Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

May 27, 2014

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. I look forward to your questions. And I've got a bittersweet announcement of my own. Next week will be my last Washington Post chat. I will continue chatting at noon on Monday (or Tuesday if there's a holiday) but it will take place at Slate, the home of the Dear Prudence column.  The Washington Post has been a great and welcoming host for this column and I am very grateful.

Dear Prudie, I've been married to my husband for almost 20 years. During that time he's been a good husband, father to our girls, a great friend a wonderful lover. We're not perfect, but we've been happy. Until last week. For the past year, we've had  my niece's 19-year-old friend living with us. She ended up in our city looking for work and clicked with our family--she wasn't ready to live by herself (rough upbringing) and having had a similar childhood I wanted to help her get on her feet. Hubby agreed. She's a beautiful young woman and my husband made a few comments to her about how cute she was. I pointed out to him that he's a father figure and his comments don't sound complimentary -- they sound icky. Then she abruptly moved out. It turned out he had attempted to secretly film her undressing. I don't get it. I'm at a total loss as to how to go forward. If he ever showed signs of being a pervert in the past, I missed them entirely. I can barely speak to him and all he's said so far is he doesn't know why he did it and feels sick at the harm he's caused. I'd like him to get counseling but we're supposed to be making an international move in a few weeks. Are there books and websites to help him make sense of himself? I'm now worried what happens when my girls bring friends over...

You may want to purchase a book to throw at him, but I'm afraid there's no quick way to resolve the awfulness that has been revealed, and I understand it couldn't have come at a worse time. You've got a few weeks, and you and your husband have to make speaking with a counselor a priority. Someone may be able to see you intensively on an emergency basis -- start asking your friends for references, and perhaps your physician can recommend some people. You and your husband have to discuss with a neutral party how he could so completely lose his moral bearings, whether he's ever done anything similar,  and where you go from here.  You also need to see if the move can be delayed. If it's for his work, and it can't be, then perhaps he goes alone, then you two perhaps can continue to discuss this with a therapist via Skype, while you take some time to sort out what your next move (or not) will be.  You also need to contact the young woman. You took her in because you understood what it was like to come from a rough background. Now one of her saviors has turned into a violator, and she's going to need help herself. Think of the move this way:  If one of your family members had fallen seriously ill, it would have to be postponed. You have now found out your husband is seriously ill, so dealing with this takes precedence over everything.

I recently started school at a large university for the summer term after transferring from a small private college. I have a disability that makes it difficult for me to live with others and make friends, so I was delighted to have a liberal-minded roommate who is not only incredibly considerate and fun to live with, but who has helped me make other friends.  I know that her mother died a few years ago, and she and her father have had difficulty coping. Yesterday, I returned early when my class was cancelled and was shocked to find her and her father having sex in our room! They were startled and he quickly explained that he is not her biological father. She told me later that the relationship with her adopted father began after her mother's death when she was 18, that it is fulfilling and she plans to continue it, though she promised I would not have to witness it again. I am concerned that this is unethical or illegal, and that he is taking advantage of her. I don't want to lose my friendship or living situation, and I'm not sure what the school could do to help. Should I insist she seek counseling?

Okay, this guy wins today's sick Dad contest. You're right that this is breathtakingly unethical. I don't have time to investigate during the chat what incest laws say about sex with a legal adult child, and the laws do vary by state, but whether the father is a prospect for the criminal justice system, he is an egregious violator of the soul of his daughter.  It doesn't matter that he is not a her biological father. He has taken profound advantage of his motherless child, and that she says the relationship is fulfilling shows that she's not really in a psychological state to assess what's happening.  The fact that he would visit her on campus to have sex shows how far outside the boundaries of sanity these two have gotten, or actually, how far he's dragged her.  You cannot insist she get counseling. But you can go to the counselor yourself and ask what to do. I also suggest you call the hotline of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, explain what you've seen, and ask what you should do next.  Your roommate has been a good friend to you, and now you have to be one to her. This means being kind and understanding, and turning to knowledgeable adults to see what should happen next.


No! You don't have to pay for any content in Slate, except the bonus content that we produce for our Slate Plus members (which is worth it, please join!). The Monday chat and the Thursday column will be available at your fingertips.

