Dear Prudence

The Best, Weirdest Dear Prudie Letters of the Decade, All in One Place

A whole lot of Prudie to pass the time on Election Day.

A trophy for the best, weirdest Dear Prudies.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

We’re publishing a special-edition column of classic Prudie letters to help readers pass the time on Election Day, whether you’re in line to vote or anxiously awaiting results. (If you prefer to face your anxiety head on, Slate writers are covering the latest news in our running live blog.) 

Dear Prudence,

My mother-in-law hates me and makes no bones about it when she and I are alone. My husband doesn’t believe me, and she even gloats about that. We have to attend family functions at her home about once a month. (It used to be more frequent, but after I put my foot down, my husband agreed that monthly would be sufficient.) The problem is that after each visit, I wind up with a bad case of diarrhea; my husband does not. I don’t know if the other in-laws are affected, because if I asked, it would get back to her. I suspect that my mother-in-law is putting something in my food or drink. Last time, I barely made it home before being struck down. Now I am considering getting some “adult undergarments” to make sure I don’t ruin the car’s upholstery on the ride home from her place. Do you have any other advice?

—Running for the Hills

In the great old Cary Grant movie Suspicion, director Alfred Hitchcock has a scene in which possible murderer Grant is bringing a glass of milk to his wife, played by Joan Fontaine, and no beverage has ever looked so malign. Just as Fontaine wasn’t sure if she was being poisoned, you aren’t either. It’s possible you’ve entered a Pavlovian cycle in which when you eat your mother-in-law’s food your digestive tract automatically goes into overdrive, or that there is some ingredient she regularly uses which just doesn’t agree with you. It’s also possible she’s trying to harm you. I’ve been reading a fascinating book, The Poisoner’s Handbook, about poisoners in the early 20th century—it was a popular way to off someone—and the new forensic scientists who exposed them. Peek at your mother-in-law’s Kindle to see if she’s downloaded this. The next time you go for dinner at her house, after the food is served but before you begin eating, you and your husband should agree to swap plates and cups. If you mother-in-law screams to her son, “Don’t eat that!” case closed, Sherlock. Of course, this would require your husband to take your concerns seriously. It’s alarming to think your mother-in-law might be deliberately sickening you. Equally distressing is the fact that your husband does not believe you when you describe her malicious behavior. You need to tell your husband that after becoming repeatedly ill at your in-law’s house, you have become afraid for your health. Tell him you are also afraid for your marriage because he apparently believes you are a liar—which you are not—when it comes to his mother. Say that he needs to take seriously the fact that she says ugly things when you and she are alone, and you are not going to stand for it anymore. If that doesn’t result in his attention and concern, then you may need to move to your mother’s.—Emily Yoffe

From: Help! My Mother-in-Law Might Be Poisoning Me. (March 8, 2012).

Dear Prudence,

I am a college student just wrapping up my junior year. This school year has been incredibly stressful for me. I had to undergo a series of rabies shots after being bitten by a bat, my mother’s house was burglarized, and two close friends have been imprisoned. The house I live in attracts numerous unwanted critters and is far enough away from campus that I have lost touch with most of my classmates. Because of these factors, I have been experiencing severe bouts of depression and emotional instability, and I recently succumbed to these feelings and sought out an escort online. However, she was an undercover police officer, and I was charged with solicitation. I sought out legal help on my own, and the charges will be dismissed in less than two months after I complete an educational program. I have also entered counseling through my university. I have not told anybody outside of my lawyer and therapist about the incident because there is a definite social stigma regarding prostitution, and I am extremely embarrassed. My parents have been very understanding and supportive of me this past year, but I do not think I can bring myself to tell them about the incident. Given that the charge will be dismissed, do I need to tell my parents about it at all?

—From Bat to Worse

You were bitten by a potentially rabid bat! That gives you a freebie on subsequent mad behavior. It sounds as if Judith Viorst should do an update of her classic children’s book, make it for young adults, and call it Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Junior Year. I’m assuming you mean that the charges will be expunged, right? I hope so, in which case it’s as if the incident never happened. You have dealt with this in an adult way, and since it will have no further bearing on your life, you aren’t obligated to tell anyone. You say your parents have been very supportive of you, so instead of discussing solicitation, solicit them for help in underwriting housing for you that gets you close to the university. You’re entitled to enjoy your college years and not feel as if you’re exiled to some outer precinct of True Blood.—EY

From: Help! I’ve Been Bitten by a Bat and Charged With Soliciting a Prostitute. (From May 5, 2015).

