Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Danny Lavery: Hello, everyone! Glad to be back. Let’s get started.
Q. My wife revealed my trauma: My wife and I have been friends with two families since we’ve been together. We vacation together, our kids are “play cousins,” and we enjoy each other’s company. They’ve known my wife longer than me. Recently, it came out that my wife had mentioned to one friend, who then told their partner and the other couple, that I experienced sexual abuse as a child. I feel completely humiliated. I have never disclosed this to anyone other than my wife. While I’m sure she wasn’t gossiping about me, I still resent her having shared this. I am embarrassed that they’ve known something so intimate about me. I feel shut down whenever I interact with these friends now. I don’t know how to proceed.
A: Your wife should not have disclosed your childhood sexual abuse to anyone, regardless of her intentions. I’m glad you didn’t think she was gossiping or speaking flippantly about it, but it’s your call to decide when, where, and how you want to share this information with other people, no matter how well your kids get along, no matter how long you’ve known them, or any other factor. I hope your wife has already apologized sincerely. If she hasn’t, she needs to. Impress upon her that this has materially damaged your relationship with these people, that you had no intention of discussing your childhood abuse with them, and now that you’ve realized they’ve known about it for some time (without your knowing about that knowledge!), the trust and intimacy you once shared with them has been displaced. Your wife should also commit to never sharing this information on your behalf again. Once she’s able to do that, then you can discuss what your future relationships with these other families might look like. Maybe you need distance for a while, maybe you’d like her to apologize to them for sharing information that wasn’t hers to disclose, maybe both.
You may also want to see a couples counselor together, both to work through this violation and to establish a sense of trust with someone who’s professionally obligated to maintain confidentiality. To that end, you might also consider seeing a therapist of your own. But you certainly don’t have to—I don’t want to suggest that your first response to having your wife violate your privacy ought to be “talk to somebody else about your abuse.” I recommend therapy often (and see a therapist regularly myself), but it’s not the only way to deal with trauma or work through relationship issues, and having experienced CSA in the past doesn’t create a special obligation to disclose or discuss it with others. I hope you’ll consider it as an option that may very well provide you with some relief, but whatever decision you make is entirely yours.
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Q. Voter fraud: My father is in a nursing home and is often very confused. Recently I told my mother that she could not fill out his absentee ballot for him because it is against the law. At first she was upset, wanting to know when it had become illegal. I told her it had always been illegal and that it is considered voter fraud. With the current brouhaha over mail-in ballots, I didn’t want her to get in trouble. Today she told me that she had sent the mail-in ballot to the nursing home but had changed her mind and was going to get it back and “rip it up with my own two hands so you don’t call the police on me.” I was very hurt by this and told her so. She happens to be voting for a different candidate than I am, but I would have given her the same information even if she was voting for my candidates. Until a few years ago, my father took care of all the “adult” work, and my mother at age 88 has now been thrown in water above her head with no idea how to cope. I thought it was the right thing to do to give her the information I did. Was I wrong, or should I have just let her commit voter fraud and hope she didn’t get caught, rationalizing that the one vote would not have made a difference?
A: Depending on your state, and whether your father has moments where he’s able to clearly communicate his wishes, he may have the right to fill out an absentee ballot with additional assistance. You and your mother might want to speak to the nursing home administration and inquire whether they’re able to assist. You can learn a bit more about voting accessibility options here, although of course my thoughts here are neither exhaustive nor an adequate substitute for legal advice. And that doesn’t mean your mother, or anyone else, can simply take his absentee ballot and decide whom they think he’d vote for—or worse, whom they’d want him to vote for—before mailing it in on his behalf. To that end, it’s perfectly fine that you told your mother not to do it. The fact that she got a little snitty and said “I’ll tear it up myself so you don’t call 911” is annoying, but take the win where you can get it. It’s good that she’s not going to fill out his ballot! Now, as for her being generally “in over her head” at 88, that seems like the more pressing issue. I don’t know if you fear for her ability to care for herself, but if you’re worried about her health or safety or ability to stay on top of her bills, I suggest you focus on finding resources to help her cope. Good luck!
Q. Closing out jailed son’s social media: My 24-year-old son was arrested this weekend to be extradited out of state and, best-case scenario, won’t be out for eight months to a year. He gave me his phone and said to shut everything down. After that interaction, I won’t be able to see or talk to him for 10 to 14 days. In getting his apps ready to close, I found he’s been lying about his age (saying he’s 18) and using an entirely made-up identity to talk to young (but still of age) women. I feel those women deserve more than being ghosted, but I don’t know what to tell them—“Sorry, my son lied to you and now he’s in jail”? And if I do, how detailed should I be?
