Dear Prudence

Kissing Cousin

I found raunchy photos of my cousin on her husband’s blog. Should I tell her?

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg

Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,

A few years ago my cousin married a guy who has always squicked me out, mainly because of the hateful and homophobic things he posts on Facebook. So, I’ll admit, I wasn’t Googling him out of “healthy curiosity.” It was a hate-search—I was hoping to confirm what I suspected, which is that he’s an alt-right jerk. But (as it always goes) what I found was way weirder and more complex. I Googled his Twitter handle, which is the first result after Googling his name, and the first link I came across was a page of adult photos of my cousin. This was shocking in itself, but three links in there was a Tumblr post filled with pictures of my cousin having sex with another guy (which the husband had posted). My impulse is to leave well enough alone, bleach my eyes, and spend the next 30 years snickering with my husband about these phonies—consenting adults should be free to do whatever they want to do—but there’s a part of me that worries that my cousin might not know what’s out there, not to mention the fact that it is so easily accessible. Do you think it might be worth sending her an anonymous message? If they’re kinky, let them be kinky. But they also seem like private people, and you don’t have to be Encyclopedia Brown to find out that they’re living a very different life than the one they project. But if I do say anything, I want to make sure I minimize the damage and am doing it for the right reasons.

–Concerned Cousin

I think you have been relatively honest about your reasons for doing what you did. You wanted to uncover something embarrassing about your cousin’s husband that would “expose” him as a hypocrite, and you did. If you were able to find these pictures after a cursory search, then I think you can safely assume that your cousin is aware of them too. If she’s computer-savvy enough to have a Facebook profile and email account, then she is aware what comes up on a Google search of her (or her husband’s) name. If they’re that easily accessible, then she has probably accessed them. If you want to send her a brief, anonymous message about decoupling the pictures from her husband’s easily identifiable Twitter account, you certainly can—but drop the subject after that, and stop Googling the names of people you don’t like looking for trouble.

* * *

Dear Prudence,

I briefly dated a guy who I’m now just friends with. If he was on board with the idea, I’d still be up for exploring our connection. We broke up after a couple of months because I got pregnant and miscarried, and neither of us were prepared for the situation. He then left for an internship without giving me a way to contact him. When he came back two months later, I told him I’d needed his support and wanted to rely on him. He apologized and said that while he couldn’t commit to me, he was interested in being friends. I suspected he just wanted to save face and wasn’t actually interested in my friendship.

Recently I didn’t hear from him for about five months (we live a few hours apart): no emails, no texts, not even when I forwarded him school-related stuff he would be interested in and wished him a happy new year (not the Gregorian one but one specific to his culture). At one point I asked him for advice with a school-related problem, and he asked me to call him. After we had talked, I asked him if I had done anything wrong since I hadn’t heard from him all this time. He said that he had just been busy. Later I wrote him an email to thank him for his time and told him I would add him on Google Hangouts to keep in better touch. He turned the invitation down. I sent another one, and when he turned it down again, I wrote to ask if anything was wrong. It’s been a month, and I haven’t heard from him.

I’m not going to contact him again, but I’m anxious that I did something wrong and didn’t realize it. I worry I pushed the Google Hangout invitation too much, and look like someone who can’t take a hint. I still feel drawn to him, which I beat myself up about. I’m wondering how to move on from this, and how to be less of a basket case when dating new people.


I think it’s worth spending some time figuring out why you’d still be willing to “explore a connection” with a guy who’s spent your entire on-and-off relationship in full retreat. It’s true that he never came out and said, “I don’t want to be your friend,” but every time he’s pulled away—whether by leaving town or going radio silent—you’ve responded by trying to get closer.

Mutual enthusiasm is a crucial component of any good relationship, romantic or otherwise, and you’ve never had that with him. In the future, it might help you to think of an obvious lie like “I’ve just been busy” to explain five months of no contact as an out-and-out no, rather than pushing for more explicit rejection. Whether this guy was trying to save face or was simply afraid of hurting your feelings is beside the point. You should be on the lookout for friends and dates who make their enthusiasm for your company clear. Don’t try to read between the lines or look for reasons to contact someone who’s half-hearted or inconsistent about wanting your company.

