Dear Prudence

Sticky Fingers Can’t Stop Stealing

Prudie counsels a good Samaritan gone bad—and other advice seekers.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. A transcript of this week’s chat is below. (Read Prudie’s Slate columns here.)

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. Let’s get to it.


Anytown, USAAbout a year ago, I started a new job. I had been unemployed for over a year and had already lost my car to repossession, so now I have to use public transportation. There are the same few of us at the bus stop every morning who all take the same bus. One of them is a very nice, older man with poor eyesight. He would always fumble, trying to find the right bills for the bus, so one day I offered to help him. While I was in his wallet, I stole a $20 bill. After the first time, I realized how easy it was and started taking a bill once or twice a week. This has been going on for about seven months. He has never mentioned missing any money, so either he doesn’t miss it or thinks he spent it without realizing what he was doing. I feel terrible but can’t stop myself. It isn’t enough money to make a difference to me in the long run, but I can now have a nice lunch at work instead of bringing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Please, tell me how to stop robbing this dear man and how to make amends.

Emily Yoffe: “I feel terrible, but I can’t stop myself.” Do you also find that you can’t stop yourself from throwing small children down the stairs and beating stray animals? You’re writing to me because you know what you’re doing is repugnant. If this is the first time you have committed serial larceny, then consider yourself lucky that you can stop now before you start justifying how you deserve little treats and end up being arrested for embezzling at work. First, stop stealing. If you “can’t,” find a support group for kleptomaniacs and related disorders and go to meetings or get online—and consider walking to another bus stop to reduce your temptation. Start saving your money so that one day when you’re “helping” this old man, you can quietly replace the money you stole.

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Naperville, IL: This past weekend, I had my third date with a guy. It went really well, and I had a nice time. He then invited me back to his place, and things went a little farther than I was expecting. I had never gone as far as we went that night. Now, I regret what happened. I still like him, but I am uncomfortable with the level of intimacy that occurred. Do I tell him? How do I proceed because I feel pretty low about myself now?

Emily Yoffe: I hope there is a fourth date. When things go too fast too soon, sometimes they just end abruptly. Since you’ve been enjoying this man’s company and want to see him again, this would be a good time to see how he responds to you on an emotionally intimate level, not just a physical one. Tell him how much you’re enjoying seeing him, but you feel things went too far on your last date, and although it may seem artificial, you want to press the reset button and put the physical thing on hold while you get to know each other better. Stop beating yourself up—countless millions of people have been in your situation. Approach this with confidence, even a little humor. The 40-Year-Old Virgin is worth watching for advice on how to put off the big reveal.


London, Ontario: I am a 50-year-old married man with children. Recently I was out with my wife, two other couples who are friends, and another couple who I do not know very well. Suddenly one of my friends started to reminisce about how we had all met. When he came to me, he recounted how limp-wristed I had been and how everybody was grateful how my wife had “straightened” me out. This man and his wife have a history of making snide remarks (not about my sexuality) about me, however it was few and far between, so I had chosen to ignore it. In this case, I felt humiliated and speechless. What should I have done?

Emily Yoffe: “Waiter, check please!” would have been an understandable response. There is teasing, and then there are insults. (Caveat: There is nothing wrong with being homosexual, however there is something wrong with making snide remarks that a heterosexual friend is homosexual.) At the risk of putting a damper on the evening, you were well within your rights to explain your companion’s remarks were way out of line and you wished to drop this line of talk. For the future, feel free to drop these “friends” and just socialize with people you enjoy.


Re: the third date that went too far: Not that I necessarily agree with it, but the standard nowadays is third date equals sex. I’m not entirely sure what the comment about it going too far means—if they had sex, or if there was some other type of canoodling involved—but it’s not like this makes her a slut or anything. If it was too fast, though, she should say so. Just beware that he might disagree.

Emily Yoffe: No wonder the papilloma virus is out of control and the out of wedlock birth rate is skyrocketing. Are people allowed to say, “Now that we’ve been to a concert, and seen Avatar and Up In the Air, I know we’re scheduled to have sex, but is it okay if we wait until a fourth date?” This woman regrets the canoodling she did, so it doesn’t matter if she was just conforming to expectations; she has to do what’s right for her.


