Dear Prudence

Help! My Best Friend’s Son Is Aggressively Stalking My Daughter.

My friend thinks it’s harmless.

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by ValuaVitaly/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Khosrork/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,

“Ellen” and I have been friends for years. This summer, her 12-year-old son, “Ryan,” declared he was madly in love with my 14-year-old daughter, “Kate.” We joked about crushes and puppy love. My daughter didn’t reciprocate, but I asked her to let him down gently. The problem is that Ryan refuses to accept it. He has continued to pester Kate with texts, phone calls, and messages on social media. My daughter has blocked him and set everything to private. Ryan has showed up at Kate’s babysitting job, which is on the other side of town! My husband had a talk with Ryan, but nothing sinks in. Ellen refuses to take this seriously and won’t do anything to discipline her son. According to her, Kate just needs to give Ryan a chance. At our last conversation, I told Ellen that having a crush does not mean Ryan has the right to stalk my daughter. Ellen got upset and said we were overreacting. This behavior has gone on for more than a month. Yesterday, Kate went to the pool with friends and Ryan showed up. He wouldn’t leave Kate alone and grabbed her when she attempted to walk away, tearing her shirt. A lifeguard made Ryan leave. My daughter is very upset, and my husband and I have no idea what to do. His behavior is getting worse; if Ryan were older we wouldn’t hesitate to call the police, but he only turned 12 in May. We don’t know what to do beyond keeping a watchful eye on Kate and hoping Ryan moves on.

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How awful that Ellen has no interest in taking her son’s increasingly frightening behavior seriously. She’s doing him a real disservice. I don’t know if Ryan’s father is in the picture, but if there’s any chance his other parent would take this more seriously, it might help to bring your concerns to him. In the meantime, continue to look out for your daughter and document each incident of stalking in case you need to file a restraining order. (You can file a restraining order on your daughter’s behalf, even if the harasser in question is underage.) Of course, it’s distressing to contemplate contacting the police when a 12-year-old child is involved, but if he’s gone from harassing her on social media to grabbing her and tearing her clothing in a public pool, I think the likelihood that he’ll be violent again is very high. You have to prioritize your daughter’s safety, and she is also a child. In the meantime, ask Kate what you can do to help. Does she want you nearby when she babysits? To contact the school administration and let them know they need to keep an eye on Ryan to make sure he doesn’t stalk her on campus? To talk to other friends’ parents, so they can ask Ryan to leave and call you if he shows up when Kate and her friends are spending time together? You’re right to take this seriously, and I don’t think there’s any reason to believe Ryan is just going to “move on” without significant adult intervention. Speak with Ellen again and make it clear that you have no intention of letting this drop and that you’re going to take this threat to your daughter’s safety seriously, even if she won’t. —Danny M. Lavery

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From: “Help! My Best Friend’s Son Is Stalking My Daughter—and My Friend Calls It Puppy Love” (July 26, 2018)

Dear Prudence,

I met and married my husband when I was 21 years old and he was 41. Our marriage has been ridiculously wonderful for five years. Then my husband died unexpectedly. It has been almost a year since he passed. I am still close with my late husband’s mother, and because he was an only child who had no children, I know one of her griefs is that she will never have grandchildren. What almost no one but me knows is that before he died, my husband decided to deposit some sperm at a local fertility clinic. We wanted to wait to have children, but he was concerned about how the quality of his sperm would decline as he aged. The sperm is now mine to do with as I will, and I am only now getting around to deciding what to do with it. Though I am financially equipped to be a mother, I do not want to artificially inseminate myself. I do not know if I could handle raising our child without him. I also believe I will be ready to date again in another year, though I hate myself for feeling this way. I feel horrible for caring more about my future than continuing my husband’s family. And I know my mother-in-law would thrive as a grandmother. Can you offer me any advice, please?

