Got a burning question for Prudie? She’ll be online at Washingtonpost.com next on Monday, Jan. 6.
For the past three years I’ve worked for a small business with only one other employee. My boss, the business owner, has serious mental health issues and has made the job extremely challenging at times. She has picked on me occasionally in the past but has currently turned her focus to my co-worker. We work in a private office suite and no one has access to it but the three of us. Our boss has her own bathroom off her office, and the other employee and I share a separate bathroom. While I was on vacation last month, our boss twice came into the employee bathroom and pooped in the shower (which no one uses). My co-worker discovered it after noticing a strange smell and finally opening the shower. My co-worker was so mortified and afraid of our boss she didn’t say anything. The poop stayed until the cleaning lady came later in the week. The following week, it happened again. This time my co-worker mentioned the strange smell to our boss, who told her she was imagining it. My co-worker was then too scared to say anything else. Since my co-worker started working at the office, my boss had been behaving more bizarrely. She has started leaving her own bathroom door open whenever she uses it—we can hear it, and see her if we walk by. This is shocking bullying. But I don’t want to quit because I am making way more in this position than I will get elsewhere, and I have flexible hours. Is all this a sign of dangerous mental illness? Should I flee? My co-worker has already put in notice.
—Sick of this S–t (Literally)
I hope you understand this enterprise is soon to go down the toilet because with an owner this disturbed there’s no way it stays a viable business. Most mentally ill people are not dangerous, but you are seeing an alarming escalation of her behavior. If she doesn’t avail herself of professional aid, she sounds as if she’s headed toward a psychotic break and hospitalization. If you happen to know any of the boss’s family members, you could call and alert them to what’s going on, and ask if they can intervene to get her help. But even if you ask them not to tip her off that you called, keep in mind you’re dealing with a boss who’s potentially delusional or paranoid. That could make for an even more noxious atmosphere than the current one. You are working at a place where any day the excrement could actually hit the fan. If you don’t leave, imagine yourself alone at the office with an increasingly bizarre boss. Start putting your résumé out there immediately, keeping in mind that future employers probably won’t pay the defecation dividend you now enjoy.
I’m a 13-year-old girl who has always been pretty shy. However, I’ve started to hang out with a new group of girls at my school. I really enjoy their company, and they have a funny sense of humor. They talk a lot about boys, and they frequently joke about their “little guys.” I think these jokes are funny, but I also wonder if this sort of humor is disrespectful toward boys in any way. I hear female artists like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga sing about weenies in their music, but I don’t know many high profile male musicians who sing about the female anatomy in their music. Is there anything wrong with women and girls like me joking about the male anatomy? Is it being disrespectful to boys in any way or is it a good sign that we feel free to talk about that part of the body?
—Naughty or Nice
Weenies can be funny. I think most people who possess them can even agree on that. If you did some research, you would discover that the female anatomy has been thoroughly examined and described in song. It is perfectly normal at 13 years old for members of both sexes to be doing a lot of thinking about members—some of the boys think of little else. Laughing with your friends about the foibles of relations between the sexes is fun, and there’s no reason for you to miss out on this bonding experience. I think it’s wonderful you’re aware, however, that not all jokes are good-humored and that you don’t want to participate in mockery. So as long as the laughs are not specifically directed at deriding an individual boy’s “little guy,” then enjoy the fun of breaking out of your shell and being one of the girls.
My family and I have a very good relationship with our neighbors, a single mom and her young daughter who is about 10 years old. We exchange desserts occasionally, watch each other’s pets on trips out-of-town, and are generally helpful to one other. Recently, when I went to let my dog out I noticed that the neighbor and her daughter were on their back porch chatting, each of them smoking a cigarette! I grew up in a family of smokers, and it was apparent to me that this girl was no novice. I’m so disturbed by this. Should I say something to the mother? If so, how should I approach this?
