Jenée Desmond-Harris is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Honey trap: I am getting divorced from my wife. It’s not acrimonious, just sad. However, I don’t want to be the “loser” in the divorce, so I’ve been going on some dates.
Last week, my younger brother (he’s 24, I’m 37) called me and said he’d met this woman at his job who was perfect for me. Similar age to me, similar interests, really cute! I saw her picture and she looked like a model, but I assumed that there were some filters applied since it was from social media. Then I turned up at the restaurant and she was clearly not in her thirties, and after I sat down and briefly spoke to her, she was clearly not an adult. I ended up hiding in the toilet and calling my wife. She drove over and took the girl’s phone to call her dad, and it turns out she was 15. Apparently my brother had paid her to go on this date, but when her dad pressed for details on what was meant to happen, she clammed up.
I have no idea what to do next. My relationship with my brother has always been fine; we’ve not fallen out over anything, and there’s no family business or inheritance that he could want to disinherit me from. My parents say he won’t talk to them about it, and want me to just drop it since it was just a bad prank.
Except it obviously wasn’t! I could have been arrested, even though I would not have done anything (the girl was dressed to the nines, but was still obviously way too young to be there), the optics were obviously bad. And what if he pulls this “prank” on someone else and a child gets hurt? Why is he even giving 15-year-olds money online anyhow?
My wife thinks I should call the police and tell them what happened (the girl’s dad would rather not, but has agreed to back up my account if I want to take it that way). I think she’s probably right, if only to have a background if he does anything else, but I don’t know? It just feels surreal, because I really can’t think why my brother would have done this or even thought about it. I just keep stalling out on doing anything, because I just can’t imagine how to explain this when NOTHING HAPPENED to motivate it?
A: I’m not sure there’s a lot the police could do in this situation or what use it would be to have this report on the record if your brother were to do something illegal in the future. So you can skip that. But also, obviously, never trust your brother to do anything for you again. Whatever he may or may not be doing with underage girls in his personal life, he is, at the very least, a predator who thinks it’s acceptable for teens to date grown men—and that’s enormously concerning. I think you and your family should confront him together, let him know how disturbing his actions were, and urge him into therapy to address the root of this troubling behavior and attitude.
Side note: Don’t try to win your divorce. Your desperation to do that is part of what made you trust your brother, who I am sure has shown signs of being a creep in the past. You obviously have a lot of trust for your soon-to-be ex wife, and she got you out of a sticky situation. Forget about doing better than her—switch your focus to simply trying to be happy and being the kind of person you want to be when this is all said and done.
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Q. Please stop saying sorry: I lost my mom in January. It was a shock, but not a shock as she suffered from COPD, and was doing badly for quite a while.
My problem is that people are still slowly finding out. Some people already knew, but I recently started a new job where she used to work before she retired, and of course, everyone asks about her and how she is. When I tell them we lost her in January, they immediately go: “I am so sorry!” Which is fine, I am glad you are, but it’s starting to grate on my nerves, mostly because I never know how to respond. I want to say thank you, but it feels fake to me. And I want to say it’s okay, but that makes me sound heartless. I miss her horribly, and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her, but this feels like a minefield! Any advice on this?
A: I almost started this with “I’m so sorry for your loss,” ugh! But that just goes to show, this is a really common way to express sympathy and you’re going to have a tough time if you are in distress every time you hear it.
Now of course, you are totally allowed to be honest and say, “I hate it when people say that because I don’t know how to respond.” You could also send a mass email to everyone who knew her to break the news so that you don’t have to do it individually. But something tells me neither of these tactics will really free you from people’s awkward and ill-timed comments—they might just lead to more conversations which will inevitably include “I’m sorry.”
So I’ll give the same advice I give to people dealing with infertility who are hurt by baby announcements, single people who hate to hear about couples, or those who despise holiday season and cringe at the music and decorations that now start in early November: You are totally, completely entitled to the way you feel and if what makes sense to you is to go to great lengths to avoid your triggers (in your case, you could completely avoid conversation with people who haven’t heard the news or say, “Yes, she died. Please don’t say ‘I’m sorry’”), you are within your rights.
But ask yourself whether it would be easier if you could make an internal tweak—a change to your way of processing these interactions—that defangs these remarks and makes them less upsetting to you. Is there any way you could convince yourself not to take “I’m so sorry” quite so literally, and hear it instead as “This person liked my mom and is sad to hear that she’s not here anymore because she was great, and they’re also expressing concern for my wellbeing, which my mom would love”? That way, maybe you could say “Thank you” or “Thanks for saying that” in a way that feels sincere? Or perhaps you could have a go-to line that acknowledges their expression of sympathy but captures the way you really feel, like “I appreciate that. I miss her terribly and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her.” I think something like this could possibly lead to conversations that feel less superficial and closer connections that could offer you comfort as you continue to deal with the loss of your mom. After all, it really is that loss, not small talk about it, that is the really devastating thing here.
Q. Nutcracker hater: My high school–aged niece is a talented dancer. This year, just as she has for several years, she has a key role in a certain seasonal ballet, which I loathe (and have since long before she was born). I applaud her dedication and am happy she gets to take part in something she loves. But do I have to go to this show every single year? Am I allowed to skip a year or two? My aunts/uncles weren’t active in my life when I was a kid, so I’m not sure what is acceptable.
A: Feel free to skip it. While going to every sporting event and performance is a really nice gesture for an aunt or uncle, it’s also above and beyond, especially if you hate being there. If you’re close to her and she’s used to having your support, you could make it up by doing something else like giving her a congratulatory gift or flowers, framing a nice photo of her from one of her performances, posting effusively about her on social media, or inviting her to see a ballet that you can actually sit through.