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What a wrenching conundrum, a moral and emotional dilemma only made possible by assisted technology. You are a kind and decent person to be so concerned about your mother-in-law. As guilty as you may feel about the stirrings of desire to go back into the world, to find new love, you are aware that your husband’s mother will never get over his loss, one that is compounded by the fact that he left no children. I hope you have seen a grief counselor, or joined a support group for young widows and widowers, because that will help you deal with your guilt, which is entirely normal, but which should not disable you or prevent you from starting to date. But if you read over your letter, you will see that you are only considering using the sperm to bring consolation to your late husband’s mother, not because you want to bear your husband’s posthumous child. You have written nothing that says you long for this child; just the opposite. Fortunately, you are the only person who knows that this is even a possibility—it’s good that you and your husband never told his mother about this biological insurance policy. You must live the life you choose, and if that means keeping this secret forever, do so in good conscience. —Emily Yoffe

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From: “Help! Should I Have a Baby Using My Dead Husband’s Sperm?” (June 17, 2014)

Dear Prudence,

I’ve been married for 10 years and in that time my mother-in-law has become my best friend. She welcomed me to the family with open arms, we travel together, go shopping, cook together. Unfortunately, things have never been all that great with my husband. “Rick” has cheated on me twice (that I know of), drinks way too much, and loves to spend money we don’t have. I would have left years ago if I didn’t love his mother so much. She knows nothing about our marital problems. Rick and I never talked to her about our problems, and while she knows there are some issues, she doesn’t know specifics. Rick and I have been in counseling for over half our marriage. Counseling isn’t working, and we’ve started to move toward divorce. I brought up the subject of a possible split to my mother-in-law the other day and asked her if it would hurt our friendship. She hesitated, then said that we’d probably never see each other again. I was floored. I didn’t expect her to be as close to me as we have been, but I had thought we could at least stay friends. I really want to save my relationship with my mother-in-law but don’t want to stay married to her son. Do you think this is possible?

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Maybe, maybe not. It’s possible that if your mother-in-law were aware of your husband’s many marital shortcomings, she’d feel more inclined to maintain a relationship with you. It’s also possible that no matter how reasonably you behave, how much your husband has wronged you, and how much you like your mother-in-law, once you and your husband have divorced, your mother-in-law will find it impossible to continue your friendship. That is, unfortunately, sometimes one of the side effects of divorce. The only thing you can do is let her know how much you care for her, that you’d like to continue a friendly relationship if possible, and then let her make her own decision. You can’t save your relationship with your mother-in-law on her behalf—she has to decide whether or not she’s comfortable maintaining a friendship with her former daughter-in-law. Even if you think it’s unreasonable, I’m afraid it’s not up to you (and it should go without saying that I don’t think it’s worth staying in a miserable marriage just because you love his mother. The world is full of nice women; you’ll find others to befriend). —D.L.

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From: “Help! I Love My Mother-in-Law but Hate Her Son.” (Sept. 7, 2016)

Dear Prudence,

My wife and I spent Thanksgiving weekend with her family for the first time last week. I was appalled by the rowdy behavior of her two elder brothers. They just run roughshod over her and frequently use verbal jabs and physical roughness while interacting with her. One day, one brother picked her up and tossed her, fully clothed, into the swimming pool while the other laughed his head off. They have been treating her like this her whole life, so she knows no better and just laughs it off. She refuses to tell them to stop, but I do think they should, especially as we have a 1-year-old son who I don’t want to see his mother being manhandled in this fashion. How can I convince her and them to stop?

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You need to have a serious talk with your wife about her brothers’ humor. I understand that you were appalled, but it is possible that for her this kind of roughhousing was a fun part of her childhood and that she loved the verbal and physical rough and tumble of adored older brothers. It’s also possible she’s so inured to it that she can’t make a distinction between affection and abuse. I hope your wife’s family lives somewhere tropical, or else a toss into the pool at Thanksgiving sounds like a recipe for hypothermia. But you have to get a real reading from you wife about whether this—and all the other stuff—was a frat house kind of fun she enjoys, or whether she doesn’t know how to defend herself and say stop. Tell her how it all looked to you, and how disturbed and upset you were by it. And as an aside, be prepared that these two wild and crazy uncles may turn out to be your son’s favorite people. —E.Y.

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From: “Help! My Wife’s Older Brothers Play Too Rough With Her.” (Dec. 2, 2013)

More From Dear Prudence

Two years ago I adopted a dog from a local rescue. From the outside, it seemed to be a thing many people enjoyed immensely, and I thought it might be nice for my kids, as people say. But, for me, it never took. I’m just not a dog person, and, it turns out, neither are my kids.

They often ask if we could just give him away. I say, “No, we made a commitment to him by adopting him.” And I believe we did. To be clear—we are good dog owners in the sense of providing immunizations, regular grooming, high-quality food and socialization, petting, play, and exercise. We are doing the job we don’t like and paying the thousands a year that generally entails. I guess I’m exploring where our responsibility to pets begins and ends, and I’d like to hear what someone else thinks.

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