Dear Prudence

Lies and Consequences

My teacher lost her job because I said she hurt me. It wasn’t true.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I am a grandmother who is haunted by something I did when I was a girl. Many, many years ago while I was at school I did something clumsy and got a bruise. My mother noticed it as soon as I came home and asked me what happened. She was always making me feel stupid, and I didn’t want to hear her put me down. So I said my teacher pinched me. I think I was hoping for a little “poor baby” from her and then the whole thing would blow over. It didn’t. Mom went ballistic and took me to school the next day and raised hell with the principal and teacher I had accused. There was an investigation and I was too scared to back down. I stuck to my story and the teacher was either fired or quit to avoid criminal charges. I felt terrible, especially when she asked me, in tears, why I was telling that lie. It has always bothered me since. When I became a young mother I was afraid I might get in trouble for what I did, so I have never told anyone. Now I am a grandmother and what I did haunts me. It is so far in the past that I can’t see what I can do to make restitution to the teacher. Surely she is retired by now. But this has bothered me all my life and I would like to do something.


Dear Guilty,
I can understand your being haunted by this, but the fact that your act has distressed you all these years shows that you are a decent person who, when you were a child who felt unloved, acted out. Your letter brings up a larger societal issue. We know that many people are horribly hurt and abused and never speak up, or speak up and aren’t believed—I hear from these victims often. But we also have to keep in mind that sometimes accusers make things up, and that sometimes people who proclaim their innocence are telling the truth. You already know, Guilty, that what you did happened so long ago that there is little likelihood you could find this teacher—and I don’t think you should start searching. After she left your school, the chances are that she was able to continue her career elsewhere, and let’s hope that long ago she put this incident behind her. Your letter reminds me of one from a few years ago written by a man who grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father. As a 6-year-old he was in a public restroom with his father, when he falsely said another man in the bathroom was making him feel weird. He did it because he was afraid to go home with his own father. The police were called, and the letter writer has been wracked with guilt ever since. Like you, he could not make amends directly, but I suggested he donate money to the Innocence Project, which works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted. I make the same suggestion for you. It should help you feel better to do something concrete to address such injustices. You’ve never told anyone about this until now, so it must be a great relief to bring this episode into the light. Now it’s time to recognize the person who did it was a hurting little girl, and forgive her.


Dear Prudence,
I’ve been married to a great guy for over five years and I know how much he cares about me. My husband has the typical “man habits” but one issue is getting hard to dismiss. Like every man, he forgets to zip his fly occasionally. When I tell him he seems a little uncomfortable, which I don’t understand. This seems to happen much more frequently (and graphically) when my friends are around. At first, my friends were amused but now they find it strange. When my best friend was around a couple of weeks ago and this happened again (she has witnessed this at least a dozen times), she pulled me aside and suggested that this can’t simply be a clumsy coincidence. I know it was underhanded of me, but when I knew she was stopping by the other day, I left my phone hidden in the bathroom with the video on. When I looked at the video, although it was not that clear, it seems to show my husband opening his fly. I regret what I did and I’m afraid to ask my husband about this. Maybe I should I simply ignore the whole thing, given how harmless it is. Is this a real issue, and if so what can or should I do about it?


Dear Unzipped,
The kind of typical man habits I hear wives complain about concern the position of the toilet seat and the production of gas. It is not a typical man habit for your husband to forget to zip his zipper and pretend he’s the junk man when your female friends are around. You indicate they aren’t just getting an eyeful of his tightie whities. Indeed it is strange that when your friends are hanging out at your home, your husband is there on the couch, hanging out. I surmise that your spouse’s discomfort when you alert him that his zipper is down is not out of embarrassment, but because he wants it down so he can get a thrill. If I’m right, his little game is repulsive and not harmless. Maybe he’s canny enough only to let loose when he’s in the privacy of his home. But if this is a compulsion, there’s a danger he could escalate to doing it in public. That would be indecent exposure, which could earn him jail time and a sex offender status. You say you’re afraid to ask your husband about this. I’m assuming it’s not because you actually fear him, but because this will finally force you two to face a psychological issue you’ve been keeping under wraps. That is, your husband has a problem, and he needs help.