Dear Prudie, A couple of months ago, my father passed away. Around the same time, in an odd coincidence, one of my colleagues, who is about my father's age, was diagnosed with the same illness. I feel very bad for my colleague and his family, but I am also having some trouble with how his illness is being handled at work. A number of us, including me, have been asked to cover the work that he cannot do. In addition, because he is working part time but is so often in the hospital, some of our meetings are now being held in his hospital room so that he can be involved. Seeing my colleague at the hospital really upsets me, as it reminds me too much of sitting in the hospital with my father.  I am really struggling to keep up with my own work right now, and having additional responsibilities on top of that is really overwhelming. I spoke to my supervisor, but he implied that my own experiences with my father should make me especially empathetic and willing to help this colleague out. I do admire everyone's willingness to support this colleague, but I find myself dreading going to work. I am in my mid-twenties, and this is my first job, so I am unsure of what is common or appropriate for them or for me to do in a situation like this.

It's one thing for everyone in your office to divide up the duties of a sick colleague, it's another to force someone into a distressing hospital setting. You will be far less productive if you are having to relive the heartache and grief of your father's decline and death every time you have an office-wide meting. Your boss, while being sensitive to your ill colleague, is being grossly insensitive to you. You also are a junior worker and a novice in the workplace, so you don't want to be seen as obstructionist.  The next time a meeting is called for the hospital room, go to your supervisor and explain that you perhaps have not made clear that while you have all the sympathy in the world for what's going on, your own father is only recently dead, and being back in the hospital and seeing someone fight the same disease is just too painful and raw right now for you to handle. Say that since all of you are doing extra duty, you would appreciate being able to stay in the office to attend to your work, then will catch up with what was said at the meeting. In addition, if all of you are struggling to keep up with your own workload, talk to colleagues about the best ways to parcel out the work of your ailing colleague, and what to do when you feel you're falling behind. There likely needs to be an office-wide meeting in the conference room, not the hospital, to address what sounds like a long-term issue.

Did something happen that caused you to leave the Post?

Last year the Graham family sold the Washington Post to Amazon's Jeff Bezos, and Slate stayed with The Graham Holdings Company. Since we were no longer under the same corporate umbrella, it made sense to bring the chat to Slate.

Hi Prudence, I'm very unhappy with my current employer, and I've just been offered my dream job---except it is in a rural backwater town where I know nobody, far away from my friends and my city. Career-wise it would be a great choice, and I could probably come back to the city in a couple of years, but I am hesitant. Part of my hesitation is that I am a lifelong urban-dweller scared of leaving my city to move to a small town where I might not meet any like-minded people. The other part is that a couple months ago I started seeing a man I really like and respect. We have long-term potential, which is really exciting to me after a string of dead end relationships in my 20s. I feel like I won't meet anyone like him in a small podunk town, but on the other hand, I have only known him for like, two months. I have until the day after Memorial Day to give my answer, and feel pretty lost, I'd be grateful for any and all tips.

Oh, this situation is the perfect set-up for a remake of Sliding Doors. Do you stay in your miserable job, but marry the man you love,  eventually to find happiness in both work and life? Do you move to the backwater, have great professional fulfillment, and discover that the guy in the next office is your destiny? Or do you stay in the job you hate, only to have the new romance fizzle? Or do you follow your work opportunity, find the job wasn't as promised, and you feel so lonesome you could die?  And your deadline for resolving this! Get out the legal pad, make a list of pros and cons, add them up -- and then see what your heart says. Another good technique in such situations is to flip a coin. Heads you stay, tails you go. Then when the answer comes up, do you feel relief and certainty, or do you want to flip again until you get an answer you like. One thing I suggest is putting the guy out of your mind (it's a wildcard as to whether the romance will flourish) and see if that clarifies your choice. Also know that this dream job is not the only better job for you. You were able to get this offer, so potentially there are other offers out there in more amenable settings. But flip that coin now, and tell us what happened!

I've been married for 25 years, have  two kids  and all my friends are similarly long-time married couples with teenagers. My friends don't know that my husband and I have an open relationship. Right now, we both have girlfriends, and the relationships are all going extremely well and we couldn't be happier. I am thinking about telling my friends that we are not monogamous and that we have these two wonderful women in our lives. The two women have met many of our friends at various events and parties, but no one knows the nature of our relationship. I'm tired of hiding it, but afraid we will lose some friends. Should we come clean?

