Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Happy Monday. Please tell me I’m not the only one who feels like January has been three months long already—yet I’m not ready to take my Christmas tree down, for some reason. Anyone else have complaints? Let me know and let’s chat.
Q. Oversexualized and overtired of excuses: My PE teacher is at best a viewer of lewd YouTube videos and at worst a full-on pervert. He often plays videos for us in class, and once, his recommendations popped up. At least half were “calming music” with pictures of women in bikinis with, erm, large bottoms. Something tells me it wasn’t calming music he was interested in. Another time, his “recommended for you” showed a naked woman whose breast was barely concealed by her arm. Once, my friend had to use his computer for a project and accidentally clicked onto the wrong tab. It was a picture of underwear! My teacher also showed us a lewd video in class about a guy who asks out hundreds of women doing yoga. It was meant to be funny, but it just felt uncomfortable. Yet another time, he played a video of people doing exercises with music for us to listen to while we did exercises ourselves, but they were all girls. The video was not approved for viewing by our district, but he can bypass that. All of this is on his school account.
Even worse, I’m one of his favorite students, and I hate it. My friends and I try to make the best of it, but it’s weird and creepy! My male friend is in the same class and whenever I complain about the teacher, he tries to step in and make excuses for him. He’s the sort of person who sees the best in everyone (it’s exhausting) and doesn’t understand that no one wants to hear “I think he’s just trying his best to be a good teacher, and it’s probably an accident” after a rant about a possibly perverted teacher. I am so frustrated, especially since it feels like he’s just dismissing all of my concerns. How do I politely correct him next time he tries to make an excuse for this weird teacher? To be honest, I would like to hit him over the head with my heaviest textbook, but that’s not helpful at all.
A: Your teacher knows exactly what he’s doing; it isn’t OK and you absolutely do not have to make the best of it! I want you to think of the adult in your life who has historically listened to you the most and shown the most concern for the well-being of kids and teens. Maybe that’s one of your other teachers, or a parent or a friend’s parent. Tell them exactly what you told me. The school needs to know about this, and any responsible adult will understand that and make it happen. It’s not your job to convince your male friend of the problem (it would be great if he understood and stood up for you, but he’s not there), but it is your right to address it and your obligation to make sure other kids aren’t exposed to this creepy behavior.
How to Get Advice From Prudie:
• Send questions for publication here. (Questions may be edited.)
• Join the live chat Mondays at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the discussion.
Q. Attachment-anxious: My partner of three years has previously expressed some casual interest in hooking up with other people. I’ve said I would be willing to explore the idea of an open relationship with them, but they don’t believe me because I’ve shown some jealousy in the past. I’ve shared that I fear being lied to more than anything else. They’ve told me (recently) that they will not act on these desires, and we’ve agreed that they could safely bring it up with me if they ever had the urge so we could talk it out. We’ve never discussed it further.
Now they’ve gone on a business trip out of state. We talk and video chat regularly. Even still, I began to have intense anxiety. I looked up their dating profile on the app we met on, and I found that they’ve updated their profile location to where the trip is, and other bio details. I feel gutted. I also feel guilty for having snooped, and that it reflects a lack of trust on my end—but then again, my distrust was proven right.
We clearly need to have a conversation about this, but I’m a nervous wreck about it. How do I broach the topic in a way that won’t make them defensive or angry at me for snooping? I can be OK with this if they are just using the profile for a confidence boost or out of boredom, so I want to be tactful about bringing it up and not go straight to “burn it down,” but I can’t stop wondering why they would need to update their location if that were the case. To me, that signals intent to actually meet people. They are still out of town, so I will have to speak with them on the phone. Prudie, what do I do?
A: Your partner wants to hook up with people and has decided to go ahead and try it against your wishes. When you let them know what you saw on the app, I guarantee they’re going to say “I was just looking because I was bored!” or “I logged in to look at options for a co-worker.” This will be a lie. Listen to your instincts. You’re with someone who wants a different kind of relationship than you do and is being dishonest with you. There’s not a conversation you can have that will fix that, and I definitely don’t recommend giving in and becoming nonmonogamous while feeling anxious and betrayed. So let them know what you saw, but don’t put the ball in their court. Go into the conversation having decided whether this behavior is a deal-breaker for you. I hope it is.
