Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. An edited transcript of this week’s chat is below. (Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. Let’s get to it.
Q. Revenge of the Geek?: I enrolled my two boys into an exclusive private school in our new hometown. At a school event I bumped into an attractive woman whom I didn’t recognize. She came by and asked if I remember her. It turns out that she was someone I bullied in high school. After that day I noticed other moms slowly avoiding me. I think she must have told them about how I used to bully her. Eventually my boys started coming home, crying and upset that other kids wouldn’t play with them. My younger son was not allowed to join a game of hockey during recess because another boy told him, “My mom says your mom is a b***h.” They are now openly being ridiculed and ostracized at school by their peers. I asked to meet my former classmate and apologized for bullying her as I was young and stupid, although I don’t much remember what I did. She smiled at me in a creepy way and said she went through therapy for what I put her through. I haven’t told my husband about this woman because I’m a little ashamed at how I used to treat her. Putting my boys into another school is not a feasible option, but I just don’t know what to do.
A: So this woman’s revenge on your long ago mistreatment of her is to lead her children in a campaign to ostracize and bully your children. Boy, oh, boy does she need more therapy. You’re understandably ashamed of what you did and want to keep it quiet, but for the sake of your sons you need to tell your husband about it, and how your misdeeds are being revisited on your innocent boys. Then the two of you need to get in touch with the school administration and get this issue addressed. They should take immediate steps to stop the bullying of your sons.
But what may never stop is your own shunning. You have entered a Hollywood-ready high school revenge story. Twenty years after your reign as a mean girl, you’re going to find yourself black-balled at the school bake sales and rejected as class mother. Even if you get the other kids to back off your boys, you’ve got a tough road ahead since now all the other mothers know just how miserably you treated their friend. Let’s hope some parents will decide not to relive the worst of high school, understand people change, and refuse to be drawn into this drama. Leading a campaign to have your children mistreated may eventually backfire on this other mother and she may find herself as the unpopular girl all over again. Let’s hope with some intervention, your sons’ situation dramatically improves in the fall. You say there is no other feasible option but this school, but if all of you find yourselves isolated and unhappy there, there are always other choices.
Dear Prudence: Crack Mom
Q. Grabby Husband: My husband of almost 20 years will just reach out and grab my boob when I am talking to him and interrupt me with the comment, “Nice rack” or something along those lines. He’ll also grind up against me. He doesn’t do this if there is anyone around. This happens at least once a day. I find it disrespectful to be interrupted and grabbed when I am just trying to tell him something. I have told him this already and have just walked away when he does this. We have an active sex life. What else can I do? I am fed up!
A: I’m a little confused. Either you’ve been putting up with this boob for 20 years despite your complaints, or his approach to showing you how attractive you are is a new one. If it’s the former, I’d be tempted to grab the old cast iron skillet when Romeo headed toward me, but that could end up being unpleasant for all. So I suggest making an appointment with a marriage counselor, telling him you’re going with him or without him, but you are fed up with being married to a junior league Dominique Strauss-Kahn. If his behavior is new, tell him he needs a complete physical and mental check up because you’re alarmed he’s turned into a rutting teenager.
Q. Daughter Too Immodest: My daughter is in her 20s, and she’s beautiful. She has a great figure—very large breasts, very small waist. But she’s so inappropriate with what she wears! We went to the beach this weekend, and she wore a string bikini, something I would have never allowed her to wear growing up. I told her that she was not allowed to wear skimpy items of clothing like that when she’s around me, and she told me, very rudely, that she can do whatever she wants now. I know she’s an adult, but I feel that she should wear a one-piece when going to the beach with our family—it’s just not appropriate. And she draws attention to our party with her immodesty. So many young men were coming over to talk to her, and it was supposed to be a family day at the beach! Am I right in trying to talk some sense into my daughter, or should I stay out of her business? My husband thinks I’m being a little ridiculous.
A: Hey, at least these young men weren’t grabbing her “rack” and rubbing up against her. You didn’t mention you’re writing from Riyadh, so you have to accept that it’s hardly shocking that a gorgeous young woman decides to wear a bikini to the beach—and ends up enjoying the frenzy she causes. Mom, your daughter is a grown woman, and she’s right, she can wear whatever she wants. You may want a daughter who prefers to hide her assets under a caftan and spend the afternoon making sand castles. But stunning twentysomethings are who bikinis were invented for. You frankly sound a little jealous. If you’d had more of a sense of humor, you might have enjoyed the show. Have you noticed your “talking sense into her” only increases the amount of her undress? Your husband is right, so stop being ridiculous.