Philadelphia, Pa.: One of my husband’s friends attended our wedding (solo and without his girlfriend) but did not give us a wedding gift—not even a card. We just received a “save the date” for his wedding in June. I don’t want to sink to his level of rudeness, but I also don’t feel like going all out for their wedding. How should we handle the wedding gift for this couple considering less than a year ago they didn’t give a gift for our wedding?

Emily Yoffe: You could send him an e-mail saying, “I REGISTERED with joy the date of your upcoming wedding. What a GIFT it is to find the person you want to BLENDER your life with. We will CHECK the date and hope we can be PRESENT at your nuptials.” Then when you show up at his wedding, you and your husband could wear sandwich boards listing the items still in your registry that he hasn’t purchased for you. Alternately, you could be glad he was at your wedding, look forward to attending his, and despite the fact that you will always be one wedding gift short, try to move on with your life.


Punta Gorda, Florida: I am in an online photography class, and every week we are given a genre assignment. We have to take a certain number of pictures and then post our best ones on the class picture pool, where the professor and the other students comment and critique each other. Well my problem is, one of the students posted a picture of a dead and rotting cat on the pool under the genre of “still life.” I am an animal lover, Prudence, and I felt sick to my stomach when I saw this picture. My boyfriend says I should either tell the professor about it or tell student about how much it offended me. I really hate to cause any fuss. What should I do, Prudie?

Emily Yoffe: I am assuming your classmate did not personally do in the cat in order to photograph it. If your fellow student simply came upon the animal, then he or she found a striking subject to photograph. Death and decay are legitimate subjects for art, and ones with a long lineage. I once was riveted by a coffee table book of photographs of dead birds which were mournfully beautiful. You can take pictures of daisies, but accept that art can be dark and disturbing.


San Francisco: What do you think of the suggestion made by my stepdaughter’s mother that she legally emancipate herself as a minor (17 years old) to somehow qualify for free college? She has a very supportive, though not wealthy family. Her father and I might not be able to foot the entire bill for a deluxe education but will help her in whatever way we can. She is a self-motivated, resourceful girl and has been doing great research regarding many educational options. Frankly, this idea makes me a little sick to my stomach for her sake and seems unethical and immoral. Am I overreacting?

Emily Yoffe: You’re not overreacting. Sometimes it’s sad but necessary for a minor to emancipate herself, usually because of painful family circumstances. For her mother to encourage her to do this so the family income will not be considered on her daughter’s college applications is corrupting the system and sending an awful message to her daughter about ethics and love. Gee, why doesn’t Mom put her daughter up for adoption by a rich family, who could pay the entire college freight? I don’t know if emancipation requires the consent of the father, but your husband should do everything he can to stop this.


St. Paul, Minn.: I have a cold, and last night I was standing in front of the fireplace getting warm and I blew my nose. My husband was on the couch watching TV. He said, “That’s gross. You should go into the bathroom to do that.” Really? This coming from a man who belches and passes gas wherever he happens to be? Should I have gone into the bathroom in my own home to blow my nose?

Emily Yoffe: If you simply hauled back and expelled some snot and watched it fizzle on the embers, then I’ll have to agree with your husband that you were being gross, even if it might have been entertaining. If you deposited your viscous colloid into a tissue, then your husband is way out of line. Someone with a cold is not required to spend the duration in an isolation chamber. I do hear from spouses who want their beloved to run to the bathroom every time they feel a need to expel some gas, but clearly your husband is of the “blow, baby, blow” school of etiquette. He’s being a drip about your drippy nose and it’s just fine to wipe in place.