Dear Prudence,
My husband and I got married nine years ago. Two years after that, his parents died in an accident and it was terrible. We were both in our early 30s, but the problem was his parents left behind his 10-year-old sister, Beth. She came to live with us, and we have housed, clothed, and fed her, paid for her therapy, and provided emotional support for her. She’s a great kid, I love her, and she helps babysit our children. However, we live in a cramped space and my husband and I have always wanted to expand our own family. I want to send Beth to live with her grandparents next year to free up some space. They couldn’t care for her when she was younger but should be able to now that she mostly fends for herself. She will be in college and will only be living with them on breaks. I brought this up to my husband, and he was outraged, saying that Beth can live with us for as long as she wants. I feel I was really good about taking Beth in when we were still practically newlyweds, but as much as I love her I don’t want her living with us forever. Am I being unreasonable here? How do I continue to approach this topic with him?


Dear Cramped,
Indeed it was a generous, heartfelt act for you to take in your orphaned sister-in-law.* And it’s good to hear you have come to love her. But as you describe it, there’s something rather utilitarian about the whole arrangement: she gets food and therapy, you get babysitting. Now, she’s heading off, and you’d like to wrap up this whole unexpected parenting business and free up her bedroom. You may not have adopted her, but you and your husband became her de facto parents. You deserve credit for unexpectedly raising a 10-year-old. But imagine if your own parents had died when you were a girl, and upon your departure for college, the sister-in-law who had taken you in and you had come to love told you she was done and it was time you made other living arrangements. Beth is about to fledge. In the natural course of events, she’ll be home for holidays, and maybe summers, then she’ll graduate and go off into the world. But it would be cruel indeed to tell Beth to stop thinking of your home as her home. I agree with your husband on this, so you need to drop it. If you want to have more children, get some bunk beds and deal.


Dear Prudence,
A very good friend of mine, Peter, is on the verge of being hired for a job he desperately needs. The problem is the company requires a drug test, and he smokes pot daily. So he asked to “borrow” some of my clean urine, so he can surreptitiously pass it off as his own. Peter is married with a child, and is a generally great guy, though he is a little on the irresponsible side, and has had issues (not pot-related) keeping jobs. This job is working in an office and doesn’t involve law enforcement or public safety. I want to help him and his family, and I have no moral issue with people smoking pot. I have a well-paying job and a family of my own, so I have a lot to lose. I know the simple answer is to tell him to stop smoking pot, but that’s not going to happen. Are there any legal ramifications for me if I help him and he gets caught?

—Urine Trouble

Dear Urine,
It’s a classic stoner move to think that you’re going to get away with subbing your clean friend’s urine for your own. Before you two waste-management masterminds get any further in the planning of this caper, watch this episode of Workaholics in which the trio of goof balls attempts to pass their office drug test by buying urine at an elementary school playground. Here are some legal opinions about what happens when (not if) Peter gets caught. Apparently if he’s applying for a job at a private firm, messing around with the drug test will just mean he doesn’t get hired. But even if this fraud does not have consequences for you, it’s a good general principle not to knowingly engage in one. Especially one that’s a staple of drug-themed comedy. You correctly identify that the best thing would be for Peter to stop smoking pot, which you say he won’t do. (Since a heavy user can have traces in his urine for months, Peter would have to ask for a sabbatical before he finishes the application process anyway.) He may be the great guy you say he is, but the evidence you present is that he’s more committed to his drug habit than providing for his family.


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Shadow of a Doubt: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman whose husband believes she lied about the rape that left her pregnant—to hide an affair.”
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Unbearable Betrayal: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman whose husband left her to start a family—with her sister.”

Correction, May 15, 2014: This column originally referred to a letter writer as “aunt,” when the letter writer was in fact the sister-in-law of the girl she took in. (Return.)