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My close friend, “Will,” was fired due to a sexual harassment complaint against him at work. Will and the women involved are of similar ages and status in the company. I don’t work with him and don’t really know details, but from what I do know, it’s in the category of “hitting on women at work and continuing to after they said no.” He denies most of it. Without knowing what exactly happened, my guess at the truth would be that it happened and is possibly more severe than Will believes but maybe slightly exaggerated on the women’s part. Still, he shouldn’t have done it at all, and this is obviously not good behavior. Our friend group is divided: A few believe Will, a few don’t and have cut ties, and one friend who works in the same industry as Will (but not at the same company) fears his own professional reputation will suffer if he keeps the friendship. Another friend who used to work with both Will and the women involved is also unsure what to believe. I’ve been close with Will for years, and though he is a ladies’ man type, I also consider him a feminist (I’m a woman and also a feminist). He has always been a kind, respectful, and generous friend. Should I cut him off? Demote him to an acquaintance? Is losing his job enough of a punishment, or should he lose his friends too?
If you don’t really know details, why not ask Will for more of them? Tell him what you’ve told me—that this seems at odds with the version of him you’ve known for years, that you’re not clear exactly what happened—and ask him specifically what he denies. Does he deny doing any of it? Does he admit to hitting on colleagues after they told him they weren’t interested but objects to their characterization of his repeated attempts? Can he summarize his employers’ position and the reasons they gave for his dismissal? Then use your own judgment as you listen to his response. Do you find his answers compelling and thoughtful? Do you find him reflexively defensive? Do you find his characterization of his former company and the women who accused him of harassment to be fair, accurate, and reasonable? How many women filed complaints?
I realize you can only get Will’s side of the story, but you’re not being asked to offer up a legal ruling. You’re trying to get a better sense of your friend’s character, and you’ll have to rely on your own judgment as you evaluate his account of said character. Don’t avoid these questions in the uneasy hope that you can simply back off from a formerly close friendship without ever having to have a conversation on the subject. You’re not obligated to punish Will, even if you find his answers troubling, but if he’s really a close friend of yours, you should seek to learn more so that you can offer him useful advice and counsel—even if that counsel is, “Will, I love you, and I think you deserved to get fired because I believe you harassed those women, and you need to change your life.” Information is not your enemy here. It will help you make useful, clear decisions that are in line with your feminist values—values that are not incompatible with loving Will.
On the last day of a family trip, my stepfather suddenly died. We knew he didn’t have long, but it was still pretty traumatic. My mother and I have always been close, and I was her rock for the first year after his death. Then she met someone and abruptly stopped talking to me, my brother, and our kids. I brought it up with her countless times, telling her how it felt, how much I missed her, and eventually warning her that it will affect her relationship with her children and grandchildren. This new guy was incredibly off-putting. We gave him a chance, but it was very clear that he was taking advantage of her generosity and large pension. She finally realized that he was not interested in a relationship with her, and they stayed friends.
Now she’s dating someone new, and I was recently at her home for the weekend. “Adam” was there, constantly interrupting me and talking over me. He tried to diagnose one of my family members with a common disorder because he took one psych course in college. This was only my second time meeting him, but I let it go. The next day, I mentioned one of my daughters quit horseback riding, and he interrupted to tell me a good parent would have made her get back on the horse. I let him know that she did get back on the horse and finished off her lessons for that month as well. He just kept putting his oar in all weekend—at one point he told me he thought my behavior is “maladaptive” and I should rethink my decisions. I looked at my mom, and she said nothing. I went to my room and started packing. Adam came in to apologize, touching my back to get my attention. I told him I didn’t ask for his opinion, that he was not my father, and that just because he was sleeping with my mother didn’t mean he was entitled to speak about situations he knows nothing about. He walked away, and my mom came in shouting that I was behaving like an adolescent and that I should have just told him when he was interrupting. I asked her when it became my house, because it’s the host’s responsibility to correct bad behavior. She lost it when I pointed out that she had abandoned her family for the last two years. It’s now been two weeks, and I haven’t spoken to my mother. I truly don’t want to. Is it wrong that I’m waiting for her to apologize?
It’s not wrong that you’re waiting for your mother to apologize. In your position I’d probably want an apology too. I just can’t promise you that you’re going to get one.
