Got a burning question for Prudie? She’ll be online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers each Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
My brother and I are having a physical relationship. Our parents are admirable people who took good care of us, but are distant and aloof, and I think that my brother and I turned to each other for warmth and emotional support. He’s two years older and looked out for me in high school, and I shared with him what girls are like, which made him more confident socially. After he went away to college, I chose a college in the same city as his, so we continued to see a lot of each other. I’m now a senior and he’s a graduate student. About three months ago we were sitting on my couch watching a sad movie and when it was over we turned to each other, exchanged a look, and started kissing. Now we lie on the bed, clothed, and kiss and talk and hold each other. When I’m with him I feel loved and cared for. We have not had sex because there’s a psychological barrier that neither of us wants to cross. I go on dates with other men, but I never feel the emotional connection that I feel with my brother. I needed to talk to someone about this so I went to a counselor at the student health service and in the first session she practically ordered me not to see him for three months. I left in tears and haven’t gone back. We want to lead normal lives and have families. We both know intellectually that we shouldn’t be doing this, but we don’t feel the wrongness of it. Must we stop this immediately, or may we let it continue and hope we grow out of it?
—No Sibling Rivalry
Since you’re both in your 20s, the trend appears to be going the opposite way of outgrowing your closeness. You say you don’t want to cross the ultimate line, but you continue to slow dance to the edge of it. If one day Jack’s resolve breaks, you, Jill, are likely to come tumbling after. You profess you two want normal lives, but if you violate this taboo you may never get there. If you do have an affair, or something pretty close, and you vow to forever keep this secret, you each will spend decades hoping your sibling stays silent. But if one or the other feels this is something a future romantic partner should know, don’t be surprised if upon hearing your confession your new love quickly backs away. I know I more or less gave a pass recently to a pair of middle-aged incestuous gay twins, but they had long ago made a physical and emotional commitment to each other, and were asking me about whether they should let their family know. I think even those two men would advise you two to stop the rubbing and get yourselves disentangled emotionally. Your therapist should have had the training not to be so shocked by your revelation that she ended up barking orders. Go back to the counseling office, say your first therapist was not a good fit, and you’d like to talk to someone else about a pressing emotional issue. A good therapist should be able to hear you out, understand your situation, and help guide you out of it. For a window into how strange things like this can get if they go too far, read Jeffrey Eugenides’ wonderful novel Middlesex.
Dear Prudence: Dancing With Herself
I have been happily married for several years and have never cheated on my wife. Last week I went for a massage, and now I have a dilemma. I’m a sucker for cheap, Asian massage and this place seemed legit. They had ads for couples’ massage and a row of chairs for foot reflexology. The sign in the room said “Keep undergarments on.” But the masseuse came in and asked me to take my shirt off since she used oil during the massage. The first hour was completely normal, and when she asked me if I wanted a longer massage I told her to go another 30 minutes. She told me to turn over, massaged my stomach, then started to pleasure me—well, you can imagine how. I never solicited, intended, or suggested this happen! I could have stopped it, but it all happened so fast and was over in about 20 seconds. I almost felt violated. After that she finished the massage, and I paid and left a tip. I have resolved to only get fully clothed massages from now on, if any. I pride myself on being honest and treasure the intimacy and emotional trust my wife and I have. I feel that it might be gone if I keep this event from her, but I’m also not sure I should tell her. What should I do?
—Not So Relaxed
First of all, I hope it’s not over so quickly when you’re attending to your wife. I agree this masseuse (which seems a more appropriate word given the circumstances than “massage therapist”) caught you with your pants down. Yes, you should have ended the session and beat a hasty retreat before she beat you into submission. But I’ll chalk up the sequence of events to her expertise and your surprise at what came your way. I tried to imagine my reaction if my husband told me this story. I’d believe him—why otherwise bother to confess? I’d probably be slightly amused and also ask how good a tip he left. I definitely wouldn’t be getting him any gift certificates for the Asian massage place up the street. (My teenage daughter and I went there recently and I’m grateful the only kinks that got worked over were our tight shoulder muscles.) But another part of me would be uneasy about this happy ending, and I’d wonder if he had really been that naive about what this place meant by “full-body” massage. You didn’t solicit your massage extra and I don’t think it’s a violation of your honest and open relationship to just quietly file this experience away. But only you know if in order to feel right with your wife, you have to take her by the hand and say, “I went for a massage recently, and a funny thing happened on the way to my adductor longus.”
