Reading newspaper and magazine advice columns week in and week out, you meet a lot of the same kinds of people: chronically single people, indignant mothers of the bride, idiosyncratic fetishists and the people who love them. This week’s, however, marked an unusual rise in the number of letter-writers plagued with questions of bathroom etiquette. In Other People’s Problems, we’ve collected and ranked them, and others, for your edification. First up, a sadistic potty-training strategy and a voluntary teenage group shower.
Most Traumatizing Potty-Training Technique, Dear Prudence
A few weeks ago, my neighbor’s son, “Ollie,” and my daughter, both 5 years old, were playing in our enclosed backyard where we have a small herb garden. While I was doing laundry my daughter came in and solemnly told me that Ollie had deliberately peed on the basil. Ollie stayed for dinner, and I took the abused basil, rinsed it, and set some aside for Ollie only. At dinner I told everyone that we’re having “spaghetti and meatballs with herbs from the garden.” Ollie looked extremely uncomfortable and didn’t want to eat his meal.
I am the single dad of two teenage boys (17 and 18) who are both in high school. I am wondering about something they do with their friends. The boys take showers in large groups. When they come in from running or sports, or if a group is spending the night, they shower in groups of two, three or four. It’s not like we have a huge shower – it’s normal size. I know there’s nothing sexual going on because I can hear them talking and joking around. When I asked the boys about this, they looked at me like I had two heads. They said it was just a social thing and the same as showering together after football in the school gym. They also “air dry” after showers by walking around in towels, sometimes watching TV or goofing off for hours while in their towels. When going out, they get naked in the bathroom, fixing their hair, shaving, brushing their teeth, etc. It’s like a big “nude fest” with them and their friends.
Most European In-Laws, Ask Amy
My visits with my Swiss in-laws have included the increasing incidence of their using the toilet with an open door. This is a huge issue for me. My husband thinks they just feel really close to me. If this is true, how do I keep them from feeling that close? They’ve mocked my American modesty in the past: I never used the outdoor shower at their lake house because it was completely exposed. My father-in-law sweetly enclosed it in an attempt to lure me from the enclosed indoor shower (this didn’t work), referring to it using a derogatory word for Americans. Their nude sunbathing doesn’t bother me (I can escape), but while visiting their home, their open-door eliminations are harder to avoid. The tipping point came last night. I had my mother-in-law, “Marianne,” over for dinner, and she left my bathroom door open while using it.
Best Childhood Bathroom Ritual, Dear Prudence
My girlfriend and I recently moved in together and I discovered an odd quirk. Once or twice a week she’ll retreat to the bathroom and take a “shower” for an hour or two. Like literally 120 minutes. Our place doesn’t have nearly that much hot water and so I asked her how this works. It turns out that she goes in there, builds a little nest out of towels, turns the shower on, and just lies there and reads or naps with cold water running, and then takes a couple minute shower. Apparently she’s done it since she was a child and just finds it relaxing. Prudie, do you know how much water this uses?! …When I talked to her about the waste she just said that this is how she likes to spend her money (she insisted on paying the water bill when we moved in together and now I know why) and that lots of human activities are wasteful, but that since she’s not even in the shower for most of the time the water’s not being polluted (not sure about that) and that she does give to a water-related charity.
Worst Use of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Ethicist
This tops even Save the Boobs.
My 16-year-old daughter led a charity-race team that raises funds for cancer research. Each year, the race team raises a great deal of money, and — in thanks — the foundation provides the team captain with two complimentary tickets to an annual gala. Unfortunately, the gala invitation was addressed and mailed, in error, to my sister (who was the team captain last year). I just found out that she received and accepted the invitation six weeks ago. Meanwhile, my daughter has been waiting for her tickets to arrive so that she can take me. The gala is now weeks away. My sister won’t give them up.
Bravest Letter-Writer, Dear Abby
I have been going to a small community building near where I live to sing karaoke. I love going there because no alcohol is served, everyone acts like family, and I can take my kids and grandkids. My husband doesn’t go because he has other stress relievers and we have different interests. He knows some of the people there and doesn’t mind me going with my best friend… I am not “looking for love.” However, last month the DJ’s wife was waiting for me and said she didn’t appreciate my singing with her husband (she never comes, either) and told me to stop leaving comments on his Facebook page… She wanted to start trouble and ruin what happiness we all have. I thought about not going back, but I love the singing…I have been so down about this. There’s no other place around where they don’t serve alcohol.
The Young Janna Ryan Type, Savage Love
I recently discovered that my boyfriend of seven months and I have opposing viewpoints on the whole “life begins at conception” issue. He’s not a crazy zealot, but he is strongly against abortion. And while he won’t go so far as to say abortion should be banned, he does believe in the whole “personhood” concept, i.e., that a fetus-from the moment of conception-is a person with the same rights as any other person. This shocked me, and I almost broke up with him. He says that disagreeing on issues is fine in a relationship, but I am not so sure. I find his position abhorrent, one that ignores hundreds of real-life factors, and it opens the door for a litany of laws regulating my body.
Uppity Help of the Week, Miss Manners
Lately I have had two (so-called) professionals in my home. While I am paying for their service, they have turned the professional conversation into political ranting. Both have made the assumption that I agree with their opinions. I can only guess that they believe I agree because I didn’t argue. Apparently my saying nothing must have, in their minds, conveyed approval. I have strong political opinions and enjoy a good debate, but I didn’t think it was in any way appropriate to get into a debate with someone I have hired.
The Strip Club With a Heart of Gold, Ask Amy
Take your grandparents to this upscale gentlemen’s club.
I live in a community that has one gentlemen’s club. This club is an upscale, classy strip club with award-winning food. This business really takes care of the local residents and members of the community — from contributing to schools to supporting food pantries. It is the only strip club that has been allowed to remain in our community, and that’s because it’s not your “normal” kind of club. It’s really a cut above, and that’s why we allow it to be here. For instance, every year they offer free flu shots to seniors, accompanied by a free buffet (their menu is not cheap). My husband and I would like to bring them something this year to show thanks, but we don’t know what would be appropriate to convey to all employees how much we appreciate them.
Worst Impression of Eat, Pray, Love, the Ethicist
I am a never-married 39-year-old woman. I would like to take myself to Italy for my 40th birthday, and ask my friends and family to donate to the trip rather than give me gifts. I want to make it humorous, like: “You’ve never had to dress up or fly anywhere to fete me, so here’s your chance to fund my single-gal celebration.”