Dear Prudence

Help! Someone Has Been Stealing Breast Milk at Work.

He still works here, but I may never know who he is. How do I get over this?

A milk carton with a "missing" label on it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Sergei Kardashev/iStock/Getty Images Plus and MonthiraYodtiwong/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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.

Dear Prudence,

I recently returned to my job at a large company after maternity leave. I share two lactation rooms with several other women and store my milk in the minifridge there during the day. A while back I noticed that the milk I pumped and recorded didn’t add up at the end of the day by roughly an ounce. It happened a total of three times over about two months. I finally said something to another nursing mom who had the same experience and thought she was going crazy too. We went to HR, which took our complaint very seriously, and the other women pumping verified they had similar experiences. HR added a secure keycard entry to the doors in addition to the lock on the inside. HR also started monitoring the room and discovered a man trying to get in (but he couldn’t because he didn’t have the right keycard). They questioned him but couldn’t pin anything on him.

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I am struggling not to be creeped out that some weirdo was stealing milk I pumped for my baby for who knows for how long. HR can’t tell us who it was, or punish him, because he wasn’t caught doing anything. The room feels secure, but I’m struggling to relax enough to pump effectively, as he’s probably still nearby. (There are around 700 people working here.) How do I get over it, knowing he still works here and I may never know who he is?

This is so unsettling—of course you’re having a hard time relaxing. It’s very difficult to accidentally take breast milk that doesn’t belong to you, and you know that you’re likely working in the same building with the man who has repeatedly stolen yours. I’m a little curious that HR seems to think it can’t do anything about the guy who tried to get inside the lactation room. Presumably those rooms are labeled from the outside, and anyone who’s not either using them to pump breast milk or required to clean the rooms has no reason to be there. If the other new mothers are also having a hard time feeling comfortable pumping in the workplace, it might be worth bringing this back up with HR, if only for your own peace of mind.

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In the meantime, buy a cheap combination lock for the minifridge and share the code with your fellow new mothers. It’s a $5 investment that might help you feel more secure. —Danny M. Lavery

From: “Help! One of My Colleagues Is Stealing My Breast Milk.” (July 27, 2017)

Dear Prudence,

My wife is planning to attend a professional conference in a few months in a warm location while I stay at home with our two young boys. In years past I have gone with her, but this year one son is in school. As much as I’ll be frazzled by five days alone with them, I’m happy that my wife is able to build her reputation. But she will be attending the conference with a guy I don’t care for, because he acts like he’s my wife’s best friend. They worked together for several years, and he was essentially her “work husband”—lunches together, drinks after work with their co-workers, texts and calls at home, inside jokes, birthday presents. I’ve tried to explain my belief that a man should not be “buddies” with another man’s wife, but my wife doesn’t see it and says they’re just pals. At the conference my wife will essentially be “dating” this guy for five days. I do trust my wife completely. But this guy is single and would, I’m sure, like to get involved if the opportunity were available. I’m annoyed that I will be home with the boys while she is on vacation with another man. I can’t ask her not to go, and I can’t join her. What can I do?

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What you shouldn’t do, once you tuck in the kids, is watch the movie Cedar Rapids. In that convention story, the insurance agent played by Anne Heche looks forward to the annual blowout so she can get away from her dutiful marriage, swim naked in the hotel pool, and get laid. Poor you, five days alone with your own sons, while your wife goes someplace warm (the nerve!), sees old colleagues, makes professional connections, and has some fun (bad Mommy!). One paragraph of your self-pity and bluster makes me want to pull up a lounge chair, order a pitcher of mojitos, and drown out the lectures on proper relations with the opposite sex. You’re right that some people have office spouses. This can be tricky because while it doesn’t offer conjugal privileges, it also doesn’t include such romance killers as wiping the kids’ noses and hauling the groceries. But you say you trust your wife completely, and during the years she worked with her office husband, they did not have an affair. I agree that if her relationship with her former colleague had been intruding on your time together, you would have been justified in asking for fewer happy hours and a moratorium on home phone calls—but they’re not even co-workers anymore. Stop harping on this conference, which is months away. When it rolls around, wish her a great trip and say you and the boys will enjoy doing guy stuff. That way, instead of thinking about what a relief it is to get away from her jealous prig, she will feel that no office husband measures up to the real thing. —Emily Yoffe

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From: “Help! My Wife Is Going on a Fun-Filled Trip With Her “Work Husband.” (Feb. 23, 2012)

Dear Prudence,

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I have an aunt who’s only five years older than me. (I say this because she should know how an iPhone works—and she has one.) We met for lunch a few days after I’d gone on a trip for work and she’d asked to see my photos on my phone. I hesitated. I’m a gay man—guys I’m dating sometimes send, er, personal shots. I took a minute to make sure that there was nothing remotely filthy near any of the travel photos. And I’d also warned her that there may be embarrassing photos and to stick to the ones nearby. She swiped backward through the photos really fast and it ran though like 300 photos at once. Of course, like a slot machine she landed on one of like two dick pics out of 1,000 photos. Somebody had sent it to me years ago. I was horrified and apologized. I thought it was over. But she brought it up again the other day when we went out for lunch after I’d just been on another trip: “I’d ask to see your photos but I don’t want to see another penis.” I apologized again, but now I’m really pissed off. Shouldn’t there be some expectation of privacy when somebody looks at pictures on a phone these days? She should have stuck to the few that I was showing her.