Dear Prudence,

I am furious with another set of parents. My 16-year-old daughter has recently told her mother and me that she is pregnant. It happened at a party that was not well-supervised, and there was alcohol involved. The boy involved and his family are owning up to their share of the responsibility, but the owners of the house are absolutely infuriating me. They need to admit their share of this burden, as it was their booze and their house party that allowed this to happen. My family is going to have a lot of expenses due to this new baby, and I don’t know how much the boy’s family can help, so it seems that the party’s host should help out, again as it was on their watch that this happened. So far, that family has ignored me when I have tried to speak with them about this. I am ready to call a lawyer to press the issue, but my wife thinks I am overreacting. What do you think?

—Where’s the Money?

I believe this is a yet unexplored avenue of tort law. I am awaiting the television ads for law firms that announce, “Was your daughter knocked up in the basement at a friend’s house while the parents were upstairs watching Masters of Sex? You may be entitled to compensation!” Dad, you wouldn’t be suing yourself if it happened in your basement while you were out at a football game. Listen to your wife and forget the other parents. The issue here is that a couple of dopey teens are on track to become parents themselves. Your family needs to be seriously addressing this issue and all your options. Perhaps proceeding with the pregnancy is not a good idea. Perhaps if termination is not a possibility, placing the child for adoption is. If your daughter is going to keep the baby, the burden is going to fall on your family. So stop trying to displace your anger and anxiety. It’s time to show your daughter how mature parents face tough situations.—EY

From: Help! My Daughter Got Pregnant at a Friend’s Party and the Owners of the House Won’t Chip In. (Oct. 8, 2013).

Dear Prudence,

It sounds like a bad joke, but my cheating husband stepped into the street, got hit by a semi, and died. Instead of going through a difficult divorce, I have inherited all his assets and am a very wealthy woman. I have no idea how to deal with any of this. I held a memorial and didn’t stay long. I felt like a fraud. Friends told me that his mistress showed up in tears. Apparently she is a single mom, and my husband was paying for her apartment and her son’s private school. Am I crazy to want to reach out and maybe help her? My circle of friends runs the gamut from glee to indifference about her fate. My husband and I had been drifting apart for a while before he died. I can’t process anything right now rationally and could use an outside perspective.

–Help His Mistress?

If you’re not in therapy already, I hope you make an appointment immediately. You’ve been through one of the most bewildering and destabilizing experiences imaginable. It’s extremely commendable that your first thought toward your late husband’s mistress was compassionate, but as you yourself acknowledge, you’re not capable of thinking rationally at the moment. It may be that you’re feeling guilty about inheriting money from your cheating husband before you had the chance to leave him, and you feel that offering his former lover money would alleviate your discomfort. I don’t think you should do anything right now. Private school is not a necessity; this woman is not in danger, so you don’t have to feel responsible or guilty about her current financial situation. Consider, too, that she is currently grieving your husband’s loss and might not be well-equipped to speak with you. If a few months or years from now, after talking it over with a therapist, you decide you’d like to speak with her, you may find some closure or a sense of connection that provides you with some solace. But there’s no rush. Focus on yourself and dealing with your loss and frustration before you try to get in touch.—Danny M. Lavery

From: Help! My Cheating Husband Died Suddenly, and I Want to Help His Mistress. (Feb. 18, 2016).

