“Ellen” and I have been friends for years. This summer, her 12-year-old son, “Ryan,” declared he was madly in love with my 14-year-old daughter, “Kate.” We joked about crushes and puppy love. My daughter didn’t reciprocate, but I asked her to let him down gently. The problem is that Ryan refuses to accept it. He has continued to pester Kate with texts, phone calls, and messages on social media. My daughter has blocked him and set everything to private. Ryan has showed up at Kate’s babysitting job, which is on the other side of town! My husband had a talk with Ryan, but nothing sinks in. Ellen refuses to take this seriously and won’t do anything to discipline her son. According to her, Kate just needs to give Ryan a chance. At our last conversation, I told Ellen that having a crush does not mean Ryan has the right to stalk my daughter. Ellen got upset and said we were overreacting. This behavior has gone on for more than a month. Yesterday, Kate went to the pool with friends and Ryan showed up. He wouldn’t leave Kate alone and grabbed her when she attempted to walk away, tearing her shirt. A lifeguard made Ryan leave. My daughter is very upset, and my husband and I have no idea what to do. His behavior is getting worse; if Ryan were older we wouldn’t hesitate to call the police, but he only turned 12 in May. We don’t know what to do beyond keeping a watchful eye on Kate and hoping Ryan moves on.
—Frightening Puppy Love
How awful that Ellen has no interest in taking her son’s increasingly frightening behavior seriously. She’s doing him a real disservice. I don’t know if Ryan’s father is in the picture, but if there’s any chance his other parent would take this more seriously, it might help to bring your concerns to him. In the meantime, continue to look out for your daughter and document each incident of stalking in case you need to file a restraining order. (You can file a restraining order on your daughter’s behalf, even if the harasser in question is underage.) Of course, it’s distressing to contemplate contacting the police when a 12-year-old child is involved, but if he’s gone from harassing her on social media to grabbing her and tearing her clothing in a public pool, I think the likelihood that he’ll be violent again is very high. You have to prioritize your daughter’s safety, and she is also a child. In the meantime, ask Kate what you can do to help. Does she want you nearby when she babysits? To contact the school administration and let them know they need to keep an eye on Ryan to make sure he doesn’t stalk her on campus? To talk to other friends’ parents, so they can ask Ryan to leave and call you if he shows up when Kate and her friends are spending time together? You’re right to take this seriously, and I don’t think there’s any reason to believe Ryan is just going to “move on” without significant adult intervention. Speak with Ellen again and make it clear that you have no intention of letting this drop and that you’re going to take this threat to your daughter’s safety seriously, even if she won’t.
Four years ago, I got pregnant while taking birth control pills. I didn’t want to have an abortion, but my boyfriend wanted me to, so I did. We started using condoms, and I kept taking the pill. It seemed reasonable at the time, as we were both scared. I definitely don’t want to get pregnant right now, but in the past year or so, condoms have started to bother me. I just miss having unbarriered sex—it feels better, it’s more convenient, and it’s more intimate. In four years, I’ve only forgotten to take the pill twice, and I have not had any abnormal bleeding. I feel 99.7 percent confident, and I feel the 0.3 percent risk is worth taking for people in long-term relationships. My boyfriend wants to keep using both and doesn’t understand why I would allow any chance at all. Of course I’ll respect his wishes, and his perspective seems logical. I just can’t shake the feeling that it takes away from our intimacy and commitment. I’m being irrational, right?
You say, “Of course I’ll respect his wishes.” I wonder if your boyfriend would say the same thing about you—four years ago, he persuaded you to have an abortion against your own wishes, and it doesn’t sound like he’s available to have much of a conversation about birth control with you now. There’s not just one logical position here, and your boyfriend doesn’t have a claim on the only rational perspective. There are a number of potentially viable long-term birth control plans in a committed relationship, each with potential upsides and downsides, and it’s up to the couple to decide what risks are worth running as a couple. Your boyfriend is convinced that even a 0.3 percent chance of pregnancy isn’t worth it; you feel that it is, because you’d rather have an increased sense of physical closeness. What you’re advocating for is reasonable and relatively low-risk, and needs to be on the table for discussion—especially since the only person who’s running the risk of getting pregnant in this scenario is you. Don’t be so quick to respect your boyfriend’s wishes that you fail to respect your own. You deserve to have more than a single conversation about birth control every four years in which your boyfriend gets his way without any pushback or debate.
