Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Oct 15, 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 takes your questions on manners, morals and more.

Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions.

I am a single middle school teacher in his early forties. Two years ago I had a sexual affair with the mother of two students who attended the school where I teach. A year ago, her husband caught us, and the affair ended. Until this year, I have never taught one of my former affair partner's daughters, which I guess made it easier for her husband to stomach me working at his daughters' school. Now I have the elder child in one of my classes. Because I coach the volleyball team and the younger daughter took up the sport this year, I now also have nearly daily contact with her, too. I know it was stupid and wrong to sleep with a married woman; I make no apologies for my behavior. That said, I was never in love with my affair partner, and I have no interest in rekindling our affair. She and her husband don't believe me. If I ever compliment or speak to their daughters - I assume they find out because they interrogate the girls - one or both of them will email me to tell me to watch it. She threatens to go to my boss if I interact with her daughters too much and "expose" me. Last week I gave the elder daughter a C minus on a poorly written essay, and they accused me of punishing her because the affair ended. I do not know how I can teach or coach my students if I cannot speak to them or give them the grades they deserve. Frankly, I'm wondering if I should talk to my boss about this and take away their power to threaten me. Another part of me wants to tell them I am not interested in the mom and just want to do my job.

So Mom, after repeatedly and voluntarily exposing herself to you, now threatens to ruin you as a way, I suppose, of showing solidarity with her cuckolded husband.  As you've learned, it's a very poor career move to have a year's worth of private parent-teacher conference at your place.  I think you need to discuss your situation with a representative from your teacher's union (if you belong to one) or a lawyer, or both.  Before you do anything you need to find out if your affair with a parent is a firing offense. Only once you understand your legal situation should you act. If it's safe for you to tell the principal, that certainly would disarm the threat these parents now hold over you.  I always wondered how middle school teachers do their jobs  -- kids that age are such an irrational mess of raging hormones.  But I guess some people just never outgrow that stage. I'm feeling so sorry for the daughters. As if being a middle school student isn't hard enough, those girls now have to endure a confusing and  highly emotional daily grilling from Mom and Dad about the behavior of Mr. Chips.

Dear Prudence, The woman I married turned out to be a horrible person, and I'm happily divorced. Thankfully we never had kids together, so we barely have anything to connect us at all and I haven't heard from her even once since our divorce three years ago. But there is one complication. She has a sister, "Darlene", who she also hasn't spoken to in years. But I'm seeing Darlene. When my ex kicked me out, Darlene set me up with a job in the city where she lives. The difference between her and my ex is like night and day, and we hit it off from the start, but agreed not to get too involved in each other's personal lives for obvious reasons. Well, a year ago we started having casual sex from time to time, and lately it's been a lot more frequent. Enough so that Darlene asked if I am interested in a more steady relationship with her. I really like her and want to say yes, but I'm hesitant to rush into anything. The fact is I've known her for longer than I was married to my ex, so I think a relationship with her would be fine, but not everyone, especially my family, agrees with me. Do you think I'm ignoring red flags?

Based on this letter it sounds to me as if you and your ex were well matched.  You may not be a horrible person, but you certainly are a deluded and oblivious one. You say you hesitate to "rush into anything" with Darlene, but you've already rushed into Darlene.  It's a little late, but better than never that you are considering the idiocy of getting more seriously involved with your "horrible" ex's estranged sister.  Of course you're all single adults and entitled to do what you like, but I hope you don't need your family members to alert you to the potential pitfalls of marrying you're ex's sister. You need to start thinking about why you find yourself drawn to the wrong woman over and over again.

When I was in high school, I babysat for the Millers' two young kids. After I left for college, Mr. and Mrs. Miller divorced. I ran into Tom Miller (the father) at a bar a year ago. We started dating a little bit after that. We have fallen in love, and Tom has told his ex-wife about me. He said she's a little weirded out. He also confessed that the two of them thought I had a crush on him; I didn't until I ran into him as an adult. I am going to his daughter's birthday party tomorrow, and I will encounter many people I knew growing up, this time as Tom's girlfriend. I don't feel we have anything about which we should be embarresed, but I do think the birthday will be a little awkward. I worry a bit that the ex Mrs. Miller will treat me like a babysitter and not an adult. How do I establish myself as her equal and not the teenager who used to watch her kids?

