'Dear Prudence': Refusing to put down a sick pet, confronting one's molester, graduation announcements, more

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Emily Yoffe
Slate Advice Columnist
Monday, May 24, 2010; 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, May 24 to take your questions on manners, morals and more.

A transcript follows.

You may also read previous Live Q&As with Prudie and like Dear Prudence on Facebook.

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.

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Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. Let's get to your questions.

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Ventura, Ca: This may sound trivial, but my same sex boyfriend and I are having an ongoing debate. Our neighbors, whom we are cordial with, do not wish us to kiss in front of their childeren. Mind you, this kiss is not like a porn thing, more like a welcome home from work thing (no tongue).

While I respect the neighbors' right to their views, they say we're confusing the little ones, they don't seem to respect my right to be who I am.

My partner says. "this is not a battle worth fighting for."

I disagree. Thoughts?

Emily Yoffe: I agree that this isn't a battle worth fighting, and that's because your neighbors need to back off and retreat to their bunker if they think they can dictate that their same sex neighbors are not entitled to a non-salacious welcome home kiss. It's part of their job as parents to help explain interesting or confusing things: How do airplanes stay up? Where does milk come from? Why do Bob and Harry kiss each other? In our old neighborhood were two same sex families. After about five minutes of explaining to our young daughter that not every family is composed of a mommy and daddy, she was placidly unconfused by this fact.

You need to tell your neighbors that you have heard their concerns, and what they tell their children is up to them, but how you and your partner greet each other is up to you.

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Arlington, VA: I recently had the world's most bizarre job interview (after several rounds of talks) and am no longer interested in the company. The question: do I say something to them, alerting higher ups about the bizarreness factor, or do I just go quietly away?

The interview was peppered with fun things like one scheduled interviewer who no-showed without any word before or after and a second interviewer who had clearly never read my resume but did bring her cell phone into the meeting and continued to check it and respond to texts while I spoke.

At any rate, the experience totally changed my perception of the place. I'm just not sure if I should let them know that.

Emily Yoffe: The world's most bizarre interview? I thought you were going to say something like they made you dress up in a penguin costume and see how good you were at incubating eggs. From my mail I can tell you what you describe is absolutely standard behavior. Perhaps you been out of work quite a while because at most business meetings someone is completely absorbed by texting. Granted, being stood up and ignored during your vetting process is outrageous and rude. But unless you've got better job prospects, I suggest you just accept this hazing. Then if you still want and get the job, after you start you can talk to the appropriate people about how the interview process needs to be reformed.

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Washington, D.C.: Please help, I don't have anyone to turn to. 20 years ago, when I was in 2nd grade, I was molested by my older brother (he was 15.) It only happened once, but until he went away to college I was terrified when left alone with him. I've never told anyone, even a doctor, despite years of counseling in high school/college. It's affected my life in many ways, especially my relationships with men.

Recently, at a family gathering, he commented that his executive level position allows him to 'destroy' the careers of people whom he dislikes. When he saw our horrified faces, he quickly added, "don't worry, they're all bad people, like sexual harassers." I've already wanted to find a way to confront him for some time now, and that comment only furthered my desire to do so.

I feel like I need to let him know how much his actions have destroyed certain aspects of MY life. We have a large and close-knit family, however, and I don't want to ruin other relationships. I'd talk to a psychiatrist about it, but I don't have health insurance, and I'm a broke grad student. I've finally recognized that I need to deal with this, I just don't know how. Please help, I'm upset, depressed and, frankly, furious at him for not having to deal with the consequences of his actions.

Emily Yoffe: So this is the background of one of those sociopathic bosses who bestride our workplaces. How is it that clear lunatics are allowed to move ever upward? I'm sorry that I don't have an easy answer for this horrible situation. First of all, since you're in graduate school, there should be counseling services you can avail yourself of. Also, there are many support groups for victims of molestation for you to contact. I don't think you should do anything until you've talked this out thoroughly with a professional and have a plan for how to bring this up with your family. You also need to have worked out various scenarios and how you might respond. Your brother is likely to deny everything, and it's possible you might get painted as the unstable one, so you need support going into this.

Readers, suggestions?

