Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we dive into the Dear Prudie archives and share a selection of classic letters with our readers. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns—your first month is only $1.
I work in a small office of about a dozen people. We often work late hours, and I usually leave a couple of sets of gym clothing in my desk. Last Friday I wanted to take some of my used clothing home after a busy week and noticed that all my (used) underwear was missing. I know I did not misplace three sets, and lots of people have been working on a big project all week. How do I bring up the subject of the theft? There are several people who have access to my desk and a couple of people who I suspect. What do I do?
Obviously, this calls for a kind of Agatha Christie tribunal in which you gather all the suspects around the conference table and lay out your evidence: “Dick, at a meeting you were about to sneeze and when you reached for a handkerchief, instead you pulled my thong out of your pocket. You want to explain? Gary, I found a copy of a Victoria’s Secret catalog in your wastebasket. It was sticky. Want to tell everyone why?”
Yes, you likely have a pervert in your midst, so you’re going to be looking at every guy in the office with a queasy feeling. But I’m afraid this is one of those things that you just have to handle in a preventative manner. Unless you catch the thief red-handed, you cannot confront someone about this without evidence. You could go to HR so that at the least there’s a notation about this. But I assume they are unlikely to send a memo asking that employees not steal each other’s dirty underwear. I think this is one of those things best handled privately by either storing your gym clothes in a secure place, or taking them home with you at the end of each day.—Emily Yoffe
From: Help! Someone at Work Is Stealing My Used Gym Underwear. (May 5, 2014)
My friend and I are both women married to men, with kids (she’s bisexual). She’s funny and we have good rapport. But she is constantly saying and doing things that I would find inappropriate and unacceptable from a male friend. In public she calls me her wife and makes lewd comments about our imaginary sex life to retail workers, waiters, you name it. She repeatedly talks about how good my breasts look. She constantly says we should leave our husbands and live together. Now she’s talking about going on vacation together. I was supportive when she came out, but I’m not interested in women, or in her, romantically. At one point she talked about how she completely hates having sex with her husband. I suggested that being grossed out by men may indicate that she really is a lesbian. She’s in her 30s and has never had a romantic relationship with a woman. I feel bad for her, given that she seems to have committed to not pursuing her pretty blatant sexual inclinations, potentially indefinitely. As her friend, I’d like to see her move on from her miserable marriage and get a proper girlfriend. Being the only outlet for her frustrations is getting weird. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but if I call her out, I’m pretty sure she’d just say she was kidding around, especially because she does have one of those boisterous personalities that jokes about anything. For all I know, maybe she is joking. It doesn’t feel threatening or hostile, just relentless. I’d like to keep the friendship and I want her to be happy. So, what should I do?
Don’t let a friend make you feel publicly uncomfortable indefinitely just because they’re probably a lesbian. I’m pretty sure there’s no sexuality that justifies constant low-level harassment of your married friends. There are two separate issues at play here. One is whether or not she should leave her husband to be with women. Based on what you’ve told me, she probably should! But it’s not your problem to worry about, and given how often she’s tried to jokingly goad you into declaring your reciprocation for her feelings, I think she’d misunderstand any attempts you made to convince her to end her marriage.
The other issue is how often she tells strangers about your nonexistent sex life and discusses your body in front of you, which very much is your problem. Don’t let the fact that she may be gayer than she realizes keep you from drawing a completely reasonable boundary around your physical appearance and your sexuality. Tell her it makes you uncomfortable when she pretends you two are a couple or talks about your breasts in front of you. Whether or not she tries to justify it by saying she’s “just kidding around” isn’t important. If she does, tell her, “Whether it’s a joke or not, it makes me feel uncomfortable and you need to stop it.” If she doesn’t knock it off, that tells you a lot about how she views your friendship.—Danny M. Lavery
From: Help! My Friend Always “Jokes” We Should Leave Our Husbands and Run Away Together. (Feb. 2, 2016)
While my wife and I were swingers in our early 20s (and enjoyed it very much!), we moved to a more conservative area 10 years ago and found ourselves completely disconnected from others in that subculture (we are now 40). About a year ago, a couple in their late 20s moved in next door. Our homes are very close together, and their bedroom is next to our driveway, where I spend a great deal of my time tinkering around. Imagine my delight when I first heard them loudly going at it. Occasionally, my wife and I can also hear them while we’re in our kitchen. We feel a little guilty about this voyeurism, but it has caused our sex life to explode again. We also think we’re picking up interference from their baby monitors, as we’ve heard them having sex and some of their discussions (including their apparent interest in swinging). The couple is very polite to us, and my wife and I have thought about getting to know them better in hopes it could lead to something more. Is this something we should pursue? If not, is it still OK to listen in?