Dear Prudence, 

My fraternal twin and I (both men) are in our late 30s. We were always extremely close and shared a bedroom growing up. When we were 12 we gradually started experimenting sexually with each other. After a couple of years, we realized we had fallen in love. Of course we felt guilty and ashamed, and we didn’t dare tell anyone what we were doing. We hoped it was “just a phase” that we’d grow out of, but we wound up sleeping together  until we left for college. We knew this could ruin our lives, so we made a pact to end it. We attended schools far apart and limited our contact to family holidays. But we never fell out of love with each other, so after graduation we moved in together and have been living very discreetly as a monogamous couple ever since. I’m not writing to you to pass moral judgment on our relationship—we’re at peace and very happy. Our dilemma is how to deal with our increasingly nosy family and friends. They know we’re gay, and we live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal, so we’re getting pressure to settle down. I feel we should continue being discreet for the rest of our lives and blow off their questions. It’s nobody’s business, and I fear they would find our relationship shocking and disgusting. My brother, though, is exhausted with this charade. He thinks that if we get the family together with a therapist to talk through the issues, they’ll eventually accept it. I think he’s out of his mind, but I also want to make him happy. Is this one of those times when honesty is not the best policy? If so, how do we get everyone to stop worrying we will die alone? I’m also concerned about the legal implications of this—would the therapist be required to report us to the authorities? Could we go to prison?

—Tired of This Greek Tragicomedy

I admit this is my first letter about homosexual, incestuous twins, but I’m going to take you at your word that you two are happy and that I should suppress the images that came to mind of two sets of brothers who lived together and came to unseemly ends: the pack-rat Collyer brothers and the twin gynecologist Marcus brothers. Let’s deal with your legal questions first. I spoke to Dan Markel, a professor at Florida State University College of Law. He said that while incest is generally illegal in most jurisdictions, the laws tend to be enforced in a way that would protect minors, prevent sexual abuse, and address imbalances of power. Those aren’t at issue in your consensual adult relationship, but Markel suggests you have a consultation with a criminal defense attorney (don’t worry, the discussion would be confidential) to find out if your relationship would come under the state incest statutes. Either way, it’s better to know, and if it is illegal, as long as you remain discreet the likelihood of prosecution is remote. Next, I suggest that you and your brother split the difference in your approach to family and friends. Blowing people off for the next couple of decades is only going to fan the flames of curiosity. But I also agree with you that having a family gathering in which you announce you two have found life partners—each other—will give everyone the vapors. Ultimately your choice is your business, but a limited version of the truth should back everyone off. When  people ask when you’re each going to go out there and find a nice young man, tell them that while it may seem unorthodox, you both have realized that living together is what works for you. Say no brothers could be more devoted or compatible, and neither of you can imagine wanting to change what you have.—EY

From: Help! My Twin and I Share an Earth-Shattering Family Secret. (Feb. 16, 2012).

Dear Prudence,

I recently got engaged to my wonderful fiancé. Immediately after announcing the engagement to our families, my future sister-in-law sat me down for a serious chat. She says she is currently saving up for breast implants and doesn’t want us to marry until she gets them done. She told me she wants to have one family wedding album where she looks perfect and will be heartbroken if I got married against her wishes. The trouble is, my fiancé says we should hold off the wedding for this reason, too. He knows his sister will cause so much trouble and doesn’t want to deal with the family drama. He thinks since we live together there is no hurry for marriage, anyway. I know how much he detests conflict and it’s true we are pretty much living as a married couple, but I feel like this is so wrong to postpone the wedding. He says the other option is to pay for his sister’s breast implant ourselves! Am I crazy for marrying into this family?

—Boob Delay

I’ve heard that people want others’ wedding dates moved because of their pending reproductive plans, or because it’s their anniversary which they think should be commemorated like a national holiday. But this is the first time I’ve heard that starting a new life should be put off until someone can afford new breasts. I often tell brides to stop making themselves nuts in an attempt to create the “perfect day.” But it’s really something that your sister-in-law thinks the point of your marrying her brother is that she can show off her perfect breasts. I have every confidence that right now she can afford the most jumbo set of falsies. That means that’s when it’s time for the photos her chest is front and center. Your fiancé should be saying, “Yeah, Stacy has always been a handful. The fact that she wants us to delay our wedding until she’s more of a handful is an escalation of the crazy, so let’s just ignore her.” Instead he is actually considering footing the bill for the boobs, which is rather extraordinary. It’s often the case that one family member is so impossible that everyone just gives in to make life easier, but it’s a little concerning that your intended “detests conflict” so much he’s incapable of telling his sister she’s being ridiculous. The advantage of this whole thing happening is that your fiancé wants to postpone your wedding. So that gives you time to explore just how you two will handle this and other inevitable conflicts, which is crucial information you need before you tie the knot.—EY

From: Help! My Fiancé Wants to Delay Our Wedding Until After His Sister’s Boob Job. (Sept. 30, 2013).