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Not fishing...: I will be finishing my graduate degree in the near future, and I don't know what to do about graduation announcements. I like the idea of sending them to family and friends (and my mother REALLY wants me to send them), but I am afraid that sending announcements to out of town relatives who definitely won't be able to attend will be viewed as fishing for gifts. I will be starting a job with a decent salary after graduation, so it is not as if I really need anything (and most of these people generously sent me gifts for both high school and college graduation already). Is it best to just not send announcements at all?

Emily Yoffe: You're finishing your degree and have a well-paying job lined up? That's news! And you should go ahead and share it, but I don't see why it has to be a formal, impersonal graduation announcement. I assume you aren't talking about notifying dozens of people, but a fairly contained group of family members and friends. So why not sit down and write some personal notes. Tell these people they have been so supportive of you over the years that you wanted to share your happy news that you've finished your education and it's paid off with your finding an exciting job in your field.

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VA: I'm a psychologist working in a large school district. A coworker has a mild case of Asperger's or social anxiety or both. She's always coming into my office (door closed or not) and will not leave unless I physically leave my own office (I've tried hints and saying outright that I have work to do but as you know people with Asperger's don't do well with hints). I don't think she has a social life outside of work so I do try to be kind to her. Her work, however, is sub-par and I have heard that others who work with her have not been happy with her contributions. I could spend the next 25 years working with this woman and she will never be let go once she gets tenure! I don't want to hurt her by talking to our supervisor, but at the same time, I don't think anyone is doing her any favors by pretending like she is an optimal employee. Should I talk to our supervisor about my concerns or keep my mouth shut and deal with it the best I can? I've already suggested she get counseling to deal with the anxiety and don't feel comfortable talking to her about performance-related things. Sincerely, Concerned and Frustrated Coworker

Emily Yoffe: I would hope that your training as a psychologist would give you some tools more effective than hints for dealing with a troubled co-worker. You should be kind, but you also need to explicitly tell your colleague that she can't barge into your office unannounced because you have work to do or might be in a counseling session. Then gently but firmly escort her out. I understand that you have sympathy for this woman, and she needs it. But the school system does not need someone who for whatever reason is unable to discharge her duties to the children effectively -- especially since once she gets tenure she will be ineffective for decades. It absolutely your obligation to bring this up with your superiors.

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Atlanta, GA: I feel that my wife is too overprotective with our 18-month-old daughter. She will not allow me to go anywhere with my daughter (relatives, friends) without her being present. Her reasoning is that men do not pay attention to young children like women do. She and my mother do not get along (partly because of this issue); therefore she does not want to go to my parent's home and I am not allowed to take our daughter by myself. I have tried to be patient with my wife through this stage (we talked, went to our pastor) but now I'm fed up. Should I trust my wife or let the court give me rights to my daughter? -Frustrated Father

Emily Yoffe: I agree your wife is acting irrationally and damaging your marriage and your relationship with your daughter. But breaking up your family and getting into a protracted custody battle is hardly going to solve this problem. Often one partner in a marriage can no longer take the crazy behavior of the other partner, so that person leaves. What gets forgotten is that their children have to stay behind and be raised by the unbalanced person without the buffering of the more stable parent.

There could be a lot of things going on here. Is it possible you've let your attention wander while watching your daughter? Are your wife and mother engaged in a war you haven't paid enough attention to and now your wife can hold your daughter hostage? If these things aren't the issue, it sounds as if your wife has some serious anxiety problems that need addressing. You need to stop being so angry, and start being more gentle in trying to address this. You should see a professional marriage counselor, and your wife needs a separate work up -- she needs an evaluation and possibly medication. You and your wife have a young child who's just beginning her life. Don't forever scar it by walking out without trying to work this out.

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Near Dallas, Texas: How do I deal with a coworker who is constantly talking about her wedding when she has made it very clear that none of us are invited? I think it is incredibly rude and boorish, and have to resist the urge to snap at her. Please help!

Emily Yoffe: Even if you all were invited, your co-worker needs to remember she's not appearing on a running episode of "Whose Wedding Is it, Anyway?" but she's at a place of business, and business hasn't come to a stop just because she's dropping a year's salary on her nuptials. So you need to say, "Isabelle, I know your wedding is really exciting and consuming, but it's your private business and you need to keep most of the wedding discussion for after hours."

