Every Thursday on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:
You’ve answered several questions encouraging tolerance of friends’ terrible spouses, and I wonder if this takes it to a different level. We are a mom group with 5 year olds, and one day Jenny called us together to tearfully report that her home had been raided by the FBI and her husband accused of child pornography. She said she wasn’t surprised based on his taste in porn that she had seen, mentioned some other odd behavior, moved out, and started divorce proceedings. After seven months, the FBI told her there was not enough evidence to convict, and her husband told her the videos of child abuse got on his computer by a virus. None of us believe that story and none of us can forget how completely she believed the FBI and agreed with them that it was likely. Now she is bringing him to events and we all feel so uncomfortable. We want to support her and her daughter, but we never want to see him. What should we do? He was never convicted, after all.
—How to Be a Friend
Dear How to Be a Friend,
When I shared your question on Twitter, there were many, many good responses. More than I could share here. So make sure to check them all out. Some of the most helpful for your dilemma addressed your concern that this guy hasn’t been convicted. Several readers made the very important point that you don’t need the opinion of a judge or jury to make a decision about how to move forward:
This isn’t a court of law where you’re innocent until proven guilty. This is a group of parents whose job it is to protect their children first. Sometimes being a good parent comes at the expense of being a “good friend.” —@Beccanurse
You don’t need a conviction to remove someone from your social circle because they (or their spouse) is weird/creepy/unsafe around your children. —@lingerie_addict
The standard of proof in court to convict someone and the standard you need to feel comfortable keeping this man in your friend circle (with your kids!) is not and does not have to be the same. The FBI making the determination that don’t have a strong enough case to convict is not tantamount to an acquittal. And this man’s new found cover story is not helping. Yeah sorry not sorry it’s a goodbye and good luck … Like I can’t make you leave your husband but I am legally, ethically, and morally bound to protect the well-being of my kids to the greatest extent possible. She already copped to not even being surprised that he would have such material in his possession. Girl bye! —@staceyNYCDC
This isn’t a guy who tells tasteless jokes or starts arguments. This is a guy who was investigated for having child porn on his computer that his wife was not surprised by, and got off due to insufficient evidence to prosecute. When considering your children’s safety the bar is not as high as it must be to convict someone of a federal felony. There is absolutely no reason nor excuse to permit anyone who was investigated for possession of child pornography around your children, and it’s just too bad if the friendship with his wife is lost too. A postscript: You do not need ANY reason to keep someone who makes you uncomfortable away from your children. If someone creeps you out, trust yourself enough to put the kids first. Always. It only takes one trauma to change their entire lives. —@nisslbodies
Others pointed out that your concerns about him are especially valid given that Jenny wasn’t surprised to hear about the charges. That’s incredibly damning!
If Jenny wasn’t shocked about the revelations because of his porn proclivities and other odd behavior, I don’t even need the FBI raid to justify peacing out on Jenny or her husband. Innocent till proven guilty is a legal notion that has nothing to do with my interpersonal goings-on. —@CandaceMQZ
Oh, this is scary. After what she shared with the group, it’s reasonable to have concerns about her husband’s presence. —@HexPositive
Jenny said “his taste in porn made her worry he was a child pornographer” and that would be enough for me. —@ZoeMcLaren
And you were so right that I’m always telling people to put up with friends’ terrible partners. That’s because of my theory that if these spouses (let’s be honest, they’re almost always husbands) are controlling or abusive, their partners need a good social circle more than ever. And generally, I think you make more of an impact by continuing to be a supportive person in the life of a woman who’s in a bad marriage than you do by drawing a hard line and cutting the couple off. Some readers thought about your question the same way:
This one is ROUGH because I’d imagine the friends don’t want to say anything that would make the mom/daughter isolate themselves from the group and be in an unsafe situation, but at the same time, I think they can and should be honest with her since they all have kids…There’s a chance that the husband might be abusive and is forcing her to be okay with all of this in public—so I think having a gentle but candid conversation about how everyone is feeling is probably the best way to move forward. —@lele_jpg
This is true, I didn’t think about this. It does seem like the wife of the guy does not feel safe now that the charges have been dropped. —@SMHsoftware
She is obviously in a terrible, abusive relationship and trapped. —@EllenYChang
A couple of people had good ideas for how to balance these two facets that stood out about your question: your obligation to protect your children, which comes first, and your desire to support Jenny. I like the idea of creating physical space between your kids and their family but making sure she’s aware that you will be there for her if she ever needs to get away from him:
Sometimes you have to let friendships go for your own safety and that of your family. However, they can let her know if she ever leaves him, she and her daughter have a place to stay and resources they can count on. Until then, ✌🏾. —@tnwhiskeywoman
“Despite your husband not being indicted or convicted, I no longer feel comfortable being around him or having my children around him. Whatever the circumstances of him having illegal material were, I can’t feel safe around him. I know that’s severe but it’s where I stand. “I want you and your children to know that you will always have a safe place with me and my family if your circumstances change or you need respite. I can’t however listen to you defend your husband or have him in my home. I wish your family healing. I will love you from afar.” If she pushes back on him having the illegal material and says it was an accident: “The fact that he had illegal material on his computer and didn’t immediately go to the authorities to help bring in the people who put it there is worrying. It may not be for you, it is for me.” —@wtflanksteak
Nothing will make this situation easier or less disturbing but please, take that script and use it.
I’m in love with my best friend. He’s married. We started a sexual affair last year. I don’t think he knows I’m in love with him, and I don’t think he’s in love with me. I want him to be happy more than anything. I’ll put his happiness over mine every time. (I’ve never felt that so genuinely, even when I was married. It is an awesome feeling.) I think he really loves his wife and he seems to want to stay married, so that’s what I want for him. But she is not a good wife!