Dear Prudence

Help! I Have Been Taking Upskirt Photos of My Wife.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 1 of this week’s live chat.

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Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Danny Lavery: Good afternoon, everyone! Let’s chat.

Q. Sneak peek: My wife and I haven’t made love in over a year because she has been struggling with chronic pain issues. I have recently started taking pictures of her on the sly where I can see her underwear through her shorts or skirt, or down her shirt where I can see her breasts, and then I masturbate to them. I’m worried—is this inappropriate? Am I violating her privacy?

A: Does your wife know you’re taking upskirt photos of her? This is a very straightforward “yes or no” question. If it’s “No,” then you’re invading her privacy, damaging the trust she places in you as her partner, and violating her right to give consent. It’s wrong, and you need to stop doing it right now. You also need to tell her what you’ve done, apologize for this ongoing violation, and take responsibility for whatever pain you’ve caused her, and whatever response she may have to this revelation.

You had every right to honestly discuss your own sexual desires in the context of her chronic pain and the fact that you two had stopped having sex, but you did not have the right to take creepshots in secret to get what you wanted from her. I think you already knew this was wrong. The fact that you didn’t ask for her permission suggests you knew she wouldn’t give it, but you wanted to do it anyway.

I don’t know what your wife’s response will be, or what this will mean for your marriage. I can’t promise you she’ll forgive you or that you’ll be able to undo the pain you’ve caused her by being sorry after the fact. But you do have the power never to hurt her, or anyone else, like this again, and to seek out ways in the future to make meaningful amends, to respect the privacy, limits, and boundaries of other people, and to speak more honestly about your own desires instead of using them as an excuse to justify exploitation and secrecy. Nothing can stop you from living differently from now on if you make that your highest priority, rather than continuing your secrecy, avoiding consequences, or minimizing your actions.

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Q. My friend’s future children: My friend of 15 years, “Jojo,” has been using the lives of her “future Black children” as reasoning against racism. She’s currently dating a Black man and, while they’re serious, I’ve not heard her discuss children until bringing up the theoretical racism they’ll face. She has a history of playing up her proximity to marginalized groups (when we were in high school she told people she was Jewish because her sister-in-law is). Her comments make me extremely uncomfortable. It feels creepy, fetish-y, and pretty inappropriate. She has a history of dismissing me (I have a high school diploma and manage a restaurant—she has a master’s and is a teacher), so I want to have solid reasons why this is a bad move. In this age of white people holding fellow white people accountable, I want to do this work so her boyfriend, or another Black person, doesn’t have to. Any advice on a script?

A: “We don’t have to talk about hypothetical future people who will experience racism to talk about real people experiencing racism right now.”

Q. No more free food: Our neighbors have been struggling since only two of the adults have jobs. My daughter and I can’t afford to give money, but my daughter works at a deli. They throw a lot of their hot food away at the end of the night (chicken, green beans, starchy foods). It is technically against the rules, but her manager looks the other way. We have been taking over leftover food to our neighbors, almost four times a week. Our neighbors were very grateful at first, but the older two daughters have started to treat us badly. They don’t work but let their kids run around while they hang out on their phones. They are the ones always home and who take the deliveries. They will sneer at the food and make comments like “No rolls today?” or “This chicken looks nasty.” I try to ignore it, but my daughter is more sensitive. She worked late once and came in through the door cursing and crying. She had had a bad day at work: customers screaming at her and a co-worker making fun of her for taking the food home. She delivered the food to our neighbors and got in a fight with the daughters. They were dismissive and disdainful. My daughter told them to be grateful for once. They got to her, telling her they don’t have to be grateful for this “crap” and insulting her weight and appearance.

I tried to talk to my neighbor. She apologized but then made excuse after excuse for her daughters: how “difficult” it was to stay at home with their kids and get them to do their lessons and how they were not getting enough support from the school district. I asked her what that has to do with their treatment of my daughter. I told her to thank her daughters because we would not be putting ourselves out anymore. It has been a few weeks. My neighbor has sincerely apologized. Her daughters left a heartfelt letter in our mailbox and their kids have stopped me several times saying they are hungry and their mommas are sorry. My daughter refuses to accept the apology and has even gotten angry with me for siding with them. I have given my neighbor a few hundred dollars to help, but that is the most I can do. You can’t replace hot food like that. There are a lot of hungry mouths in that house. I don’t know what to do. Please advise.

