Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
Q. I Teach My Former Affair Partner’s Kids: I am a single middle-school teacher in his early 40s. Two years ago I had a sexual affair with the mother of two students who attended the school where I teach. A year ago, her husband caught us, and the affair ended. Until this year, I have never taught one of my former affair partner’s daughters, which I guess made it easier for her husband to stomach my working at his daughters’ school. Now I have the elder child in one of my classes. Because I coach the volleyball team and the younger daughter took up the sport this year, I now also have nearly daily contact with her, too. I know it was stupid and wrong to sleep with a married woman; I make no apologies for my behavior. That said, I was never in love with my affair partner, and I have no interest in rekindling our affair. She and her husband don’t believe me. If I ever compliment or speak to their daughters—I assume they find out because they interrogate the girls—one or both of them will email me to tell me to watch it. She threatens to go to my boss if I interact with her daughters too much and “expose” me. Last week I gave the elder daughter a C-minus on a poorly written essay, and they accused me of punishing her because the affair ended. I do not know how I can teach or coach my students if I cannot speak to them or give them the grades they deserve. Frankly, I’m wondering if I should talk to my boss about this and take away their power to threaten me. Another part of me wants to tell them I am not interested in the mom and just want to do my job.
A: So Mom, after repeatedly and voluntarily exposing herself to you, now threatens to ruin you as a way, I suppose, of showing solidarity with her cuckolded husband. As you’ve learned, it’s a very poor career move to have a year’s worth of private parent-teacher conference at your place. I think you need to discuss your situation with a representative from your teacher’s union (if you belong to one) or a lawyer, or both. Before you do anything you need to find out if your affair with a parent is a firing offense. Only once you understand your legal situation should you act. If it’s safe for you to tell the principal, that certainly would disarm the threat these parents now hold over you. I always wondered how middle-school teachers do their jobs—kids that age are such an irrational mess of raging hormones. But I guess some people just never outgrow that stage. I’m feeling so sorry for the daughters. As if being a middle school student isn’t hard enough, those girls now have to endure a confusing and highly emotional daily grilling from Mom and Dad about the behavior of Mr. Chips.
Q. Texting Troubles: The other day I gave a friend of mine a ride to work. While driving, my daughter sent me a message which I quickly checked and responded to. My friend took the opportunity to chide me on the danger of texting while driving, saying I was being irresponsible. I would have agreed with her until she compared what I did to drunk driving. I lost a sibling to a drunk driver when I was young, so I know just how bad it can be, and what I did is not nearly the same thing. I barely even want to talk to my friend after she hit that nerve, but now she has the gall to keep asking me to take her to work. I don’t care that she gives me gas money, I don’t want to go out of my way to do her any more favors until she apologizes. What’s the best way to get my message across to her?
A: You’re not obligated to give anyone a ride to work. The friend you were doing a favor for, however, was not wrong about texting while driving. Just take a look at the literature about the mayhem that can happen in a few seconds of removing your concentration from the road and instead being mentally and physically engaged elsewhere. I assume your friend did not know about your personal tragedy. So just be direct with her. Tell her that her comment about drunk driving was deeply upsetting to you and why. Don’t demand an apology, just see if one is forthcoming and how you feel if you get one. And please, when you’re driving turn off your phone. You may think you’re that specially skilled driver who can text and drive, but consider how you’d feel if you were the cause of someone else’s tragedy.
Q. Disconnected From Husband After Orgasm: Please help. I love my husband. He is affectionate, interesting, smart, and even does his share of the housework. The only problem is in bed. Although I usually orgasm during sex with him, instead of feeling emotional satisfaction and closeness afterward, I feel sad and disconnected. With past boyfriends, I always felt the rush of “bonding” chemicals, even when I didn’t want to. What could be going wrong now? And please, don’t bother to suggest couples counseling. My husband would be crushed if he knew.
A: Fake it. Not your orgasm, because you’re fortunate to have one, fake those bonding feelings. Reach out to your husband, hug and stroke him. Engaging in this ritual could reorient your feelings and lift you out of your temporary sadness. What you’re experiencing is not at all unusual. The French call it “la petite mort,” describing the feeling of melancholy that sometimes descends post-orgasm. Just knowing you are not alone, and that you can act close even if you don’t feel it, might be enough to get you past this.