Boston: I have a co-worker who is very sweet but also very irritating. She seems to view the workplace as “social hour” and is constantly coming over and interrupting my work to “say hello” or relay some silly comment or talk about her personal life. I am not in the least bit interested and am resenting the interruptions. As well, she and I have very different values, and I find that when I do talk to her, we have nothing in common and I am not interested in developing a friendship. I wear headphones while working, I have been on the phone, I do not look up when she comes by, I am polite but brusque, I do not encourage conversation. … I have tried all the nonverbal cues, but she still pesters me. How do I maintain a polite co-worker relationship but convey in no uncertain terms that I am NOT interested in being her buddy? And get her to leave me alone at work? (We are in cubeland, no doors.)

Emily Yoffe: Stop hinting and speak directly. Say, “Monica, my work requires sustained concentration. When you interrupt me to socialize my time loss is multiplied not only by talking to you, but because it takes me a while to get my concentration back. So I’m afraid I can’t chat with you during the day. Thanks for understanding.” If she keeps at it, look up and say, “Monica, I’ve told you I can’t socialize,” and look back down at your work.


The Third Date Standard: Maybe I am living in the dark ages, but as far as I’m aware, there is no universally accepted Third Date Equals Sex standard in place. Who are the people that live by that “standard”? Not to say sex is unacceptable on or after a third date (or whatever number date you wish), but a “standard”? Wishful thinking on the part of the standard proponents.

Emily Yoffe: Oh, you just didn’t get the memo! Agreed it’s a clever move on the part of horny people to promulgate this “standard.”


Kansas City, Mo.: My husband is a trash man. How do we respond to the constant requests from friends, family members, people I hardly know, to help them dispose of items? I’ve tried to explain it’s basically stealing and he doesn’t do personal trash, but people get offended. As IF he wants to deal with trash AFTER he gets off work!

Emily Yoffe: This is the best variation on the doctor in the family who gets hit up at family events to do medical exams, and the computer expert who’s supposed to be on call to techno-boob family and friends. Your husband should just say that the city’s garbage truck is not his personal vehicle. If he were to commandeer it to pick up their trash, he’d have to be asking his lawyer and bail bondsmen friends for their free services to get him sprung.


Pittsburgh: I am in fear that my boss is going to fire me. While I was searching his office for some paperwork he asked me to find, I came across a resume that fits my position. Since then, I have been looking at job ads so I can be prepared if I lose my job. Today I saw an ad that describes my job (location and all). How should I handle this? Should I ask my boss directly? I cannot afford to be out of work. I make more than my husband, and he is not a permanent full-time employee at his job. He collects unemployment during certain months of his job.

Emily Yoffe: It’s perfectly understandable that your boss gets and keeps letters from interesting candidates; that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on the chopping block. Do you have a tendency toward letting paranoid thoughts run away with you (and in this economy, that’s understandable), or are there other signs your job might be in jeopardy? In any case, before you apply for another job, you should have a talk with your boss. Just tell him that you’re very happy at work and want to check in with him about how you’re doing and maybe throw in that you would like to increase your duties in some area. Role play this with your husband beforehand so that you sound confident not terrified. Don’t make a possibly unnecessary move out of unfounded fear.


Tempe, Ariz.: I am getting married in a few months to a most wonderful man. We are in our early 50s, and this will be a remarriage for both of us. In preparation for this marriage, we are drawing up pre-nups, and of course the subject of estates/wills, etc., came up. My fiance wants all his separate assets (retirement funds, savings, a huge life insurance policy, etc.) to go to his only child upon his death, even after we are married. He believes the wealth should “stay in the bloodline.” I wouldn’t have a problem with this (considering that he would leave enough for me to be taken care of), except that his only adult child wants nothing to do with him except to use him as an ATM. He isn’t planning on coming to the wedding, won’t give my beloved a phone number, e-mails him and calls him names, which he certainly does not deserve, constantly cries poverty, and tells him how angry he is over the divorce, which was four years ago, and basically doesn’t want to have any resemblance of a loving parent-child relationship. Even therapy has not helped. My fiance is a good man and helping with cash to get him through college, but “thank yous” are few and far between too. I honestly hope things reconcile between them, but at this point, it doesn’t look good. My question is why would a man who is treated so poorly by a child want to leave substantial wealth to that person? Is this a male thing?

