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.
My 13-year-old daughter spent a night this weekend at a girlfriend’s house. I know and like this friend and her parents, and the girls have had sleepovers before. My daughter told her father and me a very disturbing story when she got home. She awoke in the middle of the night to someone tickling her belly and quietly chuckling. She was lying on her side facing the outside of the mattress she was sharing with her friend and says this person was a male with whitish hair crouched down beside the bed. It was dark and she was scared to look at his face. She turned onto her other side and tucked the blanket under her back but felt someone poking her and tugging on the blanket. Then a hand rested briefly on her upper arm—and he left. My daughter eventually fell back asleep. In the morning, she told her friend about this, and the friend said she must have been dreaming. My daughter said no, that she’d heard the floor squeak and noted the time (3:30 a.m.) on her friend’s bedside clock. After my husband picked up my daughter the friend asked her father (who has silver-gray hair), mother, and teenage brother (who has dark hair) about it. The friend texted my daughter that everyone denied such a thing could have happened and the whole family was upset. Then she said her father wanted to talk to my husband (who didn’t really want to have anything to do with this mess). The father and mother called and spoke to the two of us. They said this could not have happened—they’re not that kind of family, etc. They were terrified that word of the alleged incident would damage the father’s reputation. I said that I believed my daughter but that my husband and I weren’t planning to pursue the matter any further. The friend’s parents were relieved and grateful; there was talk about the awkward situations kids sometimes put parents in, about having a drink together sometime. (Of course my daughter will never sleep over there again.) I felt good after the phone call, but now I’m wondering if I let them off too easy—and whether I adequately demonstrated to my daughter that I believed her. For her part, she’s just worried that this has ended her friendship. Do you think I handled this properly?
What an eerie, creepy, middle-of-the-night episode that’s going to haunt everyone’s nights for a while. Your daughter is old enough to tell dream from reality, and while there is a chance she was dreaming, I, like you, believe she was awakened by her friend’s father. Whatever he was up to, thank goodness it wasn’t any worse. I’ll also throw out the possibility that the father has some kind of sleepwalking disorder, or maybe he had an Ambien and a glass of wine. Overall, you handled this fine. Most important was listening to your daughter, telling her you believed her, and staying calm. If you had overreacted, that would have turned an unnerving event into a trauma. (I do have an objection to your husband’s desire to stay out of this “mess.” Someone needs to tell Dad that when you bring your bundle of joy home from the hospital, you sign up for dealing with the messes that ensue.) I do think, however, that you and your husband should have been the ones to initiate the conversation with the other parents. Of course, this was destined to be awkward and inconclusive, but you needed to register that something bizarre happened. You did ultimately do so, and you were right to say to the other parents that you both believed your daughter and decided not to take this any further. You should tell your daughter about this conversation and reiterate to her that you trust her account and that she did the right thing by letting you know. Your daughter is understandably concerned about her friendship, but sadly this is a toxic event for both families. Tell your daughter you too hope that she and the other girl remain friends. But prepare her that things may be uncomfortable between them. Then keep tabs on how this plays out, so you can help her navigate the potential aftermath of this strange encounter. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! My Teen Daughter Woke in the Night to a Man Tickling Her.” (Feb. 27, 2014)
I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost a year, and we enjoy a great sex life. He really enjoys performing oral sex on me and does it frequently. I, on the other hand, really do not enjoy performing oral sex and never have. It makes me feel very uncomfortable and often elicits a gag reflex/panic response. He mentioned recently that he has accepted the fact that “I just don’t do” that particular act for him and that he’s OK with it because it’s harder for me to achieve orgasm than him and he prefers sex to oral sex. Still, I can’t help but feel guilty and that this is something I should force myself to be doing for him since he does it for me so often. Is there some kind of unspoken equality when it comes to oral sex? Should I feel obligated to do something in bed that I don’t enjoy to make things “equal” between us in this area?
Reciprocating oral sex is, in general, a very good idea! You have, however, what sounds like a legitimate, lifelong difficulty with performing it; you’re not trying to get out of pleasing your partner because you’re uninterested or indifferent. You two have discussed this issue and come to a mutually agreed-upon compromise, which is a great start. As long as you don’t think he’s just pretending not to mind for your sake, it sounds like he has truly accepted that blow jobs are too difficult and painful for you to perform, and he’s still very satisfied with your sex life. Take him at his word.