Dear Prudence,

When my wife and I met in college, the attraction was immediate, and we quickly became inseparable. We had a number of things in common, we came from the same large metropolitan area, and we both wanted to return there after school, so everything was very natural between us. We married soon after graduation, moved back closer to our families, and had three children by the time we were 30. We were both born to lesbians, she to a couple, and me to a single woman. She had sought out her biological father as soon as she turned 18, as the sperm bank her parents used allowed contact once the children were 18 if both parties consented. I never was interested in learning about that for myself, but she felt we were cheating our future children by not learning everything we could about my past, too. Well, our anniversary is coming up and I decided to go ahead and, as a present to my wife, see if my biological father was interested in contact as well. He was, and even though our parents had used different sperm banks, it appears so did our father, as he is the same person. On the one hand, I love my wife more than I can say, and logically, done is done, we already have children. I have had a vasectomy, so we won’t be having any more, so perhaps there is no harm in continuing as we are. But, I can’t help but think “This is my sister” every time I look at her now. I haven’t said anything to her yet, and I don’t know if I should or not. Where do I go from here? I am tempted to burn everything I got from the sperm bank and just try to forget it all, but I’m not sure if I can. Please help me figure out where to go from here.

—Nasty Surprise

This is a seminal question about the nature of assisted reproduction. As David Plotz discovered in his book, The Genius Factory, on the alleged sperm bank of Nobel Prize winners, many non-geniuses were moved to spread their seed far and wide. So the question has always hung over this: What if the offspring meet and fall in love? Well, you’ve met and it’s true that if you had researched your origins and disclosed them to each other, you and your wife would now likely be close half-siblings. I understand your desire to burn everything. But if you are now looking at your wife and thinking, “Hey, sis,” I don’t see how you can keep this information to yourself. She’s bound to sense something off in your behavior and you simply can’t say, “I’m struggling with father issues.” I think you have to sit her down and show you what you’ve discovered. Then you two should likely seek out a counselor who deals with reproductive technology to help you sort through your emotions. I don’t see why your healthy children should ever be informed of this. That Dad didn’t want to find out who his sperm donor was is a sufficient answer when they get old enough to ask about this. I think there’s way too much emphasis put on DNA. Yes, you two will have had a shock, but when it wears off you will be the same people you were before you found out. Shocking news has the effect of making people feels as if the waves it sends out will always rock them. But I think you two should be able to file away your genetic origins and go on.—EY

From: Help! My Wife Is My Sister. (Feb. 19, 2013).

Dear Prudence,

In the summer of 2011 my wife and I purchased a top-of-the-line Jopen vibrator. We used it a few times and were just beginning to really integrate it into our sex lives when my wife died suddenly of a heart attack. (The vibrator had nothing to do with that.) Now, more than a year later, I’ve begun to date again. I’ve met a woman with an open mind, and I’m thinking she might be interested in using the vibrator. But I’m not sure how, or whether, to suggest it. Is it creepy to offer a dead woman’s vibrator to someone else? And if so what else can I do with it? Sell it on Craigslist? It’s an expensive piece of equipment, barely used, and it should be employed (and loved) once again. All of my wife’s other major possessions found wonderful new homes with dear friends of hers. But then again, a vibrator’s got a different—well, vibe about it. Sell it, toss it, or share it?

—Oscillating

Talk about a buzz kill. I can’t even imagine raising the idea of asking your new squeeze to party with a vibrator “loved” by your late wife. Even if you’ve cleaned it off with Antibacterial Toy Cleaning Spray, this suggestion is going to cause unnecessary friction. I understand there is a piece of equipment, one permanently attached to you, that has been washed and used again with your new love. But paradoxically, intimate inanimate objects can feel more personal, and sharing certain ones would likely make anyone shudder. If just before her death your wife had bought a Philips Sonicare electric toothbrush, offering it to your girlfriend would make her gag. The Vanity by Jopen is also $140, comes in magenta, and its motor is apparently so powerful that when the user comes she’s probably magenta herself. But imagine trying to explain to your girlfriend that your wife only had a short time to enjoy her Jopen before her heart gave out—unrelated to the use of this equipment. There’s the rub: you don’t actually want to have that conversation. As for selling it on Craigslist, yes it’s possible that could find the vibrator a new home. But I would not want to meet the kind of person who would ring my bell in order to get a used vibrator. I understand you consider your Jopen investment-grade, but sometimes expenses just can’t be recouped.—EY

From: Help! My Wife Hardly Used Her Vibrator Before She Died. Can I Give It to My New Girlfriend? (March 14, 2013).