You start by not saying, "Hi, Mrs. Miller, do you want me to supervise the Pin the Tail on the Donkey game for the kids, and do you mind if I have take some soda from the fridge?" I'm a little confused by your timeline. You say you started dating "a little bit" and now you're in love.  I hope that means you've dated more than a little bit. In addition, it sounds as if the Miller children are still young. I think that parents should be conservative about when they introduce their children to their new love interest.  It seems to me that a birthday party simply isn't the event for Meghan the babysitter to morph into Meghan, Daddy's girlfriend.  If your relationship with Mr. Miller, I mean Tom, is serious and you both feel it's time you were reintroduced to the  kids, that means the four of you should spend a quiet afternoon together. Hanging around with Tom's ex is not a good start. You can easily bow out of the birthday party and explain you don't want to cause tension or be the center of attention.  But if you go, the way you establish yourself as an adult is to act and feel like one.

Dear Prudie, I'm engaged to marry this really sweet man, but I have a problem I'm not sure if I should tell him about. He's not the first partner I've had in his family.  I lost my virginity to his older brother in high school. You'd think this would be a no brainer because these kinds of secrets get out eventually, but my fiancé's brother was killed in an accident not long after our encounter, and I'm pretty sure he didn't tell anyone about our little fling. Do I owe this information to my fiancé, or is this a secret I can take with me to my grave?

In the Bible a lot of people hooked up with siblings, but that seemed to be explained by the fact that there weren't that many people to choose from.  My inbox certainly is indicating that  keeping it in the family is a hot, new trend. I wrote not long ago that people are entitled to their sexual pasts without having to spill all to their current loves. I made an exception for material facts such as one's STD status, or having slept with your boyfriend's brother.  You slept with your fiance's brother, even though your story comes with a tragic ending.  You're right that the fact that up to now no one has said anything might mean that it will never come out. But whenever you two are around people who knew you back when, you will live in fear that someone will make a crack about your having a thing for the men of your husband's family.  Tell you fiance.  This will be emotionally complicated news, but he's entitled to know.

Dear Prudie, The other day I gave a friend of mine a ride to work. While driving, my daughter sent me a messeage which 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?

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.

I live alone in a tiny studio apartment. My fridge is almost empty because I mostly eat out. I also get rid of anything I don't use. People who come over say my place looks bare but I like it that way. Recently I went away for two weeks and gave my key to my boyfriend for emergency. He said he would come over some time and let some fresh air in so I agreed. When I got back from my trip, I found that he filled up my fridge, bought me clothes, and a bunch of household items I will probably never use for the rest of my life. He left a letter saying he didn't realize I "live like this" and that he cried when he saw I barely had anything to live on. All up, I think he would have spent about a thousand dollars on buying me all that stuff. I know I should be appreciative, but I feel annoyed and angry that he presumed I needed all of this. I now have to either get rid of everything or live with the clutter. What should I say to my boyfried? I don't know whether to say thanks or feel creeped out.

Your boyfriend can't be much of a boyfriend if he's never been to your place and doesn't know that you prefer a monkish (presumably except for having sex with him) existence.   It only makes sense that when going away you empty your fridge, and it's a nice gesture to find a loved one has gotten you some food. It's not such a nice gesture to get a note implying you're mentally unbalanced, the way you live is disturbed, and your boyfriend was reduced to tears to find out about the real you.  That said, explain to your boyfriend you appreciate his desire to help you, but your ascetic lifestyle suits you and the suits now in your closet and the other items don't. Say you hope he kept the receipts because you just can't live in your tiny studio with all this clutter. If he doesn't understand your objections, maybe as a further act of decluttering, you need to get rid of him.