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for the woman molested by her brother: Be prepared to be shunned by many members of the rest of your family if you confront him. I wanted nothing more than to not have to see my father--I had not accused him in front of everybody or sent him to prison--I just wanted to not be forced to socialize with him for the sake of some "big happy family" illusion. But that wasn't good enough for my other relatives--it was an insult to them if I wouldn't attend functions where my father was likely to be. They understood that there had been abuse, but their view was that it was a long time ago and I should get over it. I'm in ongoing therapy and I advise you to get there too--whether through grad school, a local medical school, or sliding scale public counselors. Find one that specialises in post-traumatic stress because that's what you are probably suffering. Good luck to you, but do some therapy before any confrontations. One of my therapists told me that she had NEVER seen anything productive come out of a confrontation because the abusers are in such denial about their behavior.

Emily Yoffe: I'm afraid I've heard many similar things from people regarding the dynamics of long ago abuse: many family members just don't want to know and want the victim to "get over" it. I agree with this reader that the most important thing is for you to get help dealing with your own issues. You may not ever get justice from your brother. But you do not want to let his violation have such a hold over the rest of your life.

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Sick animals: This problem seems to be coming up more and more often with me -- people who refuse to take their sick, injured, or dying animals to the vet to put them down. Recently, my neighbor's dog was hit by a car. They took the dog to the vet and it was recommend that they put the dog down because he had a broken bones and internal injuries, couldn't walk, and was in enormous pain. The neighbors didn't want to put their children through the pain of losing an animal, so they took the pet home where it suffered for two months -- and then died. It was so bad that the dog couldn't walk and ended up eating its own feces. He would yelp in pain and seemed to be out of his mind in pain. Now I have a good friend who won't put down her dog even though it has advanced stage Cancer and is in a lot of pain. Neither my friend or my neighbor are having financial problems. They simply don't want to put an animal out of its misery. I'm having trouble being civil to either of them anymore. And I feel enormous guilt and sorrow over the pain these animals have (or are) going through.

Emily Yoffe: I totally agree with you. The paradox of veterinary care becoming as advanced and sophisticated as human care is that now there are the same end of life issues. The big advantage our pets have over us is that when things are hopeless, and the dog or cat is in pain, the humane owner can end it. But more and more people are spending thousands of dollars ekeing out a few more weeks of life for their dog or cat.

There's not much you can do, however. With good friends you can say, "Fifi seems to be in so much pain. Have you talked to your vet about ending treatment?" But if people are willing to let their animals suffer because they can't let go, you are not in a position to pull the plug.

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Palo Alto, CA: I am the (step)mother of a wonderful boy. We adore each other and he is an integral part of our family. His mother and her family have all been very kind to me since I moved to town a few years ago, after my husband and I got married. My husband and I have since had a daughter together and our children completely love each other. They are brother and sister through and through. Life sounds perfect, right... except that our son's mom and grandparents are very affectionate towards my daugher, overly so, in my opinion. I am grateful for how kind they are to me and our daughter but... They (ex-wife and her parents!) buy gifts for our daughter, they want to attend her special functions); our son wants our daughter to refer to his mom's parents as Grandma and Grandpa. I feel as though I would rather not share my daughter's life experiences with them, because I feel that the blended family already results in some substantial loss of privacy. Can we share in our shared son's joys and special events but keep our daughter's stuff/life private? Do I just count my lucky stars that the experiences with ex-wife and family are overall positive and leave well enough alone? My husband is very supportive and is willing for us to work through this together.

Emily Yoffe: I'm glad you recognize "My husband's ex and her family are too nice to our blended family" is not much of a problem. Yes, you mostly should be very grateful that these people aren't making invidious distinctions that keep your stepson and daughter from feeling like true siblings. I suppose it's possible these exes could be creepily trying to insinuate themselves into your lives and keeping your from forming your own family. But sending birthday gifts and attending her ballet recitals doesn't sound as if it rises to that level. Why would it bother you to have more people cheer your daughter on in life? And since you married a man with a child, it would be damaging to try to wall off your daughter from his experiences. However, your stepson's grandparents aren't your daughter's grandparents. She can have another pet name for them, but that's a clear distinction you can make.

