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I recently applied for a job as the assistant director at a well-regarded art gallery. In a pre-interview phone call with the director, she told me that my credentials were an excellent match with the position and set up an interview. The minute I walked in the gallery and introduced myself at the reception desk, I started getting weird vibes and worse. Employees, including the director, stepped back when they saw me, or gasped, or fled. I checked my appearance in the bathroom and found nothing amiss. Except for this, the interview itself went fine, from my perspective, but I didn’t get the job. I asked a friend at another gallery if she knew who did get it, and it turned out to be a guy fresh out of college. Because of the gap between his credentials and mine, I decided to write to the director and ask her if she could shed some light on the situation. Surprisingly, she said she’d meet me for coffee to discuss it. She told me that the person who previously held the job looked just like me, was a dead ringer for me, in fact, and in fact was dead. The other employees had pleaded with her not to hire me. I looked him up online and saw pictures that shocked me as well as my younger sister. From his obituary I learned he had died in a car accident three months ago, and he was my age. At first I thought I could make some sort of hiring complaint, but obviously I would never fit in there, to say the least. My concern now is that I think I had a twin. Should I bring this up with my mother? Or find some friends of the dead guy and ask them more about his history? As you can imagine, I’ve been in a real state for the past few weeks.
This was a subplot on the last season of Eastbound and Down—Jason Sudeikis played a twin that no one knew was a twin, and after his character died, he showed up as the other one and scared the hell out of everyone who knew the first twin. What you describe sounds like the pitch meeting for a Lifetime movie—I can’t tell if it would be good or bad. I will take you at your word that this is a real experience, and from what you say, it sounds as if the people at the gallery—and you—were seeing more than just a strong resemblance. It’s something else altogether if you are suspicious there was someone out there you didn’t know about who shared your DNA. If this young man, now sadly deceased, was your identical twin, it wouldn’t have been all that strange that you both shared a love of art, would it? There is nothing to do about the gallery job; employers are allowed to make such subjective judgments about candidates. But it sounds as if you need to gather the information you’ve found, take it to your mother and say, “Mom, is there something you want to tell me?” —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! There’s a Dead Guy Who Looks Exactly Like Me. Did I Have a Secret Twin?” (Feb. 11, 2013)
I’m 25, and all of my family, including my mother, has either passed away or is lost somewhere due to addiction. I never met my bio father, who also passed. The only dad I have ever had is my stepdad who entered my life when I was 2, became my dad, had my little brother with my mom and promptly divorced her. He was insistent he was still my dad, and while he didn’t share any custody of me, he went out of his way to remind me he cared … and then it just faded over the years. He signed his cards with his name (but Dad for my brother), introduced me as his ex’s daughter, saw me less and less, etc. When we were together, I really, really picked up on the fact that my brother was his son, but I was something less than his daughter. We got very close when my brother left for college; weekly talks and visits, but my brother returned six months ago and my dad all but started ignoring my texts and calls. It hurt worse than the earlier disparity. I finally got him on the phone and in tears confessed everything I had noticed and how it made me feel. His reaction shocked me. He screamed at me, told me he had never wanted to be my dad in the first place but felt guilted by my mom and my lack of other relatives, and kept making the convo about my brother until he had to end the call. I haven’t heard from him since. I tried to speak to my brother, who lives with my dad, and even he is ignoring me. I don’t know what to do but cry. My husband thinks I should cut my losses and focus on him and our daughter (who are wonderful).
I understand your husband’s instinctive desire to keep you from getting hurt again by encouraging you to focus on the family you do have, rather than the family that has rejected you, but a daughter and a husband, no matter how wonderful, are not a replacement for a parent. Your father slowly abrogated his role over the years and made it clear that his initial commitment to parenting you was superseded by his relationship with your brother. Now this glacially paced estrangement has turned into a full-scale rejection, and that’s a kind of pain that’s hard to move past. I’m so sorry for your numerous losses. There’s very little to do but cry in a situation like this one, so your reaction is understandable.
I halfway agree with your husband’s assessment. Your father is not a good person, and he will never love you in the way you wish to be loved; this is a terrible truth to have to bear, but it has nothing to do with the kind of person you are and everything to do with the kind of person he is. You should not try to push for a reconciliation with either your father or your brother, because this pattern of rejection and favoritism is never going to change. But you don’t have to simply throw yourself into being a superparent to your own child either. If you are not already in therapy, consider finding a counselor who can help you process and mourn your father’s rejection. Cry about it, talk about it, write about it, let yourself feel everything. Take time to grieve this massive loss. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! My Stepdad—the Only Family I Have Left—Says He Never Wanted Me.” (Oct. 25, 2016)
My husband and I have been happily married for three years. We each have grown children from our first marriages. His daughter had a baby as a teenager, and my husband and his first wife raised “Maggie” until she was 5 years old. After Maggie’s father was discharged from the military, he and his wife raised her. Last summer, he was convicted of a crime and incarcerated. His wife divorced him and was unable to care for Maggie, so she came to live with us. She is a 16-year-old high-school sophomore, very pretty and well-behaved; she is involved in sports and sees a therapist weekly. My husband has been appointed her legal guardian until she turns 18. He and I work full time and have had to give up kayaking and travel for family dinners and sports practice. I’m feeling a huge sense of loss about my wonderful life with my husband. I know this sounds selfish, but I raised my kids, and I was looking forward to our gradual retirement and relaxing of responsibilities. Maggie’s mother is now married, has small children, and lives across the country. We have taken Maggie to visit, and it’s gone well. I would like Maggie to go live with her mother, who loves the idea, because she’s been wracked with guilt for abandoning her. She and her husband are struggling financially, but my husband and I could help. My husband is a kind man, and he is afraid to let his granddaughter go again. Maggie would prefer to live with us in comfort than with her birth mother and her family. What should we do?
