From a Submariner's Perspective is a weekly column, written in response to the letters sent in to advice columnist "Prudie" at Each week, The Submariner responds to the letter writers in a way that author, Emily Yoffe, probably can't (but perhaps would like to...). Each entry is headed with a link to the orginal questions and Yoffe's answers. Enjoy!

Also, if you have questions that you'd like answered by The Submariner, or anyone here at "The Fly", just write to me at and I'll forward to the appropriate party/parties for an answer (or you can write to them directly via the e-mail addresses on their pages)! Once the answers are published, I'll drop you a note letting you know.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

...on Addicted, Mean, Smelly Family (11/04/2010) <---Original Prudie Letters Can Be Found There

Hey hidey ho, Shippers! How in the heck are ya on this fine, fine Prudie Day? Are you enjoying the crisp fall weather? The cheese poppers? The bacon-wrapped water chestnuts-and-shrimp hors d'oeuvres? With dipping sauce?! Oh my, what a grand time of year this is! I get all tingly inside just thinking about it! And you know what else I get all tingly over? Prudie letters! HA! You guys thought I was going to say something naughty about Mermaid, didn’t ya? ;-) Fooled you (although...)! So, with that, let’s get crackin’ on these letters, shall we?

LW#1: Dear Prudie. My mom is an addict. Has been all of my life. When I was ten years old, she and her boyfriend physically attacked me. After reporting this fact to a teacher, I was removed from their care and sent to live with my dad. My whole family shamed and guilted me for turning in my mom and I still carry that with me. Later my mom’s addiction became so extreme that my half brother was taken from her. He was going to be placed in foster care if I didn’t take him in, so, I did. My wife and I raised him with no financial help from my mother. Recently, my grandparents (who’ve been a great help in my life) asked if I would contribute to my mom’s care. They said that $75 per month would do. Prudie, I’ll bet her cigarette habit costs that! I suggested to them that they get her on disability, but they will never quit enabling her, or telling me about it. I’m a social worker and don’t make a lot of money, yet I feel extremely guilty for letting down my grandparents. What should I do? Signed, Ungrateful Grandson?

Dear Run, Run Like The Wind. You say you’re a social worker, so, I’m sure that you see this type of sick shit all the time. But perhaps it’s harder to recognize when you’re in the middle of it? Look, we don’t have a choice regarding to whom we’re born. We don’t ask to be born to them, and, as a result, we owe them nothing. Quite the opposite, actually. When a person decides to have a child, however, they do, sure as fuck, owe that child. They are obligated to that child by virtue of their choice to have it (as opposed to the alternatives when one becomes pregnant, like abortion or adoption). But squirting a child from one’s loins does not an obligation from that child to that parent make. What does engender a form of obligation, at least in my humble opinion, is love, respect, care, support and peace from a nurturing parent. Your mother has given you none of that. Further, you’ve enabled her enough already (raising your half brother, letting yourself be guilted by asshole family on her behalf, etc.). So you actually now owe her less than nothing. She’s indebted to you so far already that she can’t possibly pay you back (not that she's even going to try, but still). Your grandparents are another matter, though. Their shitty-ness and evil is far more insidious. With your mom, you know what you get. An irresponsible shit stain. Your grandparents, though, are evil-enabling guilt mongers masquerading as caring people. The fact that you, as a ten-year-old, had to hear one bit of a negative word from anyone over protecting yourself (at ten years old, did I mention that?) tells me everything I need to know about them. You are not obligated to family due to DNA. Blood is thicker than water? Bullshit. Prove it, mother fuckers! When they give more of a shit about you (a productive member of society who’s been taking care of his mother’s messes long enough) than they do about their own failure, they’re nothing to you but an albatross around your soul. Shed the albatross, Brother, and breathe the clean, guilt-free air that you’ve earned. And you have earned it. I’d suggest moving far, far away to truly realize fulfillment in this endeavor. And perhaps you should have some counseling, Counselor.

