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.
When I was 9 years old, my parents divorced and both remarried. I lived with my mother and stepfather. When I was 17, Mom and Stepdad had to move to another city, so I moved in with Dad and Stepmom. My father’s new wife was a much younger and very attractive woman. The atmosphere was more relaxed than in my previous home. So much so that my stepmom (she’s about 15 years older) and I developed an attraction and started an affair. We were intimate about twice a month when my father was traveling for work. From Day One, we agreed that we would never tell my dad. I continued to see her during college and even after, when I came home for visits. My attraction waned because of distance, guilt, and because I started to see that she was a horrible person who was terrible to my father. I broke it off two years ago. Last month, Dad found out that she had cheated with another man (not me). They are in the middle of a vicious divorce. Last week, she called me and asked why I am so aloof. She told me that if I don’t convince Dad to concede on a financial matter, she will spill the beans about our affair. I feel like karma is giving me what I deserve, but I am scared. What is better: try to reason with this woman, even though she is irrational? Do her bidding in order to save Dad greater pain? Tell Dad everything myself, knowing that things will never be the same between him, me, and the rest of my family? I just want to do the best thing for him at this point, and I feel powerless.
As Simon and Garfunkel said so eloquently about a similar situation: “Koo koo kachoo, Mrs. Robinson.” Not only has this woman had an affair with her stepson and been multiply unfaithful to her husband, she is also an extortionist. The pain of extracting her from his life will be well worth it to your father. Now that she’s threatened you, it will be hard to ever feel comfortable with your father knowing she’s always fingering the pin on this grenade. None of your choices is good, but surely you want to be the first to let your father know you weren’t spending all your free time your senior year of high school in woodworking class. I don’t know what your father’s mental state or temperament is, so it might be best to deliver this news in a corner booth in a restaurant. That way, he’s sitting down and you’ll have some privacy, but if he snaps and starts strangling you, maybe the busboy can intervene. Tell your father you have been living with a sickening, shameful secret that has been a blot on your life. Give as brief an account as possible and emphasize that you were a minor when she seduced you. (It would help if you were also a virgin.) As horrifying as this revelation will be for your father, surely his lawyer will do a little happy dance when he or she hears not only this news, but that stepmom has been offering to exchange her silence for money. As for your relationship with your father, you’re right, it will never be the same. But at least now it won’t be based on deception. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Should I Tell My Father I Slept with My Stepmom?” (Jan. 15, 2009)
I worked as a waitress in college, and while the money was good, I often had to deal with jerks who would hit on me at work. One of my regular customers started to stalk me despite repeated rejections. I found him waiting for me with flowers outside of my Japanese language class one day. He had managed to track me down based on my first name, my school, and the schedule of Japanese classes on campus. He found my Facebook profile and even memorized the kind of bike I rode and recognized it on the bike rack outside. I had to file a restraining order and quit two jobs in a row because he kept showing up where I worked. I can’t tell you how awful that period of my life was. Since then I’ve been careful about keeping my face and location off of any kind of social media. I only keep in touch with friends by phone, and don’t put any pictures up online. My problem is this: I’m engaged to be married, and my sister-in-law-to-be tags me constantly in posts about the places we go to. She knows my history, but she still ignores my request to keep my name and picture off of social media. It has gotten to the point where I refuse to take any pictures with her and don’t want to go out to eat with her: She still mentions me in her posts. She has created engagement posts for my fiancé and me, and it has caused friction when he told her to take it down. My fiancé backs me up completely, but the thought of policing his sister’s media presence for the next nine months while we plan this wedding makes me sick. Frankly, I am seriously considering a destination wedding with just our parents. Can you give me any help at all?
Your future sister-in-law’s behavior is not just thoughtless but dangerous. She cannot plead ignorance; she knows you’ve been stalked in the recent past, and that part of your stalker’s MO included tracking your movements via social media. You and your fiancé have both asked her to stop tagging you, yet she persists in a habit that scarcely benefits her but clearly distresses you. It’s time to set clear boundaries, with clear consequences, and to follow through with them. “You know I’m concerned about appearing on social media because I’ve been stalked. I’ve asked you not to tag me in your posts, but you’ve continued to do so. If you can’t stop mentioning my name on social media when we go out to eat, I’m going to stop socializing with you.” Let her know that if she does this again, you will take it as a sign that you cannot trust her, and you will not invite her to your wedding. Then stick to your guns. She can’t say she wasn’t warned, and what you’re asking of her is hardly difficult or unreasonable. If she can’t honor your simple request, then you’re not going to spend time with her. She can either have your name in her Facebook updates, or she can have you in her life—it’s her choice. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! My Fiancé’s Sister Knows I Was Stalked but Keeps Posting Photos of Me Online.” (Sept. 8, 2016)
I have a wonderfully satisfying job at a small nonprofit organization. I love my co-workers and more importantly the cause we advance and the people whose lives we make better. But recently there was an incident with my boss, “Mr. Johnson.” He’s a great leader and we couldn’t function without him, but he’s also kind of forgetful and seems to always have his head in the clouds. Mr. Johnson frequently neglects to adjust his wardrobe so that his pants zipper is up after using the gentleman’s room. After a meeting we had yesterday it also seem apparent that he doesn’t always wear underwear as his bull escaped from the barn. It wasn’t intentional or sexual in any way, but every time I see my boss I can only think of his privates that didn’t keep so private. I’m not even sure if he noticed it got out when this happened as he didn’t react or seem embarrassed. Should I talk directly to Mr. Johnson about this, or should I report the incident to his supervisor? Or should I just let it go and hope it never happens again?
