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 girlfriend had a nose job done three years ago at my request. (I did not pressure her.) Tragically, the procedure went wrong and her face was disfigured. We stayed together throughout this and I covered some of her legal and medical bills and did my best to support her emotionally. For the past year, however, I feel like I’m with her out of guilt more than anything. I find myself losing patience with her and making excuses to cancel our dates. I do not have the heart to break up with her because I feel obliged to look after her. I’m sure she’s noticed this but hasn’t said anything to me—in fact she treats me more nicely, as does her mom. Am I a jerk for not loving her anymore?
Ladies, here’s some advice that’s as plain as the nose on your face: Do not surgically alter your appearance in the hopes of pleasing some jerk who doesn’t like you the way you are. Ultimately, Want-To-Be-Ex, it doesn’t matter whether you’d suggested you could look at your girlfriend more easily if she’d had plastic surgery, or you’d said, “Get rid of the schnoz or I’m out of here.” She’s an adult and it was her decision. (However, in cases such as this, the best answer is, “Goodbye!”) It’s good you stepped up and helped with medical costs. And if your (ex) girlfriend still is not looking normal, she needs to find a plastic surgeon who specializes in reconstruction. I’m hoping it’s possible she can get to the point where she’s satisfied with the repair, and you should offer to help pay for that. But this relationship sounds irreparable. Talk about adding insult to injury by longing to be free but hanging around because you helped persuade her to mess up her face. You’ve done enough to mess up her life, so if you want out, get out. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! My Girlfriend’s Nose Job Left Her Disfigured.” (July 18, 2011)
Until recently I was engaged to a wonderful (or so I thought) man. We’d been together for five years, and I thought he was one of the best people I knew.
Recently a neighbor confided to me that they’d seen my former fiancé teasing my blind dog and causing the dog to run into things. They’d observed this several times and, after a lot of deliberation, decided I needed to know. I set up a spy camera and indeed caught him teasing my dog. I confronted him, and he admitted to doing it for years, although he pointed out my dog still liked him and was never seriously hurt.
I broke off the engagement immediately. Many people have expressed the opinion that I’m making a mistake and that I should at least give myself time to cool down or try to work through this. I did make this decision quickly, but I believe it’s the right one. There’s an ugly side to my former fiancé, and I don’t want to be married to him. My instincts on this are right, right?
Hell yes, they’re right. If the strongest thing your ex could say in his own defense was “I never seriously hurt your dog,” then he doesn’t have much of a defense.
Your neighbor saw this and felt strongly enough that they were compelled to tell you, and you yourself found the behavior cruel and disturbing. He’s admitted that he’s done it for years, and yet he never did it in front of you, which suggests a certain (and disturbing) deliberation and awareness. Clearly on some level your ex knew what he was doing was not simple horseplay. He knew that if you saw him do it, you would object and possibly even leave him, so he made sure to hide it from you. That’s not a sign of good character or compassion. You’re well rid of him. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! I Caught My Fiancé Abusing My Blind Dog.” (May 1, 2017)
More than a decade ago, when I was 15, my beloved mother died of cancer. My siblings, our dad, and I grieved and stuck close together and moved toward healing. My dad did a great job of seeing us through to adulthood. In the months before her death, my mother decided to write her children cards and letters to read at different points along our paths: high school graduations, weddings, etc. I believe that doing this helped to steady her during a time of great anxiety about what would happen to her children, particularly a teen daughter without a mother. My siblings and I have shared some of the letters with one another, and we have appreciated learning more about her early life from them, as well as laughing at her wit and energy coming back to us. However, I’m getting married in a few months, and I am now dreading reading the Wedding Letter from Mom. I understand what she was doing for us, as well as for herself, but the letters cause an emotional upheaval during times that are already emotional enough. Knowing that the stack is dwindling is painful, but knowing that I have to read them on her timeline is making me a little resentful toward her because it’s holding me back from closure. My aunt stressed to me that Mom never intended to control me through these letters, and I believe that she wouldn’t want me to be the perpetual “little girl lost” years after she’s gone. But the idea of sitting down and reading through all of them at once so I won’t have to open them during big life events seems so final and sad. Any advice?