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I have two nephews, Joey and Chris, both in their 20s. Joey is transgender and has always been gentle and good. Chris stole a car, drove drunk, and killed two people when he was 15 years old. I have no children and a lot of disposable income. After Joey came out as trans, I paid for their education and health care. Recently, Chris got in trouble again, and my sister came to me for money to pay for the lawyer and bail. I refused and she exploded, claiming I prefer to “play saint to Joey’s persecution” rather than helping Chris. I have swallowed this because Joey is trying to rebuild their relationship with the family and I don’t want to ruin that. But I am sick of my sister’s fundraising for her favorite’s failings. So far, Chris has been expelled, gotten a girl pregnant, and killed people. Joey is a child any parent could dream of. I want to protect Joey but I am also tired of my sister expecting me to pay for Chris’ mistakes. How do I thread this needle without setting everyone off? Joey deserves the world, but I am so tired of my sister.
—Good Nephew, Bad Nephew
The best way forward is to accept that your ability to either help or hinder Joey’s attempts to re-establish contact with the rest of the family is extremely limited. My guess is that even if you were to cease supporting Joey and paid for Chris’ new lawyer, your sister would continue to resent Joey for being trans, successful, caring, and happy, while nursing a planet-size grudge on Chris’ behalf and holding the rest of the world responsible for his crimes. Since Joey is an adult, you don’t need your sister’s approval or permission to prioritize that relationship. If your sister is only interested in talking to you when she wants money to bail Chris out, then you should let her know you have a limited availability for such conversations: “I love you and I know it must be hard to see Chris in trouble again. I hope he can take responsibility for his choices and turn his life around. I’m not going to pay his legal fees, and I’m not going to stop helping Joey with their school and medical bills. If you’d like to talk about anything else, I’m here for you.”
My wife recently joined the military and I am at home taking care of our three children. She’s been away for three months, and I have seen her post pictures of her time off drinking with her course mates and partying even after I’ve called and gotten, “I’m too tired to talk.” I see her tablet lighting up with messages (we get push notifications on our home screen—I’m not snooping) about going partying. As a dad at home, missing his partner, I look at the guys she’s drinking with and get jealous. I’ve written letters to my wife explaining this, but I haven’t sent them, as I feel she has to focus on passing her career military course. I feel guilty for having these feelings, but I can’t help but think she needs to provide some reassurance about our relationship. I don’t want to invade her privacy, but three months has been a long time and I am getting a little burned out at home and work. When I talked to her mother about my concerns, she told me to ignore the messages that pop up and just carry on. I feel like I’m not being listened to, and I feel guilty about the jealousy I feel, but I’m worried it may be justified. How do I cope?
—Missing Military Wife
Talk to your wife. There’s no reason for you to bring your mother-in-law into a conversation like this. The only person you should be talking to about your wife’s behavior is your wife. If she has time to regularly go out drinking with her course mates, she has time to talk about the state of her marriage with her husband and the father of her children—she can focus on passing her course and participate in your relationship at the same time, just as you’re capable of parenting, working, and being in a relationship with her all at once. Tell her how you’ve been feeling, ask her to make more time for you and your relationship while she’s away, and find a way to disable notifications on your home screen so you’re not constantly distracted by the sounds of your wife potentially having fun in the meantime.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“Get rid of those notifications, they’re an ill wind that bloweth no good.”
Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I’m a vegan. I try not to be preachy about it and only bring it up if someone asks. But I do have a firm rule about not having meat in my home. I live alone in a small place and don’t entertain often, so this is quite easy. Recently, my mother and her husband came to visit. He brought a rotisserie chicken. I said, “Finish your lunch, it’s fine, but just to let you know: This is a meat-free home.” He acted as though I was being unreasonable and went to eat his lunch in the park down the street, as if I had thrown him out. (I live in the Southern Hemisphere, so it is the middle of winter.) He is now refusing to ever visit again and doesn’t want me to come to their house because “there’s meat in it.” My mother admits that he is being unreasonable but thinks I should apologize to him “for the sake of peace.” Am I being unreasonable in setting this rule for my home? Should I apologize to him, even though it would be entirely for my mother’s sake?
—Chicken and Egg
Generally speaking, asking someone to apologize “for the sake of peace” after acknowledging that they’re in the right actually means, “I’m convinced the other person will never apologize, and someone has to apologize for this to be over, so even though you weren’t wrong, I’d like you to apologize because I think you’re likelier to, and I’m tired of feeling uncomfortable.” I’m sorry that your mother is in such an embarrassing position, feeling obligated to back up her husband even as he acts like a child, but it’s not the responsibility of the reasonable to offer apologies when unreasonable people act out. Say to your mother, “I’m sorry that he’s behaving irrationally. I’m sure that’s difficult for you to have to deal with, but I set a reasonable rule in my home, told him about it politely, and welcomed him to finish his meal. I have nothing to apologize for, and I hope you’re able to visit again soon when he can let this go.”
About four years ago, I made the decision not to return to university for junior year. It was the most difficult choice I’d ever had to make. My best friend at the time, Melanie, took it very badly. After months of fighting, denigrating my decision, complaining about not getting enough attention, and reminding me how much my choice harmed other people, the friendship began to wear on me and I ended it. Another friend from school, Josh, stuck by me, and we ended up dating. We have been in a fairly serious relationship for about two years now, entirely long-distance. He is a wonderful partner: funny, kind, curious, intelligent.
Melanie and Josh are also friends. Although I don’t love this, I have worked to come to terms with it. Josh rarely mentions her to me or vice versa. Recently, Melanie became upset with him for keeping his latest visit to me a secret. Josh thought she had every right to be upset, and felt guilty that he had kept this from his “closest friend.” He hates being in the middle of a situation he cannot fix. Although I was aware they socialize, I had no idea they were so close. It makes me deeply uncomfortable to know that he is so close to her—and that he kept it from me. I have no desire to let Melanie back into my life, but I also do not want to lose Josh. How do I move forward knowing my boyfriend continues to be close friends with my ex–best friend?
—Concerned and Conflicted
Your boyfriend may be in the middle of a situation he cannot fix, but that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of acting or communicating. He’s certainly capable of making things worse, as his recent choices have demonstrated. By pretending he was only casually friendly with Melanie to you, and concealing his plans to visit you from her, he’s largely responsible for creating this situation in the first place. Talk to your boyfriend about your misgivings, and explain why it’s difficult for you to hear about the difficulties he has maintaining a friendship with a woman you’ve had to cut ties with. Ask him why he kept their closeness from you for the past two years, and how he envisions balancing these two relationships going forward now that you know the truth. As long as he’s willing to be honest with both of you, and doesn’t expect you to be his primary sounding board about his relationship issues with your ex–best friend, it may be possible for you two to re-establish trust and intimacy. But if he continues to be evasive and withholding, or if he tries to turn to you for troubleshooting every time his best friend gets angry with him for dating you, then you may have learned that Josh isn’t quite as trustworthy as you’d believed him to be.
“I’ve been married to a wonderful woman and mother of our three kids for 25 years. I’ve come to realize over the last five years that I don’t love my wife. She’s put on 50 pounds over the last 10 years, which is a major turnoff. We haven’t had sex in five years due to this. I want to be happy, and I don’t want to hurt her feelings. I just feel like I’m on the treadmill of life going nowhere real fast.”