Dear Prudence

Help! I Just Discovered My Fiancé Has a Notorious History With My Family.

Should I try to apologize for him?

A doctor holds their head in their heads with a big illustrated thumbs down next to them.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by puckons/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.

Dear Prudence,

My aunt is a doctor. I recently learned that before we were together, my fiancé incessantly messaged her office and wrote negative reviews, all because it didn’t support a therapy that very few doctors support—although apparently specialists to whom my aunt has referred people for other issues do support the therapy in question, which seems to be why my fiancé thought he could get things changed. My fiancé is often obsessive, but usually in a way that I like. He sees now that what he did was wrong, and bailed on Thanksgiving so as to avoid seeing my aunt and another relative who works at her office. They knew full well who he was, but never mentioned it, probably because of HIPAA. Should I try to apologize for him?

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Apologies on behalf of other people aren’t effective or meaningful, regardless of how close you may be to the nonapologizer. I realize that marriage often means you’re able to act as your spouse’s representative in the world, but when it comes to something like harassment, the transitive property doesn’t apply here. It doesn’t sound like your fiancé was a patient of your aunt’s, so I’m not sure HIPAA applies here—if he’s just some guy who bombarded her reception team with angry messages and filled up her Yelp page with complaints, she’s probably free to discuss him if she likes. Put yourself in your aunt’s position for a moment. If someone who had previously harassed you and your employees over a period of weeks or months without ever demonstrating remorse suddenly became engaged to one of your relatives and avoided you at family events, would you feel meaningfully heartened by an apology from your relative instead of the man who had hurt you? What do you think an apology from you could heal between your aunt and your partner?

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A few other important questions: What else is your fiancé “often obsessive” about? Has he ever harassed other professionals during the course of your relationship? When did he come to realize his past behavior was wrong, and how has he sought to offer apologies or make restitution to other people he has harassed? What sort of help has he sought out to develop better coping strategies for his obsessions and grievances? Is he prepared to apologize to your aunt and her staff? If she’s not interested in hearing his apology, will he be able to control himself and respect her limits and not start harassing her to forgive him? These are questions you should be encouraging him to reflect upon. He should also be prepared for your aunt not to like him even if she does accept his apology. She may simply never be interested in getting closer with him—I think that would be a perfectly reasonable choice on her part. —Danny M. Lavery

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From: “Help! My Fiancé Bombarded My Aunt’s Yelp Page With Negative Reviews.” (Dec. 10, 2019)

Dear Prudence,

I am a successful 38-year-old businesswoman who found herself with an unexpected pregnancy last year. I decided to have the child on my own, and thus far it has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Recently I was offered a promotion with a substantial raise, but the catch is, my work would require me to travel to Hong Kong for 12 weeks starting this June. Hiring a nanny to travel with me is not feasible with such short notice, but my sister, who has children of her own, has offered to watch my baby while I am away. I’m concerned that 12 weeks is too long to be apart from my 11-month-old daughter. I am concerned that she is too young to be without her mother for such an extended period. Then again, this is a fantastic opportunity and would be a feather in my cap on my résumé, not to mention it would help me save up for my daughter’s education. If she were older, I would have no qualms doing this. Should I take the position?

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First of all, I think you should explore the possibility not of taking a nanny with you, but finding a nanny in Hong Kong. If your company has an office there, they may have resources for you, and can also put you in touch with other families working there. You may find that you can hire a full-time nanny so that you can bring your daughter. On the other hand, if this is a three-month assignment that’s going to be all-consuming and you would feel more guilty about how much time you were spending away from your little girl—even though she is there with you—having her stay with your sister may be the better option. What a wonderful sister you have! That is a generous offer, and one that should relieve your mind. Your daughter will miss you, but think of how much fun she will have being surrounded by loving cousins. I disagree with you about this being an easier decision to make if your child were older. Your child is very young, and of course she is attached to you, but she will quickly be absorbed into your sister’s home. The three months are going to speed by. But it will have long-term benefits for your career—which will benefit your daughter in the long run. I say take the assignment and once you do, feel confident about the child care decision you make. —Emily Yoffe

