoughts or fantasies, she wants to know reality, and she deserves to be able to meet her biological father -- then all of you can go from there.


Jersey City, N.J.: I have an aunt who has very strong political beliefs: So strong, that she feels the need to ram them down the throats of whoever happens to be in her company. There was a time when she was more polite, but lately, she has become a fountain of rage. In the last two years, there has never been a family event in which she has not proceeded to rant and rave about how much she hates the president, all social welfare programs, and all individuals who happen to belong to different ethnic groups. This creates a heated, unpleasant environment. When she is told to please change the subject, she complies for a while, then continues with her rants. Now that she has ruined a second consecutive Thanksgiving dinner (which I worked very hard to prepare), I have had enough. How can I get her to be more civil?

Emily Yoffe: Before Christmas have someone who gets along with your aunt call her and say that everyone understands her point of view, but that all of you would prefer to keep politics out of family gatherings. Then have a family pow wow and agree that you all of you will take turns politely cutting off the political rants. When she starts, someone should say, "Judy, we agreed, no politics at the table." If she keeps going ignore her, and change the subject. And while she may simply be suffering from Democratically-induced Personality Disorder, there is a possibility that someone who has gone from polite to uncontrollably rage-filled may need a medical check up.


Mobile, Ala.: My husband lost two close family members to alcoholism. Probably because of this, he does not drink and never has. I like to have a glass of wine every now and then. I also like to have a drink when I go out with my girlfriends (we go out once or twice a month). I understand my husband's concerns, but just because two of his family members died as a result of drinking, does that mean I can never drink? All I really want is to have a glass of wine after I put the kids to bed. He finds this to be unacceptable and just recently threatened to call the police because I was having one glass of wine after I read to the kids and put them to bed. Is there anyway past this?


Emily Yoffe: What are the cops going to say, "A glass of chardonnay is a misdemeanor but sparkling rose -- now that's a felony!" Is your husband otherwise sane? Threatening to call the police because one's wife wants a glass of wine indicates he's got some serious control problems -- even if don't involve his own consumption of alcohol. Sounds like it's time for a counselor to help you referee this. (I bet some other issues might come up, too). And while you sip your wine, if he wants to call 911, call his bluff and let him.


Washington, DC: My darling niece is turning 1 next week and my sister is having a party at her apartment in NYC. Due to the high costs of planes, trains & automobiles (not to mention hotels). I had to send my regrets. I got word that she is really upset with me, and I'm not sure what to do about it. I would love to have attended (with my husband and my child), but it's just not in our budget now--and I don't think I should have to explain this to her. Should I just let it drop and hope she gets over it?

Emily Yoffe: I assume the "she" here is not your one-year old niece, who is probably more concerned that her diaper is wet than whether you're coming to her party. I think turning toddlers birthday parties into adult social events is ridiculous. And any event that requires long-distance travel and a hotel, unless it's a family milestone (wedding, graduation, funeral etc.) is entirely optional. Send a nice gift, and if your sister wants to pout -- well maybe we need to rent an auditorium for all the pouting relatives to air their grievances.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: I'm happily pregnant. But my husband and I are already worried about the amount of "stuff" our moms are buying for the baby, who is not even born yet. We are not huge consumers and have some strong views on the items we purchase - less is more, quality vs. quantity. We do not want hundreds of cheap plastic toys and stuffed animals. How do we get them to understand this, while allowing them to indulge? Both live in other states, are retired, and have money to spend. We've tried to explain ourselves, but it hasn't gone well.

Emily Yoffe: Sadly, there are many young mothers who don't have loving families to shower them with toys and items for the baby. So as you sort through your bounty, pick out the things you like, and deliver the ones you don't want (keep a few for re-gifting) to a local charity. Your mothers' impulse to help you prepare for the baby is so deep in the human psyche that lectures about 'less is more' is not going to extinguish it. Let them have their fun, thank them for their generosity, then spread the wealth.


Washington, DC: Please help! My son's 2 year-old birthday is around the corner. We had a family celebration with my in-laws with a special dinner, cake, presents, etc. We will also celebrate with my parents and siblings who live out of town. Finally, I am hosting a party for my son's friends from daycare and the neighborhood. My dilemma: my MIL insists on attending the kids' party. I do not want her there because she will be in the way in every way imaginable, not just physically. She constantly questions what I do, and the order in which I do them. I want this to be fun for my son and his friends, without having to serve as a referee to my MIL. My husband has told her it's just for the kids (and their parents), but she is very upset. If she would just attend and enjoy the party, I would have no problem. But that's not her style. She will hound me, and the other parents. She questions our decision to send our son to daycare, and she will have no qualms about harassing the other parents (she has done it before). I have a feeling she will show up regardless. What to do?

Emily Yoffe: Maybe your mother in law can go to NY and attend the birthday party for the one-year old whose mother thinks that is a command performance. Your husband told his mother that she already attended the celebration and that the next party is just for little kids. If he needs to repeat that, fine. Then if she shows up at the door, have him meet her on the doorstep, and say, "Mom, we'd love to visit with you some other time, but it's chaos in there and we can't do it today. See you soon." She needs some shock therapy in order to understand there are limits to her behavior.


Seattle: Re Madison: Not all gifts involve money. We frequently "give" my elderly widowed MIL gifts of service. These could be in the form of doing minor repairs around the house, cleaning, etc. These cost almost nothing, yet are really appreciated!

