Dear Prudence

My Elderly Father Is Flying to Ukraine to Meet a 26-Year-Old Model He Met Online

I want him to be happy but fear it won’t end well.

A man stands behind a suitcase.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,

My father is in his mid-80s and is highly educated and extremely intelligent. He and my stepmother were together for 45 years, until she passed away last year. She raised me, and I’ve been struggling to process my grief. I know I haven’t been calling him as often as I should or would like to. I called him last week, and he dropped a bombshell. He is planning a trip to Ukraine to meet a woman he met online, who is supposedly 26 and a model.

He told me that, when he spoke with my brother recently, my brother reacted the same way I did: “Are you sure you’re not being scammed?” When I called my brother to talk to him about this, he said this was the first he’s hearing about it. I want my dad to be happy. If he spends all of our (considerable) inheritance, well, that’s not ideal, but if he has adventures and skids into the grave with $20 in his bank account, at least he had fun! My stepmother was very ill for over a decade, so he definitely deserves it. But I don’t want him to be hurt. How can I convince him he’s going to either show up and never meet her or have far worse consequences (kidnapping, extortion, etc.)?

—Catfished Dad

I don’t mean to sound flippant about your concern for your father, but it’s fairly unusual for well-off, elderly men who fly to Eastern Europe to spend time with young models just to be kidnapped. He holds plenty of cards in this situation and doesn’t seem at immediate risk of being exploited for ransom. The implication in your first paragraph—that if you had been a more supportive daughter, your father would not have sought out the company of a young Ukrainian model—is rather too hard on yourself. Daughters and Ukrainian models are not interchangeable, and your father would have likely sought out romantic and sexual companionship even if you’d called him every day. Nor do I think your stepmother’s illness needs to serve as justification or explanation for his choices now. He is entitled to make decisions about his own dating life regardless of the length of her illness.

You don’t say anything about his behavior otherwise, so I’m going to assume you haven’t seen signs of impaired judgment from him, and that this falls under the category of “slightly scandalizing but not-unheard-of behavior” rather than signs you think he should see his doctor. If that’s the case, I don’t think you need to worry about convincing him she’s not going to show. You can absolutely have a conversation with him about common sense and safety precautions when it comes to meeting a stranger overseas, offering to check in with him once he arrives, asking where he’s staying, and so on, but I think it’s pretty likely he actually does know what situation he’s in, with all the attendant possible risks and rewards. You can’t plan on skidding into the grave with only $20 left without incurring at least the possibility of an emotional bruise or two. That is part of the fun.

Update, Jan. 20, 2020: A lot of readers wrote in to disagree with me on this one. Aside from hiding the father’s passport (which I certainly don’t recommend), the letter writer has a few other options. You should have a sit-down conversation with your father and perhaps your brother (or another relative) where you outline your concerns, share documentation of this scam, and ask your dad to reconsider the trip. You could offer to travel with him so he doesn’t go alone (not necessarily following him everywhere, but meeting up with him occasionally and being in-country should he need your assistance). You could also contact law enforcement or your state’s agency on the elderly to see if it can offer guidance, although if your father is otherwise of sound mind, my guess is that you won’t have many options there. You should be prepared for the possibility that even in the face of very strenuous objections, your father will still want to go.

Dear Prudence,

I live in a two-bedroom apartment with another woman in her 30s. We’ve been here for a year and a half, we’re both clean and considerate and laid-back, and our modest-but-beautiful apartment is the first place that’s really felt like home. She recently told me that she’s miserable living here. It all started because she wanted to get a second cat. I’ve told her no in the past, but she keeps asking. We’re not even supposed to have any pets in the first place, and I think our place is too small for two animals. She asked if my answer was black-and-white, and I said yes. She said it was black-and-white for her too, because a second cat is apparently essential to her first cat’s well-being. I told her she should have considered all this when she adopted the cat in the first place.

Now she’s saying that she thinks people who live together have an obligation to engage at all times, which I do not agree with. She says she is “existentially against human beings acting like islands.” We do talk regularly, but I’ll admit I prefer keeping to myself. I work in customer service and enjoy my alone time. She says that my attitude makes us fundamentally incompatible as roommates and she could not trust me, and implied that I should move out. She said living with me is the worst living situation she’s been in since her ex-wife “ruined her life.” My roommate never previously communicated any of her expectations or problems with me. She said she’s been feeling like this for a whole year!