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From: “Help! The Best Job of My Life Would Mean Leaving My Baby Daughter for Three Months.” (May 6, 2015)

Dear Prudence,

I am fairly allergic to peanuts. I’m not necessarily going to die if I eat one, but I will have an unpleasant visit to an urgent care center. I am cautious about my allergy and always mention my restrictions when eating out or dining at someone’s home. I have a friend, “Tina,” whom I love dearly, but she is a space cadet when it comes to details. As a result, she’s hosted two dinners in the last year that exposed me to peanuts, resulting in embarrassing (and panicked) exits for me. She was sincerely and profusely apologetic both times, and I forgave her oversights.

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The thing is that she’s hosting another friends dinner next month and is begging me to come. She very badly wants to make up for the other two dinners and promises this time that she’s going above and beyond to take the necessary precautions. I want to trust her, but I don’t know if I do. I almost feel triggered at the thought of another dinner at her place. My sympathetic side feels guilty for being so afraid of a simple dinner with friends, but the anxious side of me is screaming to avoid this occasion like the plague. What do I do? Do I put my trust in her a third time? Or do I run and hide from this occasion? And if I do run and hide, how do I break it to her without hurting her feelings?

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I’d like to propose a new theory of friendship: If someone else poisons you twice, even if it was the result of inattention and not malice, you are allowed to “hurt their feelings” by acknowledging that they poisoned you twice when making future dinner plans. You do not have to break anything to her! All you have to say is “I’m not ready to have dinner at your house again, although I appreciate that you’ve offered to take precautions this time. I care about you, and I’d love to grab lunch or take a walk together sometime. I’ll let you know if and when I’m ever ready for future dinners.” Frankly, if that day never comes, you’re just fine—you can be friends with plenty of people and not share home-cooked dinners with them, and you can genuinely and meaningfully forgive someone without necessarily wanting to revisit the same situation that made you seek urgent medical care twice in the same year. —D.L.

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From: “Help! My Friend’s Cooking Has Twice Made Me Sick. Do I Accept Her Latest Dinner Invitation?” (Sept. 19, 2019)

Dear Prudence,

My boss is (mostly) a good boss. He is fair and reasonable with work assignments and letting us take time off when we need to or want to. However, when it comes to keeping personal information personal, he does NOT have fair and reasonable boundaries. He constantly pokes and prods about what people are up to outside of work, be it over a weekend, a holiday, or vacation time. My problem is I recently found a lump in my breast and will need to schedule several appointments to have it checked out. I do NOT want to discuss this with my boss. I don’t want him knowing any of my personal medical information, and I especially don’t want to discuss my breasts with him! My question is how much of this information is he “entitled to” as my boss? Do I owe him an explanation for why I’ll be out, or is it acceptable to just tell him I have a doctor’s appointment and not provide any further details? I know he’ll ask, and I’ll be much more comfortable not providing any details if I have your blessing.

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Obviously what you need to do is have a banner made up that says, “Breast Biopsy!” Your boss is entitled to zero information about your condition beyond the fact that you need to be away for some medical treatment. You need to develop some polite but firm ways of dealing with his extreme boundary problems: “Thanks for your concern, but I’d just rather not discuss it,” or “It’s one of those private medical issues,” etc. If he keeps pressing or makes work uncomfortable because you won’t spill, then document this and take it to HR or a supervisor. A good boss does not pry into people’s personal business. —E.Y.

From: “Help! My Daughter Got Pregnant at a Friend’s Party and the Owners of the House Won’t Chip In.” (Oct. 8, 2013)

More Advice From Dear Prudence

I work for the state government in the department that involves public assistance. I used to be a true-blue liberal.

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