Dear Prudence

Help! Our Middle-Aged Friend Says He’s Falling in Love With Our Teen Daughter.

We’re floored.

Fragmented photos of a young woman and an older man next to an illustrated heart.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images Plus and AnnaNahabed/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,

A college friend has long been an “uncle” to our two children. He has been there for school events, milestones, vacations, etc. Our daughter went away to college this year, to a town about 45 minutes from this friend’s house. He volunteered to look out for her, take her off campus for movies, send her mail, and drive her to and from our house for various events. The other day, our almost-50-year-old friend admitted that, for the past five months, he has been “falling in love” with our barely 19-year-old daughter. He says this is not OK and that he’s been trying to prevent the feelings, though he has not reduced his interactions with her.

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He asked my husband and I not to tell her so their relationship wouldn’t become awkward. We’re floored. We told him we’d have to tell her, and he’d have to cease all contact with her. I feel intensely angry, betrayed, and suspicious. We haven’t told our daughter yet because we want to do it face-to-face after her finals have ended. What do we do going forward? How can we ever trust him again? Should we? Do we tell our son? Mutual friends?

That is tremendously distressing, not least because your friend decided to unburden his feelings onto you while also refusing to limit the amount of time he spends with her. That he told you while asking you not to tell her demonstrates astonishingly bad judgment, not to mention selfishness. He expects you to, what, calmly absorb this information while he continues to deliver your daughter’s mail to her and “show her around town”? He’s asking for your implicit approval in order to continue to court her without her knowledge, and you’re right not to countenance that request. I’d hold off on telling your son until you’ve spoken to your daughter in person. This may be shocking and deeply upsetting to her, and she has a right to decide who she’s comfortable with your speaking to about the subject.

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The arrangement he suggested in the first place was not a good one—it’s one thing for a family friend to give a college freshman a ride to family events and let her know the best place to do off campus laundry, but it’s another thing for a 50-year-old man to volunteer to regularly take her off campus to go to the movies one-on-one. I think his offer of helpfulness went above and beyond the normal “friend-of-the-parents” call of duty because he had designs on her from the start. I don’t buy his story that he suddenly and without warning fell in love with your daughter because they happened to be thrown together. I think he’s deeply untrustworthy, and it’s monstrous that he’s asking you to lie to your own daughter in order to preserve her misplaced trust in him. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this sudden revelation about the character of a man you’ve trusted for years, but don’t let him snooker you into thinking this “just happened” or that the worst thing that could happen now is his relationship with your daughter could “become awkward.” Most college freshmen aren’t champing at the bit to go to the movies with their parents’ friends. Had avoiding awkwardness really been his concern, he could have placed boundaries on his relationship with her himself the second he noticed his own interest becoming something other than avuncular. He instead went out of his way to be “helpful” at every turn, and then announced his feelings to her parents. He does not have her best interests at heart. —Danny M. Lavery

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From: “Help! Our 50-Year-Old Friend Says He’s Fallen in Love With Our 19-Year-Old Daughter.” (May 14, 2018)

Dear Prudence,

My husband “Rob” and I have struggled for almost 10 years to have children and we are now in our late 30s. My husband only has a 5 percent chance of fathering a child. We are discussing artificial insemination by a sperm donor and Rob said he would want to pick a donor who looked like him and had similar intellectual strengths. He also wants to give his own sperm sample at the same time and have the samples mixed so that he can psychologically maintain the possibility that the child could be his biologically. When we asked the doctor if this idea was OK, he said no. He said he believes children have a right to information about their specific biological background. Unfortunately, Rob doesn’t want to proceed if we have to inform anyone that the child is not his, even though intellectually he understands that the real father is the one who raises the child. Here’s my dilemma: I could afford a few rounds of artificial insemination from another physician without Rob knowing about it. Do I do it and, if it works, let him believe that we hit the 5 percent jackpot? Or is this the kind of information that would ultimately get out and potentially explode our relationship and damage our parental relationship with the child? Please tell me straight up if I’m terrible for even thinking such a thing could work.

