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.
A couple of months ago, I asked out a woman I did not know well who is in the same extended social group I’m in. We had a few nice dates and kissed at the end of the third one. Things seemed to be going well, but then she texted me stating she didn’t want to see me anymore. I thought she should have called to deliver this news, but I let it go. Not long after that, I noticed that some of the women in my social circle were acting different toward me, almost wary. I asked one woman who was a good friend what was going on, and she told me that this lady was accusing me of sending her pictures of my genitals by email after our last date. I did no such thing. These pictures were circulated among the ladies, so my friend showed me. The email address is one I used years ago before switching to Gmail. I didn’t even know the account was still active. The text consisted of generic sexual comments. The pictures are close-up shots of a penis. This person is much more well-appointed than I could ever hope to be. I feel like I’m in an impossible spot. I cannot exactly show everyone my more modest equipment to prove that this is not me. I can explain it’s a very old email address, but it was mine, so that explanation sounds flimsy. I can only assume someone did this as a cruel trick, but it has the potential to ruin my standing among all the people in my circle. Should I just call the woman and assert that the photos are not me? How do I clean this up?
—Those Pictures Are Not Me
I’m wondering if the subject line on the email was, “The Name’s Danger, Carlos Danger.” We’ve had ample evidence recently that it’s better personally and professionally if men resist the urge to snap the dick pic. But here you are accused of sending a boastful pornographic selfie when you’ve actually kept yourself under wraps. I agree that you’re not going to resolve this by offering to show the women in your social group that your endowment is more modest than that of the correspondent in the photos. You’re also right that you must clean up this mess. For advice on how you do that, I turned to a private investigator (who wished to remain private). He said you’ve got to take swift action because this email is not just misleading, it’s malicious and could have far-reaching consequences. If this becomes well known within your social circle, it’s possible news of your supposed photographic hobby could spread to your professional circle. My adviser said there are two likely ways this email breach happened. One is that your account indeed went dormant, and sufficient time had passed for the email address to be made available again (Yahoo is currently, and controversially, enacting this policy broadly as we speak), and your doppelganger—who really didn’t want you dating this woman!—seized it. The other is that someone hacked your old email, possibly by guessing an obvious password. To prevent any more tampering, immediately change all your current passwords and make sure you have PIN codes on your cellular devices. This P.I. suggested that you also hire a lawyer immediately to contact the service provider of the email about this tampered account. Yes, you could do it yourself, but you’re likely to get swifter compliance from them if a lawyer is pressing your case. You want that email address shut down, and you want to find out who was using it. If you are able to finger the suspect, then you can explore possible legal action with your attorney. Once you’ve gotten a lawyer on the case, you should contact the woman in question and tell her that a mutual friend told you about the graphic email. Say you were appalled to hear about it, you didn’t do it, and are taking legal action to find out who did. Let’s hope this results in you two continuing your acquaintance. If it does, and then one happy day she gives you the opportunity to prove that the photo wasn’t of you, resist the temptation to warn her you don’t quite measure up to your impostor.
Dear Prudence: Unwelcome Bridal Heirloom
My mother was overbearing and manipulative. She expected me to talk on the phone an hour each day and to make trips at least once a week to her home over an hour away. I resolved not to be that kind of mother. But now I feel abandoned by my three grown children who are in their late 20s to early 30s. We are still semi-supporting one through a graduate degree and financially helping out another. The third is financially independent and lives far away. I have friends who call and text with their children daily. I work with women in their 20s who do the same. But weeks will go by without one of my children calling me. If I do call and leave a message or a text, often it will be ignored. I don’t want to force them into contacting me but is it too much to ask for a 30-minute phone call once a week? Of maybe calling and asking me to go to a movie? What should a parent expect from a twentysomething in terms of contact?
The cause of your current predicament might be contained in your first few sentences. You were bullied and browbeaten by your mother and it sounds as if instead of setting some limits, you gave in to her demands. So your children grew up seeing you resentful of all the time you spent attending to your mother. That may have conveyed to them the burdensomeness of the relationship between adult children and their parents. It’s also possible your vowing not to similarly afflict your children led to your being a somewhat distant mother. So here you are with children who are taking your checks but aren’t interested in checking in with you. The increasing closeness you see between middle-aged parents and their grown children is not just anecdotal—it’s a documented trend and I understand it hurts to feel cut out of it. It’s time you had a frank discussion with your kids. Invite the two who are nearby over for a meal and afterward tell them you and their father—because I hope he backs you up—want to hear more from them. Be frank about your relationship with your mother and say that maybe your reaction to her had a negative effect on your own parenting. If you get emotional, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Say that you miss them and want to feel more a part of each others’ lives. Suggest establishing a short weekly phone conversation. (Do not ask for 30 minutes, which sounds like an eternity.) Add you’d also like to see them for a monthly brunch or a dinner. Do not hold over them either finances or the example of closer families—you’re trying to connect without resorting to guilt. Seeing how this goes will help you refine your approach for when your fully fledged child comes for a visit.
