June 23, 2018
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I got caught with my husband — now it’s the family joke. Make it stop!

Emily Yoffe
By Emily Yoffe, Slate

Dear Prudence,

Last year, my husband and I had a small Halloween get-together for some family. We left the door unlocked for our 12-year-old niece to come in if we were still getting things ready. She called and told us she would be more than an hour late. My husband forgot to lock the door, and figuring we had a little more time, we got down to business. Our niece popped the door open — much earlier than she told us she would be — and saw us. Since then, the gossip has spread through the family. I have received cards of an adult nature from my husband’s family, and during family outings, most of the jokes are centered around sex puns. My husband and I have both asked them to stop, we have even left family gatherings. It has been months since I’ve been to any gathering with his family. I have recently started getting Halloween cards in the mail in which his relatives have written things like, “Don’t let it be a repeat of last year!” I am exhausted with defending myself. His sister is throwing the Halloween party this year, and I am definitely not going. My husband is on the fence. But I’m worried that if we don’t show, this heckling will just continue — by email, mail, whatever. What should I do? — Caught and not laughing

Dear caught,

Folks, write your own trick-or-treat jokes. I understand the most shocking part of your letter is not that you decided to have intimacy while leaving the door unlocked for expected company, but that a tween showed up early to an event. At least your husband’s family finds this hilarious instead of you two being excoriated for your behavior and an exorcism suggested. You’re right that the anniversary of the great event is bound to blow things out of proportion, but I think you should go and laugh it off. Then at the end of the evening your husband should announce the joke has gone limp and the statute of limitations has expired. He can say you’ve both been good sports about this, but the word play about lip service has to stop or else as far as family gatherings are concerned you will both stop coming.

Dear Prudence,

I am a woman of biracial background, and because of my unusual looks people often ask, “Where are you from?” “Where were you born?” or worse “What are you?” I usually brush off the questions because they’re invasive and I don’t want to endure the stereotypes about how I must be good with math and computers.

The bigger problem is when I get asked about this at job interviews. It’s illegal for them to ask, but I don’t want to say that because I’m afraid it will hurt my job prospects or they’ll think I might be litigious. But I also don’t want to answer the question because I despise hearing the stereotypes and then being asked questions about how my parents met, instead of about my education and experience. When I’ve replied, “I’m a born and bred New Englander,” I get more prodding until I give up the info they want and we all feel awkward. How do I tactfully skirt the question asked by people who are in the position of hiring me?

-More Than a Collection of Stereotypes

Dear More,

You are right that if you’re applying for a job, a line of questioning about your racial background is a flashing red no-no. I spoke to Philip Gordon, an employment attorney, and he said you are running into some amazingly ignorant interviewers if they are pressing you on this. But he also agrees that as a practical matter you are in a delicate situation since you’d rather get the job than lecture people on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He said it’s often a good idea to gracefully deflect such questions, illegal though they may be. You could smile and say, “My personal background is too complicated to get into. Let me tell you instead about the project I supervised with my last employer.” If you keep getting asked, “What are you?” (Wow!), feel free to respond, “I’m sorry, I’m just not comfortable getting into that.” If you get the job, all’s well. But if you don’t, and you feel awkwardness over this question might have contributed to not being hired, I think a letter to a supervisor could be worth writing. You don’t have to sound litigious, just concerned. Say you were surprised that so much of your interview was taken up with questions about your racial background that you didn’t get an opportunity to talk about your professional accomplishments. This might well prompt you to be given another, fairer, look.

– Prudie

Dear Prudence,

The other day I gave a friend of mine a ride to work. While driving, my daughter sent me a message that I quickly checked and responded to. My friend took the opportunity to chide me on the danger of texting while driving, saying I was being irresponsible. I would have agreed with her until she compared what I did to drunk driving. I lost a sibling to a drunk driver when I was young, so I know just how bad it can be, and what I did is not nearly the same thing.

I barely even want to talk to my friend after she hit that nerve, but now she has the gall to keep asking me to take her to work. I don’t care that she gives me gas money, I don’t want to go out of my way to do her any more favors until she apologizes. What’s the best way to get my message across to her?

— Texting Troubles

Dear Texting,

You’re not obligated to give anyone a ride to work. The friend you were doing a favor for, however, was not wrong about texting while driving. Just take a look at the literature about the mayhem that can happen in a few seconds of removing your concentration from the road and instead being mentally and physically engaged elsewhere. I assume your friend did not know about your personal tragedy. So just be direct with her. Tell her that her comment about drunk driving was deeply upsetting to you and why. Don’t demand an apology, just see if one is forthcoming and how you feel if you get one.

And please, when you’re driving turn off your phone. You may think you’re that specially skilled driver who can text and drive, but consider how you’d feel if you were the cause of someone else’s tragedy.

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. Questions may be edited.


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