Dear Prudence

Should I Tell My Co-Workers I Saw Their Son on a Porn Site?

Prudie’s column for May 30.

Photo illustration of a man looking at his laptop screen with surprise.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by filistimlyanin/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,

I am a 38-year-old single gay man. I often watch guys masturbate on a popular cam site. I don’t perform on camera myself, but I like interacting with the guys who do, and I have a number of favorites. A few months ago, I found the stream of an 18-year-old guy whose routine I liked a lot. “Cam” quickly became one of my favorites, and I always tipped generously whenever I saw his show. He didn’t show his face, but his bio mentioned that he’s a high school senior who lives in the same metropolitan area as me and likes daddies. (He doesn’t know where I live.) I never suggested meeting up because the fantasy is enough for me.

This is where it gets weird. Cam’s voice sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it. He talked about wanting to show his face on camera, and one night he did. I was shocked when I realized he was the son of my co-workers. I’ve known him since he was about 14 via various “family night” activities sponsored by my employer. Cam has always been out and proud, and now that he’s of legal age, he’s clearly decided he wants to be very out. He’s an adult, at least according to the law, and has every right to do what he wants on camera to anyone who wants to watch. However, I worry that Cam could be setting himself up for trouble down the road, as I know that people record webcammers and post the videos all over the internet. I’m also fairly sure that Cam’s parents don’t know what he’s doing late at night in his bedroom. What’s more, he uses his real name on his stream, so it would be easy to track him down. Should I tell Cam’s mom and dad? Should I somehow tell Cam that I know who he is and that he should be more careful online? I want to make it clear that I’m not looking for permission to ask him out, have sex with him, be his sugar daddy, etc. I have not watched Cam’s stream since the night he went fully exposed. I probably won’t watch his show again, as it squicked me out a little watching a young man I know putting it all out there. What would you do?

—Webcam Recognition

It’s pretty clear that you’re not looking for permission to ask him out. It does kind of seem like you’re hoping to intimidate him, though: “Hey, Cam, I guess legally you’re allowed to do this, but people—I won’t say who, just people—record webcammers and post their videos all over the internet. What would your parents think if they knew you were doing this in your bedroom? I know where that is, by the way, because I’ve known you since you were 14. You should probably be more careful. Anyhow, I’ll see you around—remember, I work with your parents!” There’s not a version of that speech that isn’t intrusive, creepy, and borderline threatening. You didn’t care about whether the parents of the 18-year-old webcammer you were getting off to knew what he was doing before you realized he was an acquaintance. Nothing’s changed. He’s already aware that people can see him when he’s camming—that’s how it works! You wouldn’t be giving him any new information he could use to make money or prioritize his own safety. You’d just be letting him know you don’t respect his boundaries or the implied circle of discretion that surrounds both the streamer and the stream-watcher. Find someone else to watch whose parents you don’t know, continue to tip generously, and move on.

Dear Prudence,

I was raised in a very religious household, and while my parents are liberal in some respects, they are both very anti-choice, a position I adamantly disagree with. However, in her retirement, my mom has chosen to spend 20-plus hours a week volunteering for a charity that provides real support to young single mothers—food, clothing, baby supplies, parenting classes, medical visits—and has even learned Spanish so she can better communicate with the women she serves. However, the charity she works for is affiliated with a major anti-choice group. She’s always asking for my support and donations for her cause, and I’m torn. Everyone who is anti-choice should be doing what she’s doing, right? But I don’t know if I can ethically contribute to a group that is telling women that their only option when pregnant is to have the baby and it’s wrong to make a different decision. I’ve given baby clothes and books, but I just don’t know.

—Supporting Something I Agree With but Also Don’t

That seems like a reasonable line to draw—you’ll send materials to help single mothers but won’t contribute money to an anti-choice group. And if your mother’s not aware that you’re pro-choice, consider this a good opportunity to tell her: “I think the work you do with single mothers is wonderful, and I’m so proud of your commitment to helping others. I’ll always be happy to chip in when it comes to baby clothes, toys, and other supplies, but as you know I’m pro-choice, so I’ll contribute monetary donations to groups that offer abortion and birth control services in addition to family support. I know we disagree on abortion, but it means a lot that we’ve been able to find some common ground here.” My guess is that your mother won’t immediately agree that you have to draw the line there, but all you need to do is say that that’s your line and you don’t want to argue about it. Then you can donate to Planned Parenthood or NARAL or the Yellowhammer Fund or any number of organizations that offer multiple options and avenues of support to potential parents.

