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Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Emily Yoffe
Monday, February 28, 2011; 1:00 PM

Live discussion with Slate advice columnist Dear Prudence, a.k.a. Emily Yoffe.

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Emily Yoffe: Let's get to it.

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Relationship- Respect my girlfriends wishes?: I am a 30 year old man who is back in college due to lack of job opportunities in this economy. I am in a competitive program that only takes a limited number of candidates per year. The problem is my girlfriend, who is finishing her masters thesis across the country was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor and is going to require surgery before she returns home next month. I want to be with her as she goes through this, we are planning on getting married and she has no family. For me to be able to be there for her would require me to drop out of my program and hope that the school keeps its word to allow me to start where I left off next year. My girlfriend doesn't want me to put my future on hold any longer and insists that she will be fine if I stay home and finish the semester. However, I can't stand the thought of her alone, in a medically induced coma for 10 days on the other side of the country. She is very independent because she has been alone since she was a little girl. Do I accept her request and stay home, or do I do what feels right to me and be there for her?

Emily Yoffe: you know that despite your girlfriend's protestations, you are certain about where you have to be.

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Obligated?: 10 years ago, when my husband and I were expecting our first child, his mother made us promise that if we ever took our children to Disneyland that she be allowed to go with us, as she had never been. Of course we agreed. We finally have the funds and time to make the trip with our two children. MIL has had numerous health concerns over the last year and her health is unsteady at best. To make things worse, my cantankerous FIL is reluctant to let her out of his sight. She is the only one who can tolerate his political rants and constant complaining. He also has numerous health concerns and is unable to walk for extended periods of time. I fear that bringing them along would not only hamper our ability to enjoy the trip, but I would be playing the role of nursemaid the whole time. I'm hesitant to tell them about our travel plans. Are we still obligated to invite them?

Emily Yoffe:

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Mooching Brother: My mother and father have always coddled my brother -- giving him a car, letting him live rent-free in their home (he's still there and he's in his 30's), letting him eat them out of house and home. My brother has never really grown up and mom has taken care of him without hardly a word.Recently, both of my parents have become quite ill with some serious medical problems and my father has lost his job because he ran out of medical leave. I've been coming over to help my parents, after working a full day, and have picked up a second job to make ends meet. The problem is this: my brother does NOTHING to help! He doesn't contribute to bills, cleaning, etc. When I brought it up with him (seeing as he's living with mom and dad!) he told me that he doesn't have to and that I "owe it to him" to take care of mom and dad because he always thought I was the favorite!I brought this up with mom and dad and they just shrugged. If I don't help, I know that they'll lose the house - but I'm being run ragged and I'm afraid I'm ready to seriously blow my top. Advice, please???

Emily Yoffe: But you cannot work round the clock to sustain the unsustainable.

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Teens and parent abandonment: Here's the short of it...daughter's 16 year old bf's mom hasn't been home in 6 days -- she came home for an hour on Saturday and left again. The boy found a disconnect notice for $50 dollars for the electric bill. We paid it without his knowledge, found out the mom didn't bother. She apparently hasn't bothered with many of the bills. The internet and the cells are shut off, along with television and he doesn't even know if she's working anymore. The occasssional text via others phone is all the proof he has that she's still breathing. His dad lives two towns over but not in the picture for raising him and just a little financial support for the kid. When and where do we draw the line in helping him? Should we call the school or protective services, he'll be 17 in July.

Emily Yoffe: I'm sure your heart is breaking for this kid, and he sounds lucky you're there to give him shelter.

