Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. My brother’s a pedophile: My brother is a child molester who targets prepubescent girls. He doesn’t deny the things that he’s done, but he insists that he’s all better now and no longer has those urges, and besides, his victims—including one of our nieces—were at least 50 percent to blame because they were “flirtatious.” He’s never suffered any legal consequences for his actions, although he was banned from a summer camp at which he was a counselor for having an “inappropriate relationship” with a camper.
A while back, I saw on his Facebook page that he was posting a lot of selfies with the 4-year-old daughter of some friends that he often babysat for—actually, the term he used was “borrow.” I immediately messaged the parents and told them that while I loved my brother, I had to let them know that their daughter was not safe with him. I stuck to the facts, and told them that if they wanted to tell my brother where the information came from, that was OK with me. My brother was very angry with me, to put it mildly. I had already made it clear to him that he wasn’t allowed in my house, because I wanted it to be a safe space for our niece. I now don’t want any contact with him.
My problem is his two sons, who are now adults. I am close with one of them in particular. We FaceTime occasionally, do things like live-text baseball games, and he goes out of his way to visit me, independent of any other family functions. To all appearances, he and his father have a normal father-son relationship, and I have no idea whether my nephews know that their dad’s a pedophile. Prudie, I feel like an ugly day of reckoning is inevitable. It will break my heart if I lose my relationship with my nephew because he is persuaded to believe terrible things about me, or because he is forced into a position of having to choose between me and his father. I know it’s coming, and I don’t know what to say or do when it does. Thanks for any help you can offer.
A: I’m so glad you told that little girl’s parents. If your brother has never suffered any legal consequences (frankly, it sounds like he’s suffered very few consequences of any kind, aside from being banned from a single summer camp), blames the victims he’s molested, and still tries to find ways to be alone with kids, then he is an active, present danger to all children around him. You have both the right and sufficient reason to talk to your nephews about their father, especially because I have no doubt he will use them if he can as cover to gain access to the children of their friends. Tell them both—not just the one you’re close with—the same facts you told the parents of that 4-year-old girl. Tell them it’s an issue of public safety that they don’t enable their father or help facilitate his attempts to prey on children. It’s concerning that your brother has molested your niece but that the family as a group has somehow managed to keep this enough of a secret that his own sons are unaware. Everyone who is keeping secrets on your brother’s behalf is making it easier for him to hurt children, and that needs to stop. Don’t wait for your nephew to maybe find out—talk to him and his brother today. Also, contact a lawyer and find out if any of the information you currently have is sufficient to file a police report.
Q. Should I leave my awesome job?: I have a career dilemma, and I hope your readers will forgive me in advance for having the problem of too many good options. I’m a woman in my late-20s, and I have a beautiful 7-month-old who I adore. After working in an abusive—as in, it-made-the-news abusive—but prestigious job for four years after college, I started at my current job a few years ago, working for a small organization that I believe in. I have an amazing boss, great benefits, and wonderful flexibility that has been so helpful as I enter parenthood. My current job is challenging, interesting, and fulfilling, but it is in an industry that is traditionally very slow-moving, change-averse, and heavily dominated by older white men. I’ve enjoyed being a force for change in this system, and my boss has conscientiously given me many opportunities to upend the industry’s norms, and also gave me multiple months of paid maternity leave when I had my baby.
I recently came upon a job opportunity with a larger organization where I think I could access more mentorship, professional development, and career advancement opportunities. This organization has a lot of female leadership and many people who have decades of experience in my field, and I think I could learn a lot from these figures. I was hired at my current job to establish and develop my department almost entirely on my own, and while I feel I’ve done a relatively good job, it has felt like I’m mostly stumbling around trying to figure things out as I go. It would be nice, for a change, to learn directly from others who have more experience and success in my field.
Of course, I’m terrified to lose the excellent management, schedule flexibility, and benefits that I’ve enjoyed for the last few years—especially as a new parent. I know if it wasn’t for my baby, I would be considering this new job without reservation, even though it would be incredibly difficult to leave an organization that has given me so much opportunity and has treated me so well. I’m in a great position to negotiate for what I want at the new job and can decline if they aren’t able to meet my needs, but I know from my experience in my abusive job that just because I’m promised something during the hiring process doesn’t mean it will happen in reality. What do you think? Stay where I am, look for another opportunity in a couple of years, and enjoy my crazy-but-wonderful life as it is? Or take the risk of ending up in a worse situation that could hurt my precious time with my baby in the hopes that it will help my career in the long run?