Q. Love Letters of Parents: My elderly father passed away recently after a full and happy life. While cleaning out his home I found an entire box of old love letters between him and my mother, who passed away several years ago. They were written during the six months they spent apart during their engagement period, as my father was working in Europe. I have opened one of these and they are very emotional and tender in content. I’m not sure whether to keep these as part of our family history or respect my parents’ privacy and discard them. What is the protocol here?
A: First, be thrilled you didn’t find a box of love letters with his mistress! Please keep these wonderful mementos of a long, loving marriage. If you feel you are getting too much of an intimate look into your parents’ lives, don’t read them. But it’s possible their grandchildren might be moved by being able to imagine their grandparents young and in love. Is their generation even going to understand what a letter is, let alone a love letter? It is unlikely their grandchildren will come upon a trove of their collected love tweets. Please cherish and preserve this piece of your family’s history.
Q. Employee’s R18 Pic: I run my own consulting company with one employee, a sweet and hardworking girl in her early 20s. Although we have lunch together occasionally, we generally don’t share a lot about our personal lives, which is fine with me. Last week I got a disturbing anonymous email in my inbox—it was a graphic photograph of her clearly engaged in a sexual activity (the guy’s face was not shown). I remembered she briefly mentioned that she broke up with her boyfriend and he was giving her a hard time. I am guessing he sent it to me as an act of revenge. I am debating whether to tell her or not—I don’t want to humiliate her but I wonder if she has a right to know what her ex-boyfriend (or somebody else, if my hypothesis is wrong) is doing. Please help with my dilemma.
A: As awkward as it is, it’s imperative she know that someone (surely you’re right it’s her ex—and good riddance!) is sending lewd photographs of her. Be as direct and unembarrassed as you can be, but explain this is something she needs to be aware of. She may need to take legal action before he posts these charming scenes on the Internet.
Q. I Just Want To Be Friends This Time: Last year I developed a crush on one of my co-workers. But he was already in a committed relationship. I did some bad, manipulative things. He trusted me as a friend, so I used that to get him to start to choose me over his girlfriend. They started fighting a lot, because his girlfriend could see that I liked him, but he trusted me and told her she was being jealous. He and his girlfriend got in a huge fight after that and broke up. I was so happy, we even dated for a few weeks after that, but he broke it off with me and tried to get back together with his girlfriend. We didn’t talk at all for months. Well, in May they finally got back together. And over the past few months I’ve realized that what I did was really bad. So I started trying to be friends with this guy again. I texted him a few times, and he responded nicely, he didn’t seem mad at me. So I decided to see if he’d like to hang out with me. I asked him to drive me to work one day, and his girlfriend called me angrily and told me that I need to stay away from him and leave the two of them alone. When I confronted him about it, he agreed and said that I need to leave him alone and he didn’t want to be friends at all. I’m heartbroken over this! I genuinely just want to be friends! Do you think I should keep trying to be friends with him?
A: Go away. Just go far, far away. I’ll give you some points for having the insight to see that you behaved in a repugnant, manipulative way. But here you are, doing it all over again. The reason you only dated your love object for a few weeks is that obviously he realized what a toxic person you are and ran for the exit and was able to get his girlfriend to forgive him. You can’t be friends with this guy. You need some therapy to see if you can ever be friends with anyone. And while you’re in the waiting room of your therapist’s office, read Othello, and pay particular attention to the character of Iago.
Q. Condoms: My husband and I have been married for 32 years, and in that time we have never ever used condoms. I recently found some condoms in a coat jacket pocket. He says they are for his “private time” alone. Taking a survey from a lot of friends both, men and women, all said he is probably cheating. (None know it was my husband I was referring to.) I told them I had a girlfriend who needed to know. My husband is with me every night, never goes out, does not travel out of town for business. However, he does have the freedom during the day because he doesn’t have anyone to really answer to at his job. What do you think?
