Dear Prudence

The Scarlet List

The dad of my daughter’s friend is on the sex offender registry.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
My husband and I have a 7-year-old daughter. We are friends with another family who have a child the same age. They are a nice couple. The husband is not very talkative but never gave me any odd vibe. A while ago I was trying to find the number for their home business and when I searched his name the sex offender registry came up! My husband talked to him, he was very upset and said when he was 18 years old he had a 14-year-old girlfriend and the parents reported him when they found out they were having sex. I have no reason to doubt this, but I can’t verify it because the offense occurred in another state that does not post details online. My concern is that we have already hosted their daughter for a sleepover, and now my daughter is asking when she can go over there. Before I knew this information I had no qualms about the family, but now that I know I feel obligated to “do something.” What should I do?


Dear Stumped,
This man, when he was a very young man, exercised gravely bad judgment by being a legal adult who had sex with a girlfriend below the age of consent. He paid a huge price for this, and if his story is accurate, he is exactly the type of person who should not be on the sex offender registry. He has been held accountable for his actions, he is no threat to the community (including your daughter), and what he did was he was a teen should not haunt him the rest of his days. I have written that our burgeoning sex offender registry (now about 750,000 people) is out of control. I’ve been heartened by how much support I’ve gotten from readers. I think the public understands better than the legislators how foolish and useless this is. The registry doesn’t narrowly track the worst of the worst, but is a blunt weapon that politicians love because it allows them to say they’re tough on crime. So a lot of low-level offenders become lifetime pariahs, which often ends up making victims of their own families. You believe the father was telling the truth, and so I understand you regret ever stumbling upon this information. But now that you do know he’s on the registry, you will have a gnawing doubt about it if you can’t confirm his account. See if the information on this Department of Justice website is useful in helping you get details. If it doesn’t, and you don’t want to let your daughter sleep over without being certain, your husband should go back to the other father. He can explain he hates to reopen this subject, but you two want your daughter to have sleepovers with their daughter, and so your husband feels obligated to see something that confirms the account, while reassuring the other father that you two will not discuss this with anyone else. Let’s hope you get the peace of mind you desire, so you can relax and go back to seeing them as the lovely couple whose child is your daughter’s friend.


Dear Prudence,
My son is in his early 20s. He’s smart and successful—he’s got a great job and his own place. I’ve been pretty sure since his early teens that he is gay. I asked him about it at the time, telling him that his mom and I love him unconditionally, and if that’s who he is, we totally support him. He denied it, and we never discussed it again. He seems well-adjusted—he had both male and female friends in college, but he’s never shown any interest in girls as other than platonic friends. I love him so much, and I want him to be happy! I feel part of being a complete human being is having close personal (and physical) relationships with other humans, and he has yet to have such a relationship. Is there anything I can or should do? Or should I just let him work it out on his own? Maybe I’m wrong about his orientation—but I don’t think I am.

—He Won’t Come Out

Dear Out,
I understand your concern, but I’m sure there are parents of children in their early 20s who would be thrilled to have their horny, sexually active, underemployed basement-dwellers be more like your son. He is off to a great start, and though they are a minority, there are young people who have been so focused on making their mark in the world that they just haven’t felt the urge yet to turn their energies toward romantic partners. It’s also possible that while an intimate partner is crucial to you for a happy life, your son might not feel the same. Whatever his sexual orientation, it could be that he’s more on the asexual end of the spectrum. That could mean that while he has great and satisfying friendships, he doesn’t crave the kind of singular relationship that you do. It also could be that he just hasn’t started looking for the right person. You two clearly have a good enough relationship that you can gently raise this subject again. Sometime when you’re out to dinner, tell him you don’t want to intrude on his privacy, but you’re curious about whether he’s looking for someone special (leave the sex of this special person unmentioned). Then take your cues from him. It could be that he’s more open to talking about this with you now than when he was a teen. It could be that this is not a conversation he ever wants to have. And if he doesn’t, it sounds as if you two have plenty of other things to talk about.


Dear Prudence,
I am a middle-aged woman who 18 months ago was offered a job running a small nonprofit. I love the work and am passionate about the mission, but I am suffering burnout already, due to the unending demands. The organization was in the red and producing little work. I’ve gotten us in the black, created databases, increased our membership, crafted successful new programs, and built a website from scratch. I create weekly content, run our marketing, write grants, conduct meetings, pay the bills, create the budgets, train the volunteers, do the fundraising, file monthly reports, and stay up on the latest best practices. Our organization is now the envy of my peers, but I feel exhausted and isolated. On average I work 65 hours a week and have no benefits. I’ve had two weekends off in the past eighteen months. My hourly take-home pay after taxes is $7.31 an hour. Whenever one of these board members starts in on the latest new pet project or pet peeve I feel tongue-tied and end up taking it on. How can I get a grip on this situation? I love the job and don’t want to leave it right now, but I am completely demoralized and at wit’s end over how to handle the unceasing demands. I see now why the last employee gave up and went elsewhere.

—I Want to Love My Job

Dear Job,
I’d say you should write a book about rescuing nonprofits, but your job sounds like it’s already been covered in the book of Job. I hope you know that if you leave this position you could apply for work at Ikea and significantly improve your financial situation while also having unlimited access to Swedish meatballs. On the other hand, things aren’t going that well at Microsoft and with your organizational skills and vision, maybe they could use you in the top job. You have apparently performed miracles at this place, and you’re going to need a miracle performed on you if you keep going at this pace. While you may have saved this place, crucially you lack the ability to look out for yourself. That means you will forever be the person who never quite saw things through, because you’ll end up getting burnt out and leaving. So analyze yourself the way you analyzed this organization and make a commitment to another overhaul. You’re good at lists, so start making some of your own that you will present to the board regarding your pay, hours, benefits, and relationship with them. The book Ask for It: How Woman Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want, can help you map out your strategy. If the board can’t start meeting your needs, you need to start looking for another job. With your skills, you should have your pick of messed up nonprofits.


Dear Prudence,
I need help in managing overly concerned neighbors and friends. My beloved husband died about a month ago, and since then I have a fairly steady stream of people who are checking up on me. I really don’t want their company sometimes. I am cleaning out his things to distribute, and there are times I just want to sit and remember him and cry. But if I don’t answer the door inevitably there’s a phone call from someone who just wants to be sure I am OK. I do not have health problems. I work full time. I am not a suicide risk. If I get to a point where I can’t cope with a situation I know how to ask for help. I know that everyone has my best interests at heart, but I need a simple way to tell them to leave me alone for a while.


Dear Widowed,
This stream of well-wishers is a tribute to you and your husband. Everyone needs to grieve in their own way, and yours requires more solitude. But I often hear from people like you who months later feel abandoned in their loss because everyone has just gone back to their own lives. So you want to express your needs without pushing people away. If these are good friends, you can tell them what you told me—that it’s cathartic for you to go through your husband’s things alone and cry, and they shouldn’t worry about you. If you live in a kind of Mayberry neighborhood where people just stop by, and these caring neighbors are driving you crazy, tell them that you will put a signal on the front stoop—a flower pot, say— that means you’re OK but aren’t up for company. As you start to feel more able to socialize, do reach out and set up lunches and dinners. In the years ahead you will be grateful for these people who want to embrace you.


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