Dear Prudence

Foreign Affair

My husband has fallen in love with our 16-year-old exchange student.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
At the beginning of the school year, my husband and I brought a 16-year-old exchange student into our home. My husband is a teacher at the high school she is attending, so by necessity they spend a lot of time together (driving to and from school, at school events, etc.). Over the past several months, I’ve noticed that their relationship has become very close. My husband is extremely emotionally involved in everything she does, they spend their free time together, and they text each other constantly. I don’t believe that they are having a physical relationship, but I don’t know what to do about their emotional intimacy. I confronted my husband about it, and he was angry that I would suggest that he was doing anything inappropriate with a teenager. He stated adamantly that he has come to love her as a daughter, but that his love for her is not a threat to me. Still, something feels “off” to me about their level of involvement. So I did something that I am not proud of; I snooped through his phone to see what they are texting about. They are constantly telling each other that they love each other and miss each other. The thing is, he will tell her that he loves her right in front of me. I know that if I confess that I snooped he is going to feel that I violated his privacy. I am starting to wonder if this situation is damaging to her, and if I need to remove her from our house to protect her from further involvement. Or am I just being the stereotypical “evil stepmom”?

—Hope She’s Not Lolita

Dear Hope,
I have a reading assignment for you, this story by young journalist Jenny Kutner about the affair she had with her high school teacher. I think you will recognize with a queasy feeling all the tropes of this kind of illicit relationship: the teenager who feels special that she was chosen by this dashing and mature man (who is actually an emotionally stunted predator), the man who feels renewed and understood when in the company of the girl. Your version has the appalling twist that it’s happening in your own home, and you’re being told your suspicions are sick and demean the purity of their love. Yes, it’s possible they haven’t consummated their union. But your husband has already committed so many transgressions that I’m inclined to believe he takes some detours on that drive home and things have gotten physical. The girl is a minor in a foreign country who at the very least is being emotionally exploited by a man who’s not only a teacher but a surrogate father. He’s using the cover of being an acting parent as a way to explain his obsession. In the short run, this girl needs to get out of your house, and in the long run your husband needs to get out of the teaching profession, and I think you need to get out of this marriage.

You need to address all this in an efficacious and safe way. Your husband is potentially emotionally volatile and what you have to say will shake his personal and professional worlds. After all, if he is having sex with this girl, and people at school are noticing his fixation, or she blabs to friends, he could end up in jail. He will go on the offensive if you tell him you snooped—and will assert you found no evidence of anything except the love they happily declare right in front of you. You had probable cause to go looking, so stop feeling guilty. Don’t confess, either. He’d love to have a diversion about your  supposed violation of him. I think you should talk to a professional—a lawyer, therapist, or even both—about how to proceed. You want someone you can speak to in confidence who can help you figure out how to get the girl back to her own country or to a more appropriate living situation, and then what your own best living situation should be. 


Dear Prudence: In-Law Facebook Fanatics

Dear Prudie,
My fiancé and I have been ridiculously happy for three years. But now that the wedding is being planned something has come up that I find ridiculous. He’s American, and I grew up in Europe, where I went to an orthodontist as a child. I now have perfectly healthy set of teeth. However they are not Hollywood-style teeth—perfect, snow white, and identical. My fiancé is pressuring me to get them “fixed” before the wedding. In Europe, it’s just not part of the culture to get what I see as plastic surgery on healthy teeth. If he asked me to get a boob job to fit in, I’d be horribly insulted. I see this request as something similar, he doesn’t. How do I convince him that there’s beauty in idiosyncrasy?

—The Teeth Ain’t Changing

Dear Teeth,
I agree about the beauty of the imperfect, and I wish Hollywood would show us more real noses, snaggleteeth, and baggy eyes. But Hollywood standards aside, suggesting physical improvements to your partner is as tricky and dangerous as snake handling. If you contemplate your intended and see the need for a major overhaul ahead, you should move on. But I disagree with those who say an intimate should never give advice on enhancements. I struck an aesthetic blow for mankind when I convinced more than one balding boyfriend to embrace his hair loss and snip the comb-over. Several boyfriends in turn justifiably critiqued my wardrobe. So, to teeth. You’re not someone who is missing a front tooth, which I think does require fixing because that can be a personal turn-off and a professional handicap. But it’s one thing if your boyfriend says, “We both drink a lot of coffee and red wine. Let’s do white strips together.” It’s another to try to get your betrothed to have her life savings chewed up by unnecessary porcelain veneers. If you conclude whitening your teeth could make you even more dazzling, then go ahead. But hold firm on your unique smile. If your fiancé won’t back off, you can always break it off and marry a Brit.


Dear Prudence,
My father passed away five years ago from ALS. His illness was a shock and progressed at a rapid pace. Every year on the anniversary of his passing my sister and aunt post pictures of him on Facebook and reference his cause of death. Mutual friends then contact me about his passing. I realize that everyone handles the grieving process differently, but this is a very private matter for me and I find it inappropriate that something so personal is being shared and displayed. I also believe that it is disrespectful to his memory to continue to refer to his disease rather than his positive legacy of his life, especially since he was private about his illness. I have discussed my frustration with my sister but she insists that it is perfectly acceptable to share this information with her social circle online. (My mother has always declined to get involved in disputes between me, her son, and my sister.) Am I wrong to find this practice inappropriate? Do you have any advice for whether or how I should address the issue with her or my aunt before the next anniversary arrives?

—Grieving Privately

Dear Grieving,
You acknowledge that everyone grieves differently, and unfortunately for you, your sister’s way has become a kind of norm and is an unstoppable force. Yes, that she memorializes the cause of your father’s death every year means caring mutual acquaintances will feel obligated to reach out to you. So you need to have a brief response ready: “Thanks. He was a wonderful man who accomplished so much. I miss him every day, but it gets easier with time.” I assume your sister and aunt see their postings as a way to get people to think about contributing to research for ALS, a devastating disease for which there’s no cure and only limited treatment. If you start thinking about it that way, too, perhaps it will feel like less of a privacy violation to you. Surely your mother also misses your father acutely, but I think she’s wise to play Switzerland in this dispute and stay neutral. Not letting your sister’s postings get to you and getting along better with her is surely something your father would have appreciated.


Dear Prudence,
One of my dearest friends has become a staunch anti-vaxxer. I’ve done my research from reputable sources and I firmly stand on the other side of the debate. Every conversation with her turns to the subject of the dangers of vaccines, genetically modified organisms, and processed foods. She is obsessed and brings it up at every opportunity. I read the articles she posts on Facebook and they make me ill. There is no research, it is all fear mongering, and this otherwise intelligent person eats it up! I want my friend back but I also feel like a jerk for thinking less of her for believing this stuff. How do I get past this?

—The Shot is Safe

Dear Safe,
I agree that the people who refuse to vaccinate their children and work to undermine public support for crucial disease prevention are doing grave damage and endangering us all. But it’s possible to accept a friend has a serious lapse in judgment in one part of her life, ignore it, and cherish the rest of her. But you can’t do that if your friend is under the thrall of a monomania about how evil forces are conspiring to kill us all. You are describing a disturbing personality change. She apparently has recently taken up these causes and now her conversation consists of perseverating about them. That’s not normal. If she has a spouse, or you know another close relative you can speak to, check in with that person about your concerns. Either way you need to address this with her. Say you’d love to agree to disagree about all this, but you can’t because she always comes back to these linked subjects. You can say she just doesn’t sound like herself and gently suggest that she see her doctor. There might be a medical cure for your friend’s dangerous medical beliefs. Likely, she will consider her doctor part of the conspiracy, in which case, sad as it is, you’ve done what you can.


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