A: I think the most important detail here is that your neighbors’ children are hungry and have no control over how their parents speak to other adults. I wonder if it would help you and your daughter to reframe this: You don’t have to like or even accept the adults’ apologies in order to find ways to help their kids. Would she be willing to bring food home if you both agreed your daughter never had to bring it over to your neighbors’ house? Could you arrange a drop-off point so that you don’t have to have a daily conversation about what’s on the menu (which would probably also be safer from a social distancing perspective)? If there are any ways you and your daughter can minimize your personal contact with your difficult neighbors while also making sure their kids don’t suffer needlessly, I’d encourage you to pursue it. The goal here is not to mend fences and become dear friends, just to get those kids dinner.

If your daughter is absolutely dead set against bringing any more food home from the deli, you can’t (and shouldn’t) try to force her. At that point you can try contacting local food banks/Meals on Wheels/mutual aid groups to see if there are any meal relief services available in your neighborhood and point them in your neighbor’s direction. Just remind yourself it’s for the kids, and not their parents, and let that guide your actions.

Q. Lost a friend: I recently moved to be closer to my family. A few years ago, I worked at a company with several other people, some my age and some not. Anyway, a new girl showed up and I was going through a hard time and didn’t know how to be a friend. I was rude, jealous, and petty, bringing drama into work. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a letter I gave her on my last day that was very self-indulgent. She blocked me on Facebook. I’ve sent texts apologizing but have received no response, which tells me she probably blocked my number. I really miss her friendship and I’m so depressed that I blew it with her. I thought we were friends when I left the company. We were friends on Facebook for a short amount of time and on my last day when I talked to her, she didn’t appear to have bad feelings toward me. The bad letter must have been the last straw. I found her on Instagram and have considered messaging her there. I just really want her to know how sorry I am and that I’m thinking of her and miss her friendship.

Here is the message I am thinking of sending. Please let me know what you think: “Hi, It’s____ from [the company]. I want to apologize for how horribly I treated you when we worked there. I am very, deeply, and sincerely sorry for hurting and upsetting you. My actions were selfish and hurtful and you didn’t deserve what I said and did. I have a great amount of remorse and regret for my behavior and I hope that you will forgive me. I know you don’t want to hear from me since you blocked me on Facebook. I also want to apologize for my letter I gave you in person. I’m sorry if it upset or hurt you. I realize and acknowledge how selfish my letter was. I can imagine how uncomfortable and upsetting my actions made you feel and I wish I could undo them or take them back. I’m not trying to make excuses for myself but I was in a sad, dark, and selfish place then and I feel like [the company] brought out the worst in me. Looking back, I didn’t think about my actions or the consequences before I acted on them and I am ashamed of them and of my behavior toward you. I wanted to let you know that I’ve been thinking about you and that I miss you. I wish I had done a better job of showing you that I wanted to be your friend. I’ve grown up a lot since then and done a lot of soul-searching. I would really like another chance to be your friend. I would like to start over with you. Anyway, I hope you can forgive me and maybe, if you want to, we can meet up for coffee and sort things out. I would be happy to treat you to lunch. Please let me know if there is a way I can earn your forgiveness. Thank you.”

A: There’s a lot that’s good about your proposed letter: You start with an apology, acknowledge that you hurt her, specifically mention the letter as an act of selfishness and cruelty, don’t try to minimize or dismiss your past behavior, and have clearly spent some time putting yourself in her shoes and considering her feelings. But you also say, “I know you don’t want to hear from me,” and you mention that you’ve tried on at least two separate occasions to contact her via text and Facebook and she’s blocked or ignored you both times. That should give you real pause! Part of what makes an apology meaningful is the ability to demonstrate changed behavior—like learning how to take No for an answer and not making your feelings your former co-worker’s problem to manage. You can have the most heartfelt, thoughtful, meaningful, carefully considered apology in the world, but if the person you’ve hurt doesn’t want to hear it, you’ll render it immediately worthless if you try to pester them into listening.