First the good news for young couples contemplating starting a family: Even people with baby monitors can have frequent and vigorous sex! The second piece of good news is that this aural voyeurism has gotten you two to spring back to life. It’s also good that you both are a little guilty about your listening. It’s better to be aware you are overhearing something private so that you don’t start crossing the line and standing with a stethoscope on the side of your neighbor’s house. When I was in the baby monitor stage of life, I too started picking up my neighbor’s conversations. Unlike with you, it was things like, “I’m going to Costco tomorrow. Do we need more toilet paper?” Since you don’t have a monitor, I don’t know on what device you’re hearing their private conversations about swinging. But do keep in mind maybe you’re only hearing partial sentences and you’re too hopefully filling in the rest. They may well be saying, “Do you think Junior is old enough for a swing set?” and not “Have you seen the couple next door? Maybe they’re swingers, too.” You want to have good relations with your neighbors. So that likely means an occasional barbeque and friendly conversation. They’ve already done you a big favor of reinfusing some passion into your lives, and I think you should let it go at that. As Robert Frost observed, “Good fences make good neighbors.” —EY
From: Help! Should We Hint to Our Young, Energetic Neighbors We’d Be Open to Swinging? (May 6, 2014)
I am sad my 25-year-old son couldn’t care less about his family. He dropped out of school and lives at home but works the late shift, so we never see him. He will not visit his grandparents, whom he used to adore (they live nearby). He never bought anyone (except his girlfriend) a Christmas present, and he avoids all family functions and has no guilt or remorse saying this is just how he is. He gets tested at work, so we know he is not on drugs. He is the type that if he never saw any of us again he would be OK with that. He has a brother who is not like that at all. My heart breaks that they will never have a relationship or that his father and I cannot count on his help since he is so emotionally detached (and content).
I’m reluctant to suggest your son may be depressed with relatively few details, especially because it’s very possible to be an alienated young adult without suffering from clinical depression, but it is certainly a possibility to bear in mind as you think about how best to relate to him.
He’s functioning, but he’s not present, and it doesn’t seem to bother him, even as it devastates you. That sounds incredibly painful. While you can’t force him into therapy or to make a doctor’s appointment, I think for your own well-being you should see a counselor about this. Longing for a child who does not want to be close to you is an agonizing state of unrequited love, and you shouldn’t have to bear your feelings alone.
He says he is fine with “never seeing any of you again,” but he’s also perfectly happy to live at home with you, presumably rent-free. One of the things I think you should discuss with your counselor are appropriate boundaries. While you shouldn’t punish him financially for his coldness, there’s no reason you should be his landlord indefinitely. It might be better for the both of you if he could live independently, and the two of you could work on your relationship without the added pressure of living together.—DL
From: Help! My Adult Son Lives at Home but Pretends We Don’t Exist. (Jan. 12, 2016)
More From Dear Prudence
I had a professor last semester who I am really, literally in love with. She’s married with a kid and I think straight, so it’s not something I would ever even attempt to act on. I’m fairly sure she knows I have a crush on her—it’s not subtle—and my guess would be that she finds it flattering. She just offered to be my adviser, and I was obviously ecstatic and said yes. The problem is, I have a couple of tattoos related to her. One is a small word in her handwriting, which is really cute, distinctive handwriting, that I got sort of in the spirit of unrequited love, and because it was a positive affirmation she’d written on some of my work, and having her say something like that about something I wrote just meant a crazy amount to me. The other is a line from some of her published writing; I’d sent an artist friend of mine a list of poems and articles and essays and other things that meant a lot to me, including some of this professor’s work, and asked her to turn it into a tattoo, which she did. My question is: Do I need to make sure to keep them covered whenever I know I’m going to be seeing her? (They’re on my foot and ankle, so not super difficult to hide.) Will she be creeped out and hate me if she sees them?
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