Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, I look forward to your questions!
Q. Always Take the Wife’s Side?: I’m about to get married and am caught in an argument between my fiancée and my parents. This will be the first time in over five years that our whole family will be together. My parents want to take a picture of just them, me, and my siblings, and a family photo obviously means a lot to them. My fiancée heard this and became immediately offended. She says it’s rude to exclude her on the day she “joins the family” and any family photo should therefore include her in it. We’re not talking about taking an hour for a separate family photo shoot; my parents simply want one photograph of themselves and their children. I don’t understand why my fiancée is so annoyed and now she’s even more angry because I’m not supporting “her side.” Should I back up my fiancée on principle, even if I disagree with her?
A: Apparently your fiancée wants to be the “Where’s Waldo” of her wedding album. When the photographer calls for a shot of all the groomsmen, she plans to puts herself in the middle. Photographs take only a short time to compose and an instant to snap. Presumably, both of you want a variety of pictures of groups of people to commemorate this event. Since your family is apparently far-flung, there is nothing wrong with your side wanting to piggy-back on the big event and get a couple of family photos added to the mix. This is one of those silly little fights every couple has. Calmly tell her you understand how she may have misperceived your family’s request, but it has nothing to do with excluding her. Your parents just want to take advantage of all of you being together for this happy day to have a long overdue photo of your immediate family. Explain to her that of course all the many and traditional wedding photos will take place. If she won’t back off, then it’s important that you two figure out how to resolve an issue—trivial as this is—that has you each in opposite corners, certain you are right.
Dear Prudence: Failure to Communicate
Q. Dog Gone?: I am a fiftysomething woman preparing to move in with my boyfriend next March. I have a miniature schnauzer who is 8 years old and has always slept in my room on the floor next to the bed. My boyfriend wants me to banish my dog from our bedroom when we move. I don’t think it’s a good idea, especially with moving to a strange house, and I think the dog will do better with the transition if he can sleep in our room. Am I wrong on this?
A: Oh, your boyfriend has come to the wrong place. Some nights my husband and I can barely turn over in bed due to the arrangement of the dog and two cats around us. You’ve got me laughing at the idea of banishing my cavalier from the bedroom. No one would get a minute of sleep due to the whining and howling. You have a beloved pet who sleeps peacefully on the floor. Unless your boyfriend frequently steps on your dog on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night (if so, just rearrange the dog bed) I do not understand his objection. More than that, if he understands what your dog means to you (and you to the dog), his demand is rather cruel. I’ve had letters from people who have fallen in love with other humans who are seriously allergic to their pets. Those are very difficult situations, but—much to the annoyance of animal lovers—I come down on the side of human love taking precedence. But there is no good reason here to shut the door on a sleeping dog. You’ve got a lot of time before the move to hash this out. But I think you’re entitled to say, “Love me, love my schnauzer.”
Q. Smother-in-Law: My mother-in-law threw me a sort of family baby shower, giving us lots of stuff we don’t need even though I specifically requested not to have one because we have such a small N.Y. apartment and I was already given practically everything from my sister who just had a baby. My question is: Do I have to send a thank you note to her for the stuff she bought me even though I specifically requested that she NOT buy anything?
A: Nasty, nasty mother-in-law, wanting to shower you with stuff for her impending grandchild. I hope you understand that now that you’re having a child your mother-in-law is likely to be more in your life than ever. Maybe apart from ignoring your express orders about gifts, she’s a lovely person who will be an important presence in your baby’s life. Although your pen may be dripping poison, write the thank you note and make it sound as sincere as possible. Since you are having a child, surely many of your friends will be too, so a closet of new baby items will be perfect regifting material.
Q. Late Night Sidewalk Etiquette: I’m a young man who works late as a bartender in an urban area. I walk home usually at 2 a.m. I often find myself half a block behind women (either alone or in pairs) going home the same route. How do I act so that they don’t fear me as a potential predator? Cross the street? Slow down (looks like stalking) or greet them (equally creepy)? Help!
A: There is nothing that gets a woman’s sympathetic nervous system on high alert like hearing footfalls behind her at 2 a.m. Thanks for being sensitive to this. Since you see the woman looming ahead of you, it would be a nice thing to do to cross the street before you’re close enough so that she starts glancing behind her, clutching her purse.
Q. Re: Wedding siblings photos: We had the same battle. My view was that after we are married, all photos must involve both of us. However, before the wedding, each family got 30 minutes to get whatever photos they wanted done. After the wedding was my photos on my schedule. I got great photos with my family, and my in-laws chose to get great photos of their grandkids, family portraits, and a siblings photo. The photo in their house is their immediate family and my parents display the one of our new family. It was an easy compromise.
A: After the vows, if the photographer snapped a photo that didn’t include you, did you take the camera and smash it like Sonny Corleone in The Godfather? It’s good everyone was able to complete their photo assignments in the 30 minutes allotted.
Q. Inappropriate Contact as Children: I’m 47. My dad sexually abused me when I was young. It stopped when I was 12, and I’ve gotten therapy for it. The only lingering problem for me is what to do about my cousin. When we were younger, I remember playing with her and I’m pretty sure that it was inappropriate. She is three years younger than me, and I couldn’t have been more than eight, and it didn’t happen with anyone else that I can remember. I’ve wanted to talk to her about this, but it’s been almost 40 years. I know from counseling that I was acting out from what my dad was doing to me, and I didn’t have the understanding of it that I do now. It’s still painful to talk about, and there are some other family issues that I am dealing with that are connected with my dad’s incest, but not relevant to my cousin. We haven’t been in contact for more than 20 years because of the family issues. When I found my cousin this summer, she and her parents were delighted to see me, so there doesn’t seem to be any long-term hard feelings. My cousin has a good life, with good relationships with her brother, husband, and parents, and she has a master’s degree and is successful. I don’t know how to approach this topic with her. I want to apologize. Does this seem like a good thing to open this can of worms?