Beyond that, it’s premature to include so many requests at the end of an apology letter. You ask her to resume your friendship, to start over, to forgive you, to let you know ways you can earn her forgiveness, and to meet you for coffee—that’s a lot all at once. Too much, I think, especially when you’re asking it of someone who has already decided to stop speaking to you entirely, presumably at least in part because you’ve made a habit of asking too much of her and not listening in return. I think you should take another pass at this letter, remove the parts where you ask her to be your friend again, and then give this a little more time. Reflect on your motives. Ask yourself how you would handle it if you sent her a beautiful apology and she ignored it or wrote back something unforgiving. Would you be able to keep your composure? Would you be able to respect her choice not to resume your former friendship? It would be better to say nothing than to start apologizing and then get into a fight when you don’t get what you want. I think you have enough evidence to assume she doesn’t want to hear from you again; it may be that the best apology you can offer her is distance. But if you do eventually decide to send her an edited version of this letter—as long as you’re prepared to take No for an answer this time—I hope it brings you some peace.

Q. Not my home: I own a townhouse. It has one guest room. My sister is married to a man I hate. He cheats on her regularly and she rails against the other women but laps up any personal attention from him. He got another woman pregnant during their engagement, but my sister took him back when the other woman miscarried. He refuses to clean, he refuses to cook, he leaves messes, and my sister runs after him with a vacuum cleaner. They have a 3-year-old together. They are facing eviction and my sister is trying to make ends meet with gig jobs while her husband is “too proud” to find part-time work. My sister has begged to move in with me. I told her that she and her child can move in but not her husband. I could not live with the man. She called me a bitch and told me I don’t get to “sabotage” her marriage. I told her if her husband gives me a paycheck stub I will match it; otherwise he can contribute something. My sister pays for babysitting because her husband can’t be bothered to look after his own kid. Now my sister isn’t talking to me. I love her and don’t want her to be homeless. But this is my home. I would kill him after two days. Help.

A: I get your concern that your sister will become increasingly isolated and dependent on her husband if they’re evicted right now. I share that concern myself! But it’s relevant that you know it would be impossible for you to live with him—it would not be helpful to her if they moved in, the two of you blew up at each other, and they had to move again. Especially considering there would be at least four of you in a two-bedroom townhouse, where you’d be unable to get any sort of distance from one another. If there’s any other help you’re prepared to offer her, like finding her a lawyer to contest the eviction, placing a call to your local tenants’ rights board and finding out what other options they have to petition to stay in their current apartment, applying for affordable housing, offering to babysit or to look for other apartments with her or to help crowdfund money for a security deposit and first month’s rent (or to give a loan or gift, if you feel prepared not to see that money again), let her know whatever you’re willing to do. But it’s sensible to draw the line at letting them move in when you know living together would be impossible for more than a few days.

Q. Sleeping arrangement predicament: My partner and I moved in together a few months back. Most nights, I enjoy sleeping next to her. But occasionally, maybe once every couple weeks or so, I just feel like sleeping alone, like I did before we began cohabitating. So here are my questions: 1. Is it weird to occasionally not want to sleep next to your partner? 2. If it is indeed not weird, is there a way to ask if she’d be OK with me occasionally sleeping on the couch without sounding like I don’t enjoy sleeping next to her?

A: Wanting to be alone occasionally, even if you’re in a romantic relationship, is not weird. Not everyone in a romantic relationship wants to sleep by themselves once or twice a month, but it certainly doesn’t strike me as beyond the pale or unheard-of. I can’t promise you that your girlfriend will respond simply, “Sounds great, just let me know what dates you were thinking of,” and you might need to have a bit of a back-and-forth over how she feels about it, but you should definitely just bring it up.

Q. Gender-unaware grandma: I messed up. I was about to be scheduled for top surgery when COVID-19 hit. After three months, I just got the call and have an official surgery date. I was so excited that I posted about it on Facebook … completely forgetting that even my technology-challenged grandma has a Facebook account. Cue the alarmed text messages. I initially replied that the surgery is necessary and that having a date set was a real relief. Now she wants details about what is wrong. Whoops!