Most importantly, you should stick to your decision not to contact your ex again. You say you don’t plan to try to talk to him now, but in the past you’ve interpreted his silence as permission to try again. That strategy has never worked for you, and you should drop it and focus on the people who want to be a part of your life.

* * *

Dear Prudence,

My best friend, “Jen,” and I are in our mid-30s; we met as college roommates and have been a huge part of each other’s lives since then. I’m divorced with two young children, and she’s never been married. Jen has always been very particular, but lately it’s gotten much worse. She’ll ask a waiter 20 questions before ordering a sandwich, and sometimes even asks to see a sample of the sandwich before deciding. It’s the same thing with home furnishings and other simple decisions. Unsurprisingly, Jen has never found a guy who could meet her exacting standards but is now obsessed with the idea of having a baby to “pass on her genetics.” I was surprised by this since she never shows any interest in children. She talks about passing on her love of travel and books and music, but when I mention the realities of motherhood, she waves her hand and says that’s only for the first few years—that she can put up with it to get to the “good stuff.” Before she brought up this baby idea, I was actually toying with the idea of telling her to talk to her doctor since I’m pretty sure she has some form of OCD. I don’t bring my children to her place anymore because she gets upset if they touch her carefully arranged magazines. I can’t think of anyone less suited to single motherhood. Should I have a frank talk to try dissuade her? She’s already looking into sperm banks.

–Unqualified Mother

If being rude to waiters or picky about houseware disqualified a person from parenthood, there would be a lot fewer parents in the world. Moreover, almost every first-time parent is characterized by a certain naïveté about the realities of child rearing; part of the fun of watching your friends have children after you is knowing what they’re in for before they do. Nothing you have described sounds like a particularly endearing quality, but neither does it sound like Jen is likely to be a dangerous, abusive, or wildly incompetent parent. The real question before you is not “How can I dissuade my friend Jen from having children?” It’s how you can address her current behavior as it affects your friendship with her.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is not the same thing as being fussy or high-maintenance, but if you genuinely believe that Jen experiences needless, frequent distress over everyday tasks or suffers from repeated intrusive thoughts, then you can and should encourage her to talk with her doctor about it. There is no reason to peg this conversation to whether she should have children. If, however, Jen is merely picky, exacting, and prone to a tiresome sort of perfectionism, then, as her best friend, you should offer her some constructive criticism. Your goal should be not to convince her that she’s unfit to parent but to figure out whether she needs either therapeutic support or social feedback in changing some of her behaviors.

* * *

Dear Prudence: How do I spice up my sex life when my partner is a prude?

Hear more Prudie at

* * *

Dear Prudence,

I got engaged two weeks ago and my parents are throwing my fiancé and me an engagement party to celebrate. My little sister and her boyfriend are “pre-engaged” and seemingly irritated that I “got to go first.” Last week, she announced that they intend to elope, and announce it at my engagement party. My initial reaction was, “That’s like announcing your pregnancy at someone else’s baby shower!” I love my sister, and I am awfully fond of her partner—but I’m irritated that they both think this is an OK thing to do. I don’t want to start an emotional war within my family, but I also want my own thing for one day. Help me find inner peace with this.

–Announcing Elopement

I thought the whole point of eloping was forgoing all the usual announcements and hoopla around getting engaged and having a big wedding ceremony. Do they intend to get married in the coming week and present themselves as newlyweds at your engagement party, or are they planning to announce the mere intention to elope at your engagement party? Both possibilities are more than a little ridiculous. Regardless of the timeline your sister has envisioned, you don’t have to find “inner peace” with her plan to borrow your party for herself. Tell her not to make any announcements at your engagement party. That’s a perfectly reasonable request. If she and her boyfriend would like to get engaged or elope, they are perfectly free to do so, and they can have their own engagement party (or wedding party, or “we just ran off and got married” party, or whatever sort of party they like) on any other day.