LW#2: Dear Prudie. Every year, my husband and I spend Thanksgiving with his family at his cousin’s house. Every year, the cousin and wife make snide comments about a close family member of mine (a man active in local politics) and even intimate that my professional success is due to this man’s influence. Because we’re in their house, I’ve always politely bitten my tongue. Afterwards, I’ve asked my husband to please speak to his cousin about this, but, my husband’s afraid it’d upset everyone and insists that the only way I’ll earn their respect is if I speak up myself. I don’t give a flying shit about their respect, Prudie, but, I also don’t want to listen to their shit anymore. What can I say to them, in their own home, that will be acceptable and not ostracize me from the rest of the family? Signed, Fed With Shit Burgers Rather Than Turkey

Dear Doormat. First and foremost, I have to take extreme exception to your husband’s behavior. It’d be one thing if you were instigating this treatment. I mean, even if you were hinting about your politician family member, or asking for their comments in any way, I can see hubby wanting to stay out of it, but, if what you say is true, and I have no reason to doubt you, then he’s a jack wad, wimp-assed, pussy boy who doesn’t deserve a wife with a successful family and career of her own. He deserves someone who actually deserves to be shit upon (which, hint: ain’t you). So, what to do? Personally? I suggest having dinner with friends or other family, as far away from Hubby’s family as possible. Or with pretty much anyone who doesn’t treat you like shit. If either you or your husband are afraid that that would cause a rift between you and his family, then you’re giving them far too much power in your lives. It’s one thing to sacrifice time, resources and effort to those who reciprocate with love, respect, care, support and peace, but to provide consideration to assholes? The only thing that does is encourage their shitty-ness. And we should not encourage shitty-ness. Listen, you deserve better. And I’m not just talking about the way your husband’s family treats you, either.

LW#3: Dear Prudie, I have a beautiful, talented, gifted daughter who has a good job and many friends. But she doesn’t use soap when she bathes, Prudie. And she almost never shampoos her hair (maybe only once or twice per month)--she says she doesn’t want to strip away the body’s natural oils. Prudie, all of this is fine, but, the result is that she sometimes smells bad. I mean, like, bad bad. I’ve never had a problem with expressing my opinions to my children, but, I’m afraid of the extreme insult that my commenting on her hygiene would cause my daughter. Can you help? Signed, Stinky Girl’s Mom

Dear Mistaken. You mentioned several things about your daughter’s habits that you believe are leading to her odor, but, none of what you mention necessarily should lead to odor. Plenty of people don’t use soap. At all. But they don’t stink. Know why? They shower every day (sometimes twice), keep their hair short and/or use warm, nearly hot water to rinse it (daily), and, use powder and/or deodorant in and around their areas of odor concern. Oh, yeah--they also know how to wipe their asses. It sounds to me like your extremely gifted and popular daughter might be struggling with a deep funk (see what I did there? The pun? I meant “depression”, you know, in case you missed that, but used the word “funk” because of its dual meaning...what?), or, perhaps works in a place that smells so bad that her olfactory nerves have been affected. Maybe the friends you mention are smelly because they don’t wipe their asses, and your daughter wants to fit in? Lift your arms and smell your pits. Do you smell anything unpleasant? Even slightly? Then imagine what her pits must smell like to her?! If her state of funk is in any way frequent, you owe it to her to be very direct about your observations and concerns (especially if the smell is coming from her back side, which she may not be as able to notice). You don’t have to be rude like me, but, you do need to say something. Prudie’s suggestions were top notch, but, a minimum. Personally, I’d say, “Honey, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you smell pretty ripe. Did you forget to wipe? I mean, seriously. You smell a little bit like ass.” But that’s just me. On a good day.

LW#4: Dear Prudie, I have a leadership position at the University for which I work. There’s one problem, though. When we do training or orientation, there’s a great deal of “cheering and chanting”. I find it to be rather proletarian, but I do try to participate. The problem is that I always fail miserably. If I try to cheer, I look and feel like an idiot. If I stand in the back, I’m seen as the group naysayer. How can I go through this stupid and ridiculous custom without letting on that I really am the group naysayer? Signed, So The Group Naysayer

Dear Person Who Only Thinks S/He’s a Leader. You’re not a leader. Nor are you in a leadership position of any significant weight. A leader would change “stupid and ridiculous” activities to make them intelligent and appropriate. So, first off, you need to quit taking yourself so seriously. No one else does. Believe me. Secondly, you need to know that you’re not seen as the group naysayer. If you’re considered at all, you’re seen as aloof and inappropriately entitled. Just so you now, there’s a significant difference. As such, you need to learn to do two simple things: smile (legitimately) and clap. You needn’t smile at the activity itself. Hell, smile at how ridiculous everyone looks, if that’s what you feel. But, by simply smiling and clapping (a social construct meant to demonstrate appreciation, but one that’s so easily faked a robot with a mouse brain can learn it), you will be right in the middle with the rest of us (the majority, in fact) who find this type of exercise uncomfortable, but relatively innocuous in the grand scheme of life. Oh, and when you become a leader for real? Why not change the training/orientation program. Kay? Kay.