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Green Bay, WI: My wife and I have been having conception issues for a couple of years now, which include one failed IVF cycle. We're saving up to try again, but in the meantime my brother and his wife have just given birth to a beautiful baby boy. While I'm extremely happy for them, I'm also miserable and somewhat jealous. My heart is breaking and part of me just dreads the next time I see them because I'm afraid they may misunderstand any emotions I have as anything other than happiness for them and the new addition to their family. I guess my question for you is, am I a terrible person for feeling anything other than happiness for them? Or are the emotions I'm having normal due to the issues my wife and I have been experiencing?

Emily Yoffe: Your emotions are normal, and as painful as this is to you, the two of you have to find a way to deal with how you feel so you don't cut yourself off from family members and friends who have been lucky enough not to face fertility problems. I understand how crushing this must be, but it's important to remember happiness is not a zero sum game and their joy doesn't result in your pain. Also, people who've just had kids tend to be swept up in the wonder of it all and can seem insensitive to others. This is why you need to turn to a good old support group -- you need people who are going through the same issues you are and can listen and give you advice for how to cope with the baby showers and family get togethers that make you want to scream and cry.

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Regarding Sick Animals: I am amazed that the poster feels the duty to declare that other's grieving process is wrong. Does she also advocate that if her mother was in pain she would "put her down." I'm not saying this to equate humans and animals or be snarky. I'm pointing out that for pet owners, these pets truly are daughters, sisters, friends. It deeply hurts to watch them in pain but deciding to end their lives feels like a betrayal of your love for them. She should stop being so judgmental and put herself in their shoes sometimes. It might just be an eye opener.

Emily Yoffe: The writer is not judging other people's grief, but the amount of pain an animal has to suffer because an owner can't face the inevitable. I assume you aren't saying euthanasia should be eliminated for animals because we generally don't allow it for humans.

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For Palo Alto: You wrote "our son wants our daughter to refer to his mom's parents as Grandma and Grandpa." It doesn't sound like that's an ex-wife or step-grandparents insinuating themselves into your daughter's life, it sounds like a kindly little boy who actually wants to share his grandparents with your daughter. Which is really, really sweet.

Emily Yoffe: Good point which I read over. The request comes from the boy! It's not a demand from the exes family, and it shows how sweet this situation is.

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Animals: Partly it's the vets' fault. After our 20+ year old cat reached her obvious last week of life, I took her to the vet and asked to have her put down, only to have pointless treatments offered. I was shocked. Our next cat was diagnosed at 10 years old with an aggressive, terminal cancer. Those were the words - "aggressive, terminal" - yet we were offered treatment that might keep him alive for two months. So, though the friend might not be able to pull the plug on another person's pet, an honest vet can sure help the person come around to reality and end the pet's suffering sooner.

Emily Yoffe: I've been there with my own 21 year old cat (about 110 in human years). When she was failing I took her to the vet who ordered up a bunch of tests which I had to pull the plug on when the bill got to $800. It's very hard to decline useless treatment, but owners have to be able to say no without feeling guilty.

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New York, NY: My boyfriend and I are in the midst of planning our "big day." I found the perfect venue for us. It's reasonably priced, well located, and beautiful. It's located on church property, and the problem is neither one of us is religious, but furthermore, same-sex weddings and receptions are outlawed on the premises. We are a hetero couple, but he strongly feels that by marrying on the property we are supporting this prejudice. I love the spot and want to go ahead and book although I support gay rights. I sense he will change his position once we see other venues where you get so much less for the price. But are we total hypocrites to have our wedding at this site?

Emily Yoffe: I don't buy the argument that because same sex couples can't marry everywhere sympathetic heterosexual couples also shouldn't marry. However, this is different. What seems to be the perfect place for your union turns out not to be because you object to the way they treat same sex couples. So tell them you love the spot, but because of their policy you have to look elsewhere (they should know why you're passing on them). Then choose someplace that doesn't discriminate. Guess what, that place will turn out also to be perfect, in part because you will have no moral qualms about celebrating there.

Thanks everyone. Have a great Memorial Day weekend. I'll talk to you the week after next.

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