Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Apr 23, 2012

Need help getting along with partners, relatives, coworkers... and people in general? Ask Prudence! Emily Yoffe -- a.k.a. Slate's advice columnist Dear Prudence took your questions on manners, morals and more.

Have a question for Prudence? Submit it to next week's chat.

Good afternoon.  Let's get to it.

My little sister Rebecca recently confessed to me that she and her boyfriend Tyler have been filming themselves having sex. She says it excites her, because she's always felt pressure to be a good girl. Our parents aren't rigidly conservative by any means, but I know they'd object to Rebecca making sex tapes, not least of all because she's sixteen and Tyler is nineteen. I'm not sure what to do, because I am worried my parents will lose their heads if I tell them. But, as I pointed out, Rebecca is underage, and it won't end well for Tyler if the authorities are alerted. As an older sister, what's my duty?

I hope most teenagers don't think that the alternative to being a good girl is being Paris Hilton. Your sister confessed to you for a reason, and it's good that you were apparently so flummoxed by what she said that you didn't offer much of a reaction one way or another. I think  16 year-olds should hang onto their virginity. I'm sure there's a study somewhere saying that keeping horniness in check correlates with higher  trigonometry scores.  But now that you know your sister is sexually active, the first thing you should do is to make sure she is using birth control and that's she's seen a gynecologist. Tell Rebecca you'd like to enlist your mother in this, and that you will not mention anything about her cinematic ventures. As for the  tapes, I feel kind of sorry for today's youth,  whose formal sex education consists of lectures on lethal illness and the potential for being prosecuted. But I agree that underage sex tapes are a bad idea, both legally and morally.  Tell your sister you're really glad she came to you, you've been thinking about she told you, and it sounds as if she feels she's gotten in over her head. Explain it's not too late for her to change her mind about her extracurriculars. No, she can't get her virginity back, but she can decide that concentrating on getting through high school, instead of exploring her sexuality, is a better focus. Be calm and  non-judgmental. Then when the conversation progresses, you can suggest she get all copies of the tapes and destroy them.

Dear Prudence, A couple of years ago my then-boyfriend broke up with me because I was too clingy and unstable. I couldn't see it then, but in retrospect I totally agree with his diagnoses. I was convinced that if I tried hard enough he would love me again. I spent many months calling him at home, at work, even his parents' house, to the point where he changed his numbers twice. I always found out his new numbers and texted him repeatedly to beg him to reconsider. He felt sorry for me at first but he quickly became hostile (understandably) as I turned more desperate. I heard that he even considered getting a restraining order from me. I really made his life hell. To cut the long story short, I started receiving therapy and did a lot of soul searching before realizing what a messed up person I was. I couldn't see it before but now I feel completely ashamed of my behavior. I want to send a final letter of apology to my ex - not a phone call in case he finds it too confrontational - and tell him how sorry I am to have harrassed him the way I did. However, there is a part of me that thinks he probably never wants to hear from me again and it's best to leave him alone. What do you think? -Regretful

How wonderful to hear that you sought help, it worked, you can now you can see your behavior from a different perspective, and that you are committed to making permanent changes. You should discuss  with your therapist  your desire to contact you ex about how much you've changed. He or she can help you examine this impulse and see it from your former boyfriend's perspective. I think you're right that  he never wants to hear from you again. A letter saying, "Guess what, I realized that I made your life hell, so I'm writing to let you know I'm sorry and after this letter I will continue to leave you alone. Unless you write back a letter of acknowledgement, in which case I'll respond.." is bound to go over badly.  The best way you can make amends and continue to heal is to leave your ex alone and move forward.

My husband's youngest sister and her husband are infertile and had several rounds of IVF with no success. They approached me and my husband about surrogacy. I reluctantly agreed, after a lot of pressure from my husband and his family, and was implanted with embryos consisting of my sister-in-law's eggs and donor sperm. I am now six months pregnant. Last week we found out that my sister-in-law left her husband and is now living in another country with a lover. Brother-in-law told my husband last night that he was filing for divorce and wants nothing more to do with our family, including this child I'm carrying. We are attempting to contact my husband's sister but she is not returning our calls. We know she is okay because she has been in contact with his parents and has "explained the whole thing to them." We, apparently, are not going to hear the whole story and I have no idea what is going to happen with this baby I am carrying. My husband said we may have to keep it and raise until his sister figures out what she wants to do. His family agrees. I feel like I have fallen through the looking glass. Our youngest is 7 years old and I do not want to have to go back to diapers, bottles and midnight wake-ups. I also don't want to bring a child into our home and raise it never knowing when his sister might show up and take it. No one is listening to me. I don't even know what legal obligations I am going to have towards this child. I can't even think straight right now. I would really appreciate some advice.

