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My girlfriend has been living with me for nine months. I have two teenage kids from a previous marriage. She has never lived with kids before, nor cohabited much, and has found it difficult to adapt to having other people in her space. I’ve told her that I didn’t think my kids would touch her private things, and I believe that I’ve been mostly right. Recently, she took a trip to see some relatives, and when I turned out the light to go to sleep, I noticed that her iPad was on. When I tried to turn it off, I discovered that she was using the device’s camera to stream and record images of our bedroom. I was very upset, angry, and hurt. When I confronted her, she admitted that she’d been doing it for a couple of weeks. She also says she captured images of my daughter rifling through her dresser drawers. What do I do?
—Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place
I missed the part of your letter where you say your girlfriend is “wonderful, but …” From your description there’s no wonderful, just but. If two unsuitable adults want to get together and try to make it work, that’s their business. But if one of those adults has children, then a different set of obligations regarding one’s romantic follies kicks in. First of all: Your kids come first. That doesn’t mean your children get to dictate how you live or that they have veto power over your love life. But it means that you, as a conscientious parent, do not bring someone into your life, and theirs, who has no interest in your children, and who is incapable of seeing that you are a package deal. The new love interest must understand that giving your children love and stability is your priority. But you’ve moved in with someone who seemingly articulated beforehand that she finds the idea of teenagers in her space appalling. Your girlfriend acknowledged she put monitoring equipment in your bedroom, the ostensible reason being that she suspects your teenage daughter of rifling through her drawers. But if she felt that was going on, she should have come to you with her concerns, so you could address this with your daughter directly. That your girlfriend resorted to surveillance instead means she doesn’t trust your kids—or you. You have given me no reason to believe this relationship is worth preserving, except as something that drags on because you’re too passive to confront how bad it is. You need to make a serious reassessment of your long-term romantic and living arrangements.
When I was a girl between the ages of 11 and 16, my mom was in an abusive relationship with “Greg.” He has borderline personality disorder and was suicidal. Because he was a police officer, he always had a gun nearby. I had to call the cops multiple times when he verbally lashed out at me and my mom. Once, when I was 14 years old, he was screaming at the top of his lungs, banging on my mother’s door while she hid, and I picked up the phone in my bedroom and dialed 911. They showed up, but nothing was done because he was a cop and knew these men from work. I’m now a 24-year-old living in a big city. I started seeing a therapist here almost two years ago because I was feeling depressed and was unhappy in my relationships. Through therapy, I began to realize that a lot of my pain might be coming from that abusive relationship in my youth. I recently brought up my struggle to my mother and told her that I needed her to admit what she did and say she was sorry in order for me to move on and have closure. She apologized, but it was followed with excuses for her actions. She played the victim, told me I was blowing things out of proportion, and said I’m ungrateful and don’t see the good in her as a mother. She refuses to come to a therapist with me and has stated that my therapist is “making me worse.” I love my mother and I want to be close with her, but she is begging me to forgive her and to move on. I don’t know how to because she is denying my feelings. How can I move forward healthily while maintaining a relationship with my mom?
You have excavated your past, examined how terrifying and unstable your childhood was, and talked out the long-term effects of such a beginning. Now it’s time to leave the excavation site and start living your own adult life. You have been with your therapist for two years but don’t sound as if you’ve found much relief from your depression and unsuccessful relationships (though relationship trouble in your early 20s is not abnormal). If you are not on medication, you may need it. But if your therapist is suggesting that healing for you will come from your mother sitting across from you and apologizing, I think you need a new therapist. You are locating the source of all your troubles today in those harrowing years with Greg. But Greg is gone—thank goodness—and your task is to fully embrace your life, not dwell on how your mother’s relationship with him will forever cast a shadow over you. Let’s say your mother were dead. In that case there would be no acknowledgment, no apology, and you would have to find a way to put your childhood in its proper place, without the notion of having closure. (I haven’t mentioned in a while how I loathe this term and concept.) Your mother is the kind of person who subjected her daughter to years with Greg, which turns out to mean she is the kind of person who can’t take responsibility for it. But that’s who she is. Your task is to find out who you are.
My wife made it very clear that she didn’t want me to go to her high school class reunion with her. Tonight she called a girlfriend who she went to high school with to make plans for the reunion. She talked about where they should go out to dinner, and then she started talking about two guys T. and B. While she didn’t say that they were going to go out to dinner with them, she mentioned the guys in the same conversation. I wasn’t eavesdropping—she was in the same room as I was in. It’s been driving me crazy that she doesn’t want me to come to her reunion. Now after her phone call I’m almost physically sick. If I mention to her how I feel, she’ll accuse me of being jealous and insecure. Am I jealous and insecure?
I could say you’re not jealous and insecure, but then I’d be lying and that wouldn’t do you any good. It could be your wife doesn’t want you at the reunion because in general you’re kind of a clingy downer. But you could be the most independent and effervescent person and your wife still wouldn’t want you at her reunion. And why would you want to go? You don’t really want to hear her screaming with laughter over the time everyone caught Becky and Stan doing it under the bleachers during the championship game. You also don’t want to hear about the time that Curtis almost blew up the chemistry lab with his bottle rocket. You get the picture. Your wife and her friend are going to thrill and marvel at entering the hot tub time machine. You would just be trying to get a toe in, wondering who all these paunchy men and women showing too much cleavage are. She’s going, and she’s going without you. Think of this time alone as a chance to reassess the qualities that made her choose you, and not T., B., or any other of the guys she left behind.
I’ve been going to the same barber once a month for the past 15 years for a simple haircut that cost me $35, and I’d give him a $5 tip. Apparently, at some point over the years—I have no idea when—the barbershop’s rate for a haircut went up to $40 and he never bothered to tell me. Then last week I spotted a rate board by the cashier I’d never noticed before that clearly stated haircuts were $40. I was horrified when I realized I’d been stiffing my barber of his tip and had no idea how long I’d been doing so. I’m too embarrassed to ask him when the barbershop raised its rates and why he didn’t tell me. I do want to offer him a serious token of appreciation. What do I do?
The barber clearly considers you such a good customer that he’s grandfathered you in, but there’s no reason to be mortified about your accidental oversight. Next time, tell him you noticed the rate board, and while you appreciate that he’s been undercharging for you don’t know how long, you want to pay the going rate, even if over the years you’ve been bringing him less and less hair for him to cut. He’ll either accept or demur, but in any case, start tipping him 20 percent—on the $40—and give him a nice bonus for Christmas.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Fleece U: We can’t afford our son’s private college tuition. Should we go into debt?”
“Naked Fear: My fiancée has never seen me in the buff. What will she think?”
“Family Spies: My mother-in-law found out my baby’s sex against my wishes—and then told everyone.”
“Won’t You Be My Lover: My neighbor is the first decent man I’ve known. But what if he doesn’t want me?”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“The Un-Giver: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman whose boyfriend gave her a tooth for their anniversary.”
“Twin Swap: In a live chat, Prudie advises a man whose girlfriend first slept with his brother—but doesn’t know.”
“Free Not to Be Child-Free: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman who thinks she might want a baby after all, despite her husband.”
“Poly, Pregnant, and Proud: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman grossed out by her sister’s choice to raise a family with two men.”