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Falling on Deaf Ears

November 5, 2013
Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on 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

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.

Q. Guilty Conscience: I did something bad. Two years ago my brother-in-law died suddenly. Needless to say my in-laws were completely devastated, and my MIL was put on sedation for a few weeks. My husband’s pushy cousin stepped in and took over a lot of the decisions being made. One of them was to place my BIL’s beautiful guitar that his mother had given him in the coffin to be buried with him. I didn’t feel it was my place to speak up, but I thought it was a stupid thing to do. After the visitation at the funeral home I said to an attendant that I thought it was awful that they were going to bury such a valuable object. Since it was to be a closed casket funeral he offered to take the guitar out and set it aside before the coffin was sealed, and I agreed. Later he gave it to me and I brought it home and hid it. Now all this time later my MIL often bemoans the fact that we did such a dumb thing, and says how much she wishes she could have the guitar back to remember her son by. If I speak up and tell what I did, everyone in the family is going to be furious at me, including my husband. I would feel terrible selling it so it remains hidden. Should I face the music and give it back?

A: You did something good. Yes, it was deceptive, and by those lights there are some people who would say ergo, it was bad. But you weren’t going against your mother-in-law’s express wish—even if now she were regretting it. You were stepping up to prevent the pushy cousin from pushing her emotional agenda into your brother-in-law’s coffin. So you conspired with a mortuary attendant to consider your family’s long-term emotional interests and rescue this dear object. Your mother-in-law will always mourn her son’s premature death. But surely it will strike some celestial chord in her to have returned this instrument once held in the hands of her beloved son. To make this happen, first you have to tell your husband. Don’t cast this story as one of your wrongdoing. Say that in the moment you acted because you thought his cousin was making a terrible decision. Tell him that having rescued the guitar you’ve been unable to know what to do with it, but it’s been so painful to hear your mother-in-law wish she could hold it again. Explain you’ve just been too embarrassed to let her know she could. Say it would mean the world to you if he would tell her what happened and give the guitar to her. I’m guessing she will be eternally grateful to you.

Dear Prudence: Chintzy Travel Companions

Q. Perfect Guy, No Sexual Compatibility: I am in my early 30s and have been dating a wonderful man for the past six months. He is successful, generous, and funny. He absolutely adores me and we share the same values and beliefs. However, he has very little relationship and sexual experience. He didn’t date much when he was younger, instead focusing on his career. I am an extremely sexual and passionate person, and have a ton of past relationship experience. Sex in the beginning is always so exciting because it’s new, but now it’s become vanilla, and when I try a bit of coaching it becomes awkward. He also asks for my permission to do things or won’t do things until I initiate them, where I’m used to, and enjoy, a man taking charge. (And yes I have told him this.) I’m getting to the point where I dread the bland sex I know will be coming, and it’s so frustrating because besides this factor he is everything I could want in a partner. I’ve dated lots of men where the sexual capability was excellent, but our relationship compatibility was not. I have found such a great man—but our sex life is killing it for me. Is there anything I can do at this point? Or is this the beginning of the end?

A: Imagine yourself five years down the road, having a weekly scoop of vanilla (or maybe not that often) but afterward feeling understood and adored. Only you can decide if that trade-off makes you imagine a contented future, or on in which you’re frantically searching Craigslist for guy who offers no variations on vanilla, just 50 shades of gray. You say your boyfriend spent his youth focusing on his career, not sex. But there are many successful people whose professional ambitions never got in the way of their sexual ones. There’s a reason you spent your free time exploring between the sheets—your libido demanded it. Your boyfriend’s libido sounds like it limps along, polite and undemanding. There are many women who would be ecstatic with such a situation, but you are not one of them. You offered this guy a sexual awakening, and he’s let you know he prefers to catch a nap. I know your experience tells you that the great lovers are lousy people and vice versa, but that’s just not true. If you have to keep taking charge to try to get him to take charge, it’s pretty clear you two simply lack a spark.

Q. Baby Bump: My brother and his wife have been trying to have a child for several years to no avail. They’ve made every reasonable attempt but are both heartbroken when the results are negative. I am a single woman in my 30s who never wanted children of her own. However, last month I discovered that I am pregnant. As I considered my options, I thought about whether my brother and his wife would be interested in adopting my child. The father is a healthy, intelligent individual who is also not interested in parenting this child, and while I could look forward to being Auntie Velma, I find myself averse to taking on the role of Mommy. Is this a reasonable offer to make to my bro/SIL? And how would I broach the subject?

A: Once upon a time, it was fairly common for an unmarried pregnant woman to give her child to other family members to raise. Thus singer Bobby Darin was brought up thinking his grandmother was his mother and was told his biological mother was his sister. (The same thing happened to Jack Nicholson, too.) Your case would be vastly different, but it is loaded with potential complications. One is the possibility that you might find yourself feeling differently after the birth. Or, once the baby arrives you could be more certain than ever that placing your child with loving people would be the best thing you could do for everyone. Your idea could bring great happiness to all of you, but it does have to be handled delicately. I think you should first explore this with a therapist or other professional who specializes in adoption issues so that you have an objective person to help you think this through and figure out how to broach this with your brother and his wife if you decide to go ahead. If they love the idea, then you all need legal representation, not because you don’t trust each other, but because it’s important to make sure everyone’s interests are looked after.

Q. Re: Guilty Conscience: I don’t understand why everyone would be furious (except perhaps husband’s cousin, whose idea it was), but if the LW really thinks that, it might be nice for the guitar to mysteriously appear on the doorstep on the anniversary of her brother-in-law’s death, a “gift” from a mysterious source.

A: Arghhh, no! What a gut-wrenching discovery that would be, one that would possibly send the mother-in-law to some charlatan for a séance, or feeling horribly manipulated by someone with malign motives. I agree that I don’t think people will be furious. Yes, she should have spoken up sooner when the mother-in-law started expressing remorse about the guitar. But better to be honest now and straight-forwardly return it.






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