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.
My mother and I exhibit very similar symptoms of anxiety. We fidget constantly, have a hard time starting projects, overthink, and have days where doing anything productive feels impossible. After all kinds of medication, I am so happy to say that I have found CBD oil to be a very effective treatment option. It is giving me a new lease on life. I want to share this discovery with my mother to see if it can help her anxiety! However, she is a conservative Christian. Plus, I am already thought of as sort of a wild child. I’m afraid she’ll dismiss CBD oil without giving it a chance. Would it be terrible of me to fail to mention the words “cannabis” or “hemp” when I tell her about my new treatment? Just long enough for her to try it. It will save her a crisis of faith and CBD doesn’t induce a high or have serious side effects. What’s a white lie when you’re fighting decades of mental unwellness?
Oh, this is an easy one! Giving someone drugs without their knowledge or consent is not a “white lie”; it is a straight-up violation of their physical autonomy. Whether or not you find relief from your anxiety from CBD oil has no bearing on whether you should secretly give drugs to your mother. Do not surreptitiously give another human being prescription drugs, alcohol, marijuana, or any other substance, no matter how much you yourself enjoy using it and no matter how minimal you consider the side effects to be. This is not your choice to make. Encourage her to seek medical attention, limit your time together if you need space, and focus on your own treatment. Your mother has the right to dismiss medical marijuana in any form; you have the right to disagree with her and use it as much as you see fit. You do not have the right to drug your mother. That seems like a sentence that should not have to be stated—“don’t drug your mother” ought to be common sense—but I’ll say it anyway: Don’t drug your mother. Don’t drug anyone! —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! Can I Give Cannabis Oil to My Mom Without Telling Her What It Is?” (Feb. 17, 2017)
Several months ago a woman in my neighborhood, “Helen,” died after falling in her kitchen and hitting her head on a counter. Helen lived alone, her three children having moved out as soon as they could because of her verbal and physical abuse. Although the two youngest refused to have any further contact with her, the oldest, “Ruth,” would run errands for her and take her to doctors’ appointments. About 10 days ago, Ruth told me in confidence that she caused her mother’s death. Helen was haranguing Ruth about her boyfriend and grabbed Ruth by the shoulder. Ruth pushed Helen away and stormed out, vowing never to see her mother again. She was aware that Helen had fallen, but didn’t go back to check on her. (Her body was later discovered by a neighbor.) Ruth asked me not to reveal the truth to anyone. She told me because I have mentored her since she was small and because the strain of keeping it to herself was “killing” her. I want to keep her secret, but although I’ve done many Internet searches, I can’t figure out whether I’m breaking the law by doing so. Can you help me figure out what to do?
I have had many letters over the years from adults who are dealing with elderly, abusive parents. I even wrote about how some victims of horrific childhoods are plagued by what their obligation is to the parents who made their lives hell. Now poor Ruth, who tried to help her miserable brute of a mother, will be haunted the rest of her days by Helen’s last day. I spoke to criminal defense attorney Betty Layne DesPortes about your situation, and the good news is that you can stop worrying. You want to keep Ruth’s secret, and that’s legally (and I think morally) fine. DesPortes says that unless you have some specific obligation—say you are a mandated reporter of suspected child abuse—in general the average person is not required to report to the police witnessing, knowing about, or suspecting a crime. (Here’s more on this.) That covers having heard a tortured story about an accidental death. As DesPortes notes, Ruth may feel guilty, but she doesn’t actually know how her mother died. Maybe it was as a result of her shove. Or maybe Helen got up and later in the evening had a heart attack and fell on the counter. It’s good that Ruth was able to turn to you, and I think you should give her more advice and comfort. State laws vary as to whether talks with therapists or clergy are privileged. But in every state conversations between lawyers and clients are. You should tell Ruth to unburden herself to an attorney, and take that opportunity to find out her state’s laws regarding talking about what happened with a counselor. Ruth needs to discuss not only her final confrontation with her mother, but a lifetime of confrontations. DesPortes says she knows of people who years later have come forward to confess a crime because they couldn’t deal with the psychological burden. But Ruth was at her mother’s house with the intention of aiding her, Helen is now dead, and there’s no good reason to put what happened in the hands of the authorities. Let’s hope Ruth can put herself in the hands of someone who can help her find peace. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! A Friend Just Told Me She May Have Killed Her Mother.” (Aug. 21, 2014)
My fiancé and I recently got engaged after two years of long distance; he lives in the U.K., and I’m in the States. We have spent the past three months living together in England, and I will be moving over permanently in a few months. It has been wonderful living with the man I love, but I do have one complaint that I have addressed with him. I caught him looking up dogging sites and Googling “extramarital affairs” when he believed me to be asleep in bed beside him early one morning. We discussed it, and he said that it was never something that he would ever act upon, but, like with porn, it’s a curiosity. He promised to never betray my trust like that again and then felt so guilty about it that he took a half-day off work the next day so we could spend time together. He has kept his word, and I believe that he will continue to do so.