If you haven’t heard from her in another few weeks, but you’ve managed to cool off a bit yourself, I’d encourage you to drop her a brief line asking her if she’s willing to talk about what happened. But based on how the past few years have gone, she may respond angrily or not at all. While you’re taking that time to come down, it’s worth reflecting on whether you could have done anything differently that past weekend with Adam. That’s not to say that he wasn’t rude—he definitely was—but do you think saying something like, “Adam, I’m really not looking for advice right now. Could you please stop?” when you were only slightly frustrated would have altered the outcome? It might also help to open your note to your mother with “I’ve thought a lot about how that weekend went, and here’s what I wish I’d done differently.” It’s not an apology for your frustration, which was truly merited, but it might defuse her instinctive defensiveness long enough to make a real conversation possible. But you’re entitled to be angry with how Adam behaved, and you’re entitled to be hurt about her sudden absence from your life after she started dating again, and you don’t have to just let it go because she’s your mother.
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My best friend has been dating someone new after ending a long-term relationship. A large factor in their relationship seems to be their shared love of drugs: ketamine, molly, opium, mescaline, poppers, and the like. Though I have my own concerns with my best friend using drugs frequently, my real issue is that her new partner is an ER doctor. This doctor routinely works several shifts in a row and then goes on drug benders with my friend for multiple days. Though I don’t think the doctor goes to work high, I feel a nagging concern that they should not be treating patients. Can someone provide excellent health care and also be a heavy drug user? I mean, I wouldn’t voluntarily choose a doctor who did drugs on the side. Should I write HR a confidential letter to drug-test the doctor (most hospitals don’t routinely drug-test physicians)? Should I mind my business?
One of those drugs is very much not like the others! That’s not to say there would be no reason for concern in an ER doctor recreationally using poppers, psychedelics, and club drugs, but they are in a very different class from opium, which is highly addictive and dangerous.
The potential for harm here—both to your friend’s partner’s patients and to her partner—is serious enough that I believe you may have an obligation to intervene. But that intervention should not begin with a letter to HR. You say you’ve had nagging concerns about both your friend’s drug use and her partner’s, but not whether you’ve ever expressed those concerns to her. Having a frank conversation with her (ideally both of them) is an indispensable first step, not least for the sake of your friendship but also for discussing practicalities like whether they have a safety plan for reversing potential overdoses, an important question for opiate use. If that conversation exacerbates your concerns about this doctor’s ability to work safely, you may then decide to escalate. Do prepare yourself, in that event, both for your friendship to suffer and for the possibility that your inquiry (if it’s based on secondhand reports) may stall.
Help! Am I Giving Up on My Troubled Daughter if I Send Her Away?
Danny M. Lavery takes a look at some of the many memorable letters of 2020 on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.
My husband and I separated during the pandemic as his drinking hit a critical point, and I just couldn’t deal with the emotional abuse and absenteeism in our son’s life anymore. Our son is 3 now, and I’ve felt like a single parent for much of that time. After a month in rehab and a couple of slip-ups later, my husband has been sober for almost three months now. Because of COVID and wanting to provide some stability for our son, we are living together until the spring. However, I have started seeing someone else. My soon-to-be ex-husband knows. I want to move forward with this other relationship. He’s invited me to go away for the weekend, and I really want to spend a night away with him. Is this OK? How can I broach this with my ex? The guy I’m seeing works from home and has minimal contacts, so I am not concerned about COVID exposure, but my ex is.
Your desire to spend a night away with your new boyfriend makes a great deal of sense, especially after months spent in isolation with your soon-to-be ex-husband. But the most important question is whether you think your ex can handle being your son’s sole caregiver for that long. You say he’s been mostly absent for your son’s life, that his recent bout of sobriety has been marked by a few slip-ups, and that he’s been emotionally abusive. Has he ever spent time alone with your son safely before? If so, for how long? If he hasn’t, or if even a small part of you worries about how your son might fare in your absence, I think it’s better to postpone overnight trips for another few months and to spend the intervening time consulting with your divorce lawyer and preparing to seek primary custody, so that when you finally do get that night away, you can leave with real peace of mind (and with a trustworthy babysitter).
I’ll also point out that though your ex’s failings as a partner and a parent sound fairly serious, they don’t automatically preclude him from having legitimate concerns about what constitutes an unacceptable COVID risk. If you do talk to him about future trips during the pandemic and he expresses concern, you should take that concern seriously, especially while you two are still living together.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“You still got to shut them up and knock them down a peg, but it’s not about that.”