Let’s say Maggie was a dog. You wouldn’t advocate re-homing her yet again, because it would be too traumatic. You are rightly feeling wicked because you know making Maggie live with a group of struggling virtual strangers will be disastrous. It’s good to facilitate a relationship between Maggie and her mother, but you don’t send a high school sophomore to start over at a new school with a new family. Let’s be blunt about your self-interest. Maggie is 16 and, despite everything she’s been through, on the right track. If she continues along this path, in two years she will be heading off to college. But if you want your husband to withdraw the love, support, and stability she has with you two, then you will vastly increase the chances that this girl falls apart. In that case, you will have an undone teenager living in your basement for the foreseeable future. Sure, you’d like your life to look like a Cialis commercial (presumably without the need for Cialis). But instead, for the next couple of years, it’ll be more like a Playtex Sport tampon advertisement. (And I don’t understand why the three of you can’t do some traveling and kayaking together.) You married a decent man who’s now the legal guardian of his granddaughter. Honor that obligation and the fact that he took it on. It’s likely you will benefit from having chosen someone who doesn’t flinch when circumstances get tough. Surely by this point in your life, you know how fleeting two years will be. I also have a 16-year-old high-school sophomore, and my husband and I are feeling acutely how swiftly the time will pass before our daughter is off. —E.Y.
From: “Help! Our Wonderful Teenage Granddaughter Is Ruining My Life.” (Feb. 2, 2012)
I recently caught my fiancé and his sister together and broke up with him. I’d always gotten a strange feeling about their closeness, but I didn’t believe it until I saw with my own eyes. To my family and friends, it seems like I woke up one morning and decided not to get married. Everyone is pushing me to work things out with my fiancé. Initially, I wanted to keep what I saw between them and me. If I tell people they have an incestuous relationship, it would probably destroy their lives. I know they’re barely functioning and terrified I will tell people about them. I’m worried I will seem spiteful if I tell even a few trusted loved ones the real reason I called off the wedding. At the same time, I’m heartbroken too and don’t know how much longer I can handle lectures about “letting a good man get away.” Should I stay quiet or speak up?
If you are this Reddit poster, two months later, then first: congrats on getting out, though I’m sorry you had to find out that way. (If you are not the same person, then: a reminder that anything that has happened to someone can and will also happen to someone else.) I can’t imagine how crushed and bewildered you must feel right now, and I hope very much you’re able to see a counselor about the emotional trauma you’ve experienced. I understand your reluctance to bring your fiancé’s relationship with his sister to light, if nothing else because it would be exhausting and overwhelming for you to deal with the subsequent aftermath and embarrassing questions. (I’m also sorry so many of your friends would lecture you about letting a good man “get away” just because you decided not to get married.) If pressed, I think you should tell people that your fiancé was unfaithful and you couldn’t go ahead with the wedding; this contains enough of the truth that people will understand and won’t press for further explanation but spares you all from the fallout that would result from dropping the bomb you hold in your hands. —D.L.
From: “Help! I Caught My Fiancé With His Sister.” (May 5, 2016)
More from Dear Prudence
My daughter goes to a dance class where the dance instructor’s son also gives lessons. He’s about 25 years old, married and with a kid on the way. My daughter told me that when they were in the tour bus the son asked one of her dance-mates if she’d let him kiss her. This girl is about 15 years old! She told my daughter she felt she couldn’t say no, so she let him. The girl feels bad, but doesn’t want to hurt the wife (who’s been there for some of the performances) nor does she want to break up a family. My daughter told me this in confidence and made me promise I wouldn’t tell a soul. If I tell this young girl’s parents (who don’t come to performances and who I’ve never met), my daughter will lose all trust in me. (My daughter’s trust is essential because if this happens to her, I need her to trust in telling me.) If I don’t tell the parents, I will be allowing this man to continue to surround himself with these girls. I don’t know if this is the first, or one of a long list. What do I do? I’m already taking my daughter out of the dance school, but I can’t imagine leaving her friend behind to fend for herself.