Q. Side-eyeing this man: I have been on two dates with this man and he seemed pretty okay. He planned the first date, I planned the second, and we had a good time on both. We talked and laughed and hung out for hours. We talk on the phone regularly and he has been very kind and charming. Now we are getting ready to go on date three.
He left it up to me to plan this third date, which is annoying because I really prefer to take turns planning dates, especially since he insists on paying and I have no clue what his budget is—but okay, I will do this one. I suggested a museum and he said he wasn’t really interested in art but he didn’t suggest an alternative. He has also mentioned that he doesn’t cook and he doesn’t do lawn care. I am observing these things and I am starting to get the impression that he could be very lazy.
He has also taken to calling me “Beautiful,” which irritates me to no end due to it being absurdly generic and entirely focused on superficial traits. Plus, lots of men seem to get stuck on attractiveness and will not go further to figure out if they really like and connect with the woman, so she becomes more of an object than a person. Then one day, the whole “you’re so pretty” thing wears off and suddenly he remembers that he hates pineapple on his pizza, he loves EDM, theater bores him to tears, football three nights a week is life, and he absolutely has no desire to ever spend a week on a beach melting in 100-degree heat, so basically nothing the woman thought they had in common was actually real. I would also really prefer a pet name be positive, specific to me, and based on shared history.
I think the third date is really too early to start problem-solving a relationship, so there’s no point in talking to him about these concerns. But maybe I am overthinking things. Should I just calm down and give the man a chance?
A: You definitely could give him a chance, but he’s already annoying the hell out of you. You know what this means: You don’t like him. And that’s okay. Get back out there and find someone who waits at least 10 dates to irritate you to no end, and set him free to find someone who loves being called “beautiful” and doing all the planning.
Q. Stick to the greenery: I was recently introduced to a new weed dealer through an old friend who moved into my neighborhood. He connected me to his medicinal supplier, who is a consummate professional who only carries the finest zaza and gassy extracts. I’ve developed a mutually satisfying relationship with this individual.
However, on his Instagram feed, he posts a lot of QAnon and flat-earth nonsense (in addition to high-quality macros of the goods, which I’m totally here for!). I’m not sure how to feel and I’m tired of seeing his crazy posts on my social media!
A: Recently I told someone to pull her child out of a day care run by a QAnon supporter, because I worried about their influence over a child too young to say what they were experiencing every day, and about how this person’s poor grasp on reality could bleed over to other areas. I think this is a little different—you’re simply making a transaction. If you feel confident that “the goods” are indeed high-quality (for example there’s no way he can decide to infuse his products with ivermectin or anything, is there?), carry on! And of course, you can simply mute him on social media.
Q. Re: Honey trap: Reading the letter, it sounds like his concern was that his brother was setting him up to be arrested, not that his brother actually believed he should have a romantic relationship with a teenager. I don’t get the impression anyone believes the brother was legitimately trying to set the letter writer up with a date.
A: Maybe, but how would he get arrested if nothing inappropriate happened? Having dinner with a 15-year-old isn’t a crime as far as I know.
Q. Re: Honey trap: Counterpoint: When you suspect someone of exploiting a child, this is the perfect time to call the police, not have a heart-to-heart.
A: I feel like there’s a misconception that police can fix any awful, disturbing, disgusting thing that happens when in reality they can’t do much about something that’s not a crime—and I’m just not sure an actual crime was committed here. But I could be wrong and I shouldn’t pretend to be a criminal law expert. If the letter writer wants to do this against the wishes of the young girl’s family, he’d be within his rights to make a report. I’d suggest a backup plan in case nothing happens rather than putting all his faith in law enforcement to address his brother’s issues.
Q. Re: Please stop saying sorry: A phrase I use a LOT in situations where “thanks” doesn’t feel quite right is “I appreciate that.”
A: That has a nice ring to it and is definitely useful for most situations. I’m not sure it would feel true to the letter writer’s feelings, though—she seems to pretty clearly NOT appreciate these remarks.
Q. Re: Nutcracker hater: Of course you don’t have to go, and if it is inconvenient and you can’t make it, I can’t imagine anyone being mad at you for not going. However (and I say this as an introvert who loves being home and hates going anywhere), she’s high school age, which means unless she goes professional, you likely only have four more of these performances to sit through, tops.
I have a child who is into sports and his aunts and uncles don’t come to every game, but they come to a few that they can make it to with ease. When my much younger sister was in school, I made it to as many of her sporting events as I could mentally handle as a young mom with a new baby. And now that my sister is grown up and there are no more events to go to… I’m really glad I showed up and saw her play. I’m glad I have those memories of watching her and I’m sure she has good memories of me showing up for her.
A: Good perspective. I’m thinking he probably makes it to other performances (that don’t make his skin crawl) during the year, so hopefully they will still have those memories even if he sits this one out.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Thanks for all the good questions and helpful responses! Talk to you next time.
From How to Do It
My partner and I are a year into a three-year stint of long distance. I live in California, and he’s on the East Coast. We’re able to see each other every other month, and when we do, the sex is fantastic. The problem is, in between these visits, we have nothing. He’s ruled out sending nude photos because of privacy concerns (we both have moderately high-profile jobs), and when I’ve tried sending a moderately sexy message, he hasn’t replied with anything racier than some PG-13 euphemisms. I’m not going to force him into something he’s not comfortable with, but I am desperate for more. I don’t know if the underlying issue is the time zones and work schedules, confidence sexting, or a mismatched need for that kind of intimacy. The lack of sexual connection is making me feel lonelier and further apart than anything else in the distance relationship. Is there anything I can do?