If you don’t think now’s the right time to have that conversation about your views on abortion, I’d suggest sticking with something honest but nonspecific: “I already have a few causes I support regularly, and I don’t want to give up any of them to send money to [Anti-Choice Group], but whenever I can send along clothes or books, I’d be happy to chip in.”

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Dear Prudence,

I’m looking for some guidelines for my first adult breakup. I’m 27, and all my previous relationships have either fizzled out or ended in emotional catastrophe. I’ve grown and learned so much from my current relationship of nearly five years, but it’s time to end it. Neither of us are happy right now, and the futures we imagine for ourselves don’t align. I’m a serial monogamist and I’ve never explicitly called it quits with anyone. My exes have either fizzled dramatically or included a fairly extreme argument. What is the traditional structure of a breakup? What’s the best, kindest way to break someone’s heart?

—Breakup Baby

I’m not quite sure what fizzling dramatically looks like—highly charged ghosting?—but I don’t think you need to worry too much about what your past breakups have looked like before figuring out how to initiate this one. Every breakup is unique, and ending a relationship of five years when both of you seem fairly aware that it’s not working is going to look a lot different from ending a volatile six-month affair with someone you don’t ever plan on seeing again.

You have an obvious starting point with your shared unhappiness. Just acknowledge it: “I know we both haven’t been happy lately, and it’s become more and more obvious that our plans for the future aren’t compatible. It’s hard to acknowledge, because I care about you and this relationship has taught me so much in the last five years, but I think it’s time to admit that it’s over.” If you can, plan to initiate this conversation when neither of you have plans and you can spend an hour or two talking it through. It’s fine if you don’t wrap up the past five years in a 20-minute conversation.

The kindest thing you can do is be really clear about what you want and what you don’t (such as offering a temporary break if you’re really sure you want to end things for good), agree to give each other a little time and space before trying to be friends (a few months at least, I’d suggest, although you’re certainly allowed to tailor that to something that feels more natural to you), and return each other’s stuff in a reasonably short amount of time. It might feel a little arbitrary to just pick one day over another to call it quits. That’s fine, and part of the nature of a lot of breakups. You don’t have to get your partner to agree with you in order to end things, and you don’t have to be the one who supports them afterward—that’s what friends are for.

Dear Prudence,

My husband and I are in our early 20s and have one son together. My husband’s 15-year-old sister met a stranger online and ran away for a year. No one knew where she was, and it killed her mother. She came back pregnant, refused to talk about what had happened, and killed herself a few months after her son was born. There was no note. We took the baby in because my father-in-law barely was keeping it together for his 12-year-old son. My husband stood like a rock through everything, but in private, he breaks down and blames himself. He has insomnia and gray streaks in his hair. He and his family have had limited counseling.

I have been standing by and taking care of my son and nephew. I am a failure. I have no bond with my nephew. Every bit of his care is routine: He cries, I feed him; he poops, I change him. He is a fussy, fidgety child, while my son is easy. It has been nine months since the funeral, and I feel nothing but guilt and resentment. No joy, no love, just grim duty. I hate myself. I try to treat both boys the same. I even time myself to make sure I am not neglecting my nephew, but I don’t know how much longer I can go on. I am terrified of telling my husband because it might break him. He has lost so much in the past two years. There was no one else to take the baby, so we had to. What do I do?

—Overwhelmed and Resentful

First and most importantly: You are not failing. You are feeding and caring for a child who has no one else after experiencing a series of unexpected and shocking traumas. Please don’t beat yourself up for feeling grim and duty-bound during what sounds like an exceptionally grim, duty-bound period. That doesn’t mean things won’t ever get easier, but what you need right now is help, not additional guilt over not being able to drum up feelings of joy and love on demand. I know you feel a great deal of sympathy for what your husband has suffered, but I’m concerned that he doesn’t seem to be at all involved in his nephew’s day-to-day care. Even if you’re a stay-at-home parent and your husband works full-time, that doesn’t mean you can reasonably be expected to act as the baby’s only caregiver 24/7. This would be too much for anyone—you’re doing the job of at least two people. You will want to bring this up lovingly and sensitively—it’s not as if your husband is skipping off to enjoy himself—but make it clear that your current arrangement isn’t sustainable and that you need more help than you’re getting. Maybe your husband can take over diaper duty in the evenings. Maybe you two can ask your father-in-law for occasional help with child care or paying for day care, if he’s able to. I know your father-in-law wasn’t able to look after both children full-time, but he might be able to contribute something if he knows you need help.