Grandma is the only family member I’m not out to. She and my mom (her daughter) weren’t close before Mom died. Now she only sends me and my sister passive-aggressive texts about how alone she is. I don’t have the energy to educate her about trans people in general, let alone my specific flavor of genderqueer. I had hoped that she might die before my transition got to the “too-obvious-to-be-ignored” stage. She doesn’t travel and I’m not planning on visiting her soon, if ever. The way I see it, I have three options:

A. Ignore her texts (my go-to option) and remember to not post about gender stuff on FB.

B. Bite the bullet and come out to her.

C. Continue crafting an increasingly tangled web of lies and say the surgery is for breast cancer prevention.

A: Which option sounds least exhausting and the most freeing? I think the fact that you list option C as “crafting an increasingly tangled web of lies” is evidence you don’t really want to do it, that it sounds confusing and tiring and like a lot of unnecessary work. That leaves A or B. You’re not close, so there’s not much to lose, and I don’t think you have to “educate” her about trans people if you decide to come out to her. You can simply come out to her! Coming out doesn’t mean you have to sign a contract where you agree to explain yourself over and over again to someone determined to misunderstand you. I understand that it’s difficult to resist family pressure, especially family pressure you’ve been bearing up under for years, but think of it this way: You’re already getting a lot of texts from her asking questions. The cat’s really out of the bag. You’re 80 percent of the way already out to her. If you want to split the difference between A and B, you can say something like “I’ve got a mastectomy [or top surgery, or chest reconstruction, or whatever term you’re using] scheduled for the fall. I’m really looking forward to it, and my health is also good, but thanks for checking in” and then decide whether to respond to future texts on the subject.

You can also modify your settings with your grandmother on Facebook so she doesn’t see everything you post, just for future reference.

Q. Re: No more free food: Danny, your advice missed the mark. An apology does not grant the offender carte blanche to get what they want. The daughter who was providing the food has every right to stop doing so, even if she accepted the neighbor’s apologies. The daughter was going against company policy giving out the food, potentially putting her own job at risk to help people who treated her badly. It was being noticed and remarked on by co-workers, so it was really possible it was going to end negatively for the daughter at her job.

Also, you are giving a pass to the neighbors that they don’t deserve. The kids coming over and saying they are hungry are likely to have been prompted to do so by their parents. The neighbors should be spending their energy signing up for AFDC, checking in to food banks, and doing what they can to take care of their kids.

The kids could be hungry, but how many people who are really hungry are cruel and abusive to the people helping them? You tell women who are being abused in romantic relationships they can and should leave, but here you are telling a kind-hearted person to let themselves most likely be abused again for someone else’s kids. There are support programs for those kids if the parents are willing to put the effort into getting access to the programs. If the kids keep saying they are hungry and their parents are unwilling or unable to care for them, maybe social services should be called instead of expecting the neighbors to take responsibility for their care.

A: I agree completely! That’s why I advised the letter writer to pursue other options if her daughter proved unwilling to bring more food home, because I agree that she cannot force her daughter to do so. But I strenuously disagree that being yelled at or treated rudely by your neighbors is comparable to being trapped in an abusive marriage—I just don’t think that comparison is apt.

Q. Re: Lost a friend: It doesn’t sound like you were ever a friend to her, from what you wrote. And your coup de grâce was a nasty letter on departure? Out of self-protection, she has blocked contact with you, and you continue to look for ways to engage her despite her making it clear she wants nothing to do with you. Any attempt at contact will make her anxious. She does not want your apologies, remorse or guilt. She wants you to leave her alone. See a counselor, before you get accused of stalking.

A: I agree that writing an angry letter on someone’s last day of work is about as bad a way to resolve conflict as any. I’m kind of surprised I forgot to mention counseling, given how often I recommend it, but I think that’s going to be the most productive place for the letter writer to explore their feelings of guilt, shame, regret, desire to be forgiven, impulse to change, and sense of where they went wrong in the past.

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Classic Prudie

Q. My boyfriend practiced bestiality as a teenager: I need advice about something that I can’t ask anyone else. I have been with my boyfriend for two years. He is charming, funny, and my best friend. We both have good careers, share common interests, and love each other very much. However, he confessed something horrible to me the other night. He grew up on a farm and ranch, with a very conservative and religious family, and was home-schooled. “Ray” did not receive an early education about sex and was not allowed to talk about it or ask questions. At age 12, while looking for answers on the Internet, he found porn. Some of it was bestiality. He then participated in these atrocious activities from age 12 to 15. Ray went to public high school at 15, finally learned about sex, and found girls. He has not been back to this practice for more than 10 years and feels an incredible sense of regret, shame, and guilt about it. I am the first person he has ever told. I am shocked, disgusted, and fearful of what this means for his psyche. He refuses to see a therapist. I feel so overwhelmed by this confession that I don’t know what to do. Should I have packed my bags that night? Do I seek counseling? Can we move forward? Please help me process this. Read what Prudie had to say.

Danny M. Lavery’s new book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You, is out now.