Dear Prudence

Wrecked Reputation

Prudie counsels a letter writer on whether to tell the truth about a friend who died—and killed someone—driving drunk.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions. 

Q. D.U.-Lie: Recently, a friend of mine died in a horrific car crash. He got very drunk and drove into oncoming traffic, killing both himself and an innocent man in another car. It’s been a tough time for everyone, particularly his family. When asked about the circumstances surrounding his death, I tell the truth—he drove drunk and killed himself and someone else, it was a tragedy and a waste. However, his mother contacted me to say she’d appreciate it if I didn’t “slander his memory” and wanted me to use the story they tell, which is that the car spun out of control and it was nobody’s fault. (I’m not sure whether or not they mention the other man.) I understand how awful they must feel, and they are his family, but do I have any obligation to tell their lie or any version of it?

A: Yes, this is truly horrific. Two lives were lost, one innocent. You don’t explain the mechanism by which your friend’s family is hearing that you are telling the circumstances of the death. Do people hear the truth from you and run with it to the heartsick parents? If so, shame on them. One can understand that the mother, who is in agony, would like to say what happened was a faultless accident, but it wasn’t. If people ask you what happened, you have no obligation to lie. And frankly there is a social good in people hearing over and over the cost to drunk driving. If the mother contacts you again, you can tell her that you understand the depth of their grief, you will always miss your friend, but that the tragic facts are the facts. 

Q. Pool Problem: My neighbors have three young children who sneak in to use my pool. None of them are tall enough to open the pool gate so they drag an outdoor furniture over to unlatch it. Aside from the nuisance of finding them in my pool after coming home I am terrified one of them might drown and I get sued. I have talked to the parents and they say they will stop the kids from coming over, yet evidently they are not doing enough. I don’t want to see things escalate where I call the cops or get lawyers involved. How do I get them to stop using my pool?

A: You are absolutely right to be scared. And what is wrong with these parents? If they have small children who are surreptitiously using a neighbor’s pool, they should be scared out of their minds. Since the parents are being so irresponsible, you need to invest in technology to keep the kids, and you, safe. Get a serious lock for the gate, and get an alarm for the pool that sounds when an unauthorized body enters it. Since you’ve spoken kindly to the parents and they haven’t stopped this, I think a letter from a lawyer would be worthwhile. It does not have to take a hostile tone, it just has to lay out the extreme danger that is presented when children enter a pool uninvited. Speaking of which, if you do like these people, and you wouldn’t mind doing so, you can perhaps open your pool, say, once a month for these neighbor children—and their supervising parents!—so that your oasis is less of an enticing taboo. 

Q. Cheapskate Sibling: When my wealthy but frugal sister visits, she stays with me, expects me to pick her up at the airport, eats my food, drives my car, uses my washer/dryer, and goes out daily with her friends for meals but doesn’t take me or my family to dinner despite the fact she makes twice as much as my husband and I combined and has no kids. She treated my parents the same when they were alive. My husband has had enough and wants me to tell her to stay in a hotel, but she is all the family I have. How should I address this with her before her next visit?

A: Surely if you are willing to be treated as an indentured servant, you could find lots of people to take up this role and become a substitute family. On the other hand, maybe you have friends who treat you well and who can become your virtual family. Many people have close networks comprised of loved ones who have come together purely based on affection and not DNA. Your sister sounds appalling, and just because you had the same parents—who she also treated miserably—does not mean you have to sign up for this. The next time she wants to visit, explain that this is a busy time for you and the family so she needs to rent a car and stay at a hotel. If she refuses and declines to come, consider that a win/win.

Q. Re: Pool Problem: You want us to believe the parents don’t realize that three small children are gone? And they know there has been a problem with the pool? I used to work in a hospital and have seen many kids drown. Get a 6-foot wooden fence around your yard with a gate that locks. Get a second lock for the fence around the pool and make sure there is nothing in the yard that the kids can use to scale the fence. If one (or even all three) of the kids drown, you will certainly be liable, not to mention the guilt you will carry forever.

A: Other people are writing in about pool-related tragedies, ones that have resulted in serious liability to the pool owner. I agree that the letter writer needs to invest some money in keeping the kids—and herself—safe. 

Q. Friend of an Ex Slandering Me: Six years ago I briefly dated a guy who works in the same large industry that I do. (Something like one-third of the people in my city work in this industry.) We broke up after three months, and I haven’t seen him since. I just found out that one of his friends, whom I met perhaps four times while we were dating, is currently working in a firm in this industry with which I work on a regular basis. This friend of the ex is apparently telling co-workers in his firm what a horrible person I am personally and that I can’t be trusted in any professional interactions either—he apparently accused me of trying to sabotage a deal in his unit, though based on what I know I was ensuring that relevant laws are followed in the procurement process. Luckily for me, one of the people in the firm called him out on it and notified me of the trash-talking. I think all I can do is rely on my reputation in this industry (I’m widely respected for subject-area knowledge and customer responsiveness) and laugh off this sad sack, but I’m still kind of hurt that someone I barely know would keep bringing up something that happened to a friend of his six years ago. There’s nothing I can do here, right?

