Dear Prudence

Keeping It in the Family

My cousin is telling people I’m the father of her unborn baby.

Concerned man looking at pregnant woman holding belly.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

Dear Prudence,
My cousin, who is two years younger than me, is pregnant. Last week I found out she has been telling people I am the father. The two of us went on an overnight road trip to visit our grandmother around the time her baby would have been conceived. This trip was well documented on her social media. How do I get her to stop telling people I am the father? And how do I address people thinking I slept with her?
—Baby Trip

I don’t know what’s going on with your cousin, or what her relationship is with the father of her child, but what she’s doing is distressing beyond belief. Given that she knows you’re not the father and couldn’t possibly provide her with child support or care, it’s unclear what she’s getting out of telling people that you fathered her child. Since her judgment seems wildly impaired, I think it would help you to make sure any conversation you have with her about the subject involves at least one other family member present to support you and mediate the conversation. Tell someone in your family that you trust, then approach her together to talk about how concerned you are and how important it is for her to stop, apologize for the havoc she’s wreaked, and get whatever help she may need.

Dear Prudence,
I recently joked that I was sadder about Natalie Dormer leaving Game of Thrones than about Anne Boleyn being beheaded (because Dormer also played that character on a different show). My co-worker Lucy, who’s generally OK but has a serious streak, said that Anne Boleyn’s beheading was more sad to her because she was “essentially murdered by her husband for not producing a son.” I wanted to lighten the mood and joked, “Thank goodness that doesn’t happen anymore.” Lucy shrugged and left the room, and it later occurred to me that she might have taken me seriously. I know I was being dense, but Lucy is a supervisor (albeit not mine) and I’m worried about this getting back to my boss (who can also be a serious woman). What should I do to smooth this over?
—Bad Joker

I am fairly sure that you are overthinking this one! (What a relief to get to say this, when the opposite is so often the case.) If your co-worker shrugged and left the room after an otherwise pleasant interaction, I think it’s likelier that she simply felt like the conversation was petering out and wanted to get back to work. Since it hasn’t come up since, and the joke was fairly period-specific (you weren’t joking about violence toward women so much as a particularly murderous king), I think you can lay this one aside and give yourself a break.

Dear Prudence,
I did something really stupid and insensitive. Now I’m worried I might have ruined my personal and professional life. I work in an office where most of my co-workers are friends. Recently I snapped a picture of my co-worker “Shannon” and shared it in an online community where we discuss the obese people in our lives. (The picture was taken at work, but I didn’t upload it there.) Shannon’s picture got more attention than I anticipated and made it to a news feed for a broader audience. Someone from work saw it and told Shannon (outside the office). If I were Shannon, I wouldn’t have brought it up at work because I’d be too embarrassed, but she mentioned it in the break room. Shannon’s friends are on the warpath and are pushing her to go to HR. I didn’t use my main account to post the picture, but someone could potentially identify me. I’m not sure if I should go to Shannon and apologize (I am deeply sorry I’ve hurt her), go to HR pre-emptively, or just stay quiet. If people find out I did this, they’ll hate me. I didn’t say anything mean about Shannon when I posted the photo, but others did.
—Nosy Co-worker

There’s a lot of evasion and justification in your letter. What you need to do if you hope to live a better life than the one you’re living now is to acknowledge your own actions and motivations. This online community doesn’t exist to “discuss the obese people in [y]our lives,” it exists to spy on, record, and mock them. You “didn’t say anything mean about Shannon” when you posted, but you took a creepshot of her without her knowledge and uploaded it to a forum where people go to mock others for their appearance. You did not do something stupid and insensitive, you intentionally (and, it seems, persistently) participated in a cruel game whose sole aim and focus is to make fun of fat people when you think they can’t hear or see you. The fact that people said mean things about Shannon was not an unforeseeable accident, it was the logical conclusion of the actions you took. The fact that you didn’t upload the picture at work is not the mitigating detail you seem to think it is. You took a picture of your co-worker at the office without her knowledge or consent and posted it online for a group of strangers to tear down her appearance. You made this a work issue, because now Shannon is wondering which of her co-workers she can no longer trust. It didn’t occur to you to apologize to Shannon before you realized that there might be social consequences for your actions, which suggests that you are not so much sorry for what you’ve done as you are afraid of being exposed as untrustworthy, unkind, and unprofessional. Rather than wait to be identified, since you already know that’s likely to happen, spare Shannon the further agony of wondering who did this to her and tell HR that you’re the one who did it. You can state that you’re willing to apologize if Shannon wants to hear it and someone can be there to mediate the conversation, but don’t force an apology on her if she doesn’t want to talk to you, and be prepared to experience the subsequent personal and professional consequences. Use the pain of the present moment as motivation to behave differently in the future.