Everyone in my family was baptized and raised Episcopalian. My brother moved away, got married, and had a daughter. He and his wife were attending a non-Episcopal Protestant church, so they baptized my niece there. When my niece was still an infant, my mother visited them and, upon her return home, proudly boasted that when my brother and his wife weren’t around, she put my niece under the kitchen faucet and performed an “emergency Episcopal baptism just to be safe.” Everyone who heard this was horrified and thought what my mother did was crazy. My mother found our reactions overblown though she did ask us never to tell my brother or his wife, and we haven’t. Now I am married and my wife and I are expecting our first child. My wife is Jewish and we have decided to raise our son in that faith. Since my mother felt the need to surreptitiously baptize her granddaughter for being the wrong Protestant denomination, she’s sure to try something with her grandson who isn’t even Christian! To baptize him would be a gross violation. I’ve decided my mother will never be allowed to be alone or even out of sight with my son until he’s old enough to defend himself. Is this a reasonable plan? Should I tell other family members never to let her out of their sight with my son and why?
As a theologian your mother is all wet, as a look at this handy guide to Episcopal baptism demonstrates. For starters, the Episcopal Church recognizes proper baptisms performed by other denominations. If someone has been baptized, the church frowns upon freelancers like your mother getting in something extra: “Under absolutely no circumstances can a valid Baptism be repeated.” Then there’s the matter of the church insisting this sacred rite be performed by clergy in front of the congregation. As far as emergency baptisms are concerned, Episcopalians limit this to “impending death clear to all present.” In other words, while you mother may have given her granddaughter a soapless shampoo, she did not perform a baptism. Sure, it’s rude of her to run her grandchild under the faucet with the idea of getting the kid some celestial leg up. But since your mother gets just about everything wrong about baptism, her little ritual doesn’t hold water as a religious act. What your mother did, and I agree probably plans to do with your son, is the equivalent of a personal superstition no one need take seriously. Your son will be Jewish regardless of what your mother does, so it seems unnecessarily mean to have your family act as probation officers to prevent Grandma from getting her grandchild near running water.
My 5-year-old daughter has an adorable best friend, “Molly,” who is left-handed. Molly’s parents mentioned once that they hoped to convert her to a righty. Molly’s mother is from a country where this desire may be more common, but we laughed it off and said that three of the last four presidents were lefties. Since then, we’ve seen Molly’s mother snapping at her for using her left hand. This rubs me the wrong way as a leftie myself, but more importantly, I don’t think it’s good for the child to forcibly convert them. Should we stay out of it now or should we stick up for Molly?
It’s true that there is a sinister prejudice against lefties in much of the world, but fortunately it is dying out in many places. As the daughter and mother of lefties, I find the practice of forced conversion to right-handedness gauche and appalling. (As I do forced conversion generally.) I hope your daughter and Molly are classmates, because that would give you the opportunity to alert the teacher to what’s going on. I bet the best way to get through to these parents would be if an authority figure explains to them we now understand that left-handedness is just an interesting variation, one that should be supported, not suppressed.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Sins of the Father: I think my dad has a secret love child. Should I confront him?” Posted Nov. 10, 2011.
“The Monotony of Monogamy: I married my first sexual partner, and now I’m itching to cheat.” Posted Nov. 3, 2011.
“Indecent Proposal: My colleagues are framing our boss for harassment. Should I expose their evil plot?” Posted Oct. 27, 2011.
“Bye-Bye Baby: My sister is making a huge mistake by placing her child for adoption.” Posted Oct. 20, 2011.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Morbid Memento?: Dear Prudence advises a woman whose fiance is too attached to his dead sister-in-law—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Nov. 14, 2011.
“Sniffing Out Trouble: Dear Prudence advises a woman who caught her fiance’s dad in a sleazy act—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Nov. 7, 2011.
“Halloween Hangover: Dear Prudence advises a dad whose buddies hit the bottle too hard on the trick-or-treat trail—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Oct. 31, 2011.
“Sleeping With the Frenemy: Dear Prudence offers advice on confessing to an affair with a BFF’s husband—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Oct. 24, 2011.