You say your friends have met your girlfriends, but you don't say what your teenagers know about them. They are the most important people in this equation and you should be focusing on what they know and how they feel. Beyond that, I don't see why you have make your sexual choices part of the conversation over the summer barbecue party. You have occasionally included these women as friends, so there's no reason not to stick to this course. Saying, "You remember Felicia. Guess what, she's also my lover!" is simply not necessary, and presumably would cause great heartache for your teens when this exciting revelation gets discussed over the pickle tray.  If you and your husband were into bondage, or he privately cross-dressed, I doubt you would feel it necessary to let everyone know the nature of your sex life.  I know from my in-box that for the polyamory community that anything less than suggesting you rent an airplane with a banner announcing you have an open marriage will result in a flood of criticism.  But everyone has different social circles and level of revelation within them. You are not living a lie with your friends, you are just being wisely discreet if you keep this circle closed.

Emily: Our friends’ daughter is having a designation wedding that we won’t be able to attend. We wanted to get her a nice gift but most everything on the registry has been taken except for lots of little items and a $500+ blender that’s out of our price range. Would be appropriate to buy something from a store near them (some place like Macy’s) and send that? We’d send it with a gift receipt so they could get what they want though there is the risk that they don’t shop at that store. The other alternative is to give them money towards a down payment for a house but the idea of cash (or a gift card) doesn’t sit right with me. Any suggestions would be welcome. Thanks!

For one thing, you could bundle a bunch of little items into one bigger gift. For another, it's never wrong to get something lovely, while being thoughtful enough to enclose a return receipt. If you get anything less than a gracious thank you for what you do purchase, or the bride lets you know it would have been preferable to help them buy a house, then you can confidently forgo the baby shower gift.

There is a group of mothers at my children's school who get together socially every now and then. We usually go to a restaurant for a meal. One mother always sits next to me and when it comes to paying (we all pay for our own meals) she pointedly looks at me and says she forgot her purse. It's not like we dine out at luxury establishments, so the first couple of times I didn't think much and paid for her. Each time she thanks me politely and says she'll pay for me next time, yet she never does. I started sitting further away from her and avoided eye contact, but now she makes a point of asking me directly. I feel stingy saying no in front of everyone else when it's not a great deal of money. But Prudie, this lady drives a new Audi and her husband is a prominent real estate agent in our area who sells multi-million dollar mansions. I'm having a hard time imagining why she needs me to pay for her each time. How do I say no in a nice way?

They may have an Audi in the driveway, but that doesn't mean it -- and everything else -- wasn't paid for on credit. However, whatever her personal financial (or psychological) troubles does not mean you're her personal lunch benefactor.  You already know you're  never going to get repaid for the previous meals, but that doesn't mean she should stick you with the tab for future ones. Next time you all get together, before being seated tell her explicitly you're not paying for her lunch this time, and if she asks you in front of everyone, you're going to say you can't.  Maybe she will find another soft touch, or maybe she will find her wallet.

Prudie, I used to work in a major hospital and have never heard of having a business meeting in a hospital room! That seems excessively creepy. If they really want the colleague involved, couldn't they Skype the meetings? Conference call?

Good point. It's one thing for people to visit their ailing colleague, it's another for everyone to troop to his hospital room, which is not designed for discussing the latest sales figures. What does the boss do when the nurse comes in saying she needs to check the patient's urine output? It's wonderful for an office to be kind and accommodating of an ailing colleague, and for people to visit on their own time. It's another for it to burden everyone with unfair workloads and unprofessional demands. If this office is spinning out of control over one member's illness, everyone might have to go to the boss's office for a reckoning.

Take the job, and consider it a two-year adventure. (And maybe you can even stay in touch with the dude.) Dream jobs are rare, while dudes are like streetcars -- the sea is full of them.

I've heard of the play, A Streetcar Named Desire and the song, Too Many Fish in the Sea. But I'm unaware of the reference to too many streetcars in the sea. I get your point about the rarity of dream jobs. But what makes this choice so hard is that particularly when you get to a certain point in life, there is a dearth of dream guys.

