Dear Prudence

My Mother Is a Catfish

My mom is pretending to be a 28-year-old woman on a dating site.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
For the past few months, my mom has been catfishing a guy online and I don’t know what to do. Earlier this year, I decided to give online dating a try and signed up for a free online dating site. My mom was very supportive and interested in me finding someone, and, unbeknownst to me, created a fake profile to scope out the site. I was perturbed when I found out, but I went along with it under the condition that she didn’t message anyone. She broke her promise and created an elaborate profile that mimicked my life (without using my name) and began talking to a few people. She ended up forming a friendship with one guy who was getting divorced who she felt sounded depressed. While pretending to be a 28-year-old woman, she offered him suggestions on how to fix his profile. I begged her to cut it off with him, but she hasn’t. In fact, she created several new profiles and pretended to be interested in him to help build his confidence. What really scares me is that he left a gift certificate for her to pick up at a local store, which I persuaded her not to use. I know this guy owns guns and I’m scared for her if he ever finds out she’s not who she’s pretending to be. She’s already seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety, so I don’t know what else I can do. My dad is aware of what she’s doing but he just brushes it off. Am I the crazy one for thinking this is a serious problem? My mom needs a new hobby, but she’s full of excuses for why she can’t work or volunteer somewhere because of her health.

—Dumbfounded Daughter

Dear Dumbfounded,
I have a suggestion for something that might productively occupy your mother’s time—a job at the dating site OkCupid, coming up with new experiments on how to tweak their algorithm. OkCupid just revealed it had been telling members that poor matches were actually good matches, in order to track what happened. All on her own, your mother came up with her own exceedingly bad match: a depressed, gun-owning young man looking for love, and an older married woman looking to make herself feel wanted. I appreciate your bringing up the opportunity to recommend the compelling documentary, Catfish, from whence the term catfishing—to entrap someone into a romantic relationship by creating a false social media identity—is derived. It sounds as if your mother’s adventures could make a good episode on the spin-off television series. If she doesn’t get shot first. You have warned your mother about the dangers of what she’s getting herself into, and presumably you’ve suggested she discuss her activities with her psychiatrist. But if she won’t there’s nothing you can do. I can understand your father’s stance. Likely he’s glad she’s occupying herself and is probably not highly concerned she’s going to find someone to replace him. You need to tell your mother you are bowing out. Not only should you leave the website she’s infiltrated, you should tell her you are not going to be a sounding board for her alternative-identity activities. But don’t give up on finding someone; just move to another dating site. As this one notes, there are plenty of fish in the sea.


Dear Prudence,
I am a career-driven woman recently married to a similarly career-driven man, and we both plan to continue our child-free existence. I happen to be the type of person who craves the approval of my husband’s family, but they have given me the cold shoulder. My husband’s mother and sister also see children as the most valued products of a relationship. Recently, in a moment of utter stupidity and desperation (and after a glass of wine or two), I texted his mother that I was expecting. Now they love me! I get messages during the day from my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, including lengthy emails full of pregnancy and child-rearing advice. We live far away, but at some point my lie is going to be revealed. I have asked my husband to stay silent until I can figure out how to fix things, but in doing so have made him an accessory to my lie. How do I come clean while minimizing the inevitable damage? I am normally clear-headed and smart, so I still can’t believe I did this and have allowed it to go on for over a month! 

—Liar Liar

Dear Liar,
If you don’t straighten this out, and your in-laws are the type of people who insist on being there for the delivery, come next March you’re going to find yourself staging your own kidnapping in order to get out of having to explain it’s neither a girl nor a boy, but a lie. It’s also a violation of your marriage, and your husband’s relationship with his family, to make him party to your deceit. You need to correct this, all right, but it’s going to be difficult to explain to your in-laws what really happened. Saying that in an alcohol-driven moment of insecurity you sought their love by conjuring a nonexistent pregnancy is unlikely to make them re-consider their coldness. It would instead color all your interactions for a long time to come and make them question anything you said—along with your sanity and sobriety. This is especially the case since you don’t intend to ever make real your bogus claim about producing a child. So I suggest you say right away that unfortunately the pregnancy was a false alarm. Sure, this will inevitably result in a barrage of questions and concern about this turn of events: was the pregnancy wishful thinking, a defective test, a miscarriage. But you and your husband then have to be resolute enough to say that this is a private matter and you just don’t want to discuss it beyond confirming you’re not pregnant. Marriage is one of those great life shifts that has a way of bringing up long-buried psychological issues. You say this is totally out of character for you, so you should examine what’s going on that would prompt you to blurt out something so inevitably self-destructive in a search for approval from your new husband’s family.


