Dear Prudence

Help! My Cousin Is Telling People I’m the Father of Her Baby.

How do I get her to stop?

A baby looking surprised with an illustrated ex-out behind them.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by 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.

Dear Prudence,

My cousin, who is two years younger than me, is pregnant. Last week I found out she has been telling people I am the father. The two of us went on an overnight road trip to visit our grandmother around the time her baby would have been conceived. This trip was well documented on her social media. How do I get her to stop telling people I am the father? And how do I address people thinking I slept with her?

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I don’t know what’s going on with your cousin, or what her relationship is with the father of her child, but what she’s doing is distressing beyond belief. Given that she knows you’re not the father and couldn’t possibly provide her with child support or care, it’s unclear what she’s getting out of telling people that you fathered her child. Since her judgment seems wildly impaired, I think it would help you to make sure any conversation you have with her about the subject involves at least one other family member present to support you and mediate the conversation. Tell someone in your family that you trust, then approach her together to talk about how concerned you are and how important it is for her to stop, apologize for the havoc she’s wreaked, and get whatever help she may need. —Danny M. Lavery

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From: “Help! My Cousin Is Telling People I’m the Father of Her Unborn Child.” (July 5, 2018)

Dear Prudence,

I am a kind, considerate person, and generally have a very happy disposition. I also suffer from what it is known as “bitchy resting face.” It’s pretty bad. I look either very unhappy, or downright evil, depending on one’s interpretation. Friends have had to assure other people that I won’t bite their heads off if approached! My husband is in the military, so every few years I have to start over from scratch with my social life, and it isn’t easy when I look so unapproachable. What can I do? I can’t walk around with a big, fake smile plastered on my face. It’s exhausting and I’d probably look a little looney!

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Please read, Why Smile: The Science Behind Facial Expressions, a fascinating book by social psychologist Marianne LaFrance. It’s a look at why the looks on our faces are so important. I get what you’re saying because when I was younger, people—including strangers—would urge me to smile. Yes, this is something people do to young women and, without exploring the inherent sexism of this, as you’ve discovered it’s actually better not to look like an ogre. I disagree with you that your choices are BRF or a huge fake smile. It is possible for you to train yourself to adopt a more Mona Lisa look—a slightly upturned, intriguing expression that doesn’t make you look like a clown, but doesn’t put people off either. You can also enlist your friends who have stepped up to explain to others you’re actually really nice, to help you in your facial muscle retraining. Tell them what you’re trying to do and that you want their feedback. It will be a gratifying loop to have people respond to you as if you are the happy person you feel to be inside. —Emily Yoffe

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

Dear Prudence,

I’m recently getting back into dating after 11 years of marriage. The dating scene is very different than it used to be. I’ve been using an app to meet men because it seems like that’s what the kids are doing these days and I don’t have a lot of options to meet people in my everyday life. It just so happens that I’m really good at finding information about people, and as I get to know these men, I dig about to find out more. (My favorite is finding the DUI of a guy even though he’d never told me his name. I also discovered a guy was catfishing me.) I do it for a few reasons. First and foremost, it turns out that most men are full of it, at least those on dating apps. I want to weed out the people who aren’t worth my time. It’s also a challenge, and a delightful puzzle. Because I see it as a puzzle, I usually end up down a rabbit hole of information about these guys. I find their jobs, their homes, sometimes the homes they grew up in, Instagram accounts, Facebook accounts, Twitter feeds, and on and on.

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My friends think I’m a bit stalkerish and that I should just let things develop naturally. I’d rather know ahead of time if the guy I’m chatting with is actually married with a 6-week-old. (That really happened.) What say you? Am I intruding on their privacy? I never cross any legal lines to find these things out. It’s all right there on the internet for anyone who’s willing to look. But I usually end up with a hell of a lot more knowledge than they’d probably be willing to share with me.

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You don’t need my permission to spend your spare time obsessively researching a bunch of men you already dislike until you find something that confirms your initial mistrust, if that’s what you really want to do. It sounds like a deeply unpleasant use of leisure time to me, but not everyone enjoys the same hobbies. The question isn’t whether you’re doing something right or wrong, exactly; you’re technically right inasmuch as all of this information is freely available. But this goes well beyond a quick social media search before a first date. The important question is: What are you getting out of this? You say that it’s like solving a puzzle, which is fine, but you don’t seem to be going on many dates, you’re not seeking out men you like and trying to get to know them better, and you’re not letting anybody get to know you. You’re staying at home, prowling into the corners of strangers’ personal histories, and then feeling satisfied when you find a reason not to trust them.

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If this is fun for you, then by all means, keep doing it; you’re not actively hurting anyone and the primary person whose time you’re wasting is you. But if your friends seem concerned, and if you sometimes catch yourself wondering, “Why can’t I stop doing this?” then it might be worth asking yourself what you’re getting out of this behavior, and what it stems from—whether that’s a fear of dating, a belief that every man who expresses romantic interest is actually out to get you, or a burgeoning interest in a criminal justice career. —D.L.

From: “Help! I’m Afraid of My Violent Teenage Stepson.” (Dec. 20, 2017)

Dear Prudence,

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My son has been attending the same summer camp since he was a small boy. He is now 16, and this was his first year working as a counselor. He was not particularly happy with his job and had some trouble with his bunkmates. But he has enjoyed being there and seeing his old friends. I am now on my way to pick him up after getting a call from the camp director. Apparently he had masturbated into something and was carrying it around. According to my son, it was on a dare. I have no disagreement that what he did was inappropriate. The camp is putting out the story that he was unhappy with his job. My daughter, who is working there, knows he did not quit, as do a few of the adults. My husband and I differ on how to deal with this. My husband feels that having to leave camp was a huge blow and that we don’t need to punish him at home. I feel differently. What do you think?

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We can all agree that teenage boys can be jerk-offs, and this episode is exhibit A. I spent many summers at camp, so I know about such hijinks as short-sheeting the bed and putting frogs down people’s backs. But I missed the one about carrying a container of semen all day. Your son sounds quite immature. It seems that he wanted to hang around with his friends but wasn’t ready for the responsibility of being a counselor. He also lacked the judgment to resist some nasty person’s dare. And someone must have disliked him enough to rat him out—unless the container your son was carrying was labeled, “My Ejaculate.” You and your husband should have a sense of whether to be concerned that your son’s social relationships are going awry and he’s not keeping pace with his peers’ development. If that’s the case, you two need to get him some intervention. But if you conclude he’s just a 16-year-old doofus, I agree with your husband that the humiliating end to your son’s summer seems like fitting punishment. Sure, your husband needs to sit down with him and have a thorough discussion about the lessons learned. (Aside from “Stay out of the Tupperware.”) This conversation should make clear that your son understands he’s responsible for his own behavior and he’s able to reflect on being drawn in by others’ bad judgment. But there doesn’t seem to be anything to be gained by beating this to death. —E.Y.

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From: “Help! My Husband Sought Casual Sex Before He Died. How Do I Honor Him Now?” (Aug. 9, 2012)

More Advice From Dear Prudence

My parents had an acrimonious divorce when I was a baby, and when I was 3 years old, my dad kidnapped me for a period of three months. I don’t remember any of it, or the immediate aftermath. Since then, my dad has been an incredibly loving and supportive parent to me. I’m 30 now and about to get married. My mom still hates my dad, and I don’t blame her for that, but she expects me to hate him too. How can I prepare for these two to be thrust back together for the first time in 27 years at my wedding?

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