Three friends and I put an allocated amount each month in a high interest savings account. The agreement is that in the unlikely event of somebody's death, that person's family gets the lump sum as kind of a life insurance. If nobody uses it, we all get our own money back. We started this after the death of a close friend left his widow close to bankruptcy. I thought it was a good arrangement until recent events. The wife of one of the participating friends, "John," has breast cancer, although thankfully not terminal. She quit her highly stressful job so she can concentrate on recovery. Then John's business started doing badly, and his daughter got into an accident, which requires a lot of expenses that aren't covered by insurance. John got stuck in a Catch-22 situation where he had to take time off to look after both his wife and daughter, then he lost even more clients because he wasn't available. Another friend in the group, one who is probably the closest to John, emailed us to suggest we take our savings and give it to him. The other friend quickly agreed. I haven't sent a reply yet because to be completely truthful, I do not want to. If I knew the funds were going to be used for anything other than life insurance, as callous as it sounds, I wouldn't have dutifully contributed every month. We have a written agreement that the savings aren't to be touched without everybody's agreement until 2015 (except in case of death) and if anyone backs out midway, they lose their contributions. I just want to continue this arrangement as agreed. How can I ask everyone to honor the original agreement without sounding heartless?

I'm no investment advisor but I have to disagree with one of the assumptions behind your financial dealings.  The death of any given member of your group is not an "unlikely" event, it is a certainty.  All of you have entered into a contract, before any decisons are made about changing the rules of that contract, all of you should talk to a lawyer.  Perhaps, with everyone's agreement, it would be possible to dissolve the fund, give their contribution plus interest, then you are all free to do with the money whatever you wish.  It is lovely to want to support a friend experiencing a terrible time; but it is foolish to eliminate your own financial cushion in case misfortune visits you.

My husband actually married sisters. After he divorced the youngest, he married the other sister, which also ended in divorce. When we first started talking, it was a red flag to me and, at the expense of sounding rude, I asked what on earth he was thinking! We continued talking for a few months and finally started dating, which allowed me time to conclude that he really was sane, but like all humans, makes (very) bad decisions sometimes.

It's a good thing for both of you that he ran out of that family's sisters!

The letter writer said she started dating her boyfriend "a little bit after" he divorced his wife, not that they've just dated a little bit. Her question also seems to be more about meeting not his children for the first time in the girlfriend role, but rather meeting the ex-wife and family friends in that role.

You're right that I misread "a little bit" and that they have been dating for a while. But the LW says nothing about having reestablished a relationship with the kids as their Dad's girlfriend and not the babysitter. If she has been spending a lot of time with them, then going to the party is fine and she just has to be gracious and confident. If she hasn't spent a lot of time with the kids, this should not be her debut.

Hi Prudie, My husband and I have been married for five years and a three-year-old and a one-year-old. Since we met, my husband has been kicking around the idea of going to law school, but never (even with my encouragement and support) took the LSAT when we were dating or even early in our marriage. He finally took the exam over the winter and got a good score. This fall he is submitting applications to law schools. However, I am dreading this process. We are both CPA's and make a good combined income, but cutting out an income and adding on tuition would be pushing the limit of our finances. My husband offered to take out student loans, but I cringe at that thought since we just paid off our undergrad loans. My husband feels that law school is "his dream" and he doesn't want to give it up. On one hand I understand that, but on the other hand this will put a financial strain on our family. From a practical standpoint, l think he had plenty of time to pursue this dream after college, but now we have a mortgage and two very young children to consider. I want to approach this with respect for his dream but also the practical considerations of our family. Any advice would be really appreciated.

Your husband must have been spending so much time poring over other people's books that he's neglected to read about the prospects for new law school graduates. I'll sum up:  not good. Sure some of the 40,000 lawyers being churned out each year are finding decent jobs, but overwhelming numbers are not.  I agree with you that having pursued a demanding, expensive educational path, now is not the time for your husband to drop a lucrative career.  It especially is not the time to take on enormous debt and reduce your income.  You are both CPAs so it seems that the best way to approach this is with some spreadsheets doing cost benefit analyses, looking at the data on the prospects for new law school graduates, and crunching the numbers on what it would mean to have your husband out of the workforce for three years.  This doesn't mean he can never pursue his dream, but it seems to make a lot more sense to defer it until the economy is more welcoming and your finances more robust.

