Dear Prudence

My Colleague Undressed on a Work Call

I’m not sure whether to say something.

Woman taking off a robe in front of an illustration of a computer screen
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by RossHelen/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

Like many people, I’m working mostly from home. My office typically uses Skype for communicating throughout the day. We frequently call each other on that platform, sometimes with cameras turned on, sometimes turned off. My friend and colleague “Emily” called me the other day to discuss something. I didn’t have my camera on, but she did. She was at home in her bathrobe, and during our conversation, she disrobed and changed into her day clothes. I assume she forgot the camera was on, since she couldn’t see me. It all happened so fast, and I had been looking at something else on my computer at first—but then my colleague was just there, nude, on my screen. I was flustered and minimized the screen without saying anything. I know she didn’t do this on purpose, to get some sort of exhibitionist thrill, or as a come-on (we’re both happily married women). I know Emily would be mortified, and I don’t want her to feel strange around me. But I’m worried that she might realize what happened, or worse, accidentally do the same thing again with someone else. I haven’t mentioned this incident to anyone aside from this column and don’t intend to, ever, including my husband. Should I stay silent or tell her?

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—Accidental Skype Show

Tell her! Don’t overdramatize anything or fall all over yourself apologizing. The more anxious or guilt-ridden you seem, the more self-conscious she’ll feel, and since it was a brief, unintentional moment, there’s no reason to draw this out. Treat this the way you would if you’d noticed a piece of spinach in her teeth after lunch together or an untied shoelace: “I meant to tell you the other day, but I think you must have forgotten your camera was on during our last call, maybe because mine was turned off, because you started changing clothes on screen. Don’t worry—I closed the screen right away. I just wanted to let you know, since I know you’d tell me if I forgot about my camera.” She will probably be a bit (or more than a bit!) embarrassed, but that’s unavoidable. More than that, she’ll probably appreciate finding out from a friend and not from her boss in the middle of a meeting.

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Dear Prudence,

My partner and I are almost a year into the relationship, and they recently admitted they were previously married but now divorced (everything happened before I met them). Now, I have nothing against dating divorced people. But the reason my partner was previously married was not for love, but to secure a green card! Sponsorship arrangements through their work didn’t work out. Faced with getting kicked out of the country, my partner somehow found an agency, paid a ton of cash, and was connected with a citizen to marry and subsequently divorce. My partner has no regrets, and said they did what they had to do given the situation. Other than this, they work hard, pay taxes, and have been a great partner overall! Technically, this is a victimless crime—there is no limit on marriage green cards, so they didn’t take anyone’s spot, unlike a work visa. Yet, something in my law-abiding self just feels uneasy about it. It’s not like I can talk about this to anyone since I’ve been sworn to secrecy. Please give me some perspective! Is this a dealbreaker?

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—Green Card, Red Flag

Here is some perspective: It is grotesque and unjust that human beings are put in the position of being unable to continue living in their homes unless they can find someone willing to “confer” citizenship upon them through marriage. In the presence of such injustice, many people demonstrate ingenuity, resourcefulness, and tenacity in order to protect themselves. Others people in the same position are not able to protect themselves, not because they are less ingenious but because the system is designed to crush them. Human beings die, lose their livelihoods, are torn away from their relatives and communities, and suffer unimaginable abuses in the name of “citizenship,” and all right-thinking people should question the notion of the “citizen.” People everywhere have the right to do anything in their power to frustrate, upend, and overturn that scam—including your partner. You may worry that someday your partner might be investigated for using an agency, but there’s not much you can do about that, other than prepare to look for a good lawyer if that day comes. Beyond that, worry about the dehumanizing U.S. immigration system, not what any given individual does to survive it.

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Dear Prudence,

I moved in with my partner “Cory” and their other partner “Amy” in March. Amy has a lot of anxiety that’s been made worse by the pandemic (understandable). That anxiety manifests as a very volatile mood that from one hour to the next can go from upbeat and chipper to a giant dark cloud that sucks the energy from the whole house. She storms around, snaps at Cory when they try to talk to her, and complains bitterly and sarcastically to us about how stressful and unfair her life is. It’s really hard to watch her treat Cory so poorly, and it’s hard to keep my own even keel when the dynamic in the house is so unstable. The world is hard for all of us right now, yet in the years I’ve been with Cory I can’t recall Amy ever even asking me how my day was. I’m finding it hard to continue being sympathetic with someone who shows little to no interest in how the rest of us are doing. Cory agrees that the situation is not healthy for anyone involved.