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Arranged Marriage: Hiya Prudie! I come from a very traditional family. I'm 22-year-old, fresh out of college and living at home. When I was 18, my grandparents/parents arranged a marriage for me with a guy from another family very much like ours -- same culture, same values, same church. He's very sweet and kind and he's pretty much made it clear that he loves me. We've gone on a couple of dates, but I just don't feel chemistry with him. No fireworks, no romance. My parents think I'm being naive. They had an arranged marriage. They keep telling me that "love will come afterwards" and point to the fact that arranged marriages last longer. I've told my parents countless times that I'd rather wait to find my husband. But they're scared that the guy I find by myself will hurt me or be from a different culture or that I'll end up 35 with no life-partner in sight (which is the equivalent of social suicide for them). My grandma's praying that I'll eventually come around. They're all convinced that I'm making the wrong decision. Sometimes, I feel like I am! Family is very important to me. But because of this situation, I haven't ever had a real boyfriend. How do I fend off my parents (and loving, yet domineering grandma!) whenever this topic inevitably comes up? And what do I say to this poor guy? Should I just chuck my dream romance out the window and sign up for this long-term commitment? They want me married within a year! - Waiting for Something More

Emily Yoffe: They will just have to accept that when they choose the freedom of America, they would produce off-spring who were going to pursue their own happiness.

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Moving in Too Early?: Do the rules about when to move in together change when you're in your mid-30s? My BF and I have only been dating 5 months, but we're pretty sure this is it. I don't want to look like a fool by moving too fast, but I am 35 and feel like we can't waste time -- by the time we move in, get engaged, get married, build a marriage...I'll be in my late 30s, and we want kids. He's anxious to move in now, but I keep thinking that "people just don't DO that." Thoughts?

Emily Yoffe: get in the fast lane, but be very sure you are both planning on the same destination.

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Jealousy, Friendships, Self-Improvement: This may not sound like a problem, but I seem to be surrounded by incredibly talented people. My boyfriend has appeared on magazine covers for his worldwide surfing adventures and is also a published writer (which is my chosen field, but I've found no success in it). My siblings and circle of friends are all artists and musicians enjoying relative success and happiness with these careers. I know this sounds hyperbolic, but all of them seemed to have found something they're not only very good at, but passionate about as well. I, on the other hand, am a mediocre "jack of all trades," type, and want nothing more than to find that thing that I will shine at. My job bores me to death, even though it's in the field I thought I wanted to be in, and as hobbies I've tried everything from rock climbing to piano lessons, but nothing seems to stick (plus it all seems to cost a fair amount of money, of which I don't have much). I want to be happy for my successful and talented friends, but I just end up feeling sad and jealous when I hear their songs on the radio or see them on TV. How can I find my talent and/or not be resentful of those in my life who already have?-Looking for talent

Emily Yoffe: Stop looking for your own dazzling, hidden talent and start putting in the effort to make the most satisfying life you can.

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The new "kid" at family gatherings: Dear Prudence... I am adult in my mid 40s with older siblings and parents who enjoy each others company and socialize often. My oldest brother - the only one of us who remains unmarried - recently started bringing his latest girlfriend to family gatherings. She is in her early 20s, and is closer in age to our (my other siblings and I) children than to us - and certainly our brother. She has more in common with - should they marry - the nieces and nephews - than all of us. This has put a strain on family gatherings...we want him to be happy, but all of us feel he should date a woman who has something to add - emotionally and intellectually - to his life. Prudence, this woman is barely old enough to be legal! Say nothing, or offer to cut her steak for her?

Emily Yoffe: Stop being such judgmental prigs and be gracious and welcoming.

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Mooching Brother: Prudence, please tell her to get a lawyer NOW. She needs an Elderlaw specialist. If she, her brother, or any other family member does caregiving for the parents, a written contract is essential. Otherwise, if they go into the "Medicaid spend-down, five-year lookback" Medicaid can come after them for that money. Low-functioning parents can destroy a responsible adult's career, if not her life. No wonder it is the low-functioning kids who are most likely to never move out. Then you have a whole group of people who cannot take care of themselves. In any case, unless there are milions of $ in assets, there will be no inheritance. So any compensation must be gotten up front. If she does nothing, the parents will wind up in a nursing home, and the brother may be on the street. That would NOT be her fault. It takes a village for people to take care of each other. The low-functioning members of a family cannot be allowed to drag the high-functioning ones into the pit they have dug for themselves.

