Dear Prudence

Kissing Cousin

What to do when that porn star looks like a family member.

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Dear Prudie,

I am self-employed and work at home. To my shame, and occasional self-loathing, I check out free pornography sites from time to time. (I have never gone further and actually paid to see more.) The other day I came across a porn scene featuring a female actress who, I swear, looks just like one of my cousins. Because the film clip is so brief, I can’t be sure this person is my cousin. I’m not sure what my obligations are in this case. This cousin has been through some rough times recently (divorce, custody battle), and I would hate to think she felt she had to resort to porn to make ends meet. Our family has the resources to help her out. To verify her identity, or disprove it (I hope), I would have to pay $5 for a temporary membership. I’ve never wanted to do this for all kinds of reasons. The most practical of the problems: The charge would pop up on my credit card statement, which, in turn, would be spotted by my wife. What should I do? (And I also worry that I have a minor addiction to porn.)

—Dilemma From My DSL

Dear Dil,

Prudie can solve your problems (except maybe the one about looking at freebie porn, then feeling guilty). Regarding the woman you think might be your cousin, there is no need to phone her and ask if she’s made any blue movies lately. How about a phone call to her saying you just wanted to know how she was doing, considering all the difficulties she’s had? If she gives you any clue that money is a concern, then you can offer a helping hand. That way, if the “actress” was, indeed, your cousin, she need not suffer the humiliation of having been recognized by someone in the family. If the actress is merely a doppelgänger, you have not offended your cousin with the idea that you thought such a thing was possible.

—Prudie, decorously

Dear Prudence,

My friend—I’ll call her “Jane”—and I have been friends since before we were wives and mothers. I think she feels much closer to me than I do to her, in part because I was one of the few people who supported her choice of mate—a blue-collar fellow who didn’t finish high school. “John” is kind and loves Jane, and I’ve always thought well of him. Jane and I now live in cities several hours apart and each have small children. During our last visit, Jane and John’s 2-year-old son walked up to John, took the beer bottle from his hand, and took three big gulps of beer—probably one-fourth of the 12-ounce bottle. The boy then burped and patted his belly. Jane rolled her eyes at me and made a little joke. John looked on proudly. It was clear to me that this wasn’t a one-time trick but definitely seemed that the child had had beer before, with his father’s permission. Also, Jane’s 4-year-old is a very shy girl, unlike her gregarious mother. Jane often forces her daughter to perform in front of people and teases her when she starts to cry or gets embarrassed. I love Jane’s kids and John and Jane, too. My questions: 1) Do I say anything about how they’re treating their kids with the beer and the teasing? And 2) how do I refuse their baby-sitting offers while offering my own to them?

—Sticking by an Old Friend

Dear Stick,

The kid is 2 and guzzling beer?! That is unhealthy, wrong, illegal, and most probably child endangerment. His addle-brained parents apparently think it’s cute that they’re encouraging a 24-month-old tot to imbibe a drink that is likely 4 percent alcohol by volume. And forcing the little girl to “perform” is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Prudie thinks the answer for you is to weave together both your concerns. Because you genuinely like this family and have proven your friendship, you need to talk turkey to Jane, explaining what parents are for. Tell her you only wish to be helpful and have no wish to criticize, but some rules of parenting are not judgment calls. As you’re telling her the disastrous consequences of her and John’s actions, let those reasons also be the explanation for why you could not, in good conscience, leave your children with them. It takes guts to correct a friend, but in this case, it’s worth it to try.

—Prudie, constructively

Dear Prudence,

My uncle sexually abused me from the time I was 2 years old until I was 10. Yesterday, I learned that he had died. My family members are asking me to attend his funeral, which is over 500 miles from my home. My mother is wondering why I am not overwhelmed with grief, but secretly I am glad that he is gone. I told my husband about all of this, and he thinks that I should just stay home. However, my mother needs me and can’t drive. Should I just forget the truth and attend the funeral?

—Still Recovering

Dear Still,

Only make the trip if you want to make sure that it’s really him in the box. That would be about the only reason Prudie can think of for going to the funeral of one’s abuser. It is OK, by the way, to feel glad that this man is gone. It is also fine to tell your mother you choose not to go. She will have to find another ride or take public transportation. It is unclear why you haven’t mentioned these evil actions to your mother. Perhaps now is the time. Or maybe not. This will have to be your decision.

—Prudie, supportively

Dear Prudence,

I work in a small office, and office politics are always an issue that I try to avoid if possible, but I can’t ignore this. Our receptionist is a racist. If a person calls with a name like Habib or Lee, she’ll make an offhand comment about “some foreigner on the line.” She calls the Latina woman in the next office “our little coconut” and manages to make disparaging comments about clients of color. These are just the things that are fit to print. She is, however, smart enough to avoid making such remarks in front of the clients or our boss. Other than this (significant) issue, she’s nice, good at her job, and would be hard to replace, but I can’t stand these slurs. How can I handle this without starting a huge office war?

—P.C.O.C. (Office Chicken)

Dear P.,

You should take this woman aside and explain that naming Hispanics for fruits and her other xenophobic slurs and are not good for business or interpersonal relations. Tell her that the belittling comments that have become her trademark are offensive in polite society and, these days, are regarded right up there with harassment in the workplace. If she gives you guff or drums up some “explanation” for her language, simply invite her to run it past the boss and see what happens. It is unlikely that you can change the way this woman feels about “foreigners,” but it will be progress to get her to keep her biases to herself.

—Prudie, pragmatically