You need to do what you should have done before you got near a petri dish: contact a lawyer. Yes, it's a little late, now that the baby is gestating and both parents have taken off, but you need an expert in surrogacy and family law to help guide you through this mess. The parents who enlisted you surely have some legal obligation to you and to the fetus you're carrying.  All this,  including the option of placing the baby for adoption if no one in the family wants to raise this child,  has to be sorted out. You can't do this alone; get the law on your side.

My neighbor recently adopted a dog with distinctive brown and black markings. Last week my daughter brought home a LOST DOG flyer with a picture of a dog with the exact same distinctive markings. The flyer detailed how much the owners missed their dog. I brought the flyer to my neighbor's attention and told her I believed the dog on the flyer was the dog she adopted. My neighbor curtly told me to mind my own business and snatched the flyer from my hands. Now I'm not sure what to do. I'm 99% certain my neighbor's dog is the lost dog. Should I risk being wrong and ruining my relationship with my neighbor?

You don't have to ruin the relationship with the neighbor. You just have to call the number on the flyer,  give your neighbor's address, and say she recently adopted a dog that looks remarkably like theirs.  You must know what your neighbor's new dog looks like because she's been out and about with it, which means anyone in the neighborhood could have noticed. If the neighbor is contacted by the peopel with the miss dog, then comes to you with accusations, just say you don't want to get in the middle of a dispute she may be having with the owner of the lost dog.

At my twenty-sixth birthday my childhood best friend Corinne apparently hit it off with my fifty-six-year-old, widowed dad. They enjoyed one another's company, grabbed coffee a few days later, and one thing led to another. Now they've been dating for six months, and their relationship has become serious enough that they've told my brother and me about it. On the one hand, I'm very happy that my lonely father has found someone he might love. On the other hand, no matter how much I tell myself that they're both grown, intelligent adults, I can't suppress the giant GROSS! that rises in me when I think of them together. I'm not sure how to handle this -- and I want to handle this maturely -- because I have so many different emotions and thoughts. What can I do to become more comfortable with their relationship,which is complicated by her and me being close in age and our past friendship?

I think you're handling it perfectly so far. You're right to be happy that two people you care about are delighted in each other's company. And given each of their relationship to you,  and their age difference, it's normal that you also find yourself suppressing a gag instinct.   Beyond that, you don't have to do much more than accept your complicated feelings.  Since everyone is an adult, it will be best for your mental health to stay out of their relationship.  It's likely that it will run it's course and eventually Corinne will move on to someone closer to her own age. There's no reason now to start contemplating that your former BFF might one day become your stepmother.

Remind your little sister that it's incredibly easy for those tapes to wind up on the Internet, and all it would take is a few minutes for the boyfriend to post them on porn sites. If she doesn't think he'd do that, think again, because clearly plenty of boyfriends and ex boyfriends have done it. They might consider looking online to make sure he hasn't already.

So true, that's why it's important for the girl to get possession of the tapes. But it would be best not to terrify  the younger sister, just to explain this could happen given the technology.

I agree making sex tapes as a 16 year old is not the best idea, but every teenager needs to be exploring his/her sexuality in some way, just like they are exploring every other important area of identity. That doesn't necessarily mean having intercourse, but being a sexual person doesn't mean you're going to flunk out of school!

And kids in nursery school are exploring their sexuality.  I am not against this exploration -- it's fun! it's natural! -- it's just that teenagers can find themselves going further than is good for them. I think making sex tapes indicates this girl would more productively have her head inside a textbook.

Last August a classmate named Greg began stalking me. Eventually Greg's stalking led to his expulsion from our university. He told his friends he was leaving college because I broke his heart and slept around on him. I am in the same major as two of Greg's good friends, Jake and Melissa, so we have several classes together each quarter. They ignore me when we have group discussions and have left me out of group emails when we've worked together on class projects. When I began dating another person in our major, Melissa "enlightened" him about my true character. Thankfully the guy disregarded her slander, but now I feel like I have to address Jake and Melissa's resentment towards me. I'm not sure what to do, though, probably because I'm pretty frazzled right now. For personal reasons I'd like to keep the stalking quiet, but maybe telling them what really happened is the only way to get them to stop?

I think you should discuss this with a dean of student affairs or someone in the counseling services. You don't want to be seen as wilding spreading stories about Greg, but stories are being spread about you and those shouldn't be left unanswered. Discuss with these adults what to do, and even if there are legal issues involved in releasing information about what happened. He was expelled, but  his friends think he left over a broken heart -- which is quite lame on its face -- and are excluding you from class information, so something has to be done. It could  be that your friends could use the grapevine to help enlighten everyone about the circumstances of Greg's departure. Stalking is a serious crime and I'm glad to hear your university took action.