I have been at my organization for four years in what felt like a dead-end position. But recently I have had good news and have been told by key players that they have plans for me. Thinking my job was going nowhere, about a year ago I got involved on a side project in my free time. However, now that I’ve gotten some attention at work, I am worried that my side project will cause problems with my career aspirations. I’m a pro-choice activist and writer and my company is in a conservative, traditional community. My question is should I wait for someone from my organization to confront me and actually say that my activism will interfere with my rise at work, or should I start scaling back this work and cleaning up my online presence? It seems unfair that I should have to worry about my personal beliefs interfering with my job performance, but I also live in reality.
Everyone should look at their online presence with an eye to its effect on their career, because when you post things you should assume that material is no longer in your control. I agree that unless there is a clear conflict between your personal activism and your job what you do on your own time should be your own business. But as you say, you recognize that being a spokesperson in the pro-choice community could unfortunately have an adverse impact on your career. And it won’t necessarily be as clear to you as someone telling you to tone things down. It might just manifest itself by your finding at work that the promised plans don’t pan out. So for now, be more circumspect with your advocacy. As you become more successful and secure you will have a better sense of what form your support of the cause might take. Maybe it will be mostly financial, or maybe you can serve on some boards. The more prominent and respected you become in your profession, the more your voice will register.
I have a friend whose husband seems like a nice guy. One of the first times I met him, he rubbed up against my breast as he was greeting me and I thought it was just one of those awkward things that happen. But since then every time I see him, he does some “inadvertent” move—whether it¹s rubbing up against my backside or somehow touching me, and I no longer think it¹s an accident. I doubt he’s doing this only to me. How can I get him to stop? I suspect he’d act like he didn’t know what I was talking about if I said something to him. I do not want to tell my friend.
—Keep Your Distance
Men like this rely on women’s politeness and embarrassment in order to brush against them without getting the brush off. I agree it’s unlikely you’re the sole object of this guy’s tricks, and I understand you don’t want to tell your friend. But if your husband got his thrills by committing frottage, surely you’d want someone to clue you in. Even if you can’t bring yourself to tell his wife, the next time you’re at a social event with the two of them, find a way to get him out of earshot (but not out of sight) of the others and say to him that if he ever touches you again you’re going to make a scene. Then walk away. Before you do this, tell your husband and some other female friends what’s been going on. That will help in case this creep decides to go on the defensive and, for example, say that you came on to him. If another woman in your group has experienced his treatment, the two of you may find that going together gives you the resolve to tell your friend what’s been happening. If she knew, she would have the chance to address this with her husband and try to get him into treatment. He probably thinks he has his method down to a science, but he may find the law gets involved if he rubs the right woman the wrong way.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Identification, Please: I’ve been offered a scholarship for Hispanic students—but it turns out I may not even be Hispanic. Does it matter?” Posted April 19, 2012.
“Daddy Dearest: My husband is wonderful, but he rages at our kids. How can I quell his anger?” Posted April 12, 2012.
“Loss and Forbidden Love: My stepdaughter hit on me after my wife’s death. What should I do?” Posted April 5, 2012.
“Not So Proud Papa: Our son is an unmotivated lunkhead. How can we light a fire under him?” Posted March 29, 2012.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Double Helping of Hate: In a live chat, Prudie advises a mother hit by an anti-adoption remark—that’s also implicitly racist.” Posted April 30, 2012.
“For No Eyes Only: In a live chat, Prudie advises the sister of an underage girl making sex tapes with her boyfriend.” Posted April 23, 2012.
“My Daughter To Be My Daughter-in-Law?: In a live chat, Dear Prudence offers advice on a surprising dating arrangement, birthmark removal, and mistresses at funerals.” Posted April 16, 2012.
“Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone: In a live chat, Dear Prudence advises a man who cheated and is so afraid his wife will leave that he stalks her every move.” Posted April 9, 2012.