Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we will be diving into the Dear Prudie archives and sharing a selection of classic letters with our readers.
More than 13 years ago, I got pregnant. At the time, I was finishing school and just beginning my career. My boyfriend “Ben” and I had been dating seriously for a few years. We had talked about marriage and children but hadn’t decided on when that would be. Ben assumed the pregnancy was a birth control failure. I told other people that it was an “unplanned but welcome surprise.” I never told another person this, but my pregnancy wasn’t an accident at all. I stopped taking birth control pills because I wanted to have a child. After I stopped I didn’t get pregnant for almost a year and got lulled into a false sense that it was never going to happen. From the moment I saw the positive pregnancy test, I knew what I had done was a horrible, dishonest, unethical thing and felt terrible guilt and shame. I seriously considered giving our baby up for adoption, but finally decided to raise her. Ben and I split up when our daughter “Holly” was 3 years old. He and I live in different states and aren’t friends, but he is involved in Holly’s life and they have a good relationship. I eventually married and so did he. I now have a younger child with my husband. Like everyone else, my husband thinks my getting pregnant with Holly was an accident. I have spent the last 13 years feeling that maybe I was some kind of pathological monster. But I’m mentally stable, and I have a pretty unremarkable suburban life. I had decided that I would go to my grave never telling anyone what I had done. Recently, a friend became pregnant after a one-night stand. Everyone assumes that was an accident, but she confided in me that she had been seeking out sex with the purpose of getting pregnant. I was so relieved to meet someone else who planned an “accidental” pregnancy that it made me wonder if I should open up about my secret. But I’m afraid if I told Ben it might change the way he interacted with Holly. My questions are: Am I some kind of monster for getting pregnant on the sly? And should I come clean, and if so, who should know?
Tossing away your birth control pills—while pretending to dutifully swallow them—has obviously had far-reaching consequences for everyone involved. It forced a man to become a father before he was ready and with a woman to whom he ultimately didn’t want to commit. It made you confront a dark part of your psyche and turned your cootchie-coo fantasy into hard reality. And, depending on how your daughter understands her story, she may think that her parents never intended to have her. But your act doesn’t make you a monster, nor do I think there’s any benefit to enlightening everyone now. Both you and Ben rose to the occasion and neither of you would express regret that you’re parents to Holly. Ben has been Holly’s father for 13 years; even were he to find out about your trickery I can’t imagine he would now look upon his daughter as the demon seed. It would just be one more confirmation that you and he never belonged together. At this late date, however, your coming clean would only cast a shadow over your character. You are deeply remorseful for what sounds like a singular act of substantial deceit. There’s nothing to be gained by telling your husband and making him uneasy about your essential honesty. Were you to spill, the person who would perhaps benefit the most psychologically would be Holly. She wasn’t an “oops,” after all! But thinking she was unplanned only makes her like vast swaths of people on the planet. My parents had four oopses—I was the first—and all my siblings would agree that’s a trivial fact about us. You and your friend are also hardly the only women to deliberately get pregnant without letting the man in on your plan, as objectionable as that behavior is. As for your friend, since there are other, straightforward ways to find a sperm donor, how sad that she preferred to make an unwitting stranger the father of her child. —Emily Yoffe
From: Help! I Tricked My Boyfriend Into Getting Me Pregnant. (July 3, 2013)
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?
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. —EY
From: Help! My Mother-in-Law Might Be Poisoning Me. (March 8, 2012)
I’m a personal assistant to a highly accomplished woman a few years older than me whom I admire and respect a great deal. I’ve worked with her for five years, and we have a close professional relationship. This weekend, we were together late one night when she confided in me how lonely she was; the long hours we work make it difficult for her to maintain a relationship, and she has few friends nearby. Then she told me how good it was to have someone she could confide in and how grateful she was that she could speak to me in confidence. She gave me a look that under any other circumstance I would have taken as an invitation to kiss her, but she’s my superior, so I didn’t. Now I’m not sure what to do. I think I’ve developed feelings for my boss and I don’t know how to proceed. I’d appreciate your input, even if it’s just to tell me I’m being ridiculous and let it go.