I doubt the little sister's escapades are on actual tapes- it's probably digitally recorded on a cell phone or computer. The little sister needs to make sure her boyfriend deletes these videos. Even if he is a good guy who won't disseminate the videos online, his gear could be hacked or stolen!

Right, good point. She needs to make sure all existing evidence in all media is deleted. If the boyfriend won't cooperate, then a parental discussion about the consequences of disseminating sexual images of a minor might be highly instructive.

Dear Prudence, Two years ago, one of my older sisters, "Jenny," moved to a state across the country. She is married and has a two-year old son, "Todd," so my mother would frequently go out to visit, staying at her house for a week or so. About three months ago, Jenny called me after one of these visits and said her husband, "Chris," had seen our mother molesting Todd. She also said that earlier in the week, Todd became very clingy and told Jenny he was "scared of grandmama." Our mother has a history of inappropriate behavior (including several arrests for shoplifting), and touched me inappropriately when I was very young. Despite my urgings, Jenny has always let her around Todd. Now, our family has truly been ripped apart. Jenny cut off communication with our mother but still talks to our father, and while my other two sisters have not stopped talking to Jenny, they don't believe our mother actually molested Todd (even though they both know about what happened when I was a kid). They have never liked Chris and think he is a liar. I'm confused by so many things and just don't know what to do. Jenny refuses to see a counselor or take Todd to one. In the last couple weeks, she has been wavering on whether or not to reconcile, which makes me furious. It also makes me wonder if she too is questioning Chris's story, or if my father's pleas are just making her feel guilty. Please give me advice. It's getting harder and harder to maintain all of my family relationships (and my sanity). -Confused and stuck in the middle.

If there is evidence, as there appears to be, that your mother is molesting her grandson, I can't imagine what else needs to be said to convince your sister that your mother must never, ever be alone with him and her visiting privilges have been revoked.  Moving away from the viper's den of your family sounds like a good move for Jenny, and she needs to stop being manipulated by your father and the other siblings. Jenny is being hectored on all sides, so if you take a more neutral tone and become a sounding board for her, you have a better chance of convincing her that the safety of her son is of paramount importance. Perhaps you could tell Jenny you'd also like to talk to her husband Chris about this, if that's all right with her. Maybe you can enlist Chris in encouraging his wife to create some barriers against all the sickness.

My girlfriend of two years, with whom I have the perfect relationship,  searched through my old emails and chat messages (for an unknown reason and without provocation). While I've never cheated on her, she did find conversations I had with friends during our courtship that are understandably very upsetting to her. It wasn't "love at first sight" for me, so she uncovered instances of me saying things like "She's nice and all, but I think I want to play the field more," or, "It's clear that she likes me a lot more than I like her." She also found out that I casually dated other women concurrently with her (only in the beginning, of course). Though I was unsure at first, our relationship has blossomed, and I'm head over heels in love with her and know I want to marry her when we're ready. I feel horrible that she saw those things I said, but they no longer apply. She now feels insecure and mad at herself for "being so naive" about the early stages of our relationship. Prudie, how do I convince her that she's the girl I love and want to be with forever? I'm not even mad that she went through my emails. Other than this hiccup, we're the perfect couple. I know she feels the same way about me. Thank you.

No relationship is perfect. For evidence, let's look at yours. Despite your avowal of perfection, your girlfriend, unprovoked, went through two years of your personal history to search for evidence of your bad behavior.  She didn't find any, but she did find confirmation of what she should have known already: That your relationship grew slowly at first, then blossomed into something wonderful. Now she's sullied it.  It sounds as if you are so invested in maintaining the pretense of perfection that you're afraid to confront her over her serious violation. You don't need to convince her of anything -- you need to tell her that you are hurt and taken aback that she would go snooping. You also have been put in the untenable situation of defending your completely natural behavior as your relationship was getting started.  Stop being defensive, and ask her to explain what she's done.

I wrote to you a few weeks ago because my husband's affair partner applied for a job at my company, and I would have been responsible for hiring her. I decided not to call her for an interview because I could never have worked with her. She applied to another position in a different department, one that works closely with mine. My counterpart in that department decided to bring her in for an interview, which apparently she did very well in. Now my counterpart has asked me to sit in on the next interview in the hiring process. Three people from various departments would interview her to see if she fits with the company. Again I'm at a loss as to what I should do. I want to expose this woman but don't think it'd be professional. I would love more advice.