Dear Prudence,

My daughter-in-law enjoys knitting and crocheting. For her birthday, my husband and I gave her a generous gift card to a local yarn store, for which she thanked us and seemed very pleased. Imagine my dismay, however, when six months later for our anniversary she gifted us with a lovely bedspread, which she told me she made with yarn purchased from the gift card! I told my son that we’d in effect paid for our own present and that he needs to communicate to his wife how improper and stingy this move was. He refuses, saying that her labor and time were also part of the gift. We haven’t spoken much since except to discuss our grandchildren, and our DIL has been outright cold. I’m considering writing her a letter directly explaining why this was an improper gift and expressing my sadness that her own parents didn’t teach her gift etiquette. My husband wants me to drop the whole thing and pretend like it never happened. Prudie, I don’t like the idea of moving on as if nothing happened.

—The Gift We Gave Ourselves

But nothing did happen. You received a thoughtful gift that cost more time than money. That’s it! If someone gives you a present you don’t like, you smile and say, “Thanks, how thoughtful,” and then stash it in the back of your closet. You don’t ask your kid to complain to the gift-giver via backchannel. It’s fine if you like to give expensive presents—and can afford to do so—but that’s not the only way to show someone that you care. Even if you don’t like knitwear, your daughter-in-law spent countless hours over the course of a half-year working on something very detailed for you, and you say yourself it was a lovely bedspread. Whether she got the yarn with the gift card you gave her or spent her own money is beside the point; you’re acting as if she re-gifted something when that clearly wasn’t the case. Your daughter-in-law’s gift was thoughtful and intricate; yours was financially generous and relatively generic. There would be no reason to compare the two if you hadn’t insisted on doing so in the first place.

You are grown adults with plenty of money; if there’s something you want for yourself, go ahead and buy it—this kind of petty scorekeeping around gift-giving is barely excusable when little children do it. Writing her a letter to express “sadness” that her own parents didn’t teach her proper etiquette would be wildly inappropriate, out of line, and an unnecessary nuclear option. And it’s a guaranteed ticket to make sure you see and hear about your grandchildren way less than you do now. You still have time to salvage this relationship—don’t die on this hill. Let it go, apologize for your churlishness, and take yourself shopping if you want a pricey gift this year.—DML

From: Help! My Husband Wants Us to Host His Violent and Voyeuristic Brother for the Holidays. (Nov. 22, 2018).

Dear Prudence,

I spent the Christmas holidays with my family, my husband of five years, and our 2-year-old daughter. We hosted everyone at our house. Toward the end of the visit, I got up to check on my daughter, who had a slight cold. I noticed my husband was not in bed and decided to go look for him. Imagine my surprise when I found him and my cousin having sex on my couch! I booted both of them out, and the rest of the family went the next day. After talking to some other family members—who knew what was going on and said nothing—I found out that this affair has been going on for about a year and a half. I am devastated and heartbroken and will be speaking to a divorce lawyer in the next few days. Here is where it gets tricky. My family is urging me to get back together with my husband for the sake of my daughter. They reminded me that my cousin loves to stir up drama and probably doesn’t even love my husband, and just did this to get at me. I am trying to ignore them, but they are right—my daughter does deserve her father. What say you?

—Holiday Affair

Your daughter will be able to see her father according to whatever custody agreement you two are able to agree upon during the divorce proceedings. I do not agree with your relatives that the key issue is whether your cousin “really loves” your husband; the key issue is that your husband is willing to cheat on you with your own relatives, in your own house, over Christmas. You know, I think, that your relatives have not demonstrated that they have your best interests at heart based on the fact that they kept this affair from you for over a year. Why would you take their advice now?—DML

From: Help! I Walked In on My Husband Having Sex With My Cousin. (Jan. 14, 2020).