As a friend of a family that lost a child to distracted driving, I think the texter-while-driving should educate herself. People who text while driving are 23 times more likely to have an accident. She may not view drunk driving and distracted driving the same, but the results are the same. I am sure she doesn't want to put a family through what she had to go through with her sibling.

You, and many other readers, are absolutely right that the distracted drivers are deluding themselves and causing mayhem and sorrow.  I hope I made that clear.  I do think it's fair for the LW to explain to her friend what the drunk driver remark meant to her personally. I'm sure the friend wouldn't have mentioned it so casually had she known the family history. But I hope the LW takes the responses here very seriously and realizes she's setting herself up to be the cause of someone else's loss.

I am 45 years old, madly in love with my husband, and we have been childless by choice. Meaning he didn't want any, I was ambivalent, and we've been happy with our life. Three days ago I found out I am pregnant. While I have no fantasy about what parenthood would be like, I find myself unable to contemplate an abortion. Even though I am strongly pro-choice and had an abortion 25 years ago, and never a regret about it. My husband does not want a child, and I do not want to live my life without him. I want him more than I want a baby. At this age, it seems incredibly risky to go through a pregnancy to give a child up for adoption. And who knows if I'd be able to actually give the baby up once I see it. My mind is spinning. Am I missing an option here? Thank you.

Okay, here I go practicing medicine (actually going to medical school would have been such a drag). You are  a 45 year old woman who is in the very early stages of pregnancy.  A late in life pregnancy is a high-risk one,   your fetus is a higher-risk for birth defects, and you are more likely than a younger woman to have a  miscarriage. Before you do anything else, see your gynecologist and discuss all these issues.  Both you and your husband are in shock, and you are facing a difficult dilemma.  But while you are reeling  is not a good time to make life altering decisions. Yes, you don't have all the time in the world, but you do have some.  I think you've covered all the options here, but what you haven't taken into account is how you both might feel in a few weeks when you've had more time to contemplate the implications of each course of action. And it could be that a neutral party can help you and your husband explore what this amazing turn of events would mean for the rest of your lives.

If the husband is serious about law school, he should find a program that allows him to take classes at night, part time, and keep his day job. Lots and lots of people earn law degrees in this way. It might not be less expensive, but he can still earn his income. Also, it will be a good test to see if it is "his dream," without sacrificing a lucrative career. It he is really passionate, he should be willing to take a shot at part-time education.

This is true, and I didn't suggest it because it will still cost a lot of money and if I had two very young children to care for I wouldn't be thrilled if all my husband's free time was taken up with classes and studying.  There is no reason his dream can't  wait until the children are in school, he's more established in his career, and (let's hope!) the economy is better.

I love my girlfriend very much and at the age of 27 feel like Im finally with somebody who I could spend my life with. I have been supportive of her naturalist attitude regarding hair removal and even find her hairy pits, legs and other parts, sexy. The trouble is that she also has scattered hairs growing across her chest and about a dozen long ones around each nipple. How can I explain to her that although I support her natural ways and was well aware of her preference going into things, that a little bit of removable would go a long way. It's the nipple hair that really throws me. When I've brought it up she's acted offended and explained to me that it's natural for women to get hair all over. She says she could pluck them but they will just grow back. I'm really falling for this girl but am fearful that as we age it's going to become more and more of a turn off until our sex life is dead.

I've got one word for your girlfriend: electrolysis. A few sessions with the needle will leave your girlfriend's chest hair free.  Yeah, it hurts, but it's no worse than a bikini wax and it's permanent!  The issue is convincing her.  I think it's great you're into her arm and leg hair, but she should be able to accept that the primate look on her chest (I advise you not to use that phrase) is not standard.  I understand that she's touchy about this, but if you handle it lightly, you might get her to come around.  Emphasize you find her greatly sexy and you love that she's a natural woman. Say that this is a little thing that's distracting to you, and because she could take care of it pretty easily, you'd consider it a loving gesture on her part. 