If this is something you’d truly like to work on, not out of a sense of guilt but because you would enjoy occasionally reciprocating, there are a wealth of resources out there for the enthusiastic amateur (you are far from the only would-be blow-jobber whose spirit is willing but gag reflex is weak). You have more options than “no blow jobs, ever” and “regular whole-hog sessions to completion that result in vomiting.” Good luck! —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! I Feel Guilty for Not Performing Oral Sex on My Boyfriend.” (Dec. 22, 2015)
My twin, Tweedledee, and I used to be very close, have the same friends, go to the same places, and share everything. Then I messed up when I was 17 and got pregnant. I didn’t tell Dee first. I told our older sister, then the rest of the family. I was the center of attention for several months. I ended up putting the baby into an open adoption, and things worked out beautifully. Except that afterward it seemed Dee had grown to hate me. Every word out of her mouth to me was terse and sarcastic, and everything I did set her off. After several years of this, Dee got some new friends and moved on with her life. I eventually found my own clique, including my future husband, and have been very happy. For the last five years, Dee and I have worked in the same office. On the surface you’d think that everything is fine, but I feel I put in all the effort to make our relationship work. I want her to realize that I didn’t get pregnant all those years ago on purpose to hurt her and that she is wrong for holding it against me. What is the best way to resolve unspoken resentment?
It seems clear that Tweedledee experienced your telling your older sister first about the pregnancy as a massive betrayal. That was compounded by your life-changing event and the inevitable attention you got. It’s understandable that you would seek the counsel of an older person in this situation. It’s also understandable that your twin felt left behind by you. Sadly, she responded in a vicious, immature way. Even though things have been papered over, there is so much psychic scar tissue that your relationship has never been the same. Given the amount of time that has passed and the patterns that have been established, it may be too late to undo this. You might have to accept that while you are cordial to each other, your intimacy cannot be re-established. But it’s worthwhile to see whether you can go from a coolly correct relationship to a warmly caring one. Take your sister out to dinner and tell her you want to have what might be a painful discussion, but it’s something you wish you’d done years ago. Say that a chasm opened up between the two of you during your pregnancy. Acknowledge that you think a big part of it was your not telling her first. Tell her that if you’re right about that, at the time you were dealing with shame and fear, and felt your older sister was the worldliest person you could turn to. Explain how painful your strained relationship has been and that you’re sad to think maybe it will never be repaired. Tell your sister you’ve missed the closeness you two once shared and are hoping there’s still a chance to get some of it back. —EY
From: “Dear Prudence: My Twin Hates Me.” (Aug. 25, 2011)
My wife and I struggled with miscarriages until our twins were born, and it nearly cost my wife her life. The boys are 4 now, and my wife keeps bringing up how much she wants a daughter. We are at an impasse—financially, medically, and emotionally, we can’t go through another pregnancy. Our doctor agreed, and my wife switched to another one. It is killing our marriage, and I have taken to working late so I can sleep in the guest room rather than face my wife. Any overtures of intimacy make me suspicious that she is trying to get pregnant. We tried counseling, but I felt bullied by the therapist, and we stopped going. I love my wife and I love my sons, but I can’t see any way around this.
If you’re actually worried your wife would try to get pregnant without your consent, your relationship has broken down to a state of emergency. Find another therapist, one who understands the gravity of your situation and does not attempt to bully you into going along with his or her ideas, and start going now. Go together if you can, but go alone if you must. You know there are alternatives to pregnancy if you want another child; normally I’d recommend the two of you discuss fostering and adoption, but I’m deeply concerned by your suggestion that your wife is willing to risk her own health and manipulate you into a situation that could kill her. She needs to agree that she will not make a unilateral decision about having more children without your consent, and you need to figure out if you can trust her. Sleeping in the guest room and hoping she doesn’t notice is not a solution to your problem. —DL
From “Help! My Wife Nearly Died in Childbirth. Now She’s Manipulating Me to Try for Another.” (March 16, 2016)
More from Dear Prudence
My husband and I have been married for a year and a half and we have a wonderful relationship. Before we got married, we discussed what we thought were all the key deal-breakers: children, career goals, finances, etc. When we disagreed, one of us was always willing to reach a compromise. One thing we “agreed to disagree” about is gun control. I’m a pacifist and despise guns. He feels everyone has the right to bear arms. We had the worst fight ever last year over the fact that we do not have a gun in our home. We live in a city, and he fears a break-in. He says guns can be stored safely and he never knew where his dad’s gun was kept. I don’t understand the point in having one for defense if it’s locked up. We agreed to think about it and discuss it later, but it’s been months and he won’t discuss it. We’ve been talking about having children, but I don’t want to raise a child in a home with a gun, and he doesn’t want to have a child in a house that is unprotected. I don’t want to have a child until we can work this out. How do we reach a compromise when we both have such strong views?