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When we’ve talked as a group about Amy’s stress and anxiety, she usually claims things will be better after she clears some upcoming hurdle in the career transition she is making. However, each time she clears one of these hurdles, something new causes her anxiety, and the situation continues. Cory and I pay for all of the household expenses, do most of the domestic labor, and support her in making whatever decisions will make her life and career what she wants them to be. But I do not think she has a realistic idea of what will make her happy, nor the ability to cope with unhappiness without taking it out on everyone around her. She is in therapy, but this pattern has not changed. Is there anything I or we can do to make the dynamic at home more stable?

—Moody Metamour

This answer feels so obvious that I feel a little sheepish suggesting it: Why don’t you and Cory break up with her? I realize you’re not dating Amy yourself, but inasmuch as you’re living with her and part of a relationship dynamic with her, I think “breaking up” is a reasonably accurate term. This has been going on for years without change (except when it gets worse), you’ve discussed it endlessly to no avail, therapy isn’t helping, paying for her share of the utilities and groceries isn’t helping, doing her laundry isn’t helping—you get the idea. You ask if there’s “anything” you can do, and I think there’s really only one option left you haven’t tried. So try it! Stop living with this person who treats you inconsiderately at the best of times. And if Cory’s not willing to break up with Amy, I think you should break up with Cory, or at least move out. As long as Cory and Amy remain a package deal, you’re facing a “one rotten apple, entire spoiled barrel” situation. You do not have to live like this.

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Help! My Wife Gets Extremely Upset if I Waste Any Food.

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

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Dear Prudence,

I’m currently home visiting my parents, brother, and grandmother for the next six weeks, in my first visit in a year. About a year and a half ago, my parents moved back to their hometown, where they purchased and are renovating my mother’s childhood home, where my 84-year-old grandmother still lives. Amid the home improvements, they’ve been shocked to realize the amount of caretaking my grandmother is in need of, having lived out of state until now. She is mostly incontinent and seems to have a form of dementia. She gets confused easily, can’t remember how to perform simple tasks like using the microwave, and struggles with basic hygiene but refuses to let my mom help her. However, she is also often lucid and able to hold an engaging conversation. By now, though, my parents are exhausted and exasperated and respond to most things she says with cruelty and ridicule, followed by self-pity. I know that I can’t comprehend the stress they’ve been under, but I don’t think anyone deserves to be spoken to the way they speak to her. They would have put her in an assisted living facility, or hired a home aide, but don’t feel they can due to COVID, and I think they justify their cruelty with their sense of self-sacrifice. Is there anything I can do to get them to be a little more compassionate in their interactions? For all our sakes.

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—Try a Little Tenderness

It’s very troubling that your parents are regularly treating your grandmother with ridicule and cruelty, especially since they wield a considerable degree of control over her movements and her affairs. Your parents’ treatment of her cannot be justified by any amount of frustration or burnout. Your grandmother is at risk of even more serious harm, and since your parents aren’t helping her, you must advocate for her safety.

Your first priority should be to get your grandmother evaluated by her doctor, because there are any number of conditions that could be underlying her incontinence and confusion, some of which might require immediate medical attention, and some of which might respond well to medical treatment. If she has yet to see a medical professional, schedule an appointment with a primary care physician immediately—it’s imperative you don’t just assume her decline is probably dementia. (You can try a telehealth visit to start, but you’ll likely need to see a doctor in-person for diagnostic tests that cannot be done remotely.)

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Though assisted living facilities and home health aides may not be ideal situations during the pandemic, they’re worth researching now, and finding out what coronavirus protocols they follow. It may simply be best for your grandmother to get outside help, regardless of the pandemic. If nothing else, you’ll be ready to go when the pandemic subsides. If you need additional support in the meantime, contact your local department on aging. They can offer guidance about getting your grandmother the help she needs without trying to negotiate with the people who are abusing her. Remind yourself, if you are tempted to share your parents’ self-directed pity, that they are not sacrificing themselves for her. They own her home, have decided to remodel the kitchen, and routinely mock her for soiling herself. That is not sacrifice—that is neglect and abuse, and it must be stopped. She needs to receive care from other people, and that can start with you.