Dear Prudence,

I work at a small nonprofit of about 20 people, most of whom are under age 35. Our president is a big personality and often tries to treat employees as friends, whether they like it or not. She makes jokes that are highly inappropriate and she bullies our more timid employees. Last week she took things to a whole new level. In an attempt to scare a female employee who’s been the victim of some of her bullying, she snuck up behind her and planned to give the employee a soft tug on her skirt. What actually happened was that the employee’s skirt came off her waist and exposed her underwear. Immediately afterward the president repeatedly told the depantsed employee “not to tell anyone.” The employee did go to speak to a high-ranking executive officer about this and the bullying. Later that day the executive went into the president’s office and, leaving the door open so we could all hear, casually brought it up. The president has profusely apologized to the employee, but as far as anyone can tell she has received no disciplinary action. Would it be wrong to tattle about something that didn’t happen to me? Or should I just butt out of what is not my business?

—Caught With My Pants Down at Work

You say the president is a big personality, but she could more accurately be described as a big personality disorder. Someone who strips her subordinates—even accidentally while trying to simply intimidate them—should be stripped of her duties. Perhaps your boss, because she works for a philanthropic organization, suffers from the kind of moral hypocrisy described here—she thinks she’s making the world a better place, so that allows her to behave horribly while doing it. More likely, she’s just the latest entry in the series of letters I’ll title: How Did That Nut Get That Job? What happened to your emotionally battered colleague is not a singular transgression—your boss is a walking human-resources violation. I have the strong suspicion that inappropriate jokes, bullying, and disrobing of subordinates violates the company manual and her terms of employment. Everyone who works there is affected by the boss’s unprofessionalism, so speak up! But given that these are desperate times, it’s likely you will want to make your observations known in an anonymous letter. Describe the many misbehaviors of your boss, including the skirt caper, in a dispassionate, factual way. Say that the president’s misconduct is undermining morale, violating the organization’s mission, and potentially creating grounds for a lawsuit. Send a copy to all the top executives and the members of the board. If your boss isn’t then either reformed or gone, get your own résumé out there.—EY

From: Help! The President of My Company Just “Pantsed” an Employee. (June 28, 2012).

Dear Prudence,

Recently I went on a trip with my partner and three other couples, including my sister and brother-in-law. One afternoon everyone went into their respective rooms for some downtime and my partner and I debated fooling around. Then we overheard my brother-in-law in the living room say to my sister, “I’m gonna go listen to them have sex!” We heard him attempt to tiptoe over quietly where he stood outside of our door for 10 or 15 minutes. My sister did tell him to leave us alone, but she went to her room shortly thereafter. I’ve never liked my brother-in-law and now I’m humiliated, disgusted, and don’t want to spend time with him ever again. Do I say something to my sister? This isn’t the first time he’s been inappropriate; last summer he seriously suggested wife swapping. He and my sister fight incessantly and he has no respect for her, so I don’t know if she would even say anything to him, or if anything would change if he did. I think if she did talk to him, he would still blame it on me. How can I prevent this from happening again? How can I prevent this from hurting my relationship with my sister?

—Petting Sounds

Wanting to maintain a good relationship with your sister should in no way stop you from taking steps to ensure your own comfort and dignity. It would have been fine and even preferable for you and your partner to have confronted your brother-in-law the moment you heard him creep up to your bedroom door. You should absolutely say something to both of them now. There’s no need to rely on your sister as a go-between. Tell them you overheard him trying to catch the two of you having sex, that you heard her attempt to dissuade him, and that it made you feel humiliated and disgusted. Tell them that his comments about wife-swapping in the past have made you deeply uncomfortable, and that you’d like him to apologize and knock it off (I also strongly suggest that you stop going on trips with either of them).

Your sister probably won’t like this. Your brother-in-law will likely blow up, or get defensive and try to suggest you misunderstood what was supposed to be “just a joke.” This should not affect your decision to speak up. You have excellent reasons to refuse to be in his company, and you should not try to downplay your discomfort or excuse his behavior just because you don’t want to get into an argument. I understand you are also worried for your sister and her apparently miserable marriage, but staying silent does her no favors.—DML

From: Help! My Brother-in-Law Tried to Eavesdrop on Us Having Sex. (Nov. 24, 2016).

