Dear Prudence

Predator in the Family

My husband had a long affair with his aunt—starting when he was 16.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
When my husband was 16, he began an affair with his aunt, his mother’s brother’s wife. She was 35, and I believe she took advantage of him and lured him into an affair when her marriage was falling apart. They remained in a relationship for 10 years. He ended it six years ago. We have been together for three years and have young children. He told me about this affair before we were serious, and he said it had been true love. Now he has deep guilt and regret. At times he has even wondered how he got so lucky with our family given his “great sin.” The problem is that because he is close with his cousins, his aunt’s children, she still has access to our lives. I have no reason to believe he is in contact with her. But he asked me to accept his cousins’ friend requests on Facebook, which I did and now regret. I am really struggling with all of this. I want to delete his cousins and asked him to delete them, but he says they are his cousins and he can’t. We have fought about this several times. Am I being crazy? Even deleting them would not guarantee she will be gone from the picture. I’m seriously confused and losing faith in us.


Dear Anti,
So you have come to an agony aunt for your aunt agony. I agree with you that a 35-year-old woman who finds sexual and emotional comfort with her 16-year-old nephew is a predator. Were this about an uncle and niece, no one would think otherwise. She was an adult woman with children, he a minor—and a relative! He may have found her attention sexually arousing and emotionally enticing, but that doesn’t lessen her violation. Yes, the relationship continued into his early adulthood, but because it began when he was still a boy, she undermined his normal adolescent development—so he’s struggling now with what happened. Thank goodness he eventually realized that it had to stop and that he had already extricated himself before you came along. His happy relationship with you, and especially having children himself, has caused him to see his relationship with his aunt as dark and twisted. Your letter started with high drama, then dwindled to a minor dilemma: Should you and your husband unfriend his cousins from Facebook? My answer to that is no. Your husband is right that these innocent parties should not have to find themselves exiled from your lives because of their mother’s egregious behavior. Don’t let this auntie maim your relationship—she’s no threat to you whatsoever. You are letting her eat away psychologically at your marriage without cause. Since you say your husband has gone from seeing the affair as a great love to a great sin, one that makes him feel sometimes unworthy of his current happiness, he needs to talk about all of this with a therapist. You should join him for some of those sessions so that you can stop feeling that this outlaw of an in-law has any power over your lives.


Dear Prudence,
My former best friend slept with my husband. To save our marriage, we cut off all ties with her and her family. Reconciliation with my husband has been painful but rewarding. Recently, my husband and I received legal notifications that she had established two very generous college funds for our young daughters. We (especially I) want nothing to do with her or her guilt money; her behavior feels so manipulative. But by refusing the college funds, I’m worried I’m being a bad mother, making my girls’ college careers less certain. Would it be petty to turn down her money?

—Tuition Turmoil

Dear Turmoil,
It’s all of a piece that a woman who would sleep with her best friend’s husband would also think it appropriate to set up college funds for the betrayed friend’s daughters, presumably to launder away her guilt. (Let me throw in a condemnation of your husband here, too. His violation was the greater, and he is lucky you were willing to give him another chance.) I understand your wanting to tell her to take her foul funds back, and if that’s what you decide, communicate this through a lawyer so you don’t get drawn into having actual discussions with her. But I am going to suggest you keep the dough. Our civil court system uses money as a form of compensation for injury or loss. Sure, there was no legal finding here, but your friend shattered your world and destroyed your trust. The money won’t undo that, but it will make your life easier when the tuition bills come due. If you’re able to think to yourself, “Damn right, you owe me!” then take the money and don’t dwell on its origin. Of course, if she tries to use it as an opening to re-establish contact, your lawyer should be in touch with hers to clarify that there are no conditions on the money, and there will be no reconciliation. Because even if she funds an academic study of friendship and betrayal in your name, you will never speak to her again.


Dear Prudie,
My husband and I are bringing up three wonderful girls. His parents have always been fair to all three with gifts but now want to pay for only their biological granddaughter to go to a private school. We are financially comfortable but not so that we could match this for the other two. (My in-laws could easily extend the offer to all three girls if they chose to.) We can’t see ourselves having a two-tier home where our kids go to different schools depending on blood relationships to the rich relatives; but is it fair to say no thanks on behalf of one daughter to the possible advantage being offered? Or should my husband ask his parents to pony up for their stepgrandkids as well?

—Public Education Is Good ’Round Here Anyway

Dear Public,
Thanks for the easier tuition question. I know of many families where one child is in public school and another in private. In some cases the children have different educational needs or abilities that are better attended to at different schools. I’ve also known kids who left private school and were happier at public school. But what’s not OK is a child being raised in the same household as siblings (even if they are stepsiblings) being given such a different opportunity simply because she’s the one with the wealthy grandparents. I think your husband has to talk to his parents and explain that their offer is generous, but that as a parent he cannot be making such distinctions between his biological child and stepchildren, so he has to decline the gift. He should then reassure them that your public schools are excellent and all three girls are thriving in them. And if his parents counter by writing three tuition checks, then not only are they indeed loaded, but you should feel free to take them up on an offer that’s fair to everyone. 


Dear Prudie,
I just took a terrible Uber ride to a fairly popular airport that’s within 5 miles of my house. The driver drove us way out of the way, and when I tried to correct him, he still had trouble understanding. I had to give him step-by-step directions for very obvious marked roads (“get in the right lane for departures”) and ended up paying double what that ride usually costs because of his snail pace and wrong turns. Normally I would have no problem rating someone poorly, especially if he was a young kid with plenty of time to find a new career, but this was a man in his late 60s without a good grasp of English and probably not a lot of career options. So is it rude to give him a one-star rating? And is that the kind of person I want to be? But I do feel like I owe it to future riders to know what they are getting themselves into.

—Road Raging

Dear Raging,
I’ve only had great experiences with Uber, so I’ve never had your dilemma. I also realize I have always failed to rate these lovely people, so I will start doing so now (especially since they are apparently rating me). For some reason, Uber comes in for a lot of bashing, but where I live, the shared motto of the cab companies appears to be: “When You Absolutely Positively Have to Get to the Airport, We Will Not Send a Cab in Time.” Uber has always sent a car in time. You had a bum ride, and Uber has a system for making sure incompetent drivers aren’t part of its fleet. But like you, my heart lurches imagining what might be the life story of this man. So, steamed though I would have been, I wouldn’t have bothered to give him one star. But there’s nothing wrong with seeing it as your civic duty to notify the company that its driver isn’t up to the job. You don’t say whether his incompetence was just as a navigator or if he also made you feel unsafe on the road, but if he was a dangerous driver, that would change the equation about the imperative to report.


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