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I could not be more on your side. Grabbing other people’s phones is rude; if someone wants to show you a picture, let them do it, and always ask if you want to scroll through something yourself. Assume everyone’s phone has at least 14 nudes on it, or at the least the possibility of something private (photos of a weird rash, embarrassing texts that might pop up while you’re holding the phone, etc.) that they aren’t necessarily eager for you to see. I suspect that your aunt was looking to snoop and found exactly what she wanted on your phone. She got to be titillated and scandalized at the same time, and now she’s going out of her way to remind you that she knows your terrible little secret: that you, like many sexually active adults, have at least once in your life looked at a picture of someone’s dick. There’s no reason for you to apologize, and if she brings it up again, you can politely but firmly shut her down: “Sharonette, I’m a single adult who uses a smartphone to date. I’m not forwarding you dick pics of the guys I’m seeing, but if you grab my phone and go through the archives, there’s a nonzero chance you’re going to accidentally see someone’s genitals. It seems to have made you really uncomfortable, and I don’t want to put you on the spot, but you keep bringing it up. I’d appreciate it if you could let it go.” —D.L.

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From: “Help! My Aunt Saw a Photo of Genitalia on My Phone and Won’t Let It Go.” (Oct. 31, 2016)

Dear Prudence,

I’ve been dating a guy for a couple of months and things were going great. I felt an emotional, physical, and mental connection with him that I had never felt before. Then I told him I wanted to make all his sexual fantasies come true and what happened next made me second-guess everything. The fantasy he described was to see me dressed up like a young girl wearing a short skirt and pigtails, sucking on a lollipop, and oozing innocence. I don’t understand that fantasy, but I’ve seen enough porn to know it’s common. We started acting it out, and he wanted me to call him “Daddy.” He said things like, “You make Daddy feel so good” and “Don’t tell Mommy.” I am thoroughly freaked! He assured me that he does not want to have sex with young girls—that this is about role-playing dominance and innocence. Is this a normal fantasy, or is this a sign of pedophilia? Should I run away as fast as possible?

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When one person offers to fulfill a romantic partner’s sexual fantasy, it has to be said with the knowledge that the next thing you know you could be dressing up as Alvin the Chipmunk or attaching electrodes to your nipples. Of course, some couples are lucky to have (or they seek out someone with) meshing fantasies; that’s why S goes so well with M. For other couples, one person is willing to get into the plushies, or have fun with the car battery cables, as an occasional indulgence of their partner’s proclivities. However, I think your letter is an excellent reason why the urge to utter the phrase “I want to make all your sexual fantasies come true” is one that should be vigorously suppressed. Many, maybe most, people have erotic streaming videos running in their heads (they’re free and unlimited!). This doesn’t mean it would be more exciting to make them flesh and act them out. I don’t know if your boyfriend is a closet pedophile. But someone whose sexuality really was oriented toward children probably wouldn’t find it terribly exciting to be with a grown woman dressing up as a school girl. Lots of women have rape fantasies but would be horrified to find themselves actually being attacked. You’re being somewhat unfair to your boyfriend. You offered to act out his deepest secrets, and when he laid out the Good Ship Lollipop scenario on you, you freaked. You need to get out of the pigtails and schoolgirl uniform and have a calm talk with your boyfriend. Say you know you’ve already gotten a denial from him about being interested in little girls, but you want to discuss some more what you’ve discovered about each other. When he explains what part this fantasy has in his erotic life, you may have to tell him that despite your earlier offer, you’re just not comfortable participating in it. A sense of humor about this would be helpful. He still may end up being the man for you, as long as he accepts you can’t be daddy’s little girl. —E.Y.

From: “Help! My Boyfriend’s Sexual Fantasy Is a Big Turn-Off.” (Jan. 12, 2012)

More from Dear Prudence

I am writing as a final act of desperation. For a year now, I have had very strong romantic feelings for one of my friends. She is smart, engaging to be around, caring—I have never felt quite like this about any crushes I’ve had before. The issue: She has been dating my twin sister for about a year now.

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