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My daughter has been dating a young man for almost four years, and they recently became engaged. Her fiance is extremely needy and does some pretty bizarre things for attention. My husband thinks the guy has a crush on me. Lately, his behavior has become more troubling—he’s gotten so close to me that his crotch rubbed against my back; and he’s undone his pants, and then spent an inordinate amount of time tucking in his shirt while facing me. I now don’t want to be around him alone. I haven’t told my husband or daughter about this. We also have a young daughter at home, and with his recent behavior, I don’t feel we can let her out of our sight when he’s around. My daughter confided in me that he isn’t really into sexual activities like most men she has dated, and when my husband and I first met him, we thought he was gay. We’ve tried to convince them that there is no reason to rush into marriage and encouraged pre-marital counseling, without going into hurtful detail. However, I worry that maybe I’m being too touchy about all this and don’t want to create problems where there may be none. How can I address it without causing them pain?
—Not a Mother-in-Law With Benefits
Your future son-in-law rubs his crotch against you and apparently plays with himself when he’s alone with you, and you’re worried that you’re the one who’s “touchy”? You say you want to address his bizarreness without causing too much pain, but I say, “Let the pain begin!” Actually, the most crucial issue you haven’t raised here, one that cries out for urgent attention, is why your daughter plans to spend the rest of her life with this creep. Now is the time for some blunt, direct talk with your daughter. You don’t want to come on so strong that you alienate her, further driving her into the otherwise occupied hands of her fiance. But since you refuse to be alone with your future son-in-law or allow him anywhere near your other daughter, the time for delicate indirection has passed. She has given you an opening by acknowledging that her sex life is not normal. So you need to sit her down and tell her how deeply concerned you are with the prospect of her marrying this man. Explain that you haven’t wanted to hurt her, but his behavior around you has been increasingly alarming—go ahead and tell her exactly how—and confide that you can’t allow him around your other daughter. Tell her you know she has invested years in this relationship, but that you have to speak up before she makes what you see as a grave error. Offer to help her find a professional who can guide her through sorting all this out. And if you start to lose your resolve to address his odd behavior, try imagining this guy raising your grandchild.
Dear Prudence: My Girlfriend’s Most Annoying Habit
I’m a 27-year-old female with a wonderful life. However, as an elementary school student, I was overweight, nerdy, and bookish, and I was teased mercilessly by classmates. I was a sensitive child, and these taunts hurt me deeply. In turn, I did something that I’m still ashamed of—I bullied another classmate. She was an Indian girl and, most embarrassingly, I teased her about her cultural background. (As an adult, I would never tolerate such racist comments.) I have found her Facebook page and would like to send her a brief message apologizing for my behavior as a child. Is this appropriate to do? I don’t want to stir up trouble or further hurt this woman in any way, but I need to let her know that I am truly sorry. If one of my former bullies sent me such a message, I would understand why he or she felt the need to apologize.
You can’t be wrong for apologizing for doing something shameful. Where you can go wrong is in expecting a forgiving or otherwise gratifying response from the person you hurt. For some insights into the complicated psychology of bullying, read my Slate colleague Emily Bazelon’s outstanding series on the tragic story of Phoebe Prince, the high-school girl who killed herself, allegedly because of bullying. While prosecutors are holding her fellow students accountable for Prince’s death, Bazelon paints a much more complex portrait of school life, full of hurts and slights, the bullied turning into bullies, and vice versa. So, yes, you should contact your classmate. I’m old-fashioned enough that I don’t feel a “brief message” (a private one, please!) on Facebook covers this. I think you should reintroduce yourself through Facebook, then explain that you have been long troubled by your atrocious behavior toward her in grade school and that you would like the opportunity to give a fuller apology—either over the phone or in a letter—if she would consider it. She may just blow you off. If she does, accept that you tried and respect her feelings. If she agrees to talk to you or gives you her address, be careful not to excuse what you did, but explain that you now understand that in the ways of childhood, you struck out at her as an irrational response to your own anguish. Tell her you know you can’t undo the pain she suffered then, but you hope she will consider your apology now.
My husband’s brother owns a time-share in the Caribbean. He has been unemployed for quite a while and has started talking about selling it. He didn’t have anyone to go with him to it this year and asked whether we would be interested. We said yes, and there was discussion about us paying for food and alcohol. When he confirmed the date so that we would have time to book the airfare, he mentioned we would be paying for food and alcohol, as well as his transportation to and from the airport. I began to smell a rat. While I’m thrilled to have a chance to go to the Caribbean, I’m having a hard time being taken advantage of. My husband says we should just accept his brother’s terms and then never vacation with him again. What should we do?
—Not a Freeloader
Let’s say you blow off this cheapskate brother-in-law and go to the Caribbean on your own and stay at something called a “hotel.” At the end of your visit, your lovely hosts at the front desk will present you with a piece of paper that has a very big number on it, which is the amount of money they plan to get from you because you slept in their bed, used their toilet, ate their food, and drank their booze. It will be very entertaining for the rest of the guests when you make a scene and explain you have no intention of being taken advantage of this way. Your poor brother-in-law is out of work, so having you pay for food and cabs is the way he can have a last Caribbean hurrah and you can have a vastly reduced tab for your vacation. This is what’s known as a win-win situation. So stop complaining and raise a glass—on you—to your brother-in-law for allowing you to enjoy his hospitality.
I’m having a problem that I could easily have solved years ago. Now I don’t know what to do. I’ve been seeing a therapist for two years. She’s a lovely woman who has helped me immensely with formerly crippling anxiety. We’ve also worked on boundary issues I have—inability to say no without crushing guilt, for instance. My problem is, she doesn’t know how to spell my name. Every month when she writes up my invoice, she misspells it. I pay her with a check, so she can see the way I spell my name, but she’s never made the connection. It feels petty to admit it, but it irks me. Like I said, I could have (and should have) dealt with this a long time ago, but since I didn’t, I feel strange bringing it up now. Any method I can think of seems passive aggressive—maybe that’s another issue she and I should be working on. Any suggestions?
—Spell It Right
Consider it part of your therapy to say, “I want to let you know that when you bill me, you misspell my name. It says something that I’ve let this bother me without speaking up. But I am now.” You’ve been seeing this therapist for two years, and I believe you when you say she has helped you. There is an important issue for you to discuss here, however. That is: In the place you are supposed to feel most safe, most able to express the things you swallow in your daily life, you’ve felt too cowed to make this simple correction. At probably more than $100 for a 50-minute weekly session, you’ve paid this woman thousands of dollars to help improve your confidence. Show her you’ve been getting your money’s worth by addressing this unapologetically.