Dear Prudence

Help! I’m Sexually Attracted to My Son’s Teenage Friends.

Can I stop driving them so I no longer see them?

Inside a car, a hand adjusts the rearview mirror.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,

I’m a wife and mother with a small at-home business and a fairly normal life. One of my tasks is sharing carpool duties for my teenage son and his sports team buddies to and from practice and competitions. As it happens, my husband and I haven’t had sex for over two years due to various medical and psychological issues. My husband’s aware of the problem, but it’s been very stressful, and we need to make changes. The other day I picked up my son’s teammates, and I felt a surge of sexual attraction. I was horrified! I would rather cut off my limbs than cause harm to a minor—or cheat on my husband, for that matter. I want to quit carpool because these feelings make me ashamed and deeply uncomfortable. But then I’d have to come up with a plausible explanation that would still enable my son to be in the carpool. If I drive him solo, everyone will wonder what the problem is. Can you think of a solution here?

—Get Me Out of Carpool

I agree that you need to quit the carpool, both for the sake of your own mental health and in the best interests of the kids. If they were capable of driving themselves, you’d have mentioned that as a possible solution, so my read here is that these kids are not in the 16-to-18 range. One potential pitfall I want to help you avoid is this: that you’ll feel like you can’t possibly tell anyone, not even a therapist, that you were attracted to teenagers; that the best thing you can do is keep this to yourself forever; and that in order to keep anyone from asking invasive questions, you have to keep driving the kids to practice and relying solely on your own willpower and self-loathing to get through the next couple of years. That is a recipe for disaster. Tell the other parents that, effective immediately, you’re no longer available to drive the kids to practice. Even if it’s inconvenient, the absolute worst thing that can happen in that scenario is that a couple of student athletes miss a few practices. No one is going to lose a job or die or fail to get into college. The kids will be fine, and the other parents will figure something out. You do not have to go into details about why. Don’t apologize more than once, and then just say it’s not possible for you to drive any longer.

The most important thing is not that you find a face-saving explanation for why you cannot drive the carpool again. The most important thing—after you make sure you’re not alone with the kids anymore—is that you find a therapist you can start talking to honestly about this right away. You haven’t done anything wrong. You didn’t choose to feel the way you did in the car, nor did you seek out any sexual gratification with your son’s friends. But if you continue to drive these boys, and if you continue to connect your attraction to them with your own frustrations about your marriage and to mentally wallow in shame, you will create a situation where doing something wrong will get easier and easier. The good news is that you’re a sane adult in full possession of her faculties, and you have the power to exit that situation right now.

Dear Prudence,

My mother and I are not rich, but we make enough to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. My mom’s co-worker, “Deb,” has been struggling since her car died, so my mom offered to take her two daughters on a shopping trip at the local thrift store. My mom has a full-time job but makes minimum wage, and she couldn’t afford more than that. It’s perfectly nice stuff but pretty cheap—it’s where we buy all our clothes. I drove us there. The older girl didn’t say hello and never looked up from her phone. The younger one was excited and grateful. When we arrived, the older girl yelped in disappointment because she “thought we were going to the mall.” She never stopped sneering and commented loudly about how tacky and awful everything was. My mother was almost in tears. She’d told them she could spend $50 on each of them. The older girl grabbed a leather jacket that cost $40 and refused to put anything else back. My mother started to apologize to the little brat. I grabbed the clothes out of her hands and told her to go to the car. She started to protest. I told her to shut her mouth or I would shut it for her. We drove back in silence.

As soon as we pulled up, the older girl started “crying.” I told my mother to wait in the car. Deb started to defend her daughter and how “dare” I treat her baby that way. I told Deb her daughter was an ungrateful brat and her parenting was a disgrace. She took advantage of my mother’s good heart, and she’d better make herself right with the Lord. The younger girl piped up that her sister had been “very mean.” I told Deb to never ask my mother for a favor again. Later, my mother scolded me and told me I shouldn’t have acted like that. She was only a “little girl.” I replied that if I’d acted like that at 4, I wouldn’t have been able to sit down for a day. This girl was 14. Deb isn’t talking to her. My mother is in her 60s and has too good a heart. She will drain herself dry for a stranger and then apologize for not having more. I am frustrated. My mother has been taken advantage of in the past, and that is why she lives with me. My own sons never would dare act like this girl. I don’t know what else I could have done.

—End of My Rope

Please do whatever you have to do to make sure that you never again behave like that, because right now you cannot be trusted to act like a responsible adult. Frankly, I’m worried about your mother, who has to live with you and whom you apparently tell to “wait in the car” like she’s a child herself so you can scream at one of her co-workers for objecting after you scream at her teenage daughter.