A: I understand that you want to support your son while he’s incarcerated, but you’ll take on too much responsibility if you try to make it your job to address his relationships with the women he’s lied to. I don’t know if his arrest is in any way connected to this, but if so, I hope you’ll consult a lawyer of your own before doing anything with your son’s accounts, to make sure that you’re staying on the right side of the law and protecting yourself. You can support your son without acquiescing to this request. I think the best thing to do is to tell him the next time you speak that you’re not able to close down his accounts because that would either involve continuing the lies he’s told these women, or having to conduct awkward personal conversations that he needs to either have or avoid on his own. There’s nothing here that can’t wait 10 or 14 days; it doesn’t sound like he’s ever met any of these women or that he’s made them extravagant promises. Even if they are hurt and bewildered by his sudden disappearance, ghosting is hardly uncommon on dating apps, especially when a relationship’s still in a just-texting phase. I agree that these women deserve better, but your son chose not to treat them better, and all the sympathy and explanations in the world from his mother won’t make up for his bad behavior. While your son’s obviously going through a difficult time facing out-of-state charges, he’s also 24 years old, and it’s his responsibility to deal with whatever consequences arise from his decision to lie to women, whether online or elsewhere.
Q. Husband’s friend that he hates: My husband has a co-worker he constantly complains about to me. He says that the entire office can’t stand her, she’s a snitch, etc. However, I just saw messages on his phone with her that are paragraphs long and how he hopes they get to work the same days together. How much should I be worried?
A: I don’t want to choose a “concern level” you should set your flag to, but you should certainly talk to your husband about it—starting, of course, with an honest disclosure about just how you came to see those messages on his phone, why you felt compelled to read through them, and whether you two generally have a difficult time trusting each other, and probably an apology, if you two aren’t normally in the habit of reading each other’s text messages. Then listen to what he has to say, and be honest with yourself about how persuasive you find his explanation. Maybe he has a crush on her, maybe they’re having an affair, maybe he has an unattractive habit of complaining about her to others while flattering her directly in order to stay on her good side (or maybe both). Whatever the case may be, you can both apologize for having violated his privacy and ask for clarification about a jarring inconsistency.
Q. Cleaning neighbors’ yard: We’re friendly with a neighbor who’s been gone for a long period because of COVID. Leaves have piled up in her yard, and we’d like to clean them up. Usually we ignore them and she cleans them up when she returns, but she’s been gone longer than normal and the fire danger is very high. Is it OK to clear her yard of leaves? We don’t have any contact info for her, nor do our other neighbors, or we’d ask her first. She has another house out of state and is only here a few months out of the year.
A: This seems straightforwardly fine! Late August is a particularly risky time for fires, you’re not planning on cutting down a tree or altering some permanent fixture of her backyard, you’re normally friendly with her but don’t presently have any way of getting in touch, and it doesn’t seem likely she’d want to save dead leaves. Go ahead and clear the leaves. When she gets back, you can ask if she’d like to leave a forwarding number on future trips (or suggest she hire a landscaping crew every few months), but I really don’t think you have to wait to ask her permission this time.
Q. Can’t stay at home: I have been back to working in the office for about two months after my state’s initial stay-at-home order was lifted. My wife seems to have gotten too accustomed to having me at home every day because she is constantly asking and begging me to stay and work from home for a day. This has happened almost on a daily basis lately. While I enjoyed working from home and wish I could go back to it again, and my office has a semi-relaxed work-from-home policy, it’s not that simple. I’m in a junior position, and my boss would much rather I’d be in the office full time (it’s not an option for me to work from home for one or two days a week). I know she’s stressed out because she has to get our oldest child ready for school in the mornings and take care of our needy 2-year-old, but I feel like she’s being unreasonable. Is she, or should I be more accommodating somehow? I’ve even tried coming home on my lunch break occasionally—something that isn’t easy, given the commute—and she continues to want me to stay home. Is there a solution here that I’m not considering?
A: I don’t think either of you is being unreasonable, although I do agree that your wife’s current approach (asking you every day if you can work from home) to a perfectly understandable problem (feeling overwhelmed on a daily basis by two small children as a stay-at-home parent) needs to change. I’m not quite sure whether the “semi-relaxed” work-from-home policy applies to everyone in your office or if it’s tied to seniority. If once a week isn’t possible, I wonder if you could ask your boss about the possibility of working from home one Friday a month; while that won’t solve the bulk of your child care problem, it can’t hurt, especially since you enjoy it yourself.