—Ashes to Ashes
This has shades of Paper Moon, with its startling scenes of little Tatum O’Neill smoking. If you indeed saw what you think you saw, there is something very wrong in your neighbor’s household. I’m worried that your neighbor thinks now that her daughter is a tween, relaxing with her at the end of the day will come to mean some smokes and a couple of gin and tonics. When your neighbor saw the curriculum for her daughter’s health class, she obviously didn’t understand that “smoking education” meant learning about the dangers of it, not how to do it. Yes, it’s possible you were witnessing some odd, onetime occurrence. Sometimes parents who find their kids trying cigarettes use the aversion therapy of making them smoke an entire pack. But your description makes that seem unlikely, and in any case the child is 10 years old! I also doubt the girl was rehearsing for a part in a play (like Paper Moon). Usually, I am in favor of one person who has concerns about another’s behavior—as long as it is not criminal, threatening, etc.—to have a direct conversation about it. But I’m trying to imagine what you say here: “Janice, I noticed the other day that Madison appears to favor Marlboros.” Then if Madison is indeed a smoker, you would feel compelled to report this, and Janice would know it came from you. A mother who would share a cigarette break with her 10-year-old daughter is so lacking in common sense, that I would be concerned about what else is going on in that household. (After all, where’s there’s smoke …) My suggestion is that when school is back in session, you call the principal and say you believe you saw something concerning about a student, which you can do anonymously. If it was some kind of misunderstanding, the mother can quickly clear it up. But when you see a child on the porch, puffing away, you just can’t butt out.
I’m a 26-year-old guy in graduate school who has been dating the same amazing girl since college. We get along great, rarely have any serious fights, and just purchased a house together. I plan on proposing soon. One night at a party last spring that my girlfriend couldn’t attend, I ended up drinking too much. I crashed at a friend’s house and slept with a female friend of his. It was the only time I strayed outside of my long relationship. I spent the next couple of months feeling horrible about this. However, taking advice you had provided in the past, as well as not wanting to destroy our whole relationship over one mistake, I decided not to tell. But the girl I slept with contacted me to tell me she was pregnant and keeping the baby. She slept with two other men, unprotected, the same month and is not sure who the father is. It’s important to note that I did not, um, finish with her that night. I’m now living a terrified life every day knowing that this could destroy everything. Part of me wants to just wait until the baby is born; if one of the other guys is the father, then I can move on with life, I suppose? But if the child is mine, everything is ruined. What should I do?
—Please No Baby Daddy
Given your description of the night’s events, and your onetime partner’s behavior, you have a far higher chance of having contracted an STD than having impregnated her. But for that reason alone, you should tell your girlfriend. You could have passed on an STD (chlamydia, for example) with neither of you being aware of it. The fact that you didn’t ejaculate almost certainly means you’ll have good news when the paternity tests are done (and I hope the new mother gets a group discount on those). Yes, I have often advised that living with a much regretted one-off indiscretion can be punishment enough. But this thing has taken on, shall we say, a life of its own, and it’s time you came clean. Of course your girlfriend will feel crushed. But I also have written that an infidelity—especially one as unsatisfying as yours—should not necessarily mean the end of a relationship. When you tell her, I’m sure it will be clear to her what agony you are in over this. Let’s hope that when she gets past the pain of the betrayal, she can put it in perspective and weigh it against all your years of happiness.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Am I Fit To Parent?: My fiancé and I both have mental illness. The last thing I want to do is make things hard on our future children.”
“Just Say No to Sexting: My 17-year-old daughter sent naked pictures of herself to boys. What do I say to her?”
“Betrayal From Beyond: I just found out my husband sought casual sex before he died. How do I mourn him now?”
“The Constant Mistress: I’ve been in five relationships with married men, but don’t feel guilty. Am I morally bankrupt, or is everyone else closed-minded?”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“What Is This, Ranch Dressing?: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose daughter might get kicked out of her playgroup for bringing store-bought snacks.”
“Not-So Buried Secret: In a live chat, Prudie advises a mother who gave the family dog away but told her son it died.”
“A Baby by Any Other Name: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman who wants to give her son the same name as her husband’s son from another marriage.”
“Not My Husband’s Baby: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose in-laws fawn over her son—not knowing he’s the product of an affair.”
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.