Well, Shippers, that about does it for me. Lots of work (school and professional), so, I need to get to it. May you have the wonderfulest of wonderful weeks. Fair winds and following seas!


  1. asking for a &quot;friend&quot;November 4, 2010 at 9:50 AM

    damn, Smag is back w/ a vengeance! best. set. of. answers. ever! :).

  2. Aw, but Smag, the viscosity of blood is greater than water. ;-) I agree completely, though that has no bearing on what you owe people in your life! =-)

  3. Ahoy, asking! Thank you, kind sir! Check back often as I edit them for content. They may get even better! ;-)


  4. ;-) Sorry, Mon Capitan, I couldn't resist. ;-)

  5. Darn, Libby! You got me on a technicality! So, I won't be asking for proof next time. But, as you mentioned, the point still stands. :-)

    Much good cheer! :-)

  6. There is a reason to doubt LW2. She writes in one sentence that she hasn't spoken up because any conflict would upset her husband. Then she says in the very next sentence that he thinks the only way she could earn their respect would be to confront them. LW2 is clearly a sandwich or two short of a full pic-a-nic basket.

    This reminds me of *The Boys in the Band* when Larry tells Hank, "What agreement? You agreed to your own agreement and then informed me that I agreed to it!" LW2 is putting *something* into her husband's mouth. Now this is not to say that he isn't interesting, to use an overly mild word for it. I'd love to ask him exactly why it would be inappropriate (if that was really his word, and when a LW proves himself/herself to be unreliable I question these things) for him not to ask his cousin to insult or denigrate his wife or her absent relative. But they do what they always do, get what they always get, and know what's going to happen when there are clear alternatives. This part of their little dance with each other, and something would be thrown out of whack if they just did any of multiple obvious things. I think there are serious things wrong with both of them, perhaps distributed in such a way that they are actually a decent match. Let's just hope neither of them gets healthy. If I had time, I'd specualte on other things, such as whether this is the general style of familial intercourse or if giving back as good as she gets will be the magic pass into a club of good fellowship - but I don't, and so won't.

    I won't go so far as to suggest that you would give a different answer if the genders were reversed, but I will admit that your language rankled just the slightest bit. I've been called all those things before and doubtless will be called them a great deal more in the next eighteen months during the runup to the triumphant passage of the FMA. Sigh. Now I shall lose sleep wondering whether I have an ethical obligation to stop associating with those naturally inclined to reproduce. Therefore I shall wish you better sleep than mine.

  7. Hrumpole, I think you're right about the discrepancy in LW2's letter. I'm in full sympathy with her picture of the laws of hospitality, things you really can't say to people in their own house; but their behavior really is, to me, a reason not to go there at all.
    And Smag, I fully agree that the husband whose relatives they are needs to comport himself differently--and call out the insults directly--if he wants to keep hanging out with these folks (and even if he doesn't--come the day that they inquire why the couple doesn't make itself available for their insults any more.)
    SO many other options, people. Take 'em.

  8. Just to get very practical about the stinky girl: The all-too-ecologically minded (if that's the issue) won't go for the daily shower routine, either--can we really afford to use water that lavishly?
    But it's not acceptable to go around smelling foul.

    Dr Bronner's Folkie-madness soaps are really great stuff. Almond, Peppermint, what-have-you. All natural, plant-based; there are directions on the bottle for getting really nice and clean without using a shower's worth of water, just a sinkful and a washcloth and a tablespoon or so of these nice soaps.

    That's leaving aside the relationship between mom and dotter where they actually have the conversation. Why is the daughter acting this way?
    No doubt it was not fun for my mother to say to me, "You really need to shower every day, now." But what was I, thirteen? If she had had to say that a decade later, there would have had to be something else going on. Depression is a plausible candidate--if not that, What?

    As for the time of year, it's getting awfully darned dark around here, but soon I'll forget it was ever otherwise...