Emily Yoffe: Good idea. But that's gifts for the mother. I don't think the stressed-out grown kids want to be roped into cleaning each others' gutters.


New York, NY: My girlfriend went off the pill a few months ago (loss of health insurance, pill she was on made her feel awful) but always said that she'd get an abortion if she got pregnant. We were mostly careful, and she took emergency contraception when we had an "accident", but now she's pregnant and wavering about getting the abortion. We're not engaged, and I don't feel ready to be a father. How do I best support her while also encouraging her to go through with the procedure?

Emily Yoffe: If in the course of "a few months" your girlfriend has gotten pregnant twice, you weren't "mostly careful". There's no magic phrase I can give you to get you out of this fix. Your terror and lack of desire to be a father may help persuade her, but as you realize, this is her decision to make. Whatever happens, I hope this convinces you to be "scrupulously careful" in the future.


Washington, DC: My grandfather-in-law annually gifts each household in his family with a produce-of-the-month subscription. I try to eat seasonally and locally, and getting apples from New Zealand in June is just annoying.

I've asked my husband several times to see if we can swap this gift with, say, a CSA share, but he's not inclined to make waves. Will a food bank take this stuff? Can I have it shipped directly to them? What else can I do?

Emily Yoffe: You can stop being so self-righteous and enjoy the thoughtful gift from an elderly relative. If you must assuage your elevated conscience, think how much you're helping New Zealand's apple growers.


New York: Whenever I watch my kids for a period of time alone, my wife comes home and hits me with a battery of questions about whether I did this or did that (ie, did you feed the kids? Change the diapers?). This inquisition is not limited to away time as she comes and inspects the children's faces after bath time to make sure I cleansed them properly, which I always do. Of course, if I ask these questions of her, eyes are rolled. How do I get her to get off my back?

Emily Yoffe: I know this syndrome well, because I have suffered from it. It's very destructive for women to complain that their husband's won't help with the children or the house, then micromanage and critique everything the men do. At a neutral time when you're both relaxed tell her that you are and intend to be a full partner in your domestic life. Say you know you do things differently than she does, and they may not be up to her standards, but no one wants a critique and an eye-roll for the effort they put in. I hope she listens. This doesn't mean she'll then stop. But when she starts in again, keep your cool and say, "Sweetheart, when you go over every detail of what I've done wrong, it just makes me feel like giving up and letting you do it all. You don't want that and neither do I. So let's be more gentle with each other."


Somewhere in the South: I think I'm thinking too much about this but I really feel that I'm in a quandary.

My beloved younger brother has decided he is running for state senate. We are on the complete opposite sides regarding political beliefs. Luckily we don't live in the same state. I genuinely wished him well and became a fan on his Facebook page. Now, I'm getting solicitations for donations to his campaign. I'm single and have a very limited budget while my brother is quite wealthy. I've thought about sending him a check for $20 and be done with it but his beliefs are so on the fringe that they honestly scare me. Should I just suck it up and send him a small donation hoping they won't continue to badger me with solicitations?

Emily Yoffe: If you think making a donation will stop the badgering, you've obviously never made a political donation before. If you didn't abhor his views, I'd say, sure $20 for family goodwill is worth it. But you don't have money, he does, and you hate what he stands for. You've wished him the best; that's all you need to do.


bisexual boyfriend: I'm a single GWM and if you go on men-4-men sites, a lot of guys have wives. At one time, (if not now) these two people were in love and they have a child. But, I've seen too much heartache with men who sleep with men and don't tell their wives/longterm girlfriends. In my experience, his behavior will not stop, he'll just cover it up better.

I know she loves him, but I believe it's best if they part amicably and he stays a big part of his child's life. Some of the best adjusted, open-minded kids I've seen have a gay or bisexual parent who stays involved in their life.

Emily Yoffe: Thanks for the perspective from someone who's seen this situation play out.


"Gifting": Any advice on how I can bite my tongue this holiday season when people turn "gift" into a verb? What's wrong with "give" for pete's sake?

Emily Yoffe: Your gift to holiday cheer will be to not correct them. I agree it's grating, but give it up on "give vs. gift." And I hope you've accepted it's too late to convince people that "friend" isn't a verb, either.


Re: New York: "Whenever I watch my kids..."

It's called being a parent, not a babysitter. Perhaps if you looked at your role as a partnership rather than having it be your wife's responsibility things would be different. Gee do you "help out" around the house too?

Emily Yoffe: It doesn't help a father feel like a partner if the wife is treating him like an incompetent babysitter. I don't have any problem with him saying, "Whenever I watch my kids.."


Got Girlfriend Pregnant: Prudie, just a defensive note for clarification: she only "got pregnant" once, and it was despite taking emergency contraception. Point taken, though, about the need for fundamentalism in pregnancy prevention.

Emily Yoffe: I read it as she took emergency contraception once because they failed to use birth control and thought otherwise she might get pregnant. Then the actual pregnancy came later. So yes, I'm wrong it wasn't two pregnancies -- but it was a whole lot of sex without a whole lot of birth control.


I Only Eat Local = Pseudo-Intellectual Dimwit : RE: NZ Apples

Does this woman realize that 1 in 8, that's 1 in 8 Americans are on food stamps? She needs to shut her trap and be thankful.

Emily Yoffe: As we march toward the rest of the holidays, yes, it's a good idea not to tell people how destructive and offensive their well-intentioned gestures of goodwill are.

Have a good week, everyone. Talk to you next Monday.


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