Dear Prudence, I am a divorced mom of two lovely kids, ages 14 and 10. I have recently begun dating my college sweetheart, who is separated and in the process of divorcing. It is long distance, and he has one child in college and a 13-year-old autistic son. His son's autism is severe- he functions at a preschool level and can be violent at times. Much of the burden of care for "Daniel" falls on my boyfriend- even though he and his wife are separated and Daniel lives with the mother, he is the one who bathes Daniel, puts him to bed each night, takes him to school, etc. We are very much in love and hope to marry, but I am concerned about the ramifications of what life with a severely challenged and potentially violent teen will bring to my kids. My youngest is half Daniel's size. My boyfriend has been hurt by Daniel many times- black eyes, bloody noses, etc. Residential living is not an option until Daniel reaches age 18 at the earliest. Prudie, I truly love this man, but just don't know if I can take this on.

Hold on there, Mom. Yes, many people reconnect successfully with past loves. But you aren't even in the same town as yours, and he isn't even divorced. This current iteration of your relationship is "recent" so it may be heady, but at this point in life you two need to have your heads on your shoulders and have the wisdom to remember what happens after the first flush of lust passes and the daily grind reasserts itself.  I say you two put the marriage talk far aside, let your boyfriend finalize his divorce, and see how this relationship fares over the next year. Surely, if you want to be together, someone is going to have to move, which will mean a disruption for one set of kids' access to both parents, and I assume also require the moving partner to find a new job. All of you need to spend more time together to see how the families mesh (while making sure your kids are safe).  Making deliberate and cautious decisions will let you know what you would be taking on and what you can handle.

My 21-year-old daughter informed me of a weekend trip she was taking out of state (a five hour drive) to visit her boyfriend and his family. I asked her to tell her overprotective father about her trip which she did not. Her father is in the habit of getting information about her through me. I constantly ask him to call or text her which he does not do. She normally calls or texts him when she has a problem, but they have very little day-to-day interaction. When she was on her way back she stopped through to say hello to us and told her dad about her trip. He is FURIOUS with me for not telling him where she was. I am not surprised but I think his anger should be directed toward our daughter. I saw nothing wrong with his trip but he would not have wanted her to go if he'd known in advance. Your thoughts please

You're lucky she still has a relationship with you if you wish that your husband at blown up at her instead of you. Your daughter is an adult who does not need permission from her Daddy to visit her boyfriend. You need the change the whole dynamic here. Start by telling your husband you are not the NSA and you're not going to keep tabs on your daughter for his sake. Explain to him that his overprotectiveness is only pushing her away, and that he needs to deal with his anxiety about her. Seeing a counselor together should help him confront his overprotectiveness and give you better tools for having healthier relationships with the two people you love most.

The other day, my niece (14-years-old) was spending the night at my home because her mom was leaving early morning to a custody hearing (5 hours away). While my niece was at my home, she spoke to her father. Her father was yelling at her incessantly because she wasn't going with my sister to the hearing. He accused her of not loving him and being ungrateful and claimed she didn't want to visit him. She tried to explain that it was her mom that didn't want her to go. I didn't want to intervene because it was her dad, but after my niece started crying uncontrollably, and saying "but I do love you dad, I do" and I could hear him continue yelling at her through the phone, I had enough. I took the phone from my niece and said "John..." he cut me off and started yelling at me (thinking I was my sister) accusing my sister of horrible things. My question is - did I do the right thing trying to intervene, did I take too long in helping my niece? What do I do if this happens again?

I hope the hearing was to codify that your sister has custody. I understand that parents in this situation can be at the end of their emotional rope. But berating and barraging his child about her legal duties and demonstrations of love just makes the case for the unfitness of this dad. You absolutely did the right thing by rescuing your niece. In the future, if you feel your niece is being abused by her father, yes, you should step up. You can also gently open the conversation with her about what's going on. Let her vent about her feelings and worries. You don't want to trash her father, but you can say you did not like how he was yelling at her, and you know all this is so hard because she loves both her parents. Urge your sister to get her daughter some counseling. This teenage is being asked to carry a heavy psychological load.

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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