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It’s fortunate we live in a world in which there are many options to treat fertility as well as a belief that openness about how people came to be is their right. According to RESOLVE, the national fertility organization, doctors are reluctant to mix sperm because they feel it indicates that the parents who ask for this have not psychologically dealt with their infertility. Even if it were permitted, adding a soupcon of his DNA to the donor’s sample doesn’t sound like a useful feint for your husband. He would forever be looking for signs that the baby has his nose, and eventually he’d probably be driven to want a DNA test. You two have to have deal with the psychological implications of a sperm donor before conception. If you believe you can personally circumvent that inevitability by sneaking off to a fertility clinic, choosing the sperm donor of your dreams, and committing fraud against your husband and child, you need to do a lot of self-analysis in a short time, because your window for medical intervention is closing. You and your husband should go to a RESOLVE support group together, or a psychologist who deals with infertility, to address your sense of loss at not being able to conceive a child together. I hope this leads you both to come to terms with what you are willing to do to become parents. —Emily Yoffe

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From: “Help! My Husband Is Infertile, but He’ll Only Allow a Sperm Donor if We Keep It a Secret.” (Feb. 19, 2015)

Dear Prudence,

When I was young, I had an affair with my boss. We fell in love, got married, and, 25 years later, are still happily together. When our affair began, we were both in unhappy relationships. Ending mine was simple—my boyfriend and I shared only a mortgage and a cat. My husband, however, was married with two young children. He and his wife had been fighting for years, and it was clear the marriage was going to end eventually. However, I didn’t know that at the time, and I only went ahead with the affair because I didn’t think about the repercussions. I’ve tried to be a good stepmother to the two girls. I’ve had a cordial relationship with their mother since their divorce, and when the girls were younger, I took my cues from their mother about attending “family” events. I figured my job was to be a loving and responsible friend to the girls, and not necessarily a mother. Of course, it wasn’t always easy, but things generally went well and the girls (women, now) and I are close. My husband and I have a daughter together, and she has grown into a fine young woman, too, who is close with her older sisters.

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The thing is, I cannot think back on my life without shame. Even after all these years, I’m ashamed of my behavior. At one point, when the two girls were in their early teens, I called their mom and apologized for the pain I had caused her. She accepted my apology with grace, but I still don’t feel good about myself. When I have talked with my husband about this, he says that I didn’t end their marriage because it was already in tatters and that his ex-wife, remarried for 15 years now, is far happier than she would have been had they stayed together. They were incompatible in ways that could not be surmounted by sheer attraction or couples counseling. I hear this, and I believe him, but I know that what I did was morally wrong, even if everyone is happy now. I would give anything to have not done what I did, although I would not want to give up my husband or the life we’ve had together. How can I ever explain myself to our daughters? Is it possible to find peace when you’ve behaved badly?

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Shame can be a useful and powerful motivating force. It’s not always productive, and there’s nothing beneficial about wallowing in it, but there are times when it can spur personal growth. In your case, you need to find an appropriate, healthy outlet for your shame, and that outlet can’t be your stepdaughters or your husband’s ex-wife. It would be inappropriate and thoughtless to place the burden of alleviating your conflicted feelings about your own past behavior on them. This is a problem best explored in therapy, with someone who can help you identify your regrets, your self-loathing, ways in which you’ve meaningfully changed, and ways in which you can continue to grow.

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It’s worth asking yourself why you’re taking so much of this shame onto yourself, when your husband was the person cheating on his spouse, not to mention having an affair with a subordinate at work. That’s not to say you have to retcon what’s been a largely happy marriage, but in terms of responsibility and power dynamics, he has a great deal more to contemplate than you do. —D.L.

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From: “Help! I’m Ashamed of How I Met My Husband.” (Sept. 7, 2017)

Dear Prudence,

As far as my wife knows, we met by chance. In actuality, though, she was a friend of a friend of mine on social media, and her profile piqued my interest. I did not contact her by that medium; with the information she shared, it was easy enough to meet her in person without giving myself away. We hit it off. I’m sure she’d be flattered to learn the truth, but I’d be embarrassed if she told anyone else. Currently, no one but me knows, although I do find myself shifting uncomfortably when the story of how we met comes up. Would it be best to just tell my wife the truth, or keep it to myself?

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I can’t understand why you have kept from your wife this utterly charming story. You found her through a friend’s Facebook page and were so taken with her looks and personality, you had to meet her. And your instinct was right that you two would connect. That you have gotten married without telling her this has had the effect of making the flattering seem unseemly. The next time the “How we met” story comes up, later, when you’re home alone, tell her there’s a preface to the story that for some silly reason you have felt abashed about. But you now want her to know that even before you two met, you were sure she was the one for you. —E.Y.

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From: “Help! My Wife Has No Idea We Only Met Because I Spotted Her on Social Media.” (Sept. 16, 2015)

More from Dear Prudence

I’ve been with my wife for eight years, married for three, and we recently had a baby. I love my wife, and I adore our baby girl, but while I love my wife, I’m not “in love” with her anymore, and I’m no longer attracted to her physically. Our relationship is more like two roommates who share parenting duties. She is my best friend, and I love her like a sister. I don’t want a divorce. Instead, I want to ask her if I can open the relationship.

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