Join Slate Plus

Slate is now asking those who read the most to support our journalism more directly by becoming a member. Learn more.

Dear Prudence,

My wife and I live in a small apartment at the back of our landlords’ lot. They are a sweet, retired couple who have been very kind to us. The back door of their house faces our front door, and we walk past it when we come and go. One morning we decided to take our dog on a quick walk before leaving for work, which we don’t normally do. When we returned, as we came around the back of the landlords’ house we caught the man with his pants down, apparently having sex with his dog. He very quickly stood up, pulled up his pants, and acted as if he was just tying his shoe or something. We said good morning and quickly scooted back into our house. My wife and I both asked what the other saw and we were in agreement that him having sex with the dog is what it was. Should we just move out quietly or stay and pretend nothing happened? Do we tell his wife? Do we confront him directly? We are afraid we could get kicked out for speaking up. But I am afraid for my wife’s safety. They live with and take care of several young grandchildren and I am afraid for their safety, too.

—Grossed Out

Yes, your landlord just screwed the pooch. The answer to what you do is contained in your letter: You are worried about the safety of your wife, his grandchildren, and presumably your dog. I think concern is justified when you’re describing someone with no sexual boundaries. What he’s done to his dog is likely illegal either under a specific bestiality statute or an animal cruelty law. This New York dog lover was sentenced to more than six years in prison for using his position as a building superintendent to repeatedly enter an apartment and violate the tenant’s Labrador puppy. As for what you should do, I spoke to Maia Christopher, executive director of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. She said often people who see sexual misconduct don’t want to believe their own eyes or don’t feel empowered to take action. (Thus is explained the life of Jerry Sandusky.) Christopher says that when shocking behavior comes from someone you know and like, it can be even harder to report, but she points out that seemingly nice people can also be sexually deviant. Christopher additionally raises the possibility that this grandfather may be showing signs of dementia. You have no evidence your landlord is harming his grandchildren—maybe his sexual attraction is limited to the four-legged—but the authorities need to investigate what’s going on in this home. So calling the police is the way to get this started. Obviously, doing so leaves you with no choice but to move out. It’s hard to imagine running into your landlord when you’re both out for an evening walk with your dogs. Surely you don’t want to find yourself saying to him, “I think Princess is looking a little peaked.”—EY

From: Help! I Caught My Landlord in a Compromising Position With His Dog. (Feb. 21, 2013).

Dear Prudence,

My brother “John” married “Kim” last year. She is a perfectly nice woman, but we don’t have much in common and aren’t close. At the wedding, her mother got catastrophically drunk, sexually harassed the best man, and then got into a fight with the best man’s wife (a bridesmaid). The next morning, when the best man quietly moved tables so he wouldn’t have to sit with her, she screamed at him for “shaming” her and tried to stab him with a fork. No one on the bride’s side blinked an eye. The rest of us assumed they were just trying to salvage the rest of the day by keeping the peace, but when my brother asked Kim about it later, she said the best man shouldn’t have “flirted” with her mom and then “acted coy” afterward just because his wife found out. That’s … not what happened. We all saw her mother get out of control in front of everyone.

John said to let it go because weddings can get emotional. But then the same thing sort of happened at Christmas when Kim invited us all to their house for a party. This time, her mother tried to set fire to my mother’s dress, supposedly for flirting with her boyfriend. Kim said that it was my mother’s fault for being too friendly and that her mother had been cheated on a lot. John said that Kim knew her mother was in the wrong but was just really defensive of her. Now Kim has invited everyone to a birthday barbecue for my brother next month. We don’t want to go, but we also don’t want to skip my brother’s party. Every family has a difficult member (we have an uncle who gets drunk and angry if you won’t let him drive), but Kim’s mother actually tries to hurt people, both drunk and sober. How can we handle this? Not go? Go and do something if Kim’s mother gets upset again? (I wanted to call the police at Christmas, but Mom is worried that will alienate Kim and John. His best friend, the best man at the wedding, has already stopped talking to him because of the wedding day incident, which actually probably could have qualified as sexual assault if he’d wanted to push it, never mind his wife’s black eye.)