Q. Presumptuous Boyfriend: I live alone in a tiny studio apartment. My fridge is almost empty because I mostly eat out. I also get rid of anything I don’t use. People who come over say my place looks bare but I like it that way. Recently I went away for two weeks and gave my key to my boyfriend for emergency. He said he would come over some time and let some fresh air in so I agreed. When I got back from my trip, I found that he filled up my fridge, bought me clothes, and a bunch of household items I will probably never use for the rest of my life. He left a letter saying he didn’t realize I “live like this” and that he cried when he saw I barely had anything to live on. All up, I think he would have spent about a thousand dollars on buying me all that stuff. I know I should be appreciative, but I feel annoyed and angry that he presumed I needed all of this. I now have to either get rid of everything or live with the clutter. What should I say to my boyfriend? I don’t know whether to say thanks or feel creeped out.
A: Your boyfriend can’t be much of a boyfriend if he’s never been to your place and doesn’t know that you prefer a monkish (presumably except for having sex with him) existence. It only makes sense that when going away you empty your fridge, and it’s a nice gesture to find a loved one has gotten you some food. It’s not such a nice gesture to get a note implying you’re mentally unbalanced, the way you live is disturbed, and your boyfriend was reduced to tears to find out about the real you. That said, explain to your boyfriend you appreciate his desire to help you, but your ascetic lifestyle suits you and the suits now in your closet and the other items don’t. Say you hope he kept the receipts because you just can’t live in your tiny studio with all this clutter. If he doesn’t understand your objections, maybe as a further act of decluttering, you need to get rid of him.
Q. He’s Dating the Baby Sitter!: When I was in high school, I baby-sat for the Millers’ two young kids. After I left for college, Mr. and Mrs. Miller divorced. I ran into Tom Miller (the father) at a bar a year ago. We started dating a little bit after that. We have fallen in love, and Tom has told his ex-wife about me. He said she’s a little weirded out. He also confessed that the two of them thought I had a crush on him; I didn’t until I ran into him as an adult. I am going to his daughter’s birthday party tomorrow, and I will encounter many people I knew growing up, this time as Tom’s girlfriend. I don’t feel we have anything about which we should be embarrassed, but I do think the birthday will be a little awkward. I worry a bit that the ex Mrs. Miller will treat me like a baby sitter and not an adult. How do I establish myself as her equal and not the teenager who used to watch her kids?
A: You start by not saying, “Hi, Mrs. Miller, do you want me to supervise the Pin the Tail on the Donkey game for the kids, and do you mind if I have take some soda from the fridge?” I’m a little confused by your timeline. You say you started dating “a little bit” and now you’re in love. I hope that means you’ve dated more than a little bit. In addition, it sounds as if the Miller children are still young. I think that parents should be conservative about when they introduce their children to their new love interest. It seems to me that a birthday party simply isn’t the event for Meghan the baby sitter to morph into Meghan, Daddy’s girlfriend. If your relationship with Mr. Miller, I mean Tom, is serious and you both feel it’s time you were reintroduced to the kids, that means the four of you should spend a quiet afternoon together. Hanging around with Tom’s ex is not a good start. You can easily bow out of the birthday party and explain you don’t want to cause tension or be the center of attention. But if you go, the way you establish yourself as an adult is to act and feel like one.
Q. Distracted Driving: As a friend of a family that lost a child to distracted driving, I think the texter-while-driving should educate herself. People who text while driving are 23 times more likely to have an accident. She may not view drunk driving and distracted driving the same, but the results are the same. I am sure she doesn’t want to put a family through what she had to go through with her sibling.
A: You, and many other readers, are absolutely right that the distracted drivers are deluding themselves and causing mayhem and sorrow. I hope I made that clear. I do think it’s fair for the LW to explain to her friend what the drunk driver remark meant to her personally. I’m sure the friend wouldn’t have mentioned it so casually had she known the family history. But I hope the LW takes the responses here very seriously and realizes she’s setting herself up to be the cause of someone else’s loss.
Q. My Friends Want To Help Another Friend in Need … and I don’t: Three friends and I put an allocated amount each month in a high-interest savings account. The agreement is that in the unlikely event of somebody’s death, that person’s family gets the lump sum as kind of a life insurance. If nobody uses it, we all get our own money back. We started this after the death of a close friend left his widow close to bankruptcy. I thought it was a good arrangement until recent events. The wife of one of the participating friends, “John,” has breast cancer, although thankfully not terminal. She quit her highly stressful job so she can concentrate on recovery. Then John’s business started doing badly, and his daughter got into an accident, which requires a lot of expenses that aren’t covered by insurance. John got stuck in a Catch-22 situation where he had to take time off to look after both his wife and daughter, then he lost even more clients because he wasn’t available. Another friend in the group, one who is probably the closest to John, emailed us to suggest we take our savings and give it to him. The other friend quickly agreed. I haven’t sent a reply yet because to be completely truthful, I do not want to. If I knew the funds were going to be used for anything other than life insurance, as callous as it sounds, I wouldn’t have dutifully contributed every month. We have a written agreement that the savings aren’t to be touched without everybody’s agreement until 2015 (except in case of death) and if anyone backs out midway, they lose their contributions. I just want to continue this arrangement as agreed. How can I ask everyone to honor the original agreement without sounding heartless?