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Dear Prudence Uncensored

“Otherwise it just turns into ‘I’m gonna count to 10 … one … two… three … three and a half …’ ”
Danny Lavery and Slate production assistant Madeline Ducharme discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

My live-in girlfriend of two years, “Sally,” and I started having conversations about whether we should break up back in January. Shortly thereafter the lockdowns started, and we quickly tabled these discussions as we adjusted. In May, Sally and I both ended up contracting COVID. I was sick for a week but quickly bounced back. Sally, unfortunately, ended up being afflicted with what we believe is a “long haul” case of the disease. Months later she isn’t working and struggles to accomplish daily tasks. I feel horrible, but I can’t do this any longer. I’m barely hanging onto my job as I manage work with Sally’s care and our household responsibilities. I feel resentful and guilty that we wouldn’t even be together now if the pandemic hadn’t affected our breakup plans. I care about Sally and wouldn’t wish her long-haul condition on anyone. But I don’t want to be with her anymore. But I feel like breaking up would mean leaving her stranded.

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We don’t have much of a support system in our current city. I don’t know if she is well enough to travel to her parents’ place. I am Sally’s sole advocate with physicians and social services providers who often disbelieve her. Since her illness, she has frequently told me she “doesn’t know what she would do without me.” Please help. I am at my breaking point and have no idea what to do.

—Belabored Breakup

Can you imagine a situation where you and Sally do break up, but you continue to act as her medical advocate for the short or even medium term? You two seem fairly well-suited for an amicable breakup, and I think it might relieve both your guilt about wanting out of your romantic relationship, as well as Sally’s anxiety that she couldn’t access appropriate treatment without your support. You two could plan to triage together, deciding which appointments you’ll attend with her, how you’ll prepare her medical team for your changing role in her care, what other long-term resources she’ll need in the future, and how much longer you two will live together. You don’t have to choose between being in a relationship that stopped working a long time ago and abandoning Sally to do without you entirely. None of this is to say that breaking up in the middle of a pandemic while also acting as your ex’s medical advocate is easy or straightforward. It isn’t! But it is possible, especially when you two seem to really care for and respect each other, and if you talk about all your options together as carefully and considerately as possible.

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Now available in your podcast player: the audiobook edition of Danny M. Lavery’s latest book, Something That May Shock and Discredit YouGet it from Slate

Dear Prudence,

I dated a woman for 10 months. We had a great relationship, and we really only ever argued about the speed of our relationship’s progression. Which for me is strange, because I would have been all for it, with this person in particular. We talked about getting a dog, moving in together, even marriage—we definitely loved each other. But when COVID hit, I was still dropping in on my parents. She doesn’t have family in our state, and I felt like she didn’t take it seriously, wanting to go out into densely populated areas not wearing a mask. I left, and she said, “If you leave, don’t come back.” I’ve heard this from her before and didn’t think it would really be the case. I haven’t spoken to or seen her since April. I know she’s on dating apps. I’m devastated. I love this woman and wanted to marry her. I haven’t reached out, but I also haven’t stopped thinking about her since the day I left and feel this sense of regret and guilt and know I made a mistake.

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—Lingering Regrets

You haven’t actually asked me a question here, but I think there’s an implicit “Should I?” in “I haven’t reached out.” Yes! Reach out! Based on what you’ve related here, I don’t think it’s very likely you’ll get a “Yes, let’s try again” (if you hear back at all), but at least you’ll know you gave it a shot. You think you made a mistake, you’ve thought about her every day since April, and you wish you’d stayed and worked on a compromise together instead of leaving during your last argument, all of which are pretty strong indicators you want to see if there’s even a tiny chance left. Go find out! You have nothing to lose. If she turns you down, you’ll just go back to whatever you were doing the day before.

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If you do get back together, you might want to spend some time figuring out how to fight without delivering mostly empty threats about leaving (and I hope she’s changed her mind about the mask thing), but just take it one step at a time. See if she’ll take your call first, and then worry about how you’ll handle conflict in the future afterward.

Classic Prudie

My boyfriend of one year and I are both recently graduated twentysomethings living at home like true millennials. While this has caused a few bumps in our love life, his mother is very open, liberal and allows me to spend the night at their house with him. Usually his mother gives us plenty of space, except for insisting on making us coffee and breakfast some mornings. The other day as we were being intimate, his mother called him on his cellphone. She often calls even when she knows we’re in the house so as not to barge in. This time, he answered the phone and continued to have sex with me as he talked to her. I was livid and disturbed, not to mention feeling cheap in a very Oedipal way. We talked it over at length and he recognized that it was inappropriate and immature, and he apologized. But I can’t help feeling that this should send a self-respecting young woman packing and running. Am I overreacting?

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