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Dear Care and Feeding,
I write this out of embarrassment, so please go easy on me. My daughter, “Chloe,” caught me reading an extremely personal letter she’d written to a teammate. She has long been friendly with “Janey,” and I’d been pretty confused by this, because they seem like very different people (we’re a bookish, nerdy, crunchy-granola family, while Janey comes from a family of gun-owning conservatives who enjoy ATV-ing). The girls seemed to have little in common other than being on the same sports team.
Anyway, while moving Chloe’s backpack out of a direct path to the garage, I saw she’d left in sight a handwritten letter with “Janey” written on the envelope. I admit: I was curious what in the world she could’ve written to Janey. I opened the letter. It was a thank you note for being an amazing friend and teammate, as well as a confession that Chloe had feelings for Janey. I hurriedly resealed it and put it back, but of course Chloe saw that it had been opened and called me out on it. I admitted what I’d done and said I was sorry. But she was furious. I had no idea she was queer (not that that would change the way I see her at all), and she’s never discussed any romantic feelings, for either men or women, with her father or me. Now she has been giving me the silent treatment. It’s made every family interaction (just the two of us or when my other children are around) cold and tense. I’m pretty miserable. I know I messed up. What can I do to mend the harm I’ve done and help my daughter through this?
— I Snooped and Got Caught
Go easy on you? You opened a sealed envelope because you were curious? Because you wondered what in the world your daughter could possibly have to say to her friend—because you don’t understand why they are friends?—and not because you had reason to be worried, to fear for her safety, to suspect that something frightening was going on that you might have to intervene in? You should be more than embarrassed. I don’t think knowing you “messed up” is sufficient. You should be ashamed of yourself, deeply regretful, and aware that this was a serious transgression. And you should tell Chloe that. Again and again. In person, if she’ll listen long enough. And also in a brief, heartfelt letter. I wouldn’t mention the specifics of what you read—especially not the revelation of her romantic feelings. The message you should be repeating is that you’re sorry you invaded her privacy, that you know it was inexcusable, and that you love her unconditionally. Don’t even try to make excuses. And certainly don’t tell her that you were confused about why she had any interest in a friendship with someone so different from her.
This is how to mend the harm you’ve done to your relationship—this, and making sure you fully understand that what you did was wrong, promising yourself that you’ll never do such a thing again unless there’s some sign of actual danger that truly necessitates your intervention. As to the surprising news to you that she may be queer, she’ll talk to you about her sexuality when she is ready to. Obviously she wasn’t, yet. Please don’t force the issue: this too is her own business.
More Advice From Slate
I come from a large, somewhat traditional family. More traditional than most, but not at an extreme. And we’re very close. The problem is that the first time everyone in my family met my girlfriend, she was on the brink of an anxiety attack (she is bipolar and has anxiety, both of which she takes medication for). She was nervous about meeting my family, which she expressed by getting drunk, and by being somewhat too open in conversation, particularly with my young cousins. (Talking about porn and slapping an abusive ex are obviously more adult conversations.) Now she is extremely uncomfortable around them and doesn’t want to come to any functions. My family has given me some grief about her behavior. How do I resolve this without placing an undo, and unfair, burden on my girlfriend or my family to change their ways?