Danny Lavery and Zoë Selengut discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
Over 10 years ago, I started a career I was really excited about. For years, I put my all into it. I moved up through the ranks, which meant stakes were higher and the burden heavier. I still enjoyed it, because I believed in my work. I greatly admire the people who have worked in my office for decades. But now I’m tired. Maybe it’s because the pandemic has put things into perspective, but it’s also true that social changes have made our work increasingly difficult over the last few years. I just want to slow down. I can do that, but my work won’t be quite as meaningful, and I won’t have the same success that the people I look up to have.
That makes me feel like a failure, like I’m giving up. I don’t look down on the people in my office who do other types of work—it’s just my own internal judgment of myself. This also isn’t about wanting more of a life outside of work. Despite sometimes working long hours, I’m still able to have a social life. I just hate feeling like I can give this job my all, and sometimes, through absolutely no fault of my own, my all won’t matter. How do I come to terms with wanting to scale back?
—Striving for Mediocrity
Wanting to give your job “a lot” instead of “your all” is still, you know, a lot. That might sound pat, but it’s true. And it says something about a workaholic, profit-driven culture that you feel embarrassed about wanting to scale back after a breakneck decade because you’re already “able” to have a social life. A social life isn’t a little dollop you earn through good behavior, and the part of your life spent away from the office, whether you dedicate it to rest, to hobbies, to volunteer work, to community organizing, to friendships, or to nothing at all is deeply important. What you propose here is a life where you continue to work diligently and capably, but you no longer put your career over everything else—a life where you pay attention to something as serious as feeling tired all the time! Real rest, real relaxation, and a real sense of scale are all worthy achievements, not impediments to success. Your job should not demand your all. No job should. What you are proposing is a good thing, something you can be proud of, not a compromise of your ideals.
Now available in your podcast player: the audiobook edition of Danny M. Lavery’s latest book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You. Get it from Slate.
We’ll be in contact with my brother and his girlfriend this holiday season. I’m delighted they’re a couple. She’s deeply kind and has made him very happy. She also wears masks everywhere and follows COVID safety protocols. The “but … ” is that she is a bit of a conspiracy theorist. Just throw a dart at a map of Big Pharma, the Illuminati, or aliens and she’ll find some way they’re planning humanity’s downfall. What’s especially weird is this country’s evildoers are not exactly subtle about it, yet somehow she thinks there is a big, secret conspiracy just waiting to be uncovered. This is going to be a bit much this year, but I can’t seem to think of the right exit. Could you please hand me a conversational get-out-of-jail card that I can use without hurting her feelings?
—“I Think You’re Daft,” but Nicely
“Oh, I think that’s awfully unlikely,” “I think the people in power who harm humanity the most are usually pretty obvious about it,” and “I disagree!” are all polite summations of what you’ve written here, but more gentle than rolling your eyes or telling someone you think they’re stupid. You are allowed to disagree with your brother’s girlfriend, even if it’s a holiday, and so long as you don’t take the opportunity as an excuse to indirectly communicate contempt or try to embarrass her, you can just say what you think, perhaps followed by a change of subject.
I’ve been dating my boyfriend, “Mark,” for a few months now, but we’ve been casual friends for more than five years. He is overall a kindhearted person, a hard worker and provider, a fantastic father (to his daughter from a previous relationship), and a supportive and passionate partner. I feel very strongly that he could be “the one.” After he disclosed some not-so-great things about his past to me, none of which is an issue for me, I went snooping online (to see if there was anything he wasn’t telling me) and found public records that generally corroborated what he told me. I also found a request for a restraining order against him for domestic violence around the time he split with his child’s mom before we met. I didn’t know about this, but it doesn’t surprise me given what I know about her. However, I also found a potential other name for him on one of those background check sites. The first name is very close to his current name (think Mark vs. Matt), and the last name is his mother’s maiden name. She raised Mark as a single mom, and he didn’t know his dad until he was older. This discovery could be harmless, such as he changed his name when he finally got to know his dad, or something more serious, such as he has a really bad past he wants to escape. What do I do with this information? Do I bring it up and ask? Do I let it go and see if he brings it up?