* * *

Dear Prudence,

I am the oldest of several cousins, most of whom are toddler-to-elementary-school age. (I’m in college.) My girlfriend and I have been together for two years, and she often makes appearances at large family events with me. My immediate family loves my girlfriend, and she gets along pretty well with my aunts, uncles, and grandparents too. But just about every time the family plus other family friends, who also have small children, get together, some of the littlest ones start asking me “why [my] friend is here,” and who she is. I have been out and proud for many years, and I would never try to pass my girlfriend off as just “a friend”—however, I’m really afraid I’ll invoke the ire of aunts, uncles, and family friends if their young kids start demanding to know how two girls can be girlfriends. And honestly, it doesn’t feel like my responsibility to teach my cousins that gay people exist or to subject myself and my girlfriend to questions like “But do you kiss her?” that grown-ups think too but know better than to ask—especially when I’m trying to enjoy Thanksgiving. What do I do?

–Gay Cousin

You’re of course not obligated to answer the questions other people’s young children may have, but there’s nothing inherently ire-provoking about saying, “She’s my girlfriend” when asked. It doesn’t sound like your family is asking you to attend these events with your girlfriend as an “open secret.” Since the adults, even the ones you’re not related to, already know that she’s your girlfriend, I think you can safely assume you won’t be drawing anyone’s ire if you acknowledge that fact when asked.

If the kids try to follow up with a bunch of age-typical questions, you can either offer age-appropriate responses (“Do you kiss her?” “I sure do! Hey, do you like Transformers?”) or deflect politely (“Do you kiss her?” “Hey, that’s a really personal question! Do you like Transformers?”). Think of it less in terms of responsibility and more in terms of an opportunity—these little kids will get to see you and your girlfriend with the rest of the couples in the family, casually acknowledging your relationship and talking about Transformers. You’re not taking on the entire job of teaching them that gay people exist. You’re just saying, “Yep, that’s my girlfriend.”

* * *

Dear Prudence,

I have always been an emotionally intelligent person, which I find fulfilling and useful in my personal life. It can also be useful in my career, but I often find it difficult to stop myself from crying, especially when it’s not a good time to be crying. It doesn’t happen every day, but when I get stressed out at the office, it can be hard to keep the tears from falling. I know that some people cry more easily than others, but crying just feels so dramatic. It can make me appear devastated, or unstable, when all I really feel is frustrated, misunderstood, or stressed.

As I’m bound to feel one of these three things at some point at work (duh, it’s work), I don’t think the tears are necessary. I end up saying to anyone who happens to be there when I cry “This is a thing that’s happening, don’t worry, it’s something I do, I’m fine.” Even though mentally I can grasp a situation and contextualize my feelings, it’s not enough for me to stop myself from crying. Are there any techniques I can use to help? I don’t want to seem like a delicate employee when I’m not.

–No, Really, I’m Fine

Your strategy of addressing the tears without apologizing for a difficult-to-control natural function is a good one. There’s a risk that apologizing unnecessarily will only increase the discomfort of anyone who happens to be nearby while you’re crying, but it should be helpful for them to know that you’re not actually devastated or on the verge of panic—you’re just an easy crier. If you feel yourself getting close to tears, try taking a few deep breaths or getting up and going for a brief walk, even if it’s just a loop around the office. Plan a few natural breaks for yourself throughout the day to meditate or briefly recenter yourself so you’re not trying to push through unassisted while fighting your instincts. You can also, whenever possible, excuse yourself when you feel a crying jag coming on, so that you can ride it out in your office or use the cover of a bathroom break before rejoining a meeting or work-related conversation without distraction.

At a certain emotional point, crying becomes inevitable, and trying to hide or avoid it just makes things worse—you start gulping back tears and breathing erratically. When it’s totally unavoidable, make sure you’ve got some tissues handy, go somewhere private, and take a few minutes to compose yourself before getting back to work. (Also, run some cold water over your fingers, then gently tap them under your eyes to reduce swelling.) Good luck.

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