But whatever answer your boss gives, you have grounds to reorient this conversation with your wife. Tell her you’ve noticed she asks you almost every day to work from home, that it’s just not possible for you to do so right now, and then ask her what kind of help she needs right now to make her own workdays manageable. Can you help get your oldest child ready for school before you leave for work in the mornings? If not every day, can you commit to two mornings a week, or make lunches the night before? Are there chores or errands related to child care that aren’t immediately time-sensitive that you can take over on the weekends so she has more time to decompress? I don’t imagine you can provide much more than brief moral support if you come home during a lunch break for 15 minutes when factoring in your commute, so look for other opportunities to relieve some of the child care burden where you can. Good luck!
Q. Do I owe my friend who helped me out once? I met my friend “Jonathan” 20 years ago in high school. We became friends on Facebook but didn’t really communicate until 12 years after high school, when he messaged me about a trip to the city he lived in I posted about on Facebook. We had lunch my first day there. Then a week later, when I found myself in a bind in a city where I knew no one else, I called him for help. He really came through for me with generosity and hospitality, and I will never forget it. The problem is that in the years since he has continued calling me for favors. More than once he has called me and asked me to wire him a couple hundred dollars, which I did if I had it. Once he called me to pick him up at the airport about two hours from where I live and take him to his hotel. It was a weeknight, and when his flight was delayed he still expected me to show up at 11:30 p.m. on a work night. But what has really bothered me is that he has asked me to provide a fake reference in a job search more than once over the years. The first time, I was younger and it was actually kind of fun. Now it feels irresponsible, especially now that everything we do is virtually public. This potential employer could find me and call me out on social media or worse, contact my current employer and fill them in. I’ve already made the mistake of saying I would do this again. Do I confront him and tell him I am not comfortable doing this again? Do I just pretend like I never got the call for a reference? Or do I just follow through on this favor and refuse if it comes up again? I feel like I might never escape this feeling that I owe him, that unless I do something equally generous, we will never be “even.”
A: Unless Jonathan bought you a house with a suitcase full of cash, no mortgage, free and clear and in your name, I’m at a loss to think of what he could have done for you when you were alone in a new city that means eight years later you’re still honor-bound to say yes to any and every favor he asks of you, without question. Yes, you should stop providing him with fake work references, and you can let him know you wish you hadn’t done it in the first place because the risks are too high for both of you. Don’t wait around for a prospective employer to call you—firstly because I think you’ll feel stressed out and anxious waiting for such a call, but also because it would be a waste of his time and yours if he lists you as a reference in the future and you already know you’re not going to do it anymore. If he asks you for a ride from an airport two hours away at midnight, or any other favor you can’t comfortably perform, tell him no. It’s great to do favors for a friend when you can, but this isn’t Sila Tsarevich and Ivashka with the White Smock and you’re not under a life debt because Jonathan helped you out in a crisis.
Q. Re: Cleaning neighbors’ yard: Given she lives out of state for part of every year, she likely has her mail forwarded to her there. Try sending her a note to the address that you have for her in your own neighborhood, and it will probably be forwarded to her out-of-state address.
A: That’s a good suggestion! I agree: If she has multiple homes, it seems likely that she has at least some way of checking mail at both addresses when she’s out of town. I still think the letter writer should rake up the leaves and then send the note letting her know and asking what her wishes are in the future, rather than asking permission and then waiting around, but it’s a good option.
Q. Re: Can’t stay at home: It might be worth asking if your boss will let you shift hours slightly, maybe 9–6 instead of 8–5. Then you could be more hands-on in the a.m., getting your daughter ready and getting the day off to a better start. Just a thought!
A: That might be an option and worth at least raising with the boss. I can’t imagine the OP is the only employee having to deal with pandemic-related child care issues, and I hope management is willing to be flexible where possible.
Q. A family friend is threatening to tell my parents I’m a stripper: I had been struggling to make a living at my job for a few years now and decided to apply as a bartender at a local strip club. After a few days of working there, the manager said he was low on girls for the night and asked if I would like to dance for the night. I was a little hesitant at first but decided it was just one night. I ended up loving it and made around $800 in a few hours! We talked, and I became a dancer overnight. This was about a year ago. The other night while doing a set, one of my parents’ friends comes up to the stage and asks for a VIP dance. The entire time he was telling me how he wants a cut of my earnings to stay quiet and not tell my parents what I am doing! I either have to come clean to my parents (who are VERY religious and would disown me), quit my job and get further in debt, or start paying this guy half of my nightly earnings. Read what Prudie had to say.
Danny M. Lavery’s new book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You, is out now.
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