Dear Prudence

A Stranger Claims We’re Brothers. Should I Tell My Parents?

He sent me a Facebook message and wants me to speak to my dad on his behalf.

Young man looking at a laptop. In bottom left corner, a message icon with a "1."
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by VladimirFLoyd/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

I recently received a Facebook message from a complete stranger who explained that he was given up for adoption as an infant and has reason to believe that my father (whose name he mentioned) and my mother (whose name he didn’t know) are his parents. He asked me to ask my parents if this is possible. My brother and I both agree that the guy does look a little like us, and timing-wise it’s feasible, but if it’s true, this is something that our parents have chosen not to share with us and is therefore none of our business. If this guy is the result of my father’s infidelity while he and my mom were together but not yet married, I see no reason to upset either of my parents after a decadeslong happy marriage and family life. Is this the right thing to do? Do we owe it to this stranger to find out or to at least let him know why we will not? He could just write to my dad directly, right? It doesn’t seem like a scam, but what do I know?

—Secret Maybe-Brother

You may very well decide you don’t want to investigate further and that you don’t want to run messages between this man and your father. That would be a perfectly reasonable response to this unusual request. (As a general principle, you should feel free not to respond to messages from strangers, even if they badly want to talk to you.) It may simply be that he was anxious at the prospect of asking your father directly, “Are you my dad?” and felt more comfortable about going through a near-contemporary first.

I agree that this doesn’t seem like a scam, especially in the age of DNA tests. He may be mistaken, he may be unwell, or he may be unreasonable, and you may decide you don’t want to learn more about the situation, but I don’t think there’s any reason to be overly wary about a grift at the outset. But just because your parents may have kept something from you in the past doesn’t mean it’s none of your business. If I were in your position, I don’t think I’d rest easy until I’d heard him out and spoken to my parents about it. He’s certainly taking a risk here, and I’d be inclined to try to take him at his word that he’s genuinely curious and motivated by a desire to know more about his family of origin. But if you think you’d rather let sleeping dogs lie and can rest easy about that decision, feel free to delete the message—as long as you’re prepared for the possibility that he may then attempt to contact your parents anyway.

Help! My Sister Is Dating a Felon.

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

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Dear Prudence,

I’m a thirtysomething woman whose family has never been particularly close. My mother and I have pretty much no relationship, and for the past decade I only speak to my dad about twice a month. My parents have been divorced since I was in college, and my dad has only been in the dating game for the last few years. He’s recently gotten pretty serious with a woman, “Christine,” who only has sons. She was apparently very excited to hear my dad had daughters, which she always wanted. I’ve recently begun getting regular texts from Christine asking about my life, and she’s started to follow me on social media and comment on literally anything I post. The problem? My family isn’t like this. I talk to my sister on a regular basis, but I’m really not close to anyone else. Christine wants to have a conversation nearly every single day and gets upset when I don’t pass on things she deems “newsworthy.” (As an example, she was very upset to find out via Instagram that I got a dramatic haircut, because apparently I should have reached out to her or my dad afterward.) She’s by no means a bad person, but I feel completely smothered! How do I communicate to her that I’m an adult who doesn’t need a new stepmother or even a new friend without hurting her feelings?

—Dad’s Clingy Girlfriend

“I’m sorry to hear that you were hurt that I didn’t tell you about my haircut directly. It might be helpful to clarify our expectations: I’m happy to talk [however often you feel comfortable, whether that’s just ‘once in a while’ or a specific time frame], but I’m not available to speak every day. I regularly make plans without telling my parents first, and it’s not meant as a slight against you. I hope you can respect that.” This will almost certainly hurt her feelings, but it sounds like her expectations are unrealistic, so I think it’s important to set boundaries, as long as you speak respectfully. If you think your father would be at all helpful in getting this message across, you might check in with him first, either to see if he’d be willing to have that conversation with her on your behalf or to help moderate her expectations afterward. But you don’t need his permission to set this boundary with her, and if he tries to guilt you into going along with her desire to mother you, you might have to have another version of the same conversation with him.

Dear Prudence,

I am in my second serious relationship. My first ended after just shy of a year, and I was devastated. Soon after, I met someone new, and we took it slow, since I was still recovering from the breakup. Now I am beyond grateful the first relationship ended because I see all the ways we were a terrible match. My current boyfriend is thoughtful, loving, caring, and able to show and discuss his emotions. We’re out of the honeymoon phase, but it seems like this relationship is too easy. Am I being naïve, or did I just find the right fit for me after so many poor matches? Should we be fighting more? We are both pretty easygoing and adaptable, and we find it easy to compromise.

—Match Made in Heaven

If over the course of a 10-year marriage you two never had even a mild disagreement, I’d probably be concerned that one or both of you were withholding something. But it sounds to me like you just have a thoughtful boyfriend who’s a good listener and enjoys showing you just how much he cares. Yes, at some point one of you will likely hurt the other’s feelings, or you’ll realize you see an important issue differently, or you’ll want something the other isn’t prepared to give. Then you can practice the art of fighting well with each other. The honeymoon period doesn’t necessarily have to give way to disillusionment and struggle. It can (and ideally should!) give way to a loving, mutually respectful relationship, and it sounds like that’s what you’ve got. Congratulations! Give yourself permission to enjoy your own happiness.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Care and Feeding

My daughter, an eighth grader, is a doodler. She doodles while thinking, doodles while writing, doodles while doing homework. So when she turns in, say, her math, in addition to the various correct and incorrect answers, the sheet of paper often features medieval illuminations and little anime characters in the margins. I think it helps her think and stay focused on her work. One of her teachers, however, keeps writing YOUR HOMEWORK IS NOT A DOODLE PAD and threatening to take away points. How can I get the teacher to relax about a quirk that, in my view, doesn’t actually inconvenience her and helps my kid do better in her class? Or am I wrong and the teacher is right?