  9. My apologies, SB1. I was too harsh. Usually I find your chivalrous streak becoming, but this week everything strikes me as a threat.

    I have thought of one or two possible reasons for the behaviour of LW2 and her husband, but nothing is really satisfying.

  10. I was thinking about the stinky daughter this morning as I cranked up the shower.... I lingered, grateful that we installed a larger-than-average hot water heater, reveling in the fact that we keep the temperature higher than average so we use less hot water at one go to have a hot, hot shower.....

    By the time I got out, there wasn't a lot of hot water left. I was all pruney and squeaky-clean all over. Even my toesies were glowing pink. I smelled like nice soap and pretty shampoo. The cats got endless entertainment as I squeegeed off the inside of the shower doors before I got out. The windows were steamy - so I had to open the blinds a crack...

    Yup. HOT shower. A wonderful way to start the morning. I may have to do that again tomorrow.

  11. Cantahamster: You're right that a 5-minute (or longer) shower isn't necessary for someone who wants to conserve and yet not be so odiferous that no one can stand to be near them.

    My grandmother never took a tub bath or a shower *in her entire life*. She'd remove clothing from one area and wash that from a sink filled partway with water and soap, put clothing back on that part, move to the next area, and so forth. It had the added benefit of her staying reasonably warm in a house cooler than most people leave their thermostats set to.

  12. They Call You MISTER Smag: Sorry that I'm late. I keep getting sucked into weekend projects and don't come up for air till I'm forced to ((sob!)) set an alarm for Monday and get dragged kicking and screaming back into the workforce.

    LW1 - ngggyahh! I hate these no-fault-of-their-own letters. You can't be snide and other fun things. So... Do what the man says! Andelay! Schnell!

    LW2 - yes, DO go somewhere else for the holidays. It's OK; we believe that you can do it! See? We're all clapping our hands because we believe!

    LW3 - what keeps me from being the Environmental Police around others is that, when it comes to showers, I am the Environmental Hypocrite. Like Ms. Messy, I love HOT showers. I don't care if it's Summer: HOT. WATER. This is quite ironic given my childhood hatred of showers. My battles with Mum about them were legendary. Baths were even less enjoyable; I actually do still dislike those. Don't remember what changed my mind.

    But now a HOT shower is the only physical pleasure I get, so I'm an Environmental Hypocrite and take long ones (15 min, I think).

    She could smell bad because of diet, too. When I drank nonorganic milk, I got nasty underarm BO. My sister told me she'd switched her kid to organic milk, and the smell went away. So I did the same and stopped stinking. I've had to take meds every day since birth to control hormones, so no doubt all the extra shit in normal milk didn't help.

    LW4 - {{sigh}} Extroverts love that kinda shit, don't they? The team-building exercises, rallies, games, group lunches, retreats, company picnics, and holiday sorry I mean end-of-year parties. So.. man or woman up, I guess, and be all leaderly and either take it or change it, like The Man says above. This is why I'm glad I'm not a Leader. I can blow off those things! Well, most of them.

  13. Ahoy, my Captain!

    I know you get all tingly when you think of my bacon-wrapped water chestnuts and my shrimp hors d'oeuvre because I know how you love finger foods. *With dipping sauce* I'm just saying. ;)

    I have to admit, a hot shower or bath is something I've never been able to abide. Perhaps because it reminds Mermaid too much of a simmering stockpot... I even take tepid showers in winter. Also have to admit, I'm not much on soap, it's bad for my skin. Just use it where it counts, if you get my drift. All those ads where the girl is in the shower, covered in perfumey foam from stem to stern gives me the itchies.

    I'm with you on the Thanksgiving couple. What's up with the husband thinking if he speaks up, it will cause problems, but if his wife speaks up, it will solve problems? He's basically saying he doesn't want to be the bad guy, yet manages to get in an underhanded accusation of HER being too chicken of the sea to speak up. Nice.

    And why are they spending every Thanksgiving at his family's house? If they aren't splitting the day with her side, or alternating years, that doesn't sound right to me. I went through this with my ex. I don't have family, so every holiday was spent with his by default. After a while (10 years at least) I told him I wanted to spend Thanksgiving at home ~ it was my turn to spend it with *my family* even if that family was just me, him and my son. He flipped out because he didn't want to have to explain to everyone that we *were just sitting at home* on Thanksgiving day. I said "I'm sorry, but this is what my family is, and you knew that when you married me. Just because I have 3 people around my table, including me, doesn't make it less of a family than your 25. You think it's tough to sit at a Thanksgiving table with just 3 people? Welcome to my world." Maybe that's why he married me ~ he never had to worry about in-laws ever saying mean things to him.