We are at a standstill because neither of us wants to leave the apartment. I’ve never loved living with her, but it is definitely possible, and I could continue to keep doing it. We are supposed to hash out who is leaving and when. We are both on the lease and split the deposit and broker fee 50-50, and I said I didn’t want to discuss who “deserves” to stay. She keeps talking about her recent difficulties and trying to interrogate me about my financial situation and my job. I’m sorry she’s unhappy, and I don’t want her to feel uncomfortable, but I love this apartment, I like our landlord, and she’s free to leave if she needs a more “emotionally present” roommate. What should I do?

—I Prefer Islands

Stop having these rambling, cat-based conversations with her and let her know that you’re very happy with the lease as it is. If she tries to interrogate you about your job or your savings account, tell her that’s not up for discussion in as friendly and firm a tone as you can manage, then either turn on the TV, start looking at your phone, leave the room, or otherwise make it clear you’re not going to join her in the Weird Apartment Justification Fight of 2020. The one advantage she has over you is that she is a deeply unreasonable person who’s willing to expend a ton of energy trying to exhaust you into giving her what she wants, and if she’s already gone this many rounds with you about her cat’s well-being and your existential threat to her theory of human connection, there’s a real chance she will go out of her way to make your life in this apartment completely unmanageable. Treat her blandly, and keep her at arm’s length, but have a backup couch to crash on in case she decides to make living together an impossibility.

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Dear Prudence,

I love my nephews (ages 7 and 5), but they are undisciplined and destructive. My brother-in-law phones it in as a father, and my sister acts like mothering is some mystic art she can’t possibly know. Her answer to everything is “They’re only little boys.” I want to scream at her, “Well, you’re their mother, so act like it!” If I try to intervene with the boys in any way, she tells me she will handle it. She doesn’t. We can’t go out to a restaurant without the boys running around, getting in the way of the waitstaff, or bothering other patrons. At the library, they shriek and destroy books. The last time they visited me, my older nephew brought in a rock from outside and threw it at his brother. It ended up shattering my glass coffee table while my dog was under it.

My sister immediately started comforting her crying son and told him it was all OK, that it was an accident. She never apologized to me or offered to pay for the table. I cut the visit short. We live just far enough to visit each other regularly but not within an afternoon. I don’t want my nephews back in my house again. I don’t know to start this conversation with my sister. I’d hoped the boys would just grow out of it, but they are getting worse. Both of them regularly get in trouble at school and have been expelled from day care twice. I love my sister, but I can’t handle this anymore. What should I do?

—No More Nephews

I feel for your sister, who’s in the difficult position of being a single parent who has to pretend she has a co-parent because she’s not yet ready to admit to herself that her partner has abdicated. But you can feel for your sister and also not volunteer to lose any more furniture to these rock-hurling kids who aren’t currently receiving as much help and supervision they really need. All you need to say is this: “I’m sorry, I can’t have the kids over again. After what happened last time, I’m worried about my furniture and the dog’s safety. Maybe we can try again after we’ve had a few safe and accident-free outings.” Odds are around 99 percent your sister will get upset and defensive. That’s OK! You don’t have to manage that. If what you want is not to have the boys in your house unless and until they stop breaking and throwing things (a perfectly reasonable desire), then you get to say that, even if your sister doesn’t like it.

Help! Can I Ask My Girlfriend to Come Out So We Can See Each Other Openly?

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Grace Lavery on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

Dear Prudence,

I have been married for almost 40 years. I love to hang out and talk with friends, and my husband doesn’t want to socialize. Lately he has been much worse than before and acts obnoxious when we are with a group of friends, even people we’ve known for years. He complains that our group dinners last too long, and he doesn’t want to stay at a meal for hours. At our last get-together I was having a good time, and he just got up, said he was leaving, and walked out of the house. He didn’t give me time to say goodbye and embarrassed me in front of our friends.

Then at home he acted like I did something wrong and was obnoxious to me, threatening to leave. He didn’t care that I was enjoying the company and just decided to go. I am 65 years old and do not want to get divorced or be single, but his selfishness is making me miserable, and worse, I feel his attitude will isolate me. He has no friends of his own.

—Anti-Social Husband

It sounds like this is a problem that’s been brewing for many years without a real come-to-Jesus conversation between the two of you, which makes it a little difficult to address in a couple of paragraphs. Rather than trying to address 40 years of unspoken hostility with an unwilling partner or suggesting you file for a divorce you don’t want, I’ll keep it simple: Go to group dinners with your friends without him. You two are adults in your 60s, and you don’t have to accompany each other everywhere or pretend to share the same interests. Instead of cutting these visits you’re otherwise enjoying short or ruining your own experience by trying to make sure he’s kept entertained, like you’re parenting a toddler, just let him know the nights you’re going to be out with friends and let him figure out what he wants to do. He sounds like he’s pretty good at figuring out what he does and doesn’t want to do! Any man who’s willing to walk out the front door in the middle of dinner with friends is a man with drive and resources. He can make his own dinner, find a book to read or a movie to watch, or do whatever it is that does please him.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

