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Today is my brother’s birthday. About a year ago, I cheated on my girlfriend and confided in him. My girlfriend has since forgiven me, and we’ve worked hard to move on and leave the past behind us, but she found out that my brother knew about my infidelity and has carried a hateful resentment ever since. She believes if he had any honor or respect for women then he would have ratted me out or at least tried harder to stop me. She forbid me to see him for months, and I reluctantly agreed until I finally broke down and told her I can’t be with her if she forces me to choose between her and my brother. He and I live in the same city and were fairly close until this happened. I see him from time to time now, and we have several mutual friends, but she still refuses to have anything to do with him, and there’s a lot of tension whenever he comes up. My brother is nonconfrontational to say the least, and prefers to just ignore the situation and make the most of our rare time together. Is my girlfriend merely protecting herself as she claims, or has her bitterness gone too far?
Keep the brother, lose her. She thinks infidelity is a nearly unforgivable offense, yet she has forgiven you. But she won’t forgive your brother for being told by you what you did. She actually has never forgiven you. She is going to make you pay for your transgression every day—your brother just happens to be the most convenient target. So go celebrate your brother’s birthday. Invite her to come along when you take your brother out. If she won’t go, fine. But if she tries to forbid you, you go without her. (How does she “forbid” you from seeing your brother? She locks you in your room?) You stepped out on your girlfriend for some reason. Now you have ample reason to end your relationship permanently. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! I Cheated and Told My Brother. Now My Girlfriend Thinks He’s the Villain.” (Sept. 21, 2015)
I had the most humiliating experience at work: a supervisor, politely and discreetly, told me I smell. I was so horrified, and now I don’t know how I can stand to show my face at work. I know it isn’t an excuse, but I’ve been suffering from gradually worsening depression, and a main symptom I experience is a lack of motivation for self-care. I had never dreamed it was this bad. I’m sure if one person said something, it stands to reason that several noticed. Aside from obviously finding a new zeal for hygiene, I have no idea how to move on from this. Should I try to explain myself by telling my boss about the depression? Should I quit my job, change my name, and move to a tiny remote island in the middle of the sea?
I’m so sorry for your current condition—no matter how politely someone told me, I’d be mortified too. I often hear from readers who aren’t sure how to tell a co-worker or friend that he or she smells, but almost never from people who’ve been told they’re the ones who smell. I hope very much you’re seeking medical and/or therapeutic care for your depression, because you should not have to go through this alone. If you trust your boss and believe that he or she could keep a secret and treat you no differently at work, I would encourage you to say, without going into specifics, that you’ve been going through a difficult time lately and have been finding it hard to take care of yourself. I don’t think you should do this as an attempt to “explain yourself,” because you are not in trouble, but because it might ease some of your embarrassment. There is no need to move to an island, I can assure you. This is embarrassing, of course, but you are addressing the issue, and your boss did you a (painful) favor by bringing this to your attention instead of avoiding you, presumably because your boss likes you and cares about your well-being. Your colleagues did not noticeably change their behavior around you, and I bet they will move on even faster than you. This is proof you are a person who matters to everyone at work; you will get through this. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! My Heartbroken Sister-in-Law Wants Our Unused Embryos.” (Oct. 20, 2016)
I’m a college student home for the summer who took her nieces, ages 5 and 9, out for a day. While I was reapplying my red lipstick, the two girls begged me to let them wear it too because they wanted to look like me. I agreed. Later that day we took a picture, which I posted on Facebook. Their mother, my aunt, went ballistic, saying, among other things, that I was sexualizing them and a bad role model for wearing lipstick myself. She now doesn’t want me near my nieces and isn’t talking to my mom (her sister), who took my side on the issue. I’m really upset over this situation because I love spending time with my nieces and believe my aunt is teaching them toxic “lessons” about female sexuality. My question is twofold—first, was I wrong to let them wear lipstick, and second, what should I do now to reconcile this situation?
How sad that your aunt turned a fun day for her girls—topped by an application of fire engine red—into a bizarre and ugly gender war. Humans have been decorating themselves since we emerged as humans—prehistoric sites are filled with ochre used for body decorations, and little girls have always loved to play dress-up. Sadly, there’s no winning here. Your aunt is wrong, but she’s the mother of these girls. (She really believes a college student is either a hussy or betraying her sex by wearing makeup?) If you want to keep seeing your nieces, be the big one and apologize to your aunt. Say you were out of line to put lipstick on the kids, you understand why she was upset, and it won’t happen again. If she wants to hold this crazy grudge, then my heart goes out to her daughters, who have a lot of unpleasant years with a punitive mother ahead. —E.Y.
From: “Help! I Put Lipstick on My Little Nieces and Now Their Mother Won’t Talk to Me.” (June 16, 2015)
My mother does not believe in food issues, except deadly allergies. My sister and I are both made sub-lethally ill by fish. My mother has, on several occasions, lied about what was in something only to have my sister rush away from the table upon attempting to eat it. My mother insists that my sister is making it up. Should I keep trying to explain to my mother or encourage my sister to adopt my don’t-take-food-from-Mom strategy, which my mother insists is rude?
It’s a hell of a lot ruder to serve someone food you know she’s allergic to, especially after you’ve lied to her about what she’s eating. I don’t know why your mother thinks your sister is faking a nonfatal (but deeply unpleasant!) allergy to fish, but she’s behaving irrationally and dangerously, and you should both feel extremely free to pass up eating anything she’s prepared and be frank about why. Many allergies can get more serious with age, and it’s possible that one of these days you or your sister could experience anaphylactic shock after being served one of Mom’s “surprise” fish dinners. It’s odd and sad that this is the hill your mother has decided to die on. It’s not especially difficult to not serve someone fish; many people manage it all the time. —D.L.
From: “Help! My Stepson Died, and All I Feel Is Relief.” (Sept. 29, 2016)
More Advice From Dear Prudence
My mom was a teenager when she met my dad, who was 15 years older. I have fond memories of their marriage, but my dad died when I was 6. Shortly after my dad died, his mom accused my mom of sleeping around and claimed that I’m not my dad’s biological child. My mom was offended and, because of my grandma’s verbal assaults, broke off contact. I’m now 19. Mom neither says anything good or bad about my dad’s side of the family. I recently got in contact with my grandma again, and though she says she’s delighted, she wants a DNA test to confirm I’m her grandson.