Dear Prudence

I Think I Found an Explicit Photo of My Friend Online

Should I tell her?

Person looking at a tablet with a shocked face
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.

Dear Prudence,

I recently came across an explicit photo online that appears to be a friend of mine. I can’t say for 100 percent certain, as she is facing away from the camera, but the resemblance seems more than a coincidence. The date of the photo corresponds to when she left but not yet divorced an abusive husband. Should I contact her about it? It seems that it should be an in-person conversation, but every in-person meeting she is with her new boyfriend. I don’t want to embarrass her. Though I want to make sure it is removed if it is her and if it is posted without her permission.

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—A Worried Friend

Dear Worried,

It’s so hard to know what someone would want in a situation like this one. I wish all friendships could start off with a quick questionnaire: “If your outfit looks horrible, am I supposed to tell you? If I think your partner is cheating, should I say something? If I stumble upon an explicit picture that might be you but also might be a total stranger, would you like me to bring it to your attention?”

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But they don’t. And I think it’s always better to err on the side of not bringing up questionable information that could really stress someone out. After all, there’s a lot you don’t know here, including: Did she put the photo online herself? Would trying to remove it require contact with her abusive ex? And the key question: Is the photo even of her? If you don’t know the answer to that, no one else does either. Because there’s so much uncertainty here, it might just be better to keep this to yourself.

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Dear Prudence,

My sister was the driver in a horrific car accident that killed her best friends. The couple left behind “Emily,” a 1-year-old. Emily has grandparents who love her and care for her, but my sister insists she is basically Little Orphan Annie. She spoils Emily outrageously. Emily has been to Europe four times and Disney World a dozen. Her birthdays, hosted by my sister, are scripted events with party planners. Emily can barely add something to her Amazon wish list before my sister buys it for her.

I have four children. My sister sends them $100 on their birthday and for Christmas. She sees them at our parents’ home but hasn’t offered to spend one-on-one time since she babysat for a week while my husband and I went on our second honeymoon. My daughter has asked me why her aunt doesn’t like her as much as Emily. I have tried talking with my sister, and she dismisses me, saying Emily “needs” her. I finally snapped and told her she needs Emily because she feels she killed her parents. The accident wasn’t her fault, and taking Emily to Disney World again isn’t going to bring them back, but she is alienating her actual nieces and nephews. My sister went quiet, then told me to go die and then we can compare Emily’s situation to my children. Until then she was done with my “greed.”

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—Sad Sister

Dear Sister,

This is all so heartbreaking. I’m sad for your sister, for Emily, for your daughter, and for you.

If your sister wrote in asking whether she should continue spending every extra dollar and vacation day on Emily, I would tell her no. It does sound like she’s going a little—maybe a lot—over the top. She’s doing much more than a typical aunt or godparent would, and focusing heavily on material things that are not going to make up for the loss of Emily’s parents. If she really wants to help fill the void left by her friends’ tragic deaths, she should be offering closeness and emotional support, not excessive material things.

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But she didn’t ask for my opinion. You did. And although you’re correct that her approach to handling this couple’s tragic death is not totally healthy, and it’s fair to mourn the loss of the attention that you thought would go to your own child, you don’t get to decide how your sister lives her life. Consider that maybe this is what she needs to do to cope right now. Maybe the alternative to this version of your sister is someone who is consumed by guilt, depressed, and withdrawn. It sounds like she can afford everything she’s choosing to do, I’m sure Emily doesn’t hate being at Disney World every other week, and the grandparents who didn’t budget money or energy to raise a kid at this point in life are probably grateful.

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I’m sorry your sister spoke harshly to you, but when you bring up the most painful thing in a person’s life and attack them for the way they’re coping—a way that, it’s important to note, is not harming anyone—you kind of get what you get in response. If you do want your sister to be in her actual niece’s life more, focus on that—without any comparisons to how she treats Emily. Invite her over, plan family trips, etc. Destroy whatever physical or mental document you’re using to keep tabs on which kid has received the highest dollar value in gifts. Create opportunities for them to bond. And if it doesn’t happen, find some replacement auntie figures. Your sister has demonstrated to you that being a special adult in a kid’s life doesn’t require a biological connection.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie

Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be edited for publication.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon (and submit your comments) here, or call the Dear Prudence podcast voicemail at 401-371-3327 to hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.