Oh, yeah, sweet, absent-minded Mr. Johnson is so busy making the world better that he often forgets to keep his johnson in his pants. I have gotten so many letters about nutty people running around nonprofits that I am developing a theory that this field attracts loons because under the guise of doing good, they get to behave badly. Normally when a man realizes he’s forgotten to zip his pants, the humiliation makes him want to secure his fly with a padlock. But there’s Mr. Johnson letting it all hang out day after day, seemingly oblivious. If this guy is really that out of it, I wonder if he has the capacity to be running an organization. Alternately, he may be pretending to be a ding-dong because it’s good cover for exposing his ding-dong. Since this has happened more than once, I think it’s gotten past the point where someone needs to quietly mention, “Dick, your zipper is down.” It’s fair for you to go to a supervisor and say you are too uncomfortable to have this conversation with Mr. Johnson yourself, but he needs to be told that the wardrobe malfunctions must come to an end. —E.Y.
From: “Help! My Boss Always “Forgets” To Zip His Fly” (Sept. 18, 2012)
I came home last night after a girls’ night out and noticed that my husband’s phone was not plugged in. I picked it up, plugged it into the charger and took a peek to see what’s happening on Facebook. I open it up and there I see a picture of one of his friends in a bikini, zoomed into her body and chest. I woke him and asked him about it, and he, in a sleepy daze, admitted that he used it earlier in the night to masturbate to. I can honestly say I lost it. My husband cheated on me over a year ago by kissing one of his co-workers after work. It was a one-time indiscretion, after which I agreed to work on our relationship. I don’t know why, but this feels the same to me. I feel like he cheated all over again. I gave him three days to move out, and said that if he does not comply, I’m taking my daughter on a mommy-daughter trip to give him more time. I don’t see myself getting over this or ever being intimate again. I don’t know if I’m overreacting here, but I honestly feel broken about this.
To go through your husband’s phone, wake him up to fight about a picture you saw there, then throw him out of your house: That sounds like an overreaction to me. There’s nothing wrong, necessarily, with what you felt—even if it’s not the picture of fairness, I can understand feeling jealous, hurt, insecure, or betrayed about a spouse’s masturbatory habits, particularly if they involve a mutual friend. What I can’t understand is what you did with those feelings. No, you should not have asked your husband, the father of your child, to move out of your house because you snooped through his phone and interrogated him about his sexual fantasies. Your breach of trust was worse than his by several orders of magnitude.
You need to get into couples counseling immediately, because even if you two can’t make it as a couple, you’re going to need to find a way to relate to him as a co-parent that doesn’t involve flying off the handle whenever you feel jealous. Figure out a way to express your insecurity and fear of betrayal that doesn’t involve going through his phone (and be honest! You did not “notice it was not plugged in,” you wanted to snoop and you wanted to justify it) or threatening divorce because he’s thought about someone he knows while masturbating. You’re clearly in a highly defensive state of emotional emergency; whatever issues were raised with his brief affair last year have obviously not gone away. You need to address them for his sake as well as your own.
From: “Help! I Kicked My Husband Out for Masturbating to a Friend’s Photo.” (April 25, 2016)
More from Dear Prudence
A disease I’ve been dealing with for several years has taken a turn for the worse. I don’t have a terminal diagnosis yet, but depending upon upcoming tests and possible treatment, I could have a week, a month, six months. My physician brought up palliative care for the first time. Last winter one of my longtime friends died; I was terribly hurt that his wife failed to inform me he was even sick—I heard it through the grapevine. Upon consideration, I decided perhaps my friend had chosen to spare me (and himself) my despair and a tearful goodbye. Another friend told me when her husband was in hospice, his good friend Tom wept so much through a difficult final visit that afterward the dying man weakly said to his wife, “No more Tom.” Do I inform my longtime friends, particularly those whom I’ve loved deeply but who live far away, that I have one foot in the grave? If not, do I write a letter to each of them to be mailed at my death, explaining my decision and how much their friendship meant to me?