I don’t think you’re being ridiculous, but I wish very much I had an idea of what the look she gave you was. It is possible to mistake a “Thank God I’ve got a friend like you” face for a “Kiss me, dammit!” face. One can’t expect every manager to act like a complete automaton with her long-term employees, but she did put an arguably inappropriate amount of emotional pressure on you by sharing her loneliness in such detail. What you do next will depend on the strength of your feelings. (It should go without saying that you should not kiss your boss as long as she remains your boss, no matter what.) If you think in good time your feelings will fade—based on what you’ve told me, she clearly considers you a friend but I’m not at all sure she was making a pass—then let yourself go a bit swoony and wait for it to lift, privately. If you think you’re in danger of falling in deep, you owe it to yourself to find a new job. The degradation of fetching coffee and updating the schedule for someone you’re in silent, agonizing love with is good material for a period drama, but a bridge entirely too far for mere mortals. —Danny M. Lavery
From: Help! My Boss Gave Me That “Look,” and Now I’m Falling in Love With Her. (Jan. 28, 2016)
I’m a 32-year-old straight man and I’ve never been in a relationship with a woman. I can count on one hand the number of dates I’ve been on. I’ve had many female friends and am perfectly comfortable around women in that context, but as soon as it’s a “date” my anxiety takes over and ruins everything. Although a professional has never formally diagnosed me, I’m pretty sure I have avoidant personality disorder (I have all the symptoms listed on various psychology websites). I’m afraid of going to therapy or taking medication. I’m sure you would advise me to try either of those things. What bothers me is that even if I went to therapy and was able to manage my anxiety, I worry about reactions to my lack of romantic experience. Do I try to hide it for as long as possible or be totally up front about it? I feel like I’m past the point of no return, and it’s just too weird to date now.
It’s a bit difficult for me when a letter writer both predicts what I’m going to say and forestalls me by saying they’re not going to do what it is they think I’m going to say to them. But I’ll give you my best shot. If your goal is to become more comfortable socializing with women, I’d advise you to spend more time with friends in a less-intimidating setting than first dates. If your goal is to find a romantic relationship, I’d advise you to be very upfront with women before you go out about your social anxiety, as naming certain fears and dynamics often (but not always) removes some of the power from them. Consider dating women who also experience social anxiety, or who at least have some familiarity with conditions like yours and who are not put off by it. I’d also encourage you to pursue therapy, despite your fears. You mention being afraid to see a therapist in-person but seem comfortable searching for your symptoms online; there are numerous online-only treatments for anxiety that you may find helpful. I can’t vouch for any of them individually, but certainly some treatment is better than none. I also want to give a plug for seeing if marijuana alleviates any of your symptoms, if you’re comfortable trying it and don’t fear using it compulsively. That doesn’t mean you should get majorly high for the first time right before a date, but it’s worth considering what small doses might do for your anxiety. It’s not a magical cure-all, and it might not be right for you, but it merits a mention, all the same.
I don’t want to rush to reassure you; I have no idea if you’ll ever have a romantic relationship. But I do think that it would be worth finding avenues to manage your anxiety even if it never results in your having sex or finding a girlfriend. Improved stability, calm, and a sense of mental well-being would be good goals in and of themselves, even if your romantic life never improved as a result. —DL
From: Help! I’m a 32-Year-Old Virgin Too Anxious to Ever Date. (Sept. 27, 2016)
From Care and Feeding
My husband and I have always been fairly fashionable and work in fields that reflect that. (I am an interior decorator; he has spent 20 years in the skate/surf fashion industry.) Our children, however, are drawn toward the most heinous clothing: socks pulled up to their knees, glittery bedazzled appliqué shirts, patterns on patterns on patterns.
Where do you draw the line between self-expression and bad taste? I feel like they know that we’re bummed about their clothes selections and I’m afraid we’re going to give them a complex. But I also don’t want my 6-year-old daughter to look like she dressed herself by running through a Salvation Army. Should we draw the line somewhere?
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