Dear Prudence,

I graduated from high school in 1999, and over the past few years, something has been chewing at me: I was a 16-year-old boy, and she was a 17-year-old girl. Occasionally, we would hang out and have a few warm beers and get a bit frisky—hand stuff, mostly PG-13. “Becky” was always an active and willing participant. If she ever sent any vibes or reluctance, I pulled back the reins. That being said, I clearly initiated a majority of the encounters. I’m afraid that I may have been overzealous at times, initiating sessions more than she would have initiated them herself. Like I said, I’m pretty sure that she was always down and she never felt cornered or pressured, but the #MeToo movement has encouraged me to reexamine these moments. Becky and I moved to different sides of the country, and we see each other every five years or so. There is no mention of our past relationship when we see each other. My issue is, if I decide to apologize, I don’t want to sound like a creeper by bringing up 20-year-old stuff to a married woman. Do I say anything?

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— I Was a Teenage Horndog

Dear Horndog,

It is healthy and admirable to look back and reevaluate your actions in light of new awareness, but you’re fine. If this letter is the whole story, there is no indication that anything remotely inappropriate happened between you and Becky. After all, someone has to initiate every make-out encounter (or every “hand stuff” event). The fact that she’s interested in seeing you every five years as a friend makes me even more confident that she feels OK about what happened. (That’s not conclusive, of course—many women still have contact with abusers for a variety of reasons. But it’s one more data point that suggests she doesn’t see you as a creep.) Still, if questions about your conduct are still nagging at you, don’t hesitate to talk to a counselor to figure out why you’re inclined to think you were overbearing or manipulative and to get a second opinion about whether you’re behaving that way in your adult life.

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Introducing Big Mood, Little Mood

Danny Lavery has a new Slate podcast! Listen and subscribe to Big Mood, Little Mood, where Lavery will be chatting with special guests, doling out advice, and talking about feelings, from the monumental to the minute. New episodes every Tuesday and Friday.

Dear Prudence,

My best friend, “Jane,” and I (both 25-year-old women) had a falling out recently. I really miss her and want to get back in touch, but everyone I know says not to. Jane and I were extremely close for most of our early 20s. She’s the only person I’ve ever really clicked with, who liked all of the same weird things I do, and shared so many of my values and goals. We’d regularly crash at my apartment that was bigger and closer to both of our jobs, and when I moved cities for a new job, she came up to visit me multiple times.

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Around the same time I moved, Jane started law school. About a year in, she just stopped talking to me. I reached out a few times to make sure we were all good, and she reassured me that there wasn’t anything I’d done, but she wasn’t being an active participant in our friendship. I got frustrated and ended up blocking her on social media because I was tired of seeing her post there and not reply to me (something I tried to communicate about, but she wasn’t replying to me). To complicate things, around the same time Jane stopped talking to me, she also came out. She’s known I was queer for years, and in retrospect, I think she might have had a crush on me. I wish I would have said something, because she’s exactly the kind of person I’d love to date, but honestly right now I miss her so much I’d just be happy to be friends! On the one hand, I think I deserve better friends than someone who could ghost me this easily. On the other hand, it’s been over a year since the last time I heard from her and I still miss her so much it hurts. Help?

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—Call Her Maybe?

Dear Maybe,

If I’m reading this correctly, this is the story you hope is true: You and Jane were extremely close. She actually had a crush on you the whole time. But she was tortured by this because she hadn’t come out yet. So she pulled away from you. But now that she’s come out, if she knew you wanted to date her too, you two could have a happy ending. Perhaps! But … also perhaps not. If she’s now out, and she knows you’re queer, why wouldn’t she just contact you? Even if she just wanted to be friends, what would stop her from reaching out if she wanted to be in touch?