A: I’m no investment adviser but I have to disagree with one of the assumptions behind your financial dealings. The death of any given member of your group is not an “unlikely” event, it is a certainty. All of you have entered into a contract, before any decisions are made about changing the rules of that contract, all of you should talk to a lawyer. Perhaps, with everyone’s agreement, it would be possible to dissolve the fund, get their contribution plus interest, then you are all free to do with the money whatever you wish. It is lovely to want to support a friend experiencing a terrible time; but it is foolish to eliminate your own financial cushion in case misfortune visits you.
Q. Re: He’s dating the baby sitter: The letter writer said she started dating her boyfriend “a little bit after” he divorced his wife, not that they’ve just dated a little bit. Her question also seems to be more about meeting not his children for the first time in the girlfriend role, but rather meeting the ex-wife and family friends in that role.
A: You’re right that I misread “a little bit” and that they have been dating for a while. But the LW says nothing about having re-established a relationship with the kids as their dad’s girlfriend and not the baby sitter. If she has been spending a lot of time with them, then going to the party is fine and she just has to be gracious and confident. If she hasn’t spent a lot of time with the kids, this should not be her debut.
Q. Custody Battle: I am a young, single mother of a 5-month-old baby boy. I work and attend college, both full-time. I was fortunate enough to find a baby sitter who watches my son for next to nothing since I don’t have much. Things were starting to look up until I got a call from the baby’s father, who recently went to prison. He and his parents are going to try and fight for custody! Where have they been for the last five months and throughout my pregnancy? I have had to do everything by myself and now they think they deserve to get to see MY baby? I’m scared because they have money and I don’t. I’m at a loss as to where to go for help. I have no one. Do you have any suggestions?
A: Your boyfriend wants custody? Perhaps this is a new penal rehabilitation program I haven’t heard about: Raise your baby in your cell. If you have no one and are a young, single mother with a child, you need to start working on a support system. First of all, contact the nearest public defender’s office about getting representation.* It sounds like it could be a good thing that your son’s grandparents have shown up. The baby’s father should be paying support, and since his income is probably low at the moment, possibly his parents will step up financially. It might also be beneficial for the grandparents to give you some relief in caring for your son—no, not to take custody from you, but to help care for the baby from time to time. (Although on the evidence you provide, they perhaps have done a less than stellar job raising their own son.) Also, check into the programs and services available for mothers in your situation. You may be eligible for subsidized day care, for food and housing support. You should get to know other young mothers with whom you can swap babysitting and support. Also speak to your college’s guidance office—they may have advice on getting you help so that you can stay in school.
(*Update: As readers have pointed out, public defenders are for criminal cases. I should have said this woman should contact the nearest Legal Aid office or the equivalent.)
Q. Same-Sex Household: I am a mother of 9- and 11-year-old girls living a quiet (not closeted but not in your face) life with a wonderful woman. My kids recently started a new school and are in the process of meeting new friends who are being invited for play dates and sleepovers. My question is this, how much information am I required to divulge before inviting these kids to our home? Do their parents have a “right to know” that I live with and share my bed with another woman or can I assume that I am entitled to the same right of privacy as a heterosexual person? Obviously, while the friends are over there are no PDAs because that is just tacky regardless of who you are and, generally, I think the kids are oblivious to the fact my partner and I retire to the same bedroom at night. At the same time, I want to protect my kids from the possibility that some parents in their conservative school would freak out to know their kids were being “exposed to this lifestyle.” Do I have to announce it?
A: Just as a heterosexual mother wouldn’t explain her sex life to the other parents, you do not have to say anything about yours. Neither do you have to pretend you are not a couple. If other parents won’t let their children come over, how sad for everyone that the children are being punished because of such close-mindedness.
In a new approach, we’re publishing the chat transcript in shorter, more digestible pieces. You will still be getting all the questions and answers, and we may even publish bonus letters Prudie didn’t get to address during the chat hour.