I recall your letter well, and I'm sure you'll recall that the overwhelming consensus in the comments was for you following the path you did, which was not interviewing her  because you couldn't work with her.  You still can't work with her, and if you would have to if she was in a department close to yours, that would be a problem.  You can say to your counterpart that she applied to your department and you didn't call her in because of a serious conflict, the details of which you'd rather not go into. Explain that you are aware of some character and judgment flaws (after all, she behaved abominably) and that you simply can't be on an interview panel. If pressed, you might have to spill the beans, but be aware, even if you ask to have that information kept private, it might get out. There are lots of companies out there and there's no reason for you to give her any help working at yours.

It sounds like the LW doesn't want to rock the boat, but the most important people in the equation are the children involved. The LW should call 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) and get advice on how to proceed. The grandmother is a predator and needs professional help. It's not enough just to keep her away from Todd - what about other children she may come in contact with?

Thanks, good advice. But if everyone is closing ranks around Grandma, including possibly Todd's mother, it's going to be very hard to get her into treatment. 

Not sure you have to do it this second .... but maybe the police should be involved if the child's mother won't act? I realize this could cause even more upset, but this child's life is at stake. If she won't keep him away, if you think it's true and if grandma has a history, it's really important that above all else, that kid be protected.

Chris should probably have picked up the phone and called the cops immediately. The longer this goes, the harder it will be to mount a case. Another letter writer points out that if thiswas a grandfather there wouldn't be such a hesitation. My worry now is the potential that Chris's marriage could be destroyed, the family will close ranks and give "evidence" of his previous lying, that no case will be brought against the grandmother ("I was changing Todd's diaper!"), and the vipers nest will just keep seething.

Last week my husband left his Facebook page up and I saw a conversation between him and a friend during which my husband disclosed that he is an atheist, but asked his friend to say nothing to me about it since he believes I would divorce him over it. My husband and I have been together for five years and I just gave birth to our second son. During the course of our relationship he has represented only that he is a Christian, like myself. I don't know what to do at this point. I have said nothing yet. We don't go to church, and I would not say that I am very devout, however, I do wish to bring our boys up in a Christian household. Additionally, I feel betrayed by what I see as a substantial lie. Our wedding vows were taken before God, a God that he doesn't believe exists. How should I bring up the issue and do you think talk of divorce would be overreacting?

How awful to see your husband pouring out his soul --or his lack of belief in a soul --  to someone else and asking the information be kept from you. But instead of thinking of this as the end of your marriage, think of it as the opportunity for a new, more honest phase. You bring this up by saying, "Honey, you left your Facebook page open and I saw the conversation about your being an atheist, and we need to talk about this." Show him that it's a good thing that you found out because it gives you the opportunity to be more open and honest with each other. There are many happy couples who observe different religions, or have varying degrees of belief.  This can be accommodated. Since so far he's hidden his atheism from you, it doesn't sound as if he wants to insist his two small sons be brought up with his lack of faith. Please don't even mention the word divorce. What a sad outcome that would be to a potentially healing revelation.

Either she's deeply, deeply insecure or you just got a glimpse into being married to someone highly controlling. I'd really, really reconsider your desire to marry someone who would hack into your chats and email, then pin perfectly innocuous information against you, then beat herself up and leave YOU to reassure her. Are you serious?

I agree this is a potential relationship ender and it's good this happened before a wedding.  The boyfriend needs to stop trying to mollify his love and start expressing some righteous indignation. If she's got him so manipulated he's convinced he's the wrongdoer, get on the running shoes.

I recently discovered that my younger brother submitted naked pictures of his ex-girlfriend to a now-defunct website that reposts such pictures and adds links to the subject's social media profiles. I'm pretty disgusted with my brother, who not only shared pictures his ex-girlfriend gave to him in confidence but shows no remorse for doing so. He says (and some people might agree) that anyone who sends a naked/risqué picture, even if it's to a loved one, should expect it to end up online eventually. I disagree, because people do foolish things when it comes to love, but since you have a large readership I'm hoping you'll post this story as a cautionary tale: In today's digital world, NEVER take a naked picture of yourself unless you're prepared for it to show up online and for your nearest and dearest to see it. Even if you love the person you send the picture to, even if you really trust them, loved ones can become jerks after a breakup.

Everyone, consider yourself warned. Although as the years go on, you might wish you had some (private) evidence of your hotness.

Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.

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Emily Yoffe
Emily Yoffe -- a.k.a. Slate's advice columnist Dear Prudence, offers advice on manners, morals and more. She is also Slate's Human Guinea Pig, a contributor to the XX Factor blog, and the author of What the Dog Did: Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner.

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