Dear Prudence

Physical Attraction

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What is the proper way to deal with increased attention from a female co-worker? She is constantly touching me and has gone so far as to slap by buttocks—though I think this may be normal behavior for her. Am I reading the signs correctly? Is there an appropriate way to respond? Also, I’m not sure if she is currently involved with anyone. Is there a discreet way to inquire?

—Bemused in Dallas

Dear Be,

It is not possible to tell from your letter which gender you are, but Prudie assumes you are male. As for being discreet, there seems no need for discretion when this woman is slapping your behind as a way of saying hello. To clarify things (if you are interested) you might ask if she would like to have dinner … or should you interpret her hand connecting with your derrière as merely her way of saying hi.

—Prudie, directly

Dear Prudence,

My female partner would like to have a child. She’s 45 and I’m 41, but I certainly don’t want anything to do with childbirth—too painful! I know there are lots of risks with her having the child, but my main concern is that our situation, as it stands now, is that we barely have time to see each other. She works two full-time jobs, and I work part time and go to school. My partner has always been very insecure about our relationship, which has existed on and off for 20 years. She thinks I’m still drooling over my first lover—which I’m not. It appears to me that having a child is her way to keep me at home while she goes off to work. What do you think of all this?

—Having a Baby?

Dear Have,

Prudie’s opinion is the same as it would be if you two were a straight couple: Children should not be brought into a marriage, of whatever sort, to serve as glue. It is equivalent to using a child as a chess piece. You list a pile of negatives: risk to your partner’s health, lack of time together as it is, her insecurity, her jealousy, and your disinclination to be a parent. Suggest to your partner that you work out some of the kinks in your relationship, and if her stated desire for a child lingers, there are many organizations where she could satisfy her urge through volunteer work. Do not go along with creating a family. Everyone will lose.

—Prudie, rationally

Dear Prudence,

I have been a single mom for 15 years, from the time my kids were 1, 3, and 5—now they’re 16, 18, and 20. I have only my youngest still at home. My fiance has three kids from his previous marriage. They are 9, 12, and 16. Initially I was under the impression that they visited only on weekends and holidays, but now he’s saying that after we get married he wants to have his son (12) live with us full-time, and he would like to get joint custody of the 9-year-old. Eeeek! After some soul-searching I realized I don’t want to raise any more kids, especially someone else’s. I feel like I’ve done my duty and am ready to move on to more mature surroundings. Do I bow out gracefully or agree to continue on and try it?


Dear K.,

An outsider might think you are being calculating and selfish, but Prudie believes you are wise to know what you want out of life. Since you seem able to give up your romantic relationship, that’s probably what you ought to do. To “try” with another set of kids and then withdraw does them no good. And to drag yourself through the motions will damage the romantic relationship. There is a hint here that your gentleman friend may have “saved” telling you of his desire to have his children with him until you two became engaged … sort of an, “Oh, by the way …” As for empty nests, Prudie has always felt they were roomy and comfortable.

—Prudie, thoughtfully

Dear Prudence,

I have been chatting with this guy online for about two weeks. I am married and part of me feels guilty. Our conversations are not kinky–just sharing and talking about everything. He seems very kind and listens, and we have a lot of fun. I know I need to end it because we will never have anything together, but it is hard to do. My husband and I have a pretty good relationship, which I wouldn’t want to jeopardize, but at the same time I haven’t felt so good about myself in a long time. Any advice?


Dear Con,

Yes, turn off the computer. Two weeks is not a long time, but you can see how deep you’re already into this. Nothing good can happen, and you are right to understand that e-flirting could jeopardize your marriage. (Prudie will not ask which part of you feels guilty.) What makes sense is for you to improve your “pretty good relationship” by taking the energy you’re expending on the Net stud and using it to strengthen the sharing and talking components you have with your spouse. You cannot imagine the numbers of married people who come to grief with what you’re calling “chatting.”

—Prudie, strongly

Dear Prudence,

I have been suffering with clinical depression for about a year and a half. I’m taking antidepressants. This spring I had suicidal thoughts and spent a night in a hospital on a suicide watch. My question is how do I let my family know? I’m still coming to terms with accepting this about myself. Mental illness is a touchy subject, and I don’t know how to come out of the medication closet.


Dear De,

You don’t have to “come out” if you choose to keep this information to yourself. If, however, you want to clue in family and close friends, a direct and short explanation will do it—though chances are good that people who know you well will have seen the dips. Simply say that you suffer from an inborn sadness, depression, and that you are trying to regulate the situation with pharmacological help. Yours is such a common condition these days that Prudie bets nary an eyebrow will be raised.

—Prudie, evenly