Dear Prudence,
I watch children from my home for income. One of the parents is a teacher, who should know how important words can be, who has a particularly whiny little boy. When she drops him off or picks him up, a process that takes about 10 minutes on either end, she will scold him for his whining by saying things like, “Stop crying like a little girl!” or “You’re a big, strong boy. Stop acting like a girl, sissy!” I have a young daughter who is around for these exchanges, and it makes me crazy that she has to listen to this. I pulled the woman aside and told her I’d appreciate if she didn’t use these expressions, especially since my daughter isn’t whiny or prone to tears. The woman laughed it off and said it’s harmless and that’s how people talk in the real world. It seems she’s even doing it more often now that I’ve addressed it. Because it’s a professional relationship, I’m not sure what to do. On one hand, she is the parent. On the other hand, this is my home and my child, and I feel I should have some say over what goes on in it. I’ve told my daughter that what this woman says is silly and makes no sense; boys and girls cry, and there’s nothing shameful about that. Do I let it go? Or do I take a firmer stance?

—Not Crying Like a Girl

Dear Crying,
And what a wonderful teacher she must be! Given her “real world” approach to children, she will have the opportunity to humiliate a generation of them. I understand you don’t want your daughter to be subjected to this woman’s idiocy, but this mother’s remarks won’t outweigh your words and influence. I’m more concerned about the harm she’s doing to her little boy. Yes, she’s the parent, but this is your home, and you are within your rights to set certain rules. Ask to speak with her when she is not rushed, and tell her you are looking for a way to help her son, who is a sensitive child. Say she certainly knows (although she probably doesn’t because she’s an insensitive dunce) that transitions can be difficult for lots of children. Explain you’d like to ease these for her boy, and then outline some steps to make the hand-offs less stressful. If she’s always running late, ask her to budget more time so she and her son can be more relaxed. If, however, the problem is that she drags things out with her insults, suggest you meet the boy at her car door in the morning, and bring him to her in the evening. Let’s hope if the start and end of his day are easier, there will be less opportunity for her nasty remarks. Also mention that, while you’ve brought it up before, you want to reiterate that in your home you don’t want the children to hear statements that demean how one sex or the other behaves. Say it’s true that such expressions are common, but that as a fellow professional, you’re asking her to understand that you are trying to establish an atmosphere of respect similar to what she must instill in her classroom. Do your best to say this without an eye roll.


Dear Prudence,
A couple that my husband and I are friends with, “Steve” and “Jill,” have a disturbing habit of driving after drinking. They live pretty far out in the suburbs and often we’ll meet in the city for dinner. I’m not talking about one or two glasses of wine, but several bottles. There is no question that they are over the legal limit to drive. We’ve offered to drive, suggested hiring Uber, but they always insist on driving home. One year we took a group vacation to the beach and I was terrified to let them drive our family home after dinner one night and insisted we walk. My husband works with Steve at a small company, so we’ve never addressed this situation directly because it would make things awkward at work. But it’s gotten to a point where we don’t feel comfortable going out with them. There are lots of work-related social functions that we all attend, and it will become obvious that we’re avoiding them if we don’t make plans with them, plus we genuinely like them. They are otherwise responsible, conscientious, healthy people. What should we do?

—Designated Driver

Dear Designated,
If you have to hike back to the beach house to assure that your family is among the designated survivors, you simply have to speak up. These people are a potential life-threatening menace, and I’m surprised they already haven’t racked up some DUIs (or maybe they have). Sure, if you say something, it could make it awkward at work. But it will also be awkward if after a company-sponsored social event Steve kills himself or someone else. Next time you have plans, be direct about your concerns. Say that you understand part of their enjoyment of the evening is being able to have a couple of bottles of wine, but that puts them over the legal limit for driving, and you are worried about their safety. Say that the next time you have a festive night, either they need to agree to stay under the drinking limit, or if not, you would like them to accept other arrangement for getting home—and you two are happy to drive. If they refuse, then they become friends you see under circumstances when everyone is expected to stay sober.


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