A: You say you have “too many good options,” but let me just point out that you were in an “in-the-news-abusive” job for four years, work in a change-averse field dominated by men, and feel as if you ought to be grateful for receiving “multiple” (!!!) months of paid maternity leave. I don’t mean that you should start feeling down about your prospects, exactly, but I don’t think you need to feel guilty over how good you have it. Also, whenever you do decide to leave this job for another one, please remind yourself that all you owe a company that treats you well is good work, not eternal gratitude and a permanent contract. If you think they’ll be discreet—as in, they won’t start broadcasting that you’re thinking about leaving your current job—can you get in touch with any women with children at the company and ask about their experience? Also, when it comes to things like paid leave and benefits, my guess is this company will be pretty upfront and consistent in terms of what they offer. Management style and individual flexibility may vary, but you should be able to get a pretty solid sense of what they offer before applying. Right now, all you’re doing is looking—go ahead and do a little research! If you don’t feel confident that they’ll do as much as your current job to accommodate your child care schedule, then wait a few years before making your move.
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Q. Not a baby party: I hosted a holiday party that was adults-only, which was clearly stated on the invitation. Despite this, I had a friend RSVP for three people. When I texted to ask about the third adult that she planned on bringing, she stated that she was bringing her 5-month-old baby. I reminded her that the party was adults-only and said that I would still love to see her and her partner, even if it was for a short time, and that I will have other parties if she was unable to make this one. Initially, she said that she would have to miss the party and would attend next years’. The next day, she sent a paragraphs-long text detailing how hurt she was and why she didn’t think it was right that I was forcing her to choose between her identity as a parent and having fun. She said that she would be bringing her child to all future occasions. It was also heavily implied that I couldn’t understand because I am child-free.
I am so hurt by this. This woman has been my close friend since seventh grade. We lived together for two years in college. I have supported her through many life events, including being in two of her weddings and attending her baby shower. We get together at least once a week, and I am always happy to accommodate her, whether that means meeting at her house when she isn’t feeling well or at a baby-friendly coffee shop (to which she is always late—last time I waited for over an hour before she arrived). I didn’t text her back. I don’t want to bring up any past slights, and I don’t think text is the best channel for communication. I also don’t want this to be a fight as the rest of my high school friends are going to be home next month, and we usually get together. How can I respond to her?
A: I get so many letters from people who respond rashly and in the heat of the moment and now have to figure out how to deal with a situation where they were initially in the right but now have to also apologize for saying something out of line themselves, so well done, you, for pausing and saying nothing at the time. I’m so sorry your friend reacted this way. Obviously having the occasional kids-free party is not the same thing as asking people to choose between their identities as parents and their identities as people (!!), especially when you’ve spent a lot of time and energy meeting on her terms. I know you don’t want this to be a fight, but I don’t think you can control for that, and avoiding conflict isn’t going to be the way through this. Give her a call and tell her that you were taken aback by her response, that you understand having a 5-month-old baby is a huge adjustment but that you’ve worked hard to spend lots of time with both her and the baby, and that you’re hurt by what she said. Hopefully once she’s had a little time to reflect, and is reminded that you are not, in fact, asking her to deny her motherhood, she’ll apologize and you two can make plans to get together again. But if she digs in, I think you should give her space. You don’t need to apologize, stop hosting adults-only parties, or do anything differently.
Q. Baffled and bewildered: About one and a half years ago my nephew (24) came out as transgender. His mom would not accept this, and he asked if he could come stay with us for a short time while looking for a job and an apartment. We readily agreed and have always used his proper name and pronouns. Upon his arrival, I was shocked by the person he had become. Although I expected some changes, the other trans people in my life had always changed for the better. My nephew, however, had become an entitled nightmare. He refused to look for work, he balked at helping with basic chores, and he expected to be taken care of financially. We were paying all of his living expenses, including clothing, fuel, and toiletries. He would not eat the food that we prepared and would have a complete meltdown if my husband and I didn’t prepare a separate meal for him.
After a couple of months of this nonsense, I sat him down to discuss him finding employment and his own place, as per the original agreement. He said that he hadn’t looked for work because using his legal name would cause his dysphoria to become debilitating. We paid for him to legally change his name and get a new ID. He began ignoring me completely. If he was displeased with the meal we had prepared, he would slam cupboards, sigh, and dramatically throw it out. I sat him down and asked what the issue was. Initially, he denied that he was behaving in any way other than how “normal, unrelated roommates” act toward each other. I pointed out that those “roommates” also pay rent and contribute to the household upkeep. He lost his temper and started screaming at me. The next day I tried to approach the situation in a different manner by asking him how he behaved when he lived with his grandma. He claimed that he did not remember. After having a few more questions answered in the same way, I voiced concern about him having no memories of his first 23 years. He then informed me that, as those were years when he was “female,” he couldn’t be expected to remember them. He said that the experience and memory ceased to exist once he realized that he was male. Is this a commonly seen change when a person begins their transition? Due to his behavior I no longer allow him to live with us.