—Second-Place Wife

Emily Yoffe: The real point of your letter is not your concern that your husband is being mistreated by his son, or that his son may be disturbed in some way, it’s that you’re in “Second Place” to his child. You aren’t married yet, so you still have time to decide not to be the second wife who’s in competition with her stepchild, and who uses her access and emotional connection to her husband to try to put as much distance between him and his child as she can. You say you will be financially provided for. So stop harping on how much you should get when your fiftysomething husband croaks, and try to be supportive of him in his attempts to reach out to his sad child. Stop bad-mouthing the kid and think of ways to help a reconciliation, if that’s possible.


Chicago, Ill.: I am going to be donating blood for the first time today, and I’m really nervous. Are there any tips you might have to make it less unpleasant? Also, can you remind me why this is so important so I don’t chicken out.

Emily Yoffe: Turn your head when they first draw blood (try to avoid looking at the procedure being done on your fellow contributors!) then lie back on your pillow, close your eyes, and enjoy a chance to just relax in the middle of the day. The procedure is almost nothing—it’s the anticipation that’s a problem. You have signed up to do this because you know the system requires the altruism of good-hearted, red-blooded citizens to keep all of us safe. Bravo!


Washington, D.C.: Wow. OK, so people who have sex on the third date are either horny or disease vectors? All from a note asking how to back off the level of physical intimacy in a relationship? That’s pretty judgmental, and you might want to go back and “revise and extend your remarks” as they say around here.

Emily Yoffe: I hope they’re horny. Are they just having sex because, well, it’s the third date and it’s required? No, of course not everyone has or spreads a disease. But sex at date three means a lot of casual sex for the average single person. If two adults mutually agree this is the right thing, then fine. But people barely know each other at date three and in general I think that’s too soon for such physical intimacy.


Washington, D.C.: I am getting married in six months. I have been having some challenges with the wedding planning due to strong feelings on many sides on how the wedding should be. My fiance and I have very specific ideas about our wedding and have managed to wade through it all.

About five days ago, all heck broke loose. My future mother-in-law found out my maid of honor is a guy who is gay. It hasn’t been a secret, but I guess she hasn’t focused on it or didn’t believe it.

This guy and I have been best friends since we were 9 (so about 25+ years). We joke that I knew he was gay before he did. When he came out, his family stopped speaking to him, and my family welcomed him into ours. To my fiance, family, and friends, it seems completely natural that this guy would be my maid of honor.

My mother-in-law completely wigged out, and lots of things came out. She evidently thinks I’m not woman enough for her son because I didn’t want an engagement ring and that my family has brainwashed her son because he was not raised to have a woman who would consider having another man as her MOH. And lastly, she said some unforgivable things to my friend, saying she understood why his family won’t speak to him and that he was a freak, etc. She then said either I chose someone else as a MOH or she wouldn’t come to the wedding.

My fiance was upset by her tantrum and told her so, but he is also conflicted because she is his mother. For my part, if she doesn’t like me, I’ve grown to accept this. I’m upset by what she said about me, but to me it was just a matter of time. But what she said about and to my friend is simply unacceptable. I am going to have a hard time forgiving her.

My friend is willing to back out as being the MOH to keep the peace, but I know he is upset, too. Thoughts on handling this?

Emily Yoffe: The best thing may be for you and your fiance to finance the wedding yourself so that whatever strong issues others have, they have no leverage to impose their wedding on you. Your fiance needs to speak to his mother and say all of you are tense and want to move past the hurtful things that were said, but that you want your best friend to be by your side for the wedding. (It would help not to call him the “maid of honor.”) My general advice for family members who make unreasonable demands about milestone events and threaten to boycott if they don’t get their way is to say, “It would mean so much to have you there, so I hope you will change your mind and attend.”


Blood donation = three people saved: Giving blood saves lives. Where else can a non-first responder save at least three lives? It is easy and almost painless. Congrats on stepping up and saving lives.

—Blood donor for 30 years.

Emily Yoffe:
Well said!

And thanks, everyone, for your great questions. Talk to you next week.