Q. Who me, worry? As someone who’s triple vaxxed (initial two, plus the booster), what are the ramifications (legal, otherwise) of pulling down my mask in the supermarket and coughing when someone is in the same aisle that I am, and they’re unmasked? (Our state has a 100 percent indoor mask requirement, and there are signs at the entrance, but not enforced.) Other than risking a punch to the face, am I giving someone that’s “proudly unmasked” just that little internal thrill that they’ve gotten under my skin? The supermarket isn’t about to reduce their profit margin even more by kicking out paying customers, so the indoor mandate is toothless because there’s no enforcement. Am I just being an asshole? If someone is in a space where they’re supposed to be wearing a mask and aren’t, can they even claim that I’m assaulting them by coughing, or is that a risk that they’re willing to take and therefore have no legal ground?
A: I understand that this kind of thing can be satisfying to think about, but please let it remain a fantasy. You would in fact be risking a punch to the face, but you’d also be risking passing the virus (yes, you can be infected even if triple vaxxed) to someone who simply forgot their mask or to someone else who comes down the aisle behind them. It’s very frustrating that some people don’t care about others, but since you’re not going to change that, I suggest trying to redirect your energy away from physical confrontations and toward helping people who stand to be harmed by the selfish, ignorant behavior of others. Maybe you could donate masks to students, teachers, or others who have no choice but to be in close proximity to others and might not have the best protection. Or you could offer to run errands for people who are vulnerable and don’t want to expose themselves. What about volunteering at a testing site or vaccine clinic? There are ways to push back against people who seem to want this pandemic to last forever that do not involve cough attacks.
Q. Too bonded: My boyfriend has an older sister by two years, and to the outside world, they seem to have a best friend bond. But I get this bad gut feeling when we’re all together, like she doesn’t like me and she’s also jealous. She gives me glares and tries to take his attention away from me when we’re hugging or holding hands; there’ve been times where I’m hugging him and she has this look in her eyes that seems full of jealousy and like she wishes to be with him. I’ve talked to some friends about other incidents that have happened and they all agree this is more than a sister bond with him. They’ve given me pros and cons of staying with him, but I’m lost in what to do in a situation like this. I always trust my gut and, being a girl, I’ve grown to notice subtle and not-so-subtle hints when someone wants the person I’m with.
A: If you think your boyfriend has a sexual relationship with his sister, the thought is enough. You don’t need any more evidence or any more votes from friends to walk away from this relationship. Even if you’re wrong, this is not a great way to feel and you’re unlikely to ever get over it. Time to move on.
Q. Re: Attachment-anxious: I don’t think looking up your partner’s dating app profile is snooping. But the fact that you both still have dating apps with active profiles means that this may have been going on longer than you think. They just didn’t need to update their location recently.
A: Good point. And yeah, I didn’t even address the snooping part because … who cares! You’re allowed to peek at an app. I almost felt like the letter writer wanted to have done something wrong to even the score and feel better about staying in this relationship. Nope.
Q. Re: Who me, worry? The whole purpose of the mask is to contain your germs. Occasionally all of us end up sneezing or coughing into our masks. No big deal. But if you think that you’re entitled to pull your mask down so you can cough your germs into the shared air, just stay home and pay for your groceries to be delivered.
A: Yes, stay home and take deep, mask-free breaths in your own house as you consider other ways to deal with your pandemic rage.
For the past five years I have been in a relationship with a man I currently live with. We’ve had some issues with infidelity in the past, and I, for right or wrong, went through his computer and phone to see what he had been doing while out of town on business. From what I can see, my fiancé has been chatting with boys from the ages of 14 to 17 on an app mostly teens use. He poses as a 16-year-old with photos that are obviously not his.