A: I think that you’re lucky he’s using condoms during his extra-curricular activities. Sure, it’s possible that he has a solo, sexual fantasy life in which his big thrill is getting to wear a condom. But I’ll add my vote to your friends’ that this is unlikely. You don’t have to tell your husband about your survey. But you should tell him that his answer about your discovery doesn’t hold up, and you need to know the truth.
Q. Dark Family Secret: I have an uncle who molested several children in my family, including myself, my sister, and some cousins (male and female). Eventually he was discovered and he has been disconnected from our family ever since. However, while searching for family members on Facebook I came across this uncle and discovered that he owns a business teaching horseback riding to children and offering day camps. I was horrified, to say the least. No one in the family ever filed any official complaints against him when the abuse occurred, and after doing some research I found that the statute of limitations for reporting the abuse has expired. (I am the youngest of the known group, so I would have been the last chance.) I can’t sit by and let this man be near children for the rest of his life, but I don’t know what I can do, short of contacting him personally and threatening him with the hope that he will shut down his business. Any advice on how to stop this monster?
A: You and your fellow family victims should contact a lawyer who specializes in this. In some jurisdictions statutes of limitations have been changed in regard to child molestation. Then your lawyer should contact the prosecutor’s office in the area where your uncle now works (and likely molests). Law enforcement has to be informed that a pedophile is running a camp for children!
Q. Self-Esteem: I am a fraternal twin in my early 30s, and my sister and I are so close we are practically the same person. We are so similar that people find it “fun” to try to scope out the differences between us, usually in physical appearance. It is not news to me that my sister is more obviously attractive than I am, and for the most part I rarely think about our differences in appearance. But I can’t help but feel hurt when someone scrutinizes us, and I know that they are thinking that I drew the short straw on appearances. I have even had someone tell me that I “shouldn’t be angry that I am the ugly twin.” I consider myself to be a very attractive woman, but I can’t help but feel down when someone points out to me that I am not AS attractive as my fraternal twin. This has happened my whole life, and I don’t see it ending anytime soon. How can I keep my self-esteem intact, and is there anything I can politely say that lets people know that I don’t enjoy when people play a game of “spot of differences” with my twin sister and me?
A: There are two issues here (or should I say, two, two, two issues in one!). One is the recurring problem of idiots who say stupid, hurtful, and pointless things to others. In response to being told you’re not the prettiest one, you could just stare in disbelief before you walk away. You could also say, “Thanks for letting me know! I hadn’t realized I was ugly.”
The other issue is that no matter how close you are to your twin, you two are not the same person. If you are feeling that you are, it’s time for you to loosen the bonds somewhat. Developing your own interests and spending more time apart from your sister will also reduce the amount of time others spend playing, “Spot the differences.”
Q. To the Bully Mother: What this woman is doing to your kids is inexcusable. She should never use her and your children in that way. As a former bully victim, though, I look at your interactions with this mother and I don’t see sincerity or a true apology. You still call her a “geek” in your topic line. You rationalize by saying “although I don’t much remember what I did.” You should approach her sincerely and be actually remorseful. Of course protecting your kids is priority number one, but as it stands between you and your bullied victim, I am not reading real remorse, and it seems that she may not be reading it either. Being sincere and acknowledging the pain you inflicted, instead of dismissing it as being “young and stupid,” may go a long way. Of course, if this woman has deep psychological damage (and it seems that way by the way she bullying you now), it may not help, and you may need to look for alternatives for your sons.
A: Many readers are pointing out that the letter writer doesn’t sound completely remorseful about her high school behavior. And they are also emphasizing that the mother needs to consider that if the sons are miserable in their exclusive private school, they may be better off in (the shock, the horror!) public school.
Q. For the Ex-Bully: Although it might take some time, start trying to become involved at your school. If another adult says something to you—be straight about your past. “I really was a jerk in high school. Thank goodness that over time I grew up.” And then show (over time) that you have changed. Volunteer, be friendly, smile (even when you want to cry). Over time, hopefully other parents will realize you are different.
A: Good advice! Let’s hope the other parents start to feel very uncomfortable with the idea that children should suffer payback for sins visited on the mother long ago.