I predict a 40 percent likelihood of small claims court.”
Danny Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

A very kind and generous friend of mine, who was also neuroatypical and feared rejection, died by suicide over the holidays. We met at a sports club that was the hub of our social life and stayed in contact through social media after I moved away. Last summer, he wrote to ask me whether I thought he was a good person, as someone else from the club had accused him of harassment and he was being suspended for a year. (No police report was ever filed, nor was there a hearing for him to present his side of the story—he was simply suspended by the club president.) He asked whether I believed he could do something like that and whether I still trusted him. I told him that while I considered him one of the good guys, I didn’t have the facts and really couldn’t say. He himself said he’d “behaved inappropriately,” but that could just be his lack of a filter. I told him that one way or another, he needed to talk to a therapist about how to deal with it, whether through making amends for something he’d actually done or finding ways to deal with unjust allegations.

I know that many sexual predators get away with it simply through convincing everyone else they’re good people. But he also seemed genuinely distressed when he contacted me, and I believe the damage to his reputation and social life was a huge contributing factor in his death. I’m not asking for a ruling on whether he did it or was wrongly accused. I just wonder—should I have expressed unconditional support, knowing he was already struggling with mental health issues? What could I have done differently?

—Supporting a Friend

I’m not sure what you could have done differently, in part because there’s a lot missing from this story. He asked you whether he, a human being, was capable of harassing someone else. I believe everyone is capable of violating other people’s boundaries, behaving cruelly, harassment, lying to themselves about their own motivations, and causing real harm to others. And “unconditional support” doesn’t mean “I promise you that you are the kind of person who is incapable of causing harm, that you’ve never done anything wrong and couldn’t possibly.”

You did offer him meaningful support when you encouraged him to see a therapist to assess what had happened and what he needed to do to make it right. You’re in a very painful situation, and right now you have more questions than answers. I’m so sorry your friend died, and I absolutely believe that his distress was real and unfeigned. But promising him that he’d done nothing wrong would not have provided him with hope for the future or emotional support in the present.

Dear Prudence,

I am part of a fairly affluent crowd, and in the past few years, there has been a significant uptick in our travel time. At the same time, my awareness about environmental harm has grown, and I’m limiting my travel to necessary work travel, offsetting all flights including work, food, and consumption, and no longer sharing all about it when I do so that I don’t glorify travel. But I find myself feeling upset when I see my friends bragging about how many places they’ve flown to in a short period of time or how many miles they’ve accumulated with (at least that I’m aware) no regard for the harm that causes. How can I try to educate my community without making people feel defensive and judged? (It’s easy for me to cut back since I’m lucky to have traveled so much in the past that I don’t feel like I’m missing out.) And particularly on social media, it’s all just a giant travelogue and all the comments are positive, so I don’t want to be a nagging buzzkill. How can I feel less bothered by it? I feel like it’s actively harming my relationships, because even when I don’t talk about it, I’m still thinking about it. For what it’s worth, I’ve joined the board of an environmental nonprofit, so I try to talk about that instead, talking about flying only as a bit of an offhand comment.

—Not a Flight-Shamer

While I agree that cutting back on flights is important whenever possible, I’m less certain that staying quiet when you do travel makes all that much of a difference. The problem isn’t with travel, which can be pleasurable and broadening and invigorating, but with fossil fuels. I’m not even sure using a phrase like “glorify travel” is particularly apt. And without going so far as to say, “Individuals can’t make a difference, so buy plane tickets, set up a wood-burning stove, and eat meat five times a day,” I think it’s more important to dedicate your energy to holding corporations accountable for their far more serious and large-scale contributions to climate change. It’s great that you’ve joined the board of a nonprofit, and I hope you’re able to start real change. And you can ask your friends if they’ve thought much about cutting back on their plane travel and offer suggestions on what’s worked for you, but don’t make it your primary cause.

Classic Prudie

I’m about to get married and am caught in an argument between my fiancée and my parents. This will be the first time in over five years that our whole family will be together. My parents want to take a picture of just them, me, and my siblings, and a family photo obviously means a lot to them. My fiancée heard this and became immediately offended. She says it’s rude to exclude her on the day she “joins the family” and any family photo should therefore include her in it. We’re not talking about taking an hour for a separate family photo shoot; my parents simply want one photograph of themselves and their children. I don’t understand why my fiancée is so annoyed and now she’s even more angry because I’m not supporting “her side.” Should I back up my fiancée on principle, even if I disagree with her?