Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers on Mondays at noon ET. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Is That Bill Tuttle In My Bedroom?: My otherwise charming, generous, loving girlfriend makes a spitting noise during her tooth brushing routine that I would otherwise assume came from a 1950s baseball star with chewing tobacco sliding into his throat. I cannot overstate how loud and phlegmy it is, or the fact that it is audible from all locations in both her apartment and mine. I have tried getting further away during her routine but it’s also audible from the hallway. I love her very much and have gently asked her to tone it down (normal spitting is fine!) but she says she never feels her teeth/mouth aren’t clean unless she’s done it. Words cannot express how much this habit has grossed me out and turned me off. Tips on coming to peace with it, or getting her to adjust?
A: Well, congratulations—and no thank you!—on the vivid writing. I can absolutely HEAR this noise, just from the description in your letter. And it’s not pleasant. I feel for you. It sounds unbearable.
As a general rule, you shouldn’t make rules—or even requests—about what people do and what noises they make in the bathroom. Your girlfriend isn’t engaging in her repulsive phlegm routine at the dinner table. The bathroom, with the door closed, is the proper place to be gross. Even in a small apartment with thin walls. You’ll want to have this understanding in place next time you have the stomach flu.
But there’s good news! Tooth brushing generally happens at very predictable times during the day. Simply figure out when she’s heading into the bathroom to do her thing, and pop some headphones on until the snot-spitting symphony is over.
Q. Frustrated About Food: My friend is trying to make it as an actress and is always talking about how she needs to lose weight to get roles. When we go out to eat together, she often makes comments about how she can’t eat this thing or that because of whatever restrictive diet she’s following lately. It makes me uncomfortable whenever she talks about needing to lose weight because I feel like when I don’t say anything to disagree, I’m silently condoning all these damaging ideas about needing to be thinner. On the other hand, if I do say I don’t think there’s anything wrong with her weight, she tells me that I don’t understand because I’m not an actor, and there’s even more pressure in acting than in society in general for women to be super thin, which I’m sure is true! But I feel terrible letting her say these things about herself, and part of me is worried that these ideas about restricting food and needing to lose weight could develop into an eating disorder. Should I be trying to argue with her when she says these things even though I know she’s dead set against changing her mind? Should I just accept that this attitude is one of the occupational hazards of the job she’s chosen? Should I just mind my own business and not comment on it?
A: You don’t have to argue or suffer silently when your friend makes comments that make you uncomfortable. You can do something right in the middle of those two options, which is to tell her how you feel. This is totally reasonable territory for two people who care about each other, especially given that she’s the one repeatedly introducing the topic.
How about something like this the next time she announces that she can’t eat the croutons in her salad because they have too many carbs: “We’ve talked before about how I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your weight, and you’ve made it clear that I don’t understand the pressure you feel as an actress. But I still feel really terrible when I hear you say these negative things about yourself. So if you want to say them, you can, and I won’t argue with you, but I want to make sure you know that doesn’t mean I agree that you need to be dieting—it just means I know it’s not my business and I don’t want to spend our time together debating it.”
Hopefully this—combined with responding to future comments about her eating habits with a blank stare and sip of water—will take care of things.
Q. Not Your Life Coach: I am a rising senior in high school, and a couple that my parents are friends with (along with their 14-year-old daughter) will not stop bombarding me with college-related questions. Most of it is advice for their daughter, but they call and text at least every few days. Most of the time, they could look up the answers on the internet themselves, but they see me as their one-stop shop for all their schooling needs. I understand that checking with me lets them and their daughter feel more in control, but I do not have endless amounts of time! I have tried remedying the situation by not always taking their calls or telling them how busy I am, but now they have started intruding into my college applications and the whole situation is stressing me out. I’m always happy to help, but this is too much! I’m just a kid, not a paid professional waiting by the phone for their call.
A: For one of the last times in your life, you’re still a kid, and you can pass this one off to your parents. Take advantage of that. Ask them to tell their friends to please lay off. If they don’t, you can set a boundary by being politely unhelpful. By that I mean, don’t respond to “Where do we sign our daughter up for the SAT?” until you have time— ideally, many weeks later—and at that point say, “I’m sorry for the slow reply. I’ve been really busy with school and haven’t been able to get to this! I hope you were able to look up an answer!”