A: No, it’s not common for people to start passive aggressively throwing out lovingly prepared meals for them upon transition. Your nephew is a jerk, and I’m sorry he treated you so badly. I’m glad he no longer lives with you, and you did the right thing in refusing to allow him to bully you into waiting on him hand and foot. Claiming to “not remember” badly treating other people in the past isn’t a function of transition; it’s a function of trying to avoid accountability and get away with bad behavior.
Q. Re: Should I leave my awesome job?: Working mom here! The biggest things you need to ask yourself before switching from a flexible but too-comfortable (i.e., “staid”) position to a new challenge is: 1.) What kind of support system do I have for this transition? and 2.) Will the new team accommodate my care-taking obligations, e.g., pick-up and drop-off hours, and working from home on kid sick days? For the first, take stock of your partner, if you have one, as well as relatives and others who help care for your baby, and have conversations about how tasks will be divided based on any new role and hours you have. They have to be on board with taking on more in the first few months while you dive in and get up-to-speed. Take into account your current commute, your future commute, etc. Get help, don’t do it alone! For the second step, an interview will tell you about the team culture. Listen for folks talking about their kids or other obligations. Ask about flexibility to work remote once in a while, if you are sick or if a pet needs to go to the vet. Don’t mention a child, though.
A: This is really helpful, specific advice. I’ve also had a few working parents say that a job that’s flexible with respect to parenting needs is rare enough that they wouldn’t consider leaving one. Another reader said, “It sounds like the only thing you’re missing from your current job is mentorship, but you don’t have to work at the same place as your mentor,” and suggested looking for people she admires in her field “who have the time and inclination to mentor, and ask for their help.”
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Q. Pen pal wants more: I’m a 26-year-old male who recently started seeing a woman, and we’ve been going on dates for about two months. We’ve never defined our relationship, but we both deleted the dating apps on our phone and agreed to keep seeing each other after she moves to a different city for a new job. (Sorry for the long explanation. It’s 2018 and labels are hard, I guess.) Before I met her, I was chatting with other people on a dating app. Some of those chats turned into pen-pal-style friendships. One of them has become a good friend, and we’ve often helped each other with romantic advice, her telling me about her dates, and me telling her about mine. That friend will be visiting me soon. Yesterday, she revealed she was hoping to be more than friends when she visits. I told her I couldn’t do that, as it would feel like a betrayal to my partner. She was initially disappointed but understood. Should I tell my partner about this situation? I’ve only told her a friend is staying with me, and I’m not sure whether it makes sense to tell her about that friend’s romantic interest. Is my friend visiting me in the first place already crossing a line?
A: I think you two have come pretty close to defining your relationship: You’ve been dating for two months, you’ve agreed to stop looking for other dates, and you plan on dating long distance once she moves. I don’t think it’s that long an explanation at all! This is a great opportunity to talk to your partner. Not in the sense that I think you should be asking her either to grant you her permission or forbid the trip, but because it’s an opportunity to clarify the tentative conversation you two have had around exclusivity already. She had reason to assume, I think, when you two deleted dating apps from your phones, that you would not be arranging meetings with other women you’ve met from said dating apps. Again, that doesn’t mean you don’t genuinely consider this other person a friend or that you’re trying to pull a fast one, but yes, this definitely falls under the umbrella of “things you should talk to your partner about.”
Q. Mutual pain: I’m in a tight situation. Many years ago I was a victim of molestation by a family member. I was a young child who couldn’t process my abuse. Authorities were involved and I received some closure, but I never sought therapy. I just tucked it away like any other bad memory. Recently my elderly mother has told me that she too was a victim of child abuse and that the pain never went away. Like me, she just buried it. She reached out to me because talking to me about it gives her the closure she never had. I know we both need therapy, but she’s very much against it. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do this. Talking to her might open up old wounds of my own, but she’s my mother and she’s hurting. This is the weirdest mother and daughter bonding moment, right? I don’t know what to do.
A: Hopefully even if your mother refuses to go to therapy, you can find a therapist you feel comfortable with and can afford and start seeing them regularly. Of course you feel your mother’s pain keenly and want her to be able to talk about her pain with someone, but you absolutely do not have to be her de facto therapist as she tries to deal with her own trauma. As her daughter and a survivor dealing with your own trauma, you are in some ways uniquely unqualified to help her process her own abuse. That doesn’t mean you have to hang up the phone when she calls, or be cold to her, but I think you should, for both of your sakes, gently but firmly insist she find someone else to talk to this about. If not a therapist, a friend or at least a relative who isn’t one of her children.