It sounds like you’ve been rigidly controlling yourself for the last nine months because all of the other adults who might be able to help you have suffered from breakdowns. But I’m concerned you’re heading for a breakdown of your own. It is not your job to make sure you never need anything just because you’re afraid your husband is about to fall apart. You say he has access to limited counseling, so maybe the two of you could set up an appointment for sometime in the next few weeks so you can figure out what help you can ask from your family and friends, as well as from each other. I wish you all the help and support in the world. Please don’t make yourself bear this pressure alone.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“Bear in mind that telling his parents would necessitate telling a co-worker the details of your … habits.”

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

Dear Prudence,

My mom made me a tote bag as a birthday gift. I love it. She gave it to me early, on Mother’s Day, because she said she couldn’t wait. I stared at it in awe for a few seconds, said thank you, hugged her, then immediately took pictures to send to my friends. I didn’t post the pictures on social media, partly because I thought people would think it was weird that my mom gave me a present on Mother’s Day. Three days later, my mom posted a picture of the bag on her Instagram with the text “made this tote for my daughter. Did not get the reaction I hoped. Making it was fun because of the anticipation she would be excited.”

What the hell? First of all, who posts something like that on social media? Second, I was excited! I guess I didn’t express my excitement in a way that satisfied her? I commented on the post saying that I love the bag and I was excited, but I don’t know how else to address this. My husband thinks that my mom is stressed about other things in her life and taking it out on me, which may be true, but that is the kind of thing my mom will not ever admit to. I feel very hurt by the public Instagram post. Can you offer an objective opinion as to how this should be handled?

—Tote-ally Grateful

I don’t think you have to worry too much about being objective about a handmade gift and a weird callout post from your mother. This is a situation that calls more for honestly sharing your feelings than maintaining the strictest detachment. Give her a call or talk to her in person. Don’t try to hash this out in a public-facing comments section. Tell her: “Mom, I was really confused and saddened by your Instagram post, because I’d had no idea that you were hurt by my response. Can you tell me what disappointed you about my reaction? I thought I’d made it clear how much I loved and valued the gift, and you didn’t seem at all disappointed or confused in the moment. What am I missing?”

Dear Prudence,

I’m getting married this year, and we are having a very small wedding with immediate family members only. My fiancé’s brother has a girlfriend he’s been with for a couple of years, but we have only met her once. None of us have any idea how serious the relationship is since she hasn’t attended any family functions (for whatever reason—it’s none of my business). We invited her, but I had to ask for her name because we don’t know her at all, which felt awkward. I have suggested a get-together to become better acquainted beforehand.

My question is: How do we deal with formal family portraits in this situation? I can’t imagine a tactful way to say, “OK, let’s get the siblings in here—now Girlfriend, step out for the next shot,” even if it’s the photographer saying it and not me. (It might be worse for him to do it instead of one of us!) Do we have to just suck it up and rely on Photoshop if they break up? I don’t want to offend her at an already awkward event for someone who doesn’t know anyone, but I also want to be practical. (A friend had to pay her photographer to Photoshop a sister’s boyfriend out when they broke up a couple months after her wedding.)

—Unknown Guest at Small Wedding

If you want a few pictures with only the siblings, no partners, then you’re not singling her out for special treatment. It’s pretty common for wedding photos to include just about every imaginable combination of attendants and family on the big day. As long as she’s included in some of them, it’s not rude or dismissive to have a few without her, too. Let the photographer know which grouping arrangements you want—couple first, couple plus siblings and partners, couples with parents only, couples with siblings only, etc.—but feel free to let your family know the rundown yourself so that they have a heads up as to when they’re needed and when they can run off for a drink or hors d’oeuvres. And if they do later break up, you’re not morally obligated to scrub your brother-in-law’s girlfriend out of your photos like a disgraced friend of Stalin.

Classic Prudie

“My husband is all the usual things: Smart! Funny! Caring! He has, however, turned into a horrible gift-giver. He used to be quite creative, but our lives have become busier as we’ve become older. We have a child, a house, and more demanding careers. I’m not looking for extravagant gifts, just a little consideration, and I know he has it in him. For the price of the half-dead grocery-store flowers I received on our recent anniversary, I would have loved to have been taken out to my favorite bar for a drink. This wouldn’t be a big problem, except for the fact that we are hosting the holidays this year. My entire family will be with us on Christmas morning. I’m still smarting from the flowers, and I’m afraid if I open another so-so gift I’ll cry! We are a really close family, and they’ll be able to read my face no matter how hard I try to keep it in check. We also are the kind of family that opens each present painfully slowly and ohh and ahh over every one. Should I bring this up with my spouse, and how do I not sound shallow?