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Dear Prudence,
I was fired from my job six months ago, along with four of my co-workers. It was very ugly and more than one person is suing for wrongful termination. But within the past few weeks, I have started receiving messages from my old company—emails, texts, phone calls—all from different people, all at high levels. They’ve all been surface-level communications asking how I’m doing, if I’d like to get together for coffee, what am I up to, etc. I have a hard time believing the messages are genuine, and tend to think they either want to rehire me or are looking for inside information on the upcoming lawsuits. I’m not interested in giving them any information and have no desire ever to speak to anyone there again. I just want to move on with my life and forget I worked there. I also want these messages to stop. So far, I have just ignored them. Should I continue to do so? Or should I say something to let them know I’m not interested in hearing from them? I plan to testify on behalf of my former co-workers when their cases go to trial. While I want the texts to stop, I also don’t want to say anything that will harm my credibility when I testify against the company.
—Still Sniffing Around

I think you’re right and that it’s no coincidence that all the higher-ups at your former employer have been hit with a wave of interest in you now that some of your colleagues are suing for wrongful termination. Continue to ignore the messages, but hang onto them in case they later prove useful while you testify. If in the meantime it’s too upsetting to see those names popping up every couple of days, you can create a filter that hides all emails from former co-workers so they bypass your inbox and go straight to a folder you can look at only when and if it becomes legally relevant.

Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend wants less from me—less time, less affection, fewer and shorter conversations, etc. He won’t set boundaries around what he wants, but he gets annoyed or shuts down when I’m around more than he would like. We live in neighboring apartments. He loves me, but he’s very introverted and I’m extroverted. I don’t have many local friends, since I moved to town in the fall to be with him. How do I leave him alone when I know he’s home and I don’t have anyone else to talk to?
—Neighbor Girlfriend

There are two solutions to your problem that I think will prove helpful. The first is to find something you’d like to do by yourself on those evenings when you know he’s home but doesn’t want to spend time together so that you’re not constantly reminded of how you don’t have anyone else to talk to, whether that’s take yourself out to a movie, invite someone from work out for a drink, take a walk, or something else. The other is not to take silence and shutting down as a satisfying response from your boyfriend over an issue as significant as how much time you spend together, especially when you live in the same building. You don’t have to guess how often he’d like to see you and then feel rebuffed when you’ve guessed wrong. You have the right, as his girlfriend, to have a conversation around mutual expectations when it comes to something like how often you two see one another. Don’t take the fact that he claims to be “introverted” or has a history of being passive aggressive when he doesn’t get what he wants as a Get Out of Naming What You Want Free card. Does he want to break up with you, and is he turning cold in the hope that you’ll end the relationship for him? Is he otherwise happy to be with you, but he somehow thinks that being frosty is a better option than “Hey, I’d love to spend the night by myself—can we get dinner together tomorrow?” Does he have any consistent idea of how much time he would like to himself? I can’t answer those questions for him, but if he’s willing to have an honest talk about them with you, you two may be able to find a schedule that makes you both (more or less) happy. But if his only response is to continue to shut down, go silent, and make you guess what he wants, then I don’t think you have an introverted boyfriend, I think you have a jerk boyfriend. 

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“You need to stop invoking ancient gods you barely understand!”

Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,
I’m evicting my mother and her boyfriend for not paying rent, not following the house rules, and not walking the dog, among other things. It pains me to do this, but they’re creating problems with my husband, who says he would put up with my mom but can’t stand the boyfriend (who doesn’t work or contribute financially). We have in one way or the other supported them for many years, but we are unable to do so any longer, either emotionally or financially. Now my mother talks to others and to me as if we are kicking them out for no reason. How do I let go?
—Is There an Easier Way to Evict Your Mother?

I don’t think it’s possible to evict one’s own mother from one’s home without at least some subsequent drama, so I hope it feels at least slightly reassuring to know that you’re probably already at the easiest level possible. It sounds like your mother has spent years depending on your goodwill and rather than being grateful for your support or working towards further independence for herself, she’s decided that’s what you owe her for the rest of her life. That’s not a fantasy you can continue to indulge, and she’s likely to kick at that—people always kick when you try to take a fantasy away at them. I wouldn’t worry too much about her power to smear your reputation. It’s likely that she’s alienated a number of other people with similar behavior, and whatever version of events she’s giving people right now won’t be borne out by her actions. When you talk about it you are of course free to be as honest with them as you have just been with me. The best thing to focus on right now is the beautiful truth that, no matter what she says about you, in a very short amount of time your mother won’t live in your home anymore, and you won’t have to listen to it.

Classic Prudie

“Over 20 years ago I had an affair with a married woman who became pregnant with my child. No one in my family knows I have a secret son. Two weeks ago I found out my niece (my sister’s daughter) is engaged, and the groom-to-be is none other than my biological son! Prudie, I am livid that my son’s mother and her husband did not stop this relationship in its early stages. ‘No, Bobby, you can’t date that girl because she’s your biological cousin’ is all it would have taken. I asked her what she planned to do to stop the wedding and she said she’s doing nothing!”