Emily Yoffe: Thanks for the good advice.

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Online Bullies: Prudie,My girlfriend and I are active participants in an online community dedicated to a show we both like. Unfortunately some of the people in the community are trolls and bullies and nasty to everyone. For reasons I don't know, they fixated on the two of us and constantly trash-talked us for a long time. They seem to have finally moved on, but my girlfriend is crushed and wants to leave. I feel upset and like leaving is giving these bullies what they want, but I also don't want my girlfriend to feel pressured if she really wants to leave. Do you have any advice on how I should deal with this, support her, etc.? Some of the things people said were just over the top vile. I would like to stay because I have my own friends in this community, but I'd be a liar if I didn't say I've wondered if it's hopeless too...

Emily Yoffe: I've never participated in one of these communities, but don't some of them have rules for participation? Is there a moderator who can ban abusive members? If not, then you should probably just conclude you've just gotten back a whole bunch of time you used to spend dissecting a television show to use more pleasantly and productively.

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Brother dating younger woman: Take a little time to learn a little about younger culture. It will not only help you converse with your brother's girlfriend, but it will also allow you to converse with your children, nieces and nephews. Wow...what a concept...relating to the next generation of your family. I have several friends who are 20 years younger than me. And spending just a little time of my normal newspaper perusal time paying attention to some of the details of the younger world means I still have things to talk about with them besides our mutual interests.

Emily Yoffe: Exactly. It will also be good to show the young family members that you don't act rude and condescending to guests who don't fit pre-determined slots.

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Family and Weddings: My sister-in-law behaved horribly before and during her wedding, making us feel unwanted and unwelcome at points. Her friends were with her while she got ready, and locked us out of the room. We had to plead to get in to the bridal area to use the rest rooms and get dressed. I told her that her mother had been very hurt not to be included for the makeup/putting on her dress, and my s-i-l blew me off because she doesn't think of her mother as someone who cared about those things. Since the wedding, I have felt very distant from her, and she now wants me to be her emotional support during her pregnancy. How do I make the mental switch from hurt to being there? Do I need to have it out with her first?

Emily Yoffe: So if you feel you need to clear the air, then do so. If you can dismiss the wedding drama, fine. But if she's now announcing what your new duties to her entail, feel free to decline.

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For the record: Love the "Small World" ride jab. My parents and sister did in fact get stuck on that ride for three hours, music and all, before I was born and subsequently rejected all things Disney with a fiery anger I did not understand until I was much older and finally heard the song out on my own. I pretty sure that tactic is still in use with our nation's special ops teams.

Emily Yoffe: Three hours on It's a Small World? I believe that's a Geneva Convention violation. Now the tune has started up in my head. Help!

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Stoned cancer patient: Dear Prudie, I'm a young professional in my late twenties, and I'm currently battling a rare form of blood cancer. In my state, medical marijuana is legal, and has been a godsend. My medicine has been so effective in helping me control my vomiting and pain that I've actually been cleared to return to work. The only problem is that my HR director has made it clear that my employers think my medicine is 'bunk' and just an excuse to get high. They won't let me return to work until I disuse the marijuana and the company has begun random drug testing because of me! The laws are still very new in my state, and I work for an international company. I'm not sure where to turn or what to do. If I'm fired I would lose my health insurance, but no other medicine gives me the relief that marijuana does.

Emily Yoffe: Again, isn't life hard enough without people going out of their way to afflict the afflicted?

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toddler etiquette: Dear Prudence,What is the etiquette involved when you invite friends with toddlers over? Who cleans up the food mess that the toddler makes? Is it okay for the parents to leave the mess for the hosts to clean up or should they at least offer to help?Tired of cleaning.

Emily Yoffe: They should offer and when you say yes, they should help. However, when you are hostess, especially to toddlers, you should prepare yourself to deal with some mess. This is all supposed to even out, because everyone should take turns inviting the little ones over.

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Emily Yoffe: Talk to you next week.

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