Q. Can I insist that my husband stop talking to my cousin’s horrible boyfriend?: My cousin is a wealthy divorcée. Eight years ago, when she became a lonely empty nester at 60, she was wooed by a debt-ridden, lazy, unemployed jerk. He moved in with her, she paid his debts, and he never worked again. (She still works full time.) But she feels loved. The rest of the family thinks he is there only for the free ride but tolerates him at holidays to make her happy. Behind her back, he is nasty toward her family members, but we rarely tell her because it would hurt her. He has succeeded in distancing her from the family. But my husband, who otherwise is a good guy, has become his friend, and has caused several huge family blowups by getting involved. As the wife, do I have the right to insist my husband break or at least cool ties with this snake in my family? Asking isn’t working. I’ve never before tried to interfere in any of my husband’s friendships.
A: You certainly have the right to talk to your husband about things that bother you, and even to voice your objections to his friendship with someone else, as long as you don’t try to unilaterally dictate his response. But I’m curious about your objections to this boyfriend of your cousin’s. You say he’s a “jerk” and “nasty,” but the only details you provide are about how he has a lot of debt (who doesn’t!), is unemployed, and makes her feel loved. Is it possible that some of the friction with the rest of her family stems from wanting a share of the money she chooses to spend on him? This may be off base, of course, and if everyone else in your family is totally disinterested in her money but genuinely finds him boorish and duplicitous, feel free to discount that question.
You don’t say you’ve ever brought this up with your husband before, so if this is the first time you’re bringing it up with him—and dropping hints doesn’t count as bringing it up—I don’t think you can start with insisting on anything. But yes, absolutely, tell him what you’ve observed from this guy, what your concerns are, whether you’d prefer not to hear about him or spend time with him yourself, and ask your husband what he thinks. It’s not interfering to try to have a conversation!
Q. Moving on in Michigan: I have been with my partner for 14 years. Neither of us wanted to remarry or have more kids, and we decided not to live together. We have a 20-year age difference and figured it wouldn’t last long. Surprise! It did. We have seen each other through some very serious things, including job loss, injury, and a cancer scare. He has supported me through getting my degree, running half marathons, and getting healthier. I encouraged him as he explored a variety of new hobbies over the years. At this point we are very much in different places in our lives (he is in his 60s, and I am in my 40s) and have recognized for some time it may be time to move on, but we still care for each other and are comfortable. I was ready to move on in April of this year. Then he lost his job, a medical condition became serious, and now he has injured his back. It feels like kicking someone I still care deeply about while down. I am already committed to staying in this relationship through the holidays and hope that the medical treatment he will get in December will provide some relief. There are no secrets between us, and we both know this relationship is heading toward its end. But I have no idea how to end it. How much longer should I hold off on moving in order to stay and support this person I love? I feel like the biggest jerk on Earth thinking, “What about me?” when he is in pain, but it also feels like there will never be a good time to do this.
A: I think you have a lot more freedom here than you realize! If you and your partner both know that your breakup is inevitable, then you two can start talking about how you can continue to support one another and plan your split so that it has the smallest possible financial impact on you both. You can also offer some support from a slight remove—breaking up doesn’t mean you have to kick him out, change the locks, and block his number. It may feel a bit strange to plan the timeline of your breakup with your partner, but if it’s already out in the open; there’s no reason you two can’t have a discussion about what support he could use from you as a friend. It may also be that he doesn’t expect you to take on sole care-taking responsibility—you seem pretty guilty about the idea of breaking up with him when he’s not in perfect health and before he’s found another job, but he may not see this as abandonment if he also feels like you two have naturally drifted apart. I can’t give you an official number—“If you break up with him in two months, you’re hurting him, but in five months you’ll be fine”—but you should think about when you would like to be living independently and planning the next phase of your life. Then work backward from there.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Thanks, everyone! The next live chat will be on Tuesday—bring your best problems with you.
Q. I feel guilty for not performing oral sex on my boyfriend: I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost a year, and we enjoy a great sex life. He really enjoys performing oral sex on me and does it frequently. I, on the other hand, really do not enjoy performing oral sex and never have. It makes me feel very uncomfortable and often elicits a gag reflex/panic response. He mentioned recently that he has accepted the fact that “I just don’t do” that particular act for him and that he’s OK with it because it’s harder for me to achieve orgasm than him and he prefers sex to oral sex. Still, I can’t help but feel guilty and that this is something I should force myself to be doing for him since he does it for me so often. Is there some kind of unspoken equality when it comes to oral sex? Should I feel obligated to do something in bed that I don’t enjoy to make things “equal” between us in this area?
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