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I’m sad to say this might have been an old-fashioned friend fade-out. There was something about you or your dynamic with her or the way you fit into her life that didn’t work, so she pulled back. That’s her right, but “I think I deserve better friends than someone who could ghost me this easily” is accurate.

I will concede that between the stress of law school, her coming out, and the period of time you had her blocked on social media, there could have been some gaps in communication. So I’ll give you one good text: “Jane! It’s been forever. I miss our friendship so much. Would you want to chat or get together sometime?” If she writes back and says yes, great. And let her know during one of your first conversations that you’re romantically interested, too. If she doesn’t, give yourself a long weekend to wallow in the extreme sadness that accompanies the end of a friendship. And then move on. She is definitely not the last person you’ll ever click with. I promise.

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Dear Prudence,

I am a biological male who has always lived as a cisgender heterosexual male my entire life. I am in a loving marriage with my heterosexual cisgender wife, and together we have produced some beautiful children. In short, we have a traditional relationship and family and are very happy together. I have always dressed and presented myself as a traditional male and am only attracted to women. However, I have never really felt like a “man,” and lately I have begun to strongly feel genderless. I don’t plan on saying anything to anyone, not even my wife, but part of me wants to at least tell her. However, I feel like no good would come of it, and it kind of feels pointless when I don’t plan on dressing any differently or removing my facial hair. Is this feeling that I’m having plain stupid? What should I do?

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—Confused and Afraid

Dear Confused,

In marriages, we tell each other a lot of things that are “pointless,” things that don’t have any practical consequences. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important. If you can’t tell your spouse about the ways in which you’re growing and changing and the issues that are nagging at you and the questions you have, who can you tell?

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So I think you should say something. Write down some talking points so you know you’re communicating clearly about what this means and doesn’t mean for your relationship, and so your nervousness and her shock don’t combine to scramble your message. Come up with some responses to questions you know she might ask like “Are you sure you want to stay together?” and “What if you do decide to start dressing differently?” If you have the conversation now instead of waiting, you won’t have to answer the harder questions, like “How could you keep this from me?” and “Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

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Dear Prudence,

I live in a small town where everyone seems to know everyone. I mostly stay out of the fray of gossip, as do my close friends, and I like it that way. In the past several months, two people I used to run into socially have been charged with stealing from their employers. One of the individuals has pretty well disappeared, but the other seems to be at everything. What’s a good way to treat someone in that instance? I mean, innocent until proven guilty and all, but federal embezzlement charges aren’t brought flippantly. She cornered one close friend and tried to tell her it was all just a misunderstanding and she was sure it would get cleared up soon. When she tried to visit with me at an event, I was afraid she’d do the same, so I talked about the weather and then escaped to a refreshments table. Is that the best thing to do, just give her the slip every time? It all feels so uncomfortable!

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—Awkward Until Proven Guilty

Dear Awkward,

She’s not your actual friend—she’s a person in your community who you sometimes talk to. You can keep doing that. Chat about anything you want. You have no reason to fear the possibility that she will attempt to explain the misunderstanding to you. If she does, you simply say, “That sounds awful. Thanks for letting me know,” “You’ve really been through a lot,” or “Wow, you could write a whole book about this!” Her embezzlement charges will not rub off on you, I promise. Even if you’re sure she’s guilty, small talk isn’t dangerous. Should you give her your Venmo login information or let her borrow your credit card? Probably not. But other than that, be normal. Your job is to be a reasonably polite acquaintance, not the Department of Justice.

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Classic Prudie

I have two young sons, both with a rare genetic disorder which means they will not survive beyond their 20s. My husband and I want to try for a third child—this time with genetic counseling—as the idea of being bereft of children in our 40s is far too devastating for us. But we wonder at the ethical implication of having a child who will lose both her siblings while in her teens, as well as growing up with parents who will be focused on caring for two highly dependent, special needs children. Is what we’re contemplating totally selfish? I am torn and in need of an objective, third-person perspective.

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