What bugs me now is the porn. Porn played a big part in a previous relationship, with my ex-boyfriend having an addiction and favouring his hand and a screen over me. My fiancé and I have addressed his porn viewing habits; before I came along, he was living on his own for seven years without any serious relationships, so porn was a feature. I have spoken with him about my past and how hurt I was, and he said that he would try to keep his “biological urges in check.” He wakes up before me, and that is when he tends to watch it. I would be more than happy to wake up earlier and have some time with him before work, but when I try to initiate something on a weekday morning, he brushes my hand away and goes off to his computer, stating that he “doesn’t have time.”
I want to spend the rest of my life with this man, but I am concerned about this. I don’t want to feel like he is choosing a fantasy over me. I think a lot of my concern and uneasiness stems from my insecurities and past, but at the same time I know that it affects our sex life at times. When we are together, we have a fantastic sex life, nearly every night, and he is very attentive; however, when we spend a couple of months apart, he goes back to his daily porn habit. Then once we are back together on the same continent, it takes a few days for him to “adjust and reset from uno to duo.” I know that viewing porn is relatively normal for people, but I do not think I’m comfortable with it inside of a relationship. I can’t help but think that I’m I making a bigger deal out of this than it is.
There’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach to porn; if it’s a big deal to you, then it’s a big deal to you! Someone else might not feel the same way, but this is your relationship, and you have to live in it. The habits of your current boyfriend you’ve described don’t sound terribly different from your last boyfriend’s. If that’s not going to work for you, then the two of you are going to have to figure out a better compromise than what you’ve got right now—which is your boyfriend making vague promises about “adjusting” and then brushing your hand away. What are you comfortable with? What are you not? What does your boyfriend consider an ideal, or at least reasonable, relationship to porn? Is he willing to be honest with you about what he does and doesn’t want (like, for example, not wanting sex in the morning and instead preferring to get off quickly by himself so he can get on with his day), even if he’s afraid he might hurt your feelings? Or does he say whatever he thinks you want to hear in the moment, then later does something else, leaving you confused and bewildered? —D.L.
From: “Help! My Fiancé’s Daily Porn Habit Bothers Me.” (Aug. 9, 2017)
I am a single mother with a 14-year-old son. I knew this time was coming but now I fear I am close to my wit’s end. I have seen evidence in his bedroom, the laundry room, and the kitchen. I know this is normal, but how much is too much? Things escalated last week when his hockey coach called me in for a conference. I have noticed my son has been taking a lot of penalties this season. It turns out he has been intentionally going to the penalty box to pleasure himself. I lashed out at him when about this and things have been awkward around the house this weekend. Am I overreacting? I know I have to talk about this with him in a calm setting, but I always find the thought of this type of discussion horrifying. I am losing sleep and I don’t want to succumb to letting his father deal with this, but what should I do?
First, watch the coming of age movie, The Squid and the Whale, then read Portnoy’s Complaint for some background on teenage boys wanking their way through these difficult years. The evidence in the sheets and towels is normal, and I don’t want to know what your son is doing to the groceries. Playing sports is tense, but what’s not normal is for him to forfeit the game in order to relieve some of the pressure. It’s also not normal that you are undone at the thought of having a serious talk with your boy, and that there’s something so wrong with your ex (or your son’s relationship with him) that the idea of a father-son talk is worse. Lashing out at a 14-year-old because he’s displaying troubling symptoms does not speak well for you, Mom. You need to apologize to your son, tell him this is a very hard conversation for you two to have, but you are concerned that he is not understanding the boundaries between public and private behavior. Say you know you aren’t good at talking about these things, and neither is his father, so you’re going to find him someone who is. Your son should see a male therapist—he needs intervention with someone who can be a trusted, calm, helpful adult. —E.Y.
From: “Help! My 14-Year-Old Son’s Self-Pleasuring Is Getting Out of Hand.” (Oct. 13, 2014)
More from Dear Prudence
I have a super great friendship forming with my reserved pal, “Yorkie”—and I think sparks are flying? She is pursued relentlessly by a couple of borderline creepers in professional settings, which is stressing her out. Normally I’d just bravely admit my burgeoning crush, but in this case I don’t want to add to the pile-on of creepy suitors. We are at a dinner-and-lingering-hug-once-a-week stage, and she is super shy. Should I wait for a Clear Move and enjoy the queer-crush life, or gently risk the friendship and her comfort by bringing it up?