Your own description of your behavior, even at your most self-justifying (because it’s clear you believe yourself to have acted sanely) is absolutely unhinged. Yes, a teenager you don’t know was rude to your 60-year-old mother. You and your mother could have stuck to your budget, ignored her rudeness, and reminded yourselves that she’s a down-on-her-luck teenager who might very well feel embarrassed to be taken on a charity run to the thrift store with two near-strangers. This girl was not going to make off with your mother’s wallet or start hitting her up for leather jacket money on a weekly basis. Your mother was not in immediate danger, and if you truly wanted to help her through an embarrassing moment, you could have discreetly asked your mother what she needed from you in that moment. Instead, you grabbed clothes out of the girl’s hands and threatened to hurt her in front of a store full of people. I don’t think she was “crying” when she got home—I think she was genuinely terrified of you. To follow up physically threatening a 14-year-old girl in public by telling her mother that she’s a “disgrace” who stands in danger of hell is just certifiably, catastrophically dangerous judgment. You need to start seeing a therapist who specializes in anger management immediately. Make it your No. 1 priority, and start living your life in such a way that you never feel the need to justify your decision to threaten children for being impolite.

If your parents would have beaten you so viciously that you couldn’t sit down for being rude when you were 4, I am truly sorry. Adults should not hit children, regardless of how disrespectful they have been. We don’t encourage adults to solve problems with their co-workers or friends or partners by hitting them, so it stands to reason that we shouldn’t try to solve problems with our children by hitting them, just because they’re too small and vulnerable to fight back. Your relish for wallowing in your own anger and threatening people you barely know is unacceptable. You need to immediately and radically change the orientation of your heart.

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Dear Prudence,

I am a bisexual woman in a good relationship with a cis man, and I am comfortably out with my friends. But I wonder how much I need to put myself on the line for the cause. My mother is homophobic. Though I try to engage her in constructive conversations regarding sexuality, even by posing “hypotheticals” about myself, I have never come out to her. I know my mom loves me, but I expect coming out to her to be uncomfortable and hurtful. Do you think coming out to her could potentially help with a perspective shift? Would it just be opening an unnecessary can of worms since I’m in a straight relationship right now? Am I a “bad” bisexual for not using my privilege to push these difficult conversations in my own sphere? I do feel guilty about this, but I am admittedly scared to rock the boat.

—Not Helping the Cause

I truly don’t know if it will help. There are a lot of parents who eventually come around to accepting their queer kids, even parents who have formerly dedicated their lives to homophobia. But there are also a lot of parents who stay just as committed to homophobia until the day they die, no matter how many of their kids come out. It might feel depressingly freeing to just acknowledge that whether you’re out to her or not, your mother’s homophobia is already preventing you from having a close, trusting, emotionally safe relationship with her. So in that regard, you may not have much to lose by disclosing your bisexuality to her. But coming out isn’t something you owe the greater LGBTQ community. It’s something you should do if you feel it would unburden or help you, not out of a sense of guilt that you’re not doing enough for other people.

I have no interest in adjudicating whether you are a “bad” bisexual—frankly, I’m not quite sure what that looks like. The most important question to ask yourself is: Do I really think talking about my bisexuality is “unnecessary” because I’m with my boyfriend? I’m inclined to think that’s not the case, that you don’t really believe that, but that the key to your reluctance lies in your last sentence—that you’re scared to rock the boat. I get it; I’d be scared to come out to your mother, too. You are not obligated to do so, but you might find that fear of meeting with her disapproval lifts a bit once you’ve actually addressed it.

Dear Prudence,

I recently found a job I’m very interested in advertised through word of mouth. About a year ago, I graduated with my Ph.D. and am struggling to find a full-time job outside of academia. I’ve spoken with the recruiter, and I want to move forward, but I realized the job is currently held by my friend “Beth.” We were best friends in college but slowly drifted apart. Over the past few years, she’s been extremely unsupportive during a lot of major difficulties I’ve had (deaths in the family, strain from thinking my adviser was trying to push me out of my graduate program, and a financial situation that has me looking into filing bankruptcy). I’m a fairly cheery person, but the few times I’ve gone to her for help, she has changed the subject after just a few minutes, and even sometimes argued with me about why I was having the problem.

She never seems to be happy for me when good things happen. I’ve stopped seeing her as anything more than an acquaintance. I feel a little bad about taking the job, but I know they want someone with a Ph.D. (which Beth doesn’t have), and the fact that they are advertising means they aren’t happy with her work. Even though I didn’t try to underhandedly take her job, I realize I may lose her as a friend. I’m actually kind of OK with that, which makes me feel bad. Is it worth pursuing this job? Or am I being a terrible person?

—Swooping In?