Q. Reluctance?: I am 50 and my fiance is 52. We became engaged at the first of 2011. I live with him and have for 10 months. We really haven’t set a date. I dreamed the other night that I was performing “heart surgery” on him, which I interpret to mean there are issues of the heart (which I need to discuss). When we discuss setting a date, it always ends badly. He says I am issuing ultimatums, which I don’t really think I am. We never set a date. Tonight, he suggested we move it back a year. Am I nuts for proceeding? Are the signs enormous? I don’t want to wed if he doesn’t want to. If I try to talk to him about my feelings, he gets mad.
A: I don’t understand why you moved in if you are engaged to a man who gets hostile when you discuss marriage. How did the engagement get decided? He said, “Darling, I want you to marry me, but just not as long as we both shall live.”
If you can be happy just living with him and dropping the issue of marriage, fine. If you’re not, tell him you can’t stand begging him for a commitment and him feeling badgered. Explain it was a mistake to move in together without clarifying these issues and that setting up separate domiciles while you decide what you each want seems to be the best way to proceed.
Q. Relationships: Last year, I was in a relationship with a guy who said he didn’t “want to be” in a relationship. (It was our senior year of college, and our futures were uncertain.) We broke up when he left for a foreign country, with some bad feelings on my end—I felt sort of abandoned, as he was nonchalant about ending our relationship. We are now both in relationships with other people, and my new guy is an amazing, kind, caring person I love very much (and he loves me back). However, I still have Facebook access to my ex’s dealings, and after only a few months, he has told his new girlfriend that he loves her, which he refused to tell me the eight months we were together, saying he was stopping himself from feeling that way. I am totally happy in my new relationship, but somehow I cannot stop feeling bitter about my ex. How do I make myself stop feeling bitter and stop comparing my relationship with my ex to his new one?
A: What do you mean you have “Facebook access” to your “ex’s dealings”? This doesn’t sound as if you’re still Facebook friends and you’re reading his declarations of love on his wall posts, but that you have his password and are reading his private messages. If that’s the case send him a message saying you were just updating your passwords and realized you and he had exchanged passwords (or how is it you have his?) and he should probably change his. You also should defriend him. Here you are, in an ostensibly happy relationship, but you’re putting all this psychic energy into tracking how your ex feels about his new love.
You went out with someone in college and the relationship ended. That is all perfectly normal and nothing you say here indicates he was dishonest. You’ve each moved on—but you actually haven’t. If you remain stuck, find a therapist.
Q. Friendship and Children: A friend and I are now middle-aged, both married for many years. My husband and I have two grown children. She was unable to have children. She has always been super critical of my kids to me, sometimes couching it in terms of “kids these days” but usually directing criticism specifically toward them (our daughter, mostly). I would never say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about because you haven’t raised kids,” but I want to. How can I respond?
A: Why haven’t you stuck up for your children all these years? Of course it’s painful not to be able to have children if you want them, but taking out your bitterness on your friend with children is ugly. Next time she insults your kids, why not say, “Sandra, I’ve been meaning to say this to you for about the past 20 years. I don’t want to hear any more criticism of my children from you. Thanks.”
Q. Emailed Photos: Of course the employee needs to know! God forbid this whacko ex decides to stalk her or gets violent. Emailing those photos to a person’s employer is NOT something a normal person does. Both employee AND employer should be on the lookout for other weirdness, and KEEP A LOG of any and all strange activities. The police may end up needing to get involved.
A: This is a good point. An ex-boyfriend who sends sex photos to a boss could be up to anything.
Q. Re: Condoms: I realize that the plural of anecdote isn’t data, but I know some guys use condoms during their “private time” to cut down on the mess. It’s all contained. Is there anything else besides the condoms that makes the wife think her husband is cheating?
A: Fair enough. But these two need to have a really honest conversation about this discovery. Let’s hope you’re right.
Q. Household Rivalries: The university I really want to go to is the rival school of my brother’s university. If I went there, he would be deeply hurt and even told me he couldn’t visit as much as he does now. Should I look for the next best school to keep feelings intact?
A: Talk about bullying! Your brother is suffering from a strong case of over-identification with his school and meddling in your life. You go to the university of your choice and tell your brother to either grow up, or you’ll wave at him across the stadium at football games.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Have a great, bullying-free week!
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