—Family Freakout

You are, as a family, significantly underreacting to Kim’s mom and the people who enable her. (You may also be underreacting to this uncle who gets belligerent when his relatives prevent him from drinking and driving, but we’ll focus on Kim’s mom for now.) This woman tried to set your mother on fire for talking to a man. She sexually assaulted a man she barely knew while he was serving as the groom’s best man at her daughter’s wedding. Say the following sentence out loud to yourself: “I’m thinking about going to a barbecue with a woman who tried to set my mother on fire for talking to a man.” Does that sound like a reasonable sentence? Would you feel comfortable saying it in front of other people who aren’t already weirdly bound up with this woman’s bizarre, violent antics? I’m having visions of Kim’s mom trying to throw one of your relatives on the barbecue over some perceived slight while Kim and John try to stop everyone from calling an ambulance: “Look, I know things got a little out of hand today, but you have to admit that my mother had a right to the last corn muffin.” She’s not a little bit rude or a touch difficult. She is dangerous and surrounded by people who treat her acts of wild, unpredictable violence as interesting acts of whimsy.

Do not go to this barbecue. If your brother asks why, tell him that you are not willing to put yourself in the same room as a woman who has a history of assaulting your family members and that it is unreasonable for him to expect you to. If he tries to make you feel like you’re the unreasonable one, then let him continue living on whatever fantasy island he’s currently marooned on. But don’t go join him there. If he wants to meet you for dinner in a restaurant without his mother-in-law, great. If he wants to come by your place sometime for a drink after work, fantastic. But spending time with Kim’s mom is a non-starter.—DML

From: Help! My Brother’s Mother-in-Law Tried to Set Our Mom on Fire. (June 6, 2019).

Dear Prudence,

A couple of months ago you answered my letter asking for advice regarding a situation involving my hateful mother-in-law, whom I suspected of tainting my food or drink at family functions at her home. You had suggested swapping plates with my husband to see if my mother-in-law would react. However, as you noted, that would have required bringing my husband into my confidence. I did not feel it was wise to do that, because he already didn’t believe that his mother treated me badly. But the next function was at Easter. She provided a traditional prime rib dinner, set up buffet style, and I could see no way that could be problematic. However, when we arrived at her home, the dinner table was set with place cards and in front of each was a ramekin of horseradish sauce and a small pitcher of au jus. When nobody was looking, I switched the ramekin and pitcher between my husband’s place and mine. After my husband and I returned home, he became wracked with diarrhea, but I was not ill at all. In the morning I told him that I had switched the horseradish and au jus. He looked at me with such hatred in his eyes that I knew he had known all along what his mother was up to. His only words were to accuse me of poisoning him! I quickly packed a couple of bags and raced out of there. I have hired a divorce lawyer and I won’t be looking back. Thank you and your commenters for your advice and concern. 

—Alive To Tell the Story

I so appreciate your giving us this chilling, stomach-turning update. Thank goodness you got out before your mother-in-law’s condiments turned lethal. When you confer with your divorce attorney, do ask about the possibility of criminal charges. And Readers, on this coming Mother’s Day, if your mother thinks you’re beautiful just the way you are, and your mother-in-law is not trying to kill you, happily lift a glass of (unpoisoned) champagne and celebrate the women in your life.—EY

From: Help! My Mother Keeps Trying To Force Plastic Surgery on Me. (May 10, 2012).

Another Classic Prudie Question

 I had a baby two months ago. About two weeks ago, my husband had to go out of town for a few days, so his mother came to stay with the baby and me. One night I heard the baby crying, and heard my MIL go to him. I thought she was going to bring him to me to nurse so I stayed in bed for a while. When she didn’t bring him, I figured she was just rocking him back to sleep and went to see if she needed anything, like a bottle from the fridge. When I entered the room I saw her holding my son to her breast, letting him suckle. I was (and am) livid. I took my son back to my room and told her she had to leave first thing in the morning. I want to call the police, but my husband thinks that would be taking things too far. We’re at an impasse. Should we call the police?