    I'm glad to see you bringin' the SnarkyBack, Diving Buddy. You do know how to make your Mermaid tingly inside and out... :*

    Catch you next week, my juicy Smagsicle...

  14. Oh, hrumpole! There's no need to apologize. My word choice was unfortunate. It was meant only to convey a lack of willingness to stand up for his wife, but, I'll be more careful with those combinations in the future. I understand the concern. I believe that you're thoughts on the wife are slightly off the mark, though. She says she hasn't wanted to upset the family, for the husband's sake (even if he was okay with it, she may have wanted to protect him the crud of such a mess--something he seems unwilling to do for her), but, I get the impression that she's past that now. She's fed up! And, even though it may cause a scene, she's ready! I say she should! Or, short of that, just not go at all. No need to expose oneself to that kind of mess. IMHO. ;-)

    Much good cheer, hrumpole. My apologies for such an extended absence. The semester is winding down...

  15. Great advice, Cantahamster. I'm not sure if I trust the mother in her assumptions about why the daughter isn't bathing. And, there are all sorts of reasons people smell. Some of them have less to do with a choice and more to do with not knowing (or being able to care, say, if depression is an issues, etc.). But, if it is a choice, here's hoping she read about your soap! :-)

    Cheers! :-)

  16. Messy, I know that you didn't *mean* to challenge MM for sexy post of the week, but... ;-)

    Stay clean, and much good cheer, Messy!

  17. Ahoy, herdThinner! No worries on being late. Look how late I am! :-) Great observations, as always. I've noticed that what we eat affects our smell, too. And no, I'm not just talking about asparagus (although, geez, that stuff is epic)! Garlic and onions are definitely noticeable to me when I sweat. But, I've had vegetarian friends tell me they can smell when I've eaten a lot of meat! Not that I care, particularly (I mean, it's not like I'm spritzing cow blood on my neck and temples, you know? ;-) Anyhoo, it all comes out in the wash.

    Much good cheer, herdThinner! :-)

  18. Ahoy there, Diving Buddy! Oh my! I thought Messy's shower post was going to give you a run for your money--I should have had no doubts, though, eh? You had me at "bacon-wrapped". ;-)

    So that's the ticket to peace and harmony, eh? Marrying someone who no mean family? I'll write that down in my book of things to remember. ;-)

    I'm with you in soap usage, MM. Only where it counts (although, I'm quite liberal with it in those spots). I don't use a wash cloth, either. I don't know why, just never found the need, I guess? As for temperature, I don't take them too hot. I'm with the tepid shower most of the time, too. But, I will gladly admit to taking a nice warm-to-hot shower on chilly winter mornings. It's a vice. ;-)

    Much good and yummy bacon-wrapped cheer, MM! :-)

  19. I would imagine that if the mother was bothered by her daughter's odor, the daughter had been taught how to properly maintain her personal hygiene.

    Another thing I thought about is the possibility of something going on in her body she doesn't know about. For isntance, certain diseases emit unpleasant odors. If you have a sensitive nose, you often can detect when people have heart disease or lung disease or have been burned, for instance. But if you don't recognize those odors, they'd just come off as unpleasant.

  20. The main question is why the husband thinks it would be inappropriate for him to intervene. If I absolutely were forced by an omnipotent deity to put money on this situation, at the moment, I have an inner plurality in favour of his "objectively" not agreeing with her assessment of the situation and not wanting to quarrel with her about it. In a way your soubriquet still more or less applies, though in a slightly different direction.

    Now this is not to say that he should not be a much more Fierce Advocate for her cause than, shall we say, a certain Elected Official of Very High Rank has been for a certain group that shall not be named (Fierce Advocate my Aunt Frances!). That is where my empathic comprehension fails. What's the fun of defending a client who is entirely innocent? If anything, that's much more nerve-wracking. And why marry someone for whom one wouldn't be more than willing to slap on the wig, rise to one's hind legs and give one's best performance regardless of the question of who's actually right?