Q. Sincerely, a Chicken: My boyfriend and I have been dating for a few months now, and honestly, it’s the best relationship I’ve ever had, but sometimes it seems too good to be true. We met online and haven’t seen each other’s faces. I’ve heard his voice and he’s heard mine and we’ve even made plans for the future (like where to live and jobs we want). He’s so kind and shy but sometimes I get second thoughts because it seems too perfect. I just don’t want to ruin this but I don’t want to be made to look like a fool and have my heart broken.
A: I want you to make a big push to FaceTime, Zoom, GoogleMeet, Facebook messenger chat with video, or something that will let you see that your boyfriend is who he says he is. There are options. Many, many options. But you know that. In the meantime, go binge a season or two of the MTV show, Catfish, which is all about people who are planning a life with someone they’ve never laid eyes on. And I’m sorry to say it normally doesn’t end well. Then listen to what your gut is telling you. Wanting love—and wanting it enough to overlook some red flags—is nothing to be ashamed of. But our goal is to get you to a real-life future with a real-life person. And if it’s not going to be with this person you’re talking to online, it’s time to move on to someone who doesn’t make you worried about looking like a fool.
Q. That’s Not My Name: My co-worker, Ron, is incredibly annoying to work with. He’s the slowest person on our team, he consistently mispronounces my name, and he is super needy both emotionally and in terms of asking questions that he should know the answer to. My manager is never going to do anything about this because he is basically competent-ish at the job and because one of our biggest clients, inexplicably, loves him. Recently, I found out that he’s involved with a local branch of an organization that’s stigmatized—something along the lines of the Satanists. I truly don’t care about this. I only found out because my friend is also a member. But I think my manager would care quite a lot, and this could finally be the thing that gets him gone. Would it be ethical for me to rat him out for this? The man gets my name wrong literally every day.
A: Do you have a human resources portal at work? Can you log in and check to see how many vacation days you have left? However many there are, take them! If there aren’t any, I think you have a sniffle. Take some sick time. You desperately need some space from your work environment and accompanying frustrations.
I hope that with some time away, you will see that the proper response to a co-worker who gets your name wrong is to correct him—or accept that he’s a rude person and it’s not personal and decide not to waste any more energy thinking about him. And the right response to a co-worker who asks questions he should know the answer to is to say you’re busy and send him to your manager. You do not try to get him fired for something stigmatized in his personal life. You just don’t. Enjoy your mental health break.
Re: Q. Is That Bill Tuttle In My Bedroom?: I’m certain that you also make awful, disgusting gag-inducing sounds in the bathroom, but your girlfriend respects your right to make them. You will never find anyone who isn’t gross in the bathroom—that is the nature of bathrooms and human beings. Please get over yourself.
A: Yes, once again, if you’re going be gross (and we all are at some point) the bathroom is the place to do it.
Re: Q. Is That Bill Tuttle In My Bedroom?: I think this is unintentional, but the letter writer seems to be taking a very gendered view of teeth brushing. Unfortunately, all straight men eventually learn that their very attractive girlfriends are actually humans under the angelic facade. Prudie offered some very practical advice, but you might do well to work through these hang-ups wherein normal behavior is “a turn-off.” Trust me, even if she changed this for you (and she should not do that) something else would come up. Take her off the pedestal, turn on the fan, and accept your partner’s harmless quirks.
A: Hmm, I think I was reading it as someone who is a woman and is disgusted by many mouth and sinus-related noises so I didn’t see it as gendered. BUT you may be onto something here. It’s worth thinking about this, LW, and whether you have any equally gross behaviors that you expect her to accept.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: We’re going to wrap things up here. Thanks, everyone! Talk to you next week.
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My husband and I have a love story to rival a Disney princess’s. We communicate well, share the workload, go on plenty of dates, have fun with our two children (8 and 9 years old), and treat each other kindly. We share similar interests (but still have our own hobbies and identities) and are always flirting and complimenting each other. But there is one thing missing in our marriage: sex. I just can’t do it.