A: If you are being defamed and it is hurting your reputation, you have grounds for a civil action. This guy sounds like a nut, and maybe when he gasses on about you everyone thinks, “He sounds obsessed and crazy.” But there are also going to be people who believe his slander. Gather as much specific evidence as you can documenting that he repeatedly has lied about you to people in your industry, and take it to a lawyer. It could be that a cease and desist letter will work wonders. Maybe with the lawyer, in lieu of your filing suit, you can craft a way for this guy to clarify that his previous remarks about you were baseless and that he must issue an apology. 

Q. Gracious Host, Ungracious Guest: My husband and I are huge college football fans in the Midwest, and we like to attend three or four home football games of our favorite team every season. But our former small college town often runs out of hotel rooms, and one gracious close friend of mine, “Sam,” opened his beautiful home and spacious guest suite to us two weekends ago. My husband was reluctant because of one reason: my dear friend and his male partner share this home. We brought him a host gift, my husband was happy to pay for Sam’s dinner that evening to thank him for his hospitality and we loved our one-night stay. My husband was the perfect guest at breakfast the next morning, even helping with the dishes. But although not visible, my husband was uncomfortable and disapproving. Another game is around the corner, and I’d love for us to stay with Sam again. (He’s happily offered.) Is it OK to stay at someone’s house or accept their hospitality even if you aren’t approving of their lifestyle? I have no issue with Sam or the happiness he’s found with his partner.

A: I’m trying to identify the source of your husband’s discomfort. Is it that he thinks your friend Sam should be heterosexual? Does your husband understand anything about sexual orientation? You say your husband was the perfect guest, so much so that your good friend Sam has invited you over again. So the issue isn’t with your husband’s behavior. I think this letter is more about your marriage. You have a dear friend who is gay, he has found a lovely partner, and you are thrilled for them both. Your own partner, however, thinks this is a “lifestyle,” one which he disapproves of. I would think that would make you uncomfortable about bringing your husband to Sam’s. 

Q. Re: Slandering Friend of an Ex: If this friend of the ex isn’t self-employed but works for a firm then his comments and actions may be implicated to the firm. If a C&D letter to him directly doesn’t work, have one sent to his employer. No employer is going to want to be liable for a trash-talking employee.

A: Thanks—great point. I agree the letter writer should consult a lawyer, one who knows how to cover all these bases and get this resolved. 

Q. Re: Attractive Nuisance: An “attractive nuisance” is legally what that pool is considered. Please for the love of God build a higher fence and get a better lock. The lawsuit you will get if someone gets hurt will be a lot worse than the annoyance of having the children in the pool. Signed, a lawyer.

A: I have heard from so many commenters on the pool that my advice is that anyone with one immediately hire a cement truck and fill that gaping hole of liquid liability with concrete. OK, to sum up, letter writer with the pool needs to get nuclear reactor–level security around it and talk to a lawyer about both contacting the parents and protecting herself. 

Q. Pink Is for Girls: I’m expecting my second child, a girl, in December. Our 5-year-old son has a bedroom painted turquoise because he loves the ocean. We have a spare bedroom, which is painted pink, and we’re about to convert it into a nursery. I think it’s a very nice color and I don’t see why we should paint it over, but my mother and several friends have on several occasions berated me over “conforming to gender stereotypes” and letting my daughter grow up thinking “pink is for girls and blue is for boys.” My husband confessed he agrees with them and wants to paint the room yellow. To be honest, I started out not really caring, but now I want to leave the room pink to prove to everyone that it makes NO DIFFERENCE. Who should give in?

A: Pink is just a color on the spectrum. It itself does not denote a certain set of behaviors or expectations—although yes, it can symbolically stand in for them. You haven’t yet given birth to your daughter, and you are already being berated for conforming to pernicious gender stereotypes because you have an existing pink guest room you want to convert to a nursery. Did any men ever sleep in this princess lair? I hope they emerged in the morning with their Y chromosomes intact. The issue as you describe is not so much about the paint on the walls as about everyone projecting hysterically about it. Tell your mother and your friends you don’t want to discuss the nursery anymore. Then you and your husband each need to take a deep breath and rationally work this out. 

Q. Re: “Attractive nuisance”: Actually, many states have held that a fenced-off pool is NOT an attractive nuisance under the law and have actually shielded homeowners from liability for people who break in. Others have not done so. Bottom line: The letter writer should talk to a lawyer.

A: Bottom line—this is what happens when I get into the deep end with legal issues. 

Cllck here to read Part 2 of this week’s chat.

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