Dear Prudence, I am a young, single mother of a five- month-old baby boy. I work and attend college, both full-time. I was fortunate enough to find a baby sitter who watches my son for next to nothing since I don't have much. Things were starting to look up until I got a call from the baby's father, who recently went to prison. He and his parents are going to try and fight for custody! Where have they been for the last five months and throughout my pregnancy? I have had to do everything by myself and now they think they deserve to get to see MY baby? I'm scared because they have money and I don't. I'm at a loss as to where to go for help. I have no one. Do you have any suggestions?

Your boyfriend wants custody? Perhaps this is a new  penal rehabilitation program I haven't heard about: Raise your baby in your cell.  If you have no one and are a young, single mother with a child, you need to start working on a support system. First of all, contact the nearest public defender's office about getting representation. It sounds like it could be a good thing that your son's grandparents have shown up. The baby's father should be paying support, and since his income is probably low at the moment, possibly his parents will step up financially. It might also be beneficial for the grandparents to give you some relief in caring for your son -- no not to take custody from you, but to help care for the baby from time to time. (Although on the evidence you provide, they perhaps have done a less than stellar job raising their own son.) Also, check into the programs and services available for mothers in your situation. You may be eligible for subsidized day care, for food and housing support. You should get to know other young mothers with whom you can swap babysitting and support. Also speak to your college's guidance office -- they may have advice on getting you help so that you can stay in school.

I tried for years to get pregnant, had three miscarriages, spent a fortune at a world-renowned fertility clinic at 40 and 41, and got kicked out for not getting pregnant. I got pregnant the usual way and had a healthy baby boy at 42. I always wanted a second child, my husband was ambivalent. I got pregnant unexpectedly at 45, and got completely freaked out. The likelihood of a seriously impaired baby (if it is even born live) are enormous. I know this because I spent a lot of time between 42 and 45 looking into this. If you think you cannot take care of a seriously disabled child on your own (and there is no shame in acknowledging this), then you must terminate. But talk to your gynecologist first. I was lucky - although we were contemplating terminating pretty much as soon as we discovered the pregnancy, I miscarried at 7 weeks.

As you confirm, miscarriage is a high risk in this situation. So is genetic defect, although it is not a certainty. Some people are pointing out it's ambiguous as to whether the father actually knows the LW is pregnant. If we know and he doesn't, that needs to be rectified pronto.

In order to protect my assets, I have asked my fiancée for a prenup. It was awkward to bring it up but fortunately she agreed. I encouraged her to review it with her own attorney before signing. She came back to me with an odd proposal. She has no problems with the prenup itself, but she wants to alter our wedding vows. Specifically, instead of better or worse, she wants to say something like "I take you as my husband/wife for the foreseeable future unless otherwise arranged." She wants to include similar phrases throughout the vows- "I forsake all others, until death or divorce parts us." "This ring symbolizes my current love for you." She says using words like "eternal" or "till death" are contradictory to prenups, which prepare for a potential divorce. I wonder if she is just being passive aggressive, but she insists it's necessary to avoid contradictions in our wedding vows and prenup. What should I do?

How nice of you to "encourage" your fiancée to review this contract with a lawyer. I assume if you're someone with enough assets to need the protection of a prenup, you're also sophisticated enough to know that no one should sign a contract that that without their own legal represenative reviewing it for them.  But it sounds as if you're not a sophisticated enough partner to recognize sarcasm and dripping resentment when you hear it.  It may be that you built a thriving business prior to meeting your beloved, or you are a member of a wealthy family and a prenup is simply a sensible business decision. It could be that you just have a nice condo, a better car, and more in the bank that the woman you propose to spend your life with, so you want to make sure that if you decide to trade her in, she doesn't get your Lexus. In any case, you two should not go through with the wedding until you resolve the issues your assets have raised.

I am a CPA that just graduated from law school and I had an incredibly difficult time finding a job, even with a solid career history. Also, the pay offered to law school grads is nowhere near comparable to what CPAs are making. I'd urge the husband to wait a few years until the economy rebounds, and during that time they can start saving up a financial cushion to ride on while he is in school.

It's distressing but not surprising to hear this. Thanks for the update from "out there."

Thanks everyone.  Talk to you next week.

In This Chat
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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