You are overthinking this! Leaving aside the fact that you no longer want to be close with Beth, it’s still polite to give her advance notice that her company may be looking to replace her. Don’t assume that she’s clueless and break it to her like you know she’ll be taken by surprise—just say something like, “You might already know about this, but your company’s hiring for what I’m pretty sure is your position. I heard from a recruiter and thought you’d like to know.” But I do think you should move ahead with this. You can’t keep Beth’s position for her by declining to take an interview, you need a job, and it sounds like you’re qualified for this one. Just don’t act like you’re doing something you’re ashamed of.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“I don’t think you need to deliver the news as you would a fatal diagnosis.”

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

Dear Prudence,

I am half-Japanese and married to a white man from the Midwest. My relationship with his family is complex at best. They were unhappy that I kept my name when we got married. I use that name professionally, but more importantly, it is my heritage and connection to my departed father. He died the year before I met my husband. My in-laws don’t like that my husband and I practice Japanese together. My sister-in-law can be on her phone while we are picking her up from the airport, but if I give directions to my husband in Japanese, she says, “It’s rude to talk like that.” My husband is on my side. He is hurt by their attitude, but he loves them. I don’t want a rift. My in-laws can be genuinely good people, but I don’t fit in the box they want me in. I am now pregnant. We are naming the baby after my father’s side of the family. My husband is supportive, and my mother cried when I told her. I don’t know if we should tell my in-laws about the name until I give birth. We are going to visit for the holidays, and I don’t think I can handle the supportive “small talk.” I hate having to defend my father and my heritage. I want my babies to have that connection, to see that part of him live on. Are we doing the right thing? We only see my in-laws twice a year.

—Fraught Baby Name

I’m so sorry that you find yourself in this situation. Allow me to reassure you on at least one front: Yes, you’re doing the right thing. I think you already know this on some level, but it’s not rude to practice a second language with your partner. Your sister-in-law is not suffering any material harm if she has to hear you say “Turn left after the grocery store” in Japanese, and the reason she and the rest of your husband’s family have a problem with you acknowledging your Japanese heritage is because of racism and sexism. I understand that your husband loves them; many people love their racist and sexist family members, and no one is asking him to stop loving them. But he does need to stop allowing his love for them to keep him from setting reasonable, appropriate limits.

I think your husband should tell his family about the name before you give birth. I think he should do it by himself and make the following clear: that they do not get to vote on your baby’s name, that both of you are very proud and excited to name the baby after your side of the family, and that you won’t tolerate snide or dismissive comments on the subject. Just because you only see these people twice a year doesn’t mean you have to grin and bear their racism. Even if your husband isn’t used to standing up to his family, the time to start cultivating resilience and establishing clear rules of polite engagement is now, before you have little kids to protect. If he’s really “on your side,” he won’t just quietly signal to you that he disapproves of his family’s behavior when they’re out of earshot. He’ll tell them they have a choice to either be friendly and welcoming in your presence or be racist by themselves.

Dear Prudence,

I’ve grown increasingly concerned about Amazon’s power in the marketplace. My job is dedicated to combating economic inequality, and I oppose that company’s practices in every sense. Can I ask my immediate family not to buy me holiday gifts from Amazon? Honestly, I’d rather not get gifts at all, but I know people like to buy presents, and I don’t want to be difficult or impose too many restrictions, like not buying from any sort of chain store at all. I’d rather get a gift certificate for a favorite restaurant or a spa treatment. My siblings are married and have kids and very busy lives; I know time is limited, and online shopping is easy. I guess part of me also wants to get them to rethink their reliance on Amazon Prime.

—No Amazon Gifts, Please

It’s true that you can’t control what holiday gifts other people get you, but I wouldn’t extend that principle so far as to say you can’t tell your close family that you’d rather not get a gift from Amazon. I think you should make your request gentle, acknowledge that it might make things a little difficult, and accept that they may do it anyway, but I don’t think asking once is an attempt to exert control over them. If your family trades wish lists, you could make it easier by sharing some specific, budget-friendly gifts you’d like to receive and that they could purchase easily. Then save a bigger conversation about alternatives to Amazon Prime for some time in February, when your siblings’ lives aren’t quite so hectic.

Classic Prudie

I was an unmarried teenager when I gave birth to my now 8-year-old daughter Mandy. I am now engaged to Peter, a wonderful man who loves me and adores Mandy. The issue is Peter’s parents. They don’t care for Mandy, and they don’t think much of me because I was in a position to give birth as an unwed teenager. They have lectured me a few times about premarital sex and the like. Christmas is coming up, and my future mother-in-law has informed me that she and her husband will not be buying presents for Mandy, and neither will Peter’s siblings. Mandy’s not entitled to presents, but since Peter’s family does a big Christmas get-together, Mandy will see a bunch of kids get presents while she does not. It’s hard to explain something like this to a kid. Peter’s pretty upset with his family, but they’re still his family, and ditching them would be incredibly painful for him, obviously. Do you have any advice?