Dear Prudence

My Cousin’s Widower Tried to Kiss Me

I helped him with child care after his wife’s death. He says this sent “mixed messages.”

Photo illustration of a woman turning her face away when a man tries to kiss her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by konstantin32/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Some housekeeping: I changed my name! Same me, new initials.

Dear Prudence,

My cousin died last year. Her widower, “Greg,” and I became close since our daughters are the same age. I did a lot of the heavy lifting with his daughter since Greg was grieving and my aunt wasn’t much help. We were friendly, but all our interactions involved the girls, and Greg is not my type—I’ve never had any romantic feelings for him. Recently, Greg tried to kiss me. Actually, he pushed me up against a table and then kissed me. I pushed him away, and he became confused and angry. I left because I didn’t want to fight in front of the kids. Later I texted him an apology, told him that I cared for him as a family member but didn’t want a relationship with him. He claimed I’d been sending him “mixed messages” and that I was basically accusing him of not loving his wife.

Since then Greg has been icy toward me. This hurts because the girls get together several times a week. I texted Greg another apology and asked him if maybe some time apart would help. He told me to not “drag” his daughter into this. I lost it and told him to “grow the fuck up,” and that my not wanting to sleep with him wasn’t the end of the world. He never responded, but I still see him when he drops his daughter off at my house. He barely speaks to me, and it has become noticeable to our family. I don’t know what to do, and I just want to go back to how things were.

—Aggressive Widower

I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with this. You’ve done nothing wrong, and there’s nothing you need to apologize for. There’s a limit to how much Greg can try to write off his bad behavior as part of the grieving process, and this has sailed clean over that bar. Greg confused his unrequited feelings for you with “mixed messages,” tried to shove you first into a table then into a relationship, and got angry when he realized you weren’t going to co-sign his delusion. Being kind during his bereavement and caring for his daughter when he couldn’t are not equivalent to a romantic overture.

As uncomfortable as things are right now, I don’t think it’s possible to go back to how things were before. At least Greg is respecting your physical boundaries and no longer trying to harass you over text message. Maybe he will decide to grow up and unthaw, but you can’t make that happen by apologizing again. You’ve already apologized twice for nothing, and he’s apologized zero times, neither for hitting on you in an overly aggressive fashion, nor for giving you the cold shoulder for not wanting to date him. If this is the best he can do right now, it’ll have to be good enough. Enjoy the time you get to spend with his daughter and the space you get from him.

Dear Prudence,

I’ve been dating a wonderful woman for almost a year. We’re both in our 30s. The other night, we had a bottle of wine with dinner. We were watching television, a black character came onscreen, and my girlfriend (who has a low alcohol tolerance and was quite drunk) used the N-word to refer to him. She immediately started crying and became hysterical when she saw my reaction (I was shocked and disgusted). She said that a few months ago, she’d become fixated on how bad that word is, how even thinking it is awful, and ever since she’s developed a mental tic and has been unable to “turn that word off” in her mind.

She does have a long history of anxiety and obsessive thinking. Sometimes she leaves restaurants to go home and make sure all the appliances have been turned off, and she gets up multiple times in the night to “check on” her cat. I’m not sure what to do. For what it’s worth, she’s an extremely kind person who has never said anything even close to something like this before and has usually displayed a lot of sensitivity around matters of race in the past (I am a non-black person of color). Do I have to dump her? Please help.

—Racist Slip-Up

You do not have to do anything. You get to explore all of your options and talk with your girlfriend about what she said at a time when she is neither drunk nor hysterical.

Two things can be true at the same time: that she has been genuinely disturbed and bewildered by her own unwanted mental obsession with the N-word, and that her racist outburst hurt and shocked you. Your girlfriend needs to find a way to make room for you to have your own emotional response to what she did. If she starts to cry, she needs to be able to take time to compose herself so that she can listen and be present for what you have to say. She can’t just dissolve into tears until you have to comfort and reassure her that she’s a good person. If she’s not already seeing a specialist for her obsessive and unwanted thoughts, now’s the time, because it’s starting to affect her ability to function and behave appropriately in her relationships. It also sounds like she’s found these thoughts to be destabilizing and distressing. This is help she deserves as well as needs, not a punishment.

Beyond that, you are allowed to decide whether or not you want to continue your relationship, even if she is very distressed and full of self-loathing for the way she acted. Take your own interests into consideration, advocate for your needs, and make sure to at least include your own happiness and well-being on your list of priorities. Continuing to date, or deciding to break up, would not necessarily be a referendum on whether she’s a good or a bad person, suffering or malingering, incidentally or maliciously racist—merely attempting to determine whether the two of you are better off together than you are apart.

Dear Prudence,

Recently I heard my flatmate having sex. His fiancée is currently living in another country. I realize they could have an open relationship, but I think that’s unlikely because they both seem to have traditional views. They are getting married this summer. Should I tell her? I barely know her, and I don’t even really know my flatmate that well. He’s an acquaintance I pay rent with, not a friend. Part of me thinks their relationship problems are none of my business. I’m also selfishly reluctant to stir up problems in my home, since our contract here lasts for another 10 months. But am I morally obligated to tell her before they get married?

—The Walls Are Thin

There’s enough ambiguity here that I don’t think you have an obligation. Even seemingly traditional people sometimes have mutual understandings governing long-term relationships. These people aren’t part of your social circle, and you’re not going to be part of their lives or stand as witness to their commitment at their wedding. Once your lease is up, you will probably never see each other again, and whatever terms they decide to set for their marriage will be none of your concern. Pay your rent on time, clean up after yourself in the common spaces, and don’t worry about their (possible) problems.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From How to Do It

My girlfriend of nine years and I are opening our relationship, slowly and with plenty of communication. From this communication I’ve learned she wants to see both men and women, and I’m happy for her to do that. When I mentioned that I wanted to do the same—that is, try things out with guys for the first time, as well as with women—she seemed taken aback and finally admitted that the idea of me with guys made her uncomfortable. She acknowledged the double standard but said the thought of me with a man really bothers her. She pointed out that I already knew about her interest in women but I had never mentioned any interest in guys, which is true. (I doubt I’m more than bi-curious, but this seemed like a good time to find out!) We both know there are a lot of retrograde ideas at work in her reaction, and she wants to get past it. Do you have any advice for helping her get over it?