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.
It was my daughter’s 2nd birthday, and we had both of my husband’s sisters at our house with their husbands. One of those sisters has three kids, who were also there (ages 4, 3, and 9 months). My 6-year-old daughter was also present. Shortly after the birthday cake, I found a small bag of cocaine on top of my trash can. I questioned everyone where it had come from. My brother-in-law (the one without kids) confessed that he had dropped it and that he had bought it for later in the week. He was very drunk (as he usually is—we believe he is an alcoholic), but he apologized profusely and took the drugs out of the house. My brother-in-law stayed at our house that night, and the next morning he basically hid in bed, ashamed, until he and his wife left. He didn’t mention what had happened. As the next day wore on, my husband and I became more and more angry and disturbed by what had happened.
My husband and I are both incredibly angry at my brother-in-law for bringing drugs into our house, where both of our kids could have easily eaten them, thinking it was sugar. The whole family seems to think my husband and I are making a big deal out of nothing—but I really don’t think we are! The sister with the kids isn’t that upset, even though two of her kids could have easily had access to it. The sister who is married to him thinks his drug use is between the two of them, but I say that’s not true anymore, not after he put our kids in danger. Everyone seems to think we should forgive and forget. I do consider drug addiction a health problem, and I believe he needs help, but the man brought narcotics to a 2-year-old’s birthday, and a kid could have died because of his drunken negligence. Are we crazy for being absolutely outraged at this (still, two weeks later)?
Yes, it’s perfectly reasonable to be angry with your brother-in-law for leaving coke on your trash can during a toddler’s birthday party. I don’t mean to sound glib, but it’s a little remarkable he’d forget where he put his cocaine; usually anyone who brings secret cocaine to a cocaine-free type of party is hyperaware of exactly where their cocaine is. Your kids are safe, which is great, but it’s also fine to tell him that you’re concerned about what might have happened and that you might need to set new limits with him in the future. (And you might want to set those limits regardless of the cocaine, because it’s unpleasant and uncomfortable to have a wildly drunk guest at an event where everyone else’s drinking is pretty restrained.) That doesn’t mean you have to make yourself his personal drug monitor for the rest of your life, but, especially when it comes to family events, you have every right to set limits. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! My Brother-in-Law Brought Cocaine to My Toddler’s Birthday Party.” (Jan. 13, 2020)
I’m in my 40s and have been divorced for 10 years. I’ve been happy on my own but haven’t had a great relationship in a long time. I also recently broke up with my boyfriend. About six months ago, I lost a close friend to a heart attack that was totally unexpected. I was friends with her and her husband for a long time, and losing her really hurt. Recently, her widowed husband and I attended the wedding of a co-worker. At the reception, we talked, danced together, and had a good time. I always thought he was a very handsome and nice man and that my friend was lucky to have him. Knowing what kind of a man he is, I’d like to pursue a relationship with him. I know he may not be ready after six months, but I’m available when he is. Some at work saw how we interacted at the reception and have started saying that I’m a “vulture” for being interested in him, and someone else thought I wanted to sneak around with him while he was still my friend’s husband, which is not true. This man is no longer married, and I think he’s a great catch for someone my age. Is it wrong for me to be interested?
It’s not wrong to be interested, but it would be wrong to push for anything if he wasn’t giving out very clear signals about being ready to date again. You’ve been divorced for 10 years, so it’s understandable that you’re eager to date someone you know well and feel strongly about, but he’s only been widowed for half a year. Let him take the lead—don’t start dropping hints that whenever he’s “done” grieving, you’d like to go out. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! My Ex-Boyfriend Wants to Pay Me to Just Hang Out With Him.” (April 12, 2016)
Part of my friend’s wedding is taking place on a former plantation in the South. Members of my family were slaves on a plantation not that many generations ago, and the thought of attending the wedding of a white couple there is making me uncomfortable. I love my friend and her fiancée, and I don’t believe there’s any actively bad intent on their part, except maybe thoughtlessness. I don’t want to cause her any pain or make it seem like I’m putting her down, but I’d prefer not to attend the event that’s taking place there. I could still attend all of the other wedding events. What are your thoughts on this? I know that weddings in these types of venues are common, so I’m sure my discomfort is too. Is there a way to bow out of the event with kindness to the couple?
You do not have to go—it makes perfect sense that you would not want to. And you do not have to worry about whether they have “actively bad intent,” or worry about whether or not having a wedding on a slave plantation is common. Just because something is commonplace does not make it good, or thoughtful, or loving, or sensible. It would be perfectly kind and polite to say, “I’m not comfortable attending a wedding on a slave plantation, so I won’t be able to attend.” If they feel bad in that moment, that is a good thing. Unless your friend is the most ill-informed woman in America, she’s aware that plantations existed because of and in order to perpetuate slavery. They should feel bad about their choice, and that bad feeling should produce a desire to change, to attempt to set things right, and to go forth and sin no more. —D.L.
From: “Help! My Friend Is Getting Married on a Southern Plantation. Can I Skip It?” (Sept. 24, 2019)
I am in my late 70s and feel uncomfortable with the fact that my high-school class of about 400 students voted me “most likely to succeed.” If success is defined by “wealth,” then I am not successful. I was a professor at a small liberal arts college. My wife and I are leading a comfortable life in retirement, but we are by no means successful moneywise. Next year my high school class will hold its 60th reunion. I have been to only three reunions in the past, and those were a very long time ago. How do I overcome my feelings of inadequacy because I am not “successful”?
By the time of one’s 60th high school reunion most people would agree that success could be defined by simply being able to show up. Think about what you’re saying here: You have been haunted for six decades by a stupid photo caption in your high-school year book. I assume, professor, that over the years you have counseled many despondent young people. Surely you have told them that whatever crisis they are experiencing (a bad grade, rejection from a graduate program), in time they won’t even remember this small failure, let alone be gripped by it. But you were lying because in the back of your head you were thinking, “But I’m supposed to be ‘the most likely to succeed,’ and they’re all going to laugh at me at the next high-school reunion!” You had a long, satisfying career as a teacher. You didn’t invest your pension with Bernie Madoff or take out a home equity loan that has ruined you. You and your wife are still game and enjoying life. That sounds pretty successful. Do you really think anyone else who manages to make it to the bash is going to pounce and say, “I guess when it came to you, the yearbook people really blew their prediction”? However, if you went to high school with Warren Buffett, think of the yearbook as a cosmic joke. —E.Y.
From: “Dear Prudence: My Wife Doesn’t Want Sex, So I Visit Prostitutes. Should I Stop?” (Oct. 6, 2011)
More Advice From Dear Prudence
I’m a 45-year-old man who has been divorced for four years. I’ve become close to my co-worker, “Susan,” who is a 37-year-old single woman (I’m not her supervisor). In fact, I’d say she’s my best friend. We work in the science field, and besides being caring, kind, and funny, she’s the smartest person I’ve ever met. We frequently hang out after work and on weekends. I’m a good-looking guy with a professional job, and I’ve never had a hard time getting dates with beautiful, smart women. After a few drinks the other night, Susan confessed to me that she’s a virgin and has never even been on a date or kissed a man.