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When I was 6 years old, I accused a man of cornering me in a bathroom because he “made me feel weird.” (Now that I am older, I suspect that he may have been slightly mentally handicapped.) The truth is that I made up the story about the man because I didn’t want to go home with my father, an abusive alcoholic, but I was too scared to tell him that. I never said the man touched me, but my father was convinced something terrible had happened to me, and I know the cops and judicial system were somehow involved. This man is probably listed as a sexual offender because of me! It’s the most horrible thing I’ve ever done, most likely ruining a man’s life, and I am deeply ashamed. I want to try to rectify this awful lie, but I am completely at a loss as to what to do. I was so young that I don’t remember many of the details. I’m also aware that there may be legal ramifications for me in coming forward—which maybe I deserve. What do I do?
—Facing the Past
I hope you have some sympathy for the small child you were, who was terrified to go off with a drunk, abusive father. You didn’t know how to ask for help—and how scary that none of the adults in your life recognized what was happening to you—so as children do when faced with such situations, you acted out, hoping somehow this would save you. It speaks to your moral character that now you are haunted by the harm you unintentionally did to an innocent man. I spoke to Matt Kaiser, a criminal defense attorney in Washington, D.C., who says that whatever you do to attempt to rectify this, it is highly unlikely there would be legal consequences for your behavior as so young a child. While there is the possibility an injustice was done, Kaiser also says that given that you never alleged physical contact, it is also unlikely there was a prosecution on the basis of someone making you “feel weird.” If there was no criminal conviction, then the man would not be on a sex-offender registry.
All this leaves you still wanting to know what happened. The best place to start is your father, which presumes this is something you could talk about with him. If so, tell him you want to find out what happened to the man in the bathroom, and ask whether he can remember the man’s name and what the police and prosecutors did. Then you will have to do some research in the court files. If you don’t have the man’s name, you can try to find out whether there were any child sex charges on the court docket at the time of the incident, but Kaiser warns this will be a difficult, likely unfruitful search. Given all that, you need to do something to help relieve you of this burden. One possibility is to make karmic amends of a sort by contributing to, say, The Innocence Project or doing volunteer work with people with mental disabilities. For another thing, you need to attend to the damage done to you by having such a father. Going to a meeting at Al Anon could be a good first step, or finding a therapist who specializes in adult children of alcoholics.
Dear Prudence: Diamond Double-Cross
A close family member and I have a stormy relationship. She’s fiercely competitive with me and is a bully. I have severely limited our contact because of this. Recently, I found out that she was having difficulties at her job, which she frequently does, since she is hard to get along with. My problem is that I received news she’s applied to work at my company. If she got the job, she and I would have regular contact. I worked hard for my job and enjoy it very much. This family member would put my career in jeopardy. I’ve asked her not to pursue the job, but she is determined. She has a difficult family life—young children and an impending divorce—and I know that times are tough. But she wouldn’t be an asset to the team, and, yes, selfishly I don’t want to work with her. I am in a senior enough position that I could say a quiet word to ensure that she doesn’t get hired. Does this make me a horrible person?
—What Do I Do?
Wanting to protect your company from hiring someone with personality difficulties and a long track record of causing problems wherever she goes does not make you a horrible person. If she got the job, it’s hard to believe that a new, strange employee would jeopardize the career of a well-respected, longtime one. I suppose what might really hurt you, if she is as impossible as you say, is letting her potentially get the job without issuing a warning. Of course, if you do speak up, you want to be clear but restrained and not ad hominem. You can say this is painful for you because you wish the best for this family member, but unfortunately, you’re concerned about how she would fit in at your company because you know that she has problems working on a team.
I’ve been dating my (perfect, wonderful, ideal, etc.) boyfriend for just over two years. Everything is great, except for one thing: Early on in the relationship, I lied in a pretty significant way about the number of sexual partners I’d had. He was a virgin before we met, and he was viciously jealous about any guy I had hooked up with before him. At the time, we had been fighting about one of those guys. All of a sudden, he asked my number. Lying just seemed like the easiest thing to do. I had gotten a full STD screening before we became intimate, so the lie couldn’t hurt him physically. But it would definitely hurt him emotionally to know I had been with more people than I admitted to. Lately, I have been absolutely consumed by guilt over this. I worry he’ll find out somehow, and it makes me feel sick to think how he’ll react. But I fear that if I do tell him, he may never be able to get past it. Please help.
You told a lie, but it was in response to a question that shouldn’t have been asked. I’m not sure how your lie is going to be exposed. In addition to getting “the number,” I hope your boyfriend didn’t ask you to cough up names. It would be a bad sign if he created a spreadsheet of your former lovers and kept tabs of any discrepancies. You say your boyfriend is “perfect and wonderful.” But such people don’t engage in viciously jealous fights over irrelevant events from your past. I understand that he may have felt insecure about your superior sexual knowledge. But I hope over the past two years he has come to be confident about that aspect of your relationship and has dropped his concern about your former partners. If so, then forget about your lie. It’s none of his business, and it’s irrelevant. If he hasn’t, then everything actually is not great in your relationship.
I am a divorced mother of a minor son. Due to money issues, I have either lived in a one-bedroom apartment or a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate. I have my son about four times a month overnight. When he is with me, he sleeps in bed with me, because I can’t afford a separate bedroom. On occasion, when my boyfriend comes over, we have my son sleep on the sofa while I sleep with my boyfriend. My ex has a huge issue with this. I tell him I am not doing anything wrong, and he agrees, but says I’m not doing what’s right, either. Your opinion could give me fuel to fight his argument.
I’m afraid the only fuel I can provide will fire up your ex-husband’s case. You see your son on a very limited basis, so you have to make the most of it and be the most stable, loving, responsible parent you can be. That means not sharing a bed with him; it also means not sharing a bed with your boyfriend the few nights a month you have your son. This is not to say anything untoward is happening when you and your son go to sleep together. But it undermines his sense that you are an adult who sets reliable parameters for him. If he has to sleep on the couch, then get him a set of bedding that makes it special. Set up some shelves in the living room for his toys and books, so that he feels he has a permanent, dedicated space in your life. Given how little time your son spends with you, it is not right to divide it by having sex with your boyfriend in the next room. A worthwhile investment of your time would be looking into free or low-cost parenting classes. Being a confident, educated mother will bring myriad rewards to both you and your son.