Welcome to the newest addition to the Dear Prudence lineup: the Friday mini-column. At the end of the workweek, Prudie will answer two more questions from the mailbag. This week: offensive Facebook comments and dating dilemmas.
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A not-especially-close friend of mine, “John,” posted a picture on Facebook of an intoxicated woman sitting next to him on an airplane. A few of the comments were alarming, but one stood out in particular. One of John’s friends, “Adam,” told him he should “cop a feel.” Then he added: “Put her legs up on your lap. See how far you can go. If she wakes up, BLAME IT ON HER.” I was so angry. I wrote that if John actually did this it, it would be assault. Adam said I should relax and that he was joking. He also wrote an odd comment about Harvey Weinstein being innocent.
I’ve looked Adam up, and he’s a vice president at an electronics company. He is in a place of power and privilege, and it kills me that he would publicly encourage a man to do that to a woman. I’ve written about the exchange on social media, but beyond that, what should I do? Do I contact his employer? I’m so tired of this. Only one man said anything against him on the post. Every woman I know has a story about sexual assault and harassment.
—Yelling Up the Ladder
Absolutely, you should share your concerns with Adam’s employer; this man publicly told another man to sexually assault an unconscious woman on an airplane and then blame it on her when she woke up, used his full name to do it, and then laughed it off when someone tried to challenge him on it. There’s no reasonable expectation of privacy here. Get in touch with his boss or HR and include screenshots of your conversation. You might also contact John and ask him to explain what exactly he found funny about Adam’s joke. It may be that you want to move him from “friend I’m not especially close with” to “ex-friend.”
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I met a guy on a dating app, and after a few weeks of hooking up, he told me he was developing feelings for me and asked if I’d be interested in a relationship. I was thrilled! I told him yes, and so far it’s been a dream. He’s funny, kind, cuddly, and dependable. But I’m 26, and he’s only 19. He dated only briefly in high school, but I’m his first “adult” relationship. I’m having reservations—if not for his age, I’d be very happy. But I’m worried I’m taking advantage of him. We talked about it, and he reassured me that age is just a number, to him we might as well be the same age (I’m a grad student in a different department; he’s an undergrad in college). But it’s still bothering me, and I know if he were a girl I’d be giving the guy some serious side-eye. Am I overthinking this? I’m otherwise very happy.
—Robbing the Cradle?
Most 19-year-olds are not going to say, “You’re right, I do think I’m too young for this relationship” when asked by their older partner. That’s why the responsibility for not taking advantage of young people is incumbent on older people. It’s also why the “she’s so mature for her age” or “he’s an old soul” line is such a tired cliché; the only people who fall for it are people who haven’t heard it trotted out a hundred times already. You’re not overthinking this. These are important questions you should be asking yourself and frankly should have asked yourself before you hooked up with a teenager. You’ve been 19, and you’ve been 26—do you think of those two ages as being roughly the same? Do you think this 19-year-old in his very first real relationship is going to be able to tell if he’s being taken advantage of? Why did you only start worrying about taking advantage of him after you two had slept together and got into a committed relationship? Are any of the other adults in your life side-eyeing you? Have you told them, or have you kept this relationship a secret? What other things are important to you when you think about how you’d like to conduct your romantic life than simply feeling happy? This doesn’t mean you have to think of yourself as either a good person who happened to stumble into a wonderful relationship with an incidental age gap or as a bad person who’s automatically hurting the guy you’re seeing. But you should be asking the other adults in your life for input, thinking seriously about your values, and interrogating your choices without looking for your 19-year-old boyfriend to reassure you that what you two are doing is awesome.
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