My heart lurches over your dilemma. I can imagine your dying mother writing you, the daughter she knows she’ll never see become a woman, putting on paper the things she would want to say to you on the eve of your wedding. What a painful paradox to have your long-gone mother’s voice come alive on the page while feeling taken back to the worst time in your life. There also must be something unsettling about getting advice from a mother who knew who you were then but doesn’t know who you are now. Rebekah Gee, a physician and daughter of the former president of Ohio State, experienced the same dilemma you face when her late mother left her a ream of letters—her story was told on This American Life. I can see how it could be unnerving to hear your mother’s voice anew, speculating about who you are and who you are marrying. I think you should put the letters away for now. You know they’re there, and you know your mother did not want you held emotionally hostage to them, so it is not a betrayal of her memory to say, “Mom, I’m going to read these later.” Later could be after the wedding. Later could be years from now. Later could be when your children say, “Mommy, what was your mommy like?” And you say, “Well, I’ve got some mail from her. Let’s read it together.” —E.Y.
From: “Help! My Dying Mother Wrote Me Letters a Decade Ago. Do I Have to Keep Reading Them?” (Nov. 26, 2014)
I’m an ex-military guy using the GI Bill to attend college. I’m looking to enter the tech field and landed a great internship at a well-known tech company. During introductions, I let people know that prior to entering college, I worked in military intelligence and had learned an East Asian language as part of my job. This attracted the interest of a senior project manager in my office who is also an ex-military linguist, but who had learned a different East Asian language. We struck up a conversation, and he revealed that he was working on a “side project” that could use my language skills. Being eager to impress, I readily volunteered, and he asked me to come over to his place that evening. However, when I arrived, I was mortified to learn that his “side project” was adding English subtitles to animated porn films for some website he runs! Not wanting to lose the internship, I awkwardly translated a few lines for him, then made up some excuse to leave. Now I have an email from him asking when I am free again to help! I worry if I say no, I’ll risk upsetting somebody who could potentially sabotage my career, but I also don’t want to spend my evenings translating tentacle porn and God knows what else for this weirdo! If I were a woman, I think this would be sexual harassment, but what the hell is this if you’re a guy?
This isn’t good news, exactly, but I hope it may prove to be helpful news—you don’t have to be a woman to be sexually harassed at work. Regardless of your gender, what this “is” is wildly unprofessional and totally inappropriate, not to mention a display of bad judgment. I suspect, too, that he asked the intern to help him with this because he felt like he could abuse your precarious employment status in order to get what he wanted out of you. You say that he’s a senior project manager, but not, it sounds like, your direct supervisor. Tell him you’re not going to work on his project again—say this in writing so you have documentation—and you’re not comfortable being asked to help him write subtitles for pornographic films off the clock (what a sentence to have to write). If for any reason he did attempt to retaliate, you’d have such a strong case against him that I don’t doubt for a minute the company would be on your side. —D.L.
From: “Help! A Senior Colleague Asked Me, the Intern, to Help Translate His Animated Porn.” (May 30, 2018)
More from Dear Prudence
My stepdaughter has never forgiven me for marrying her father after her mother died over 20 years ago. We tried family therapy when she was a teen, and it was a waste. She tried to disinvite me from her wedding, and only backed down when her father told her if I didn’t go neither would he and he wouldn’t be paying for it. I have never tried to be her mother. I just want a civil relationship like I have with her brothers. I gave up when during her baby shower we got her a stroller and signed it “Pop Pop & Nana.” My stepdaughter bluntly informed me that her baby has only one grandmother and in no way was I her.
Since then I have stepped back and sent my husband to see her alone. I don’t want to cost him a relationship with his grandchildren and daughter. Now I have retired, and I have been taking care of my daughter’s son while she works. My stepdaughter is in the middle of a nasty divorce and has to go back to work. She wants me to watch her two children (a kindergartner and an infant). My husband is hopeful, but I am not. Frankly I think she wants free child care in addition to free rent (we are paying for her apartment). I don’t mind the money; we can afford it. But I don’t want to get attached to these children only to have them snapped away once it is convenient for my stepdaughter to hate me again. I would love to believe that this could be a new beginning, but I can’t. What should I do?