Dear Prudence

Help! A Teenage Co-Worker Is Trying to Get Me Fired Over a Total Lie.

This is silly, but HR isn’t laughing.

A person wearing a shift manager name tag with the word "groomer" on it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by George Doyle/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Prudence,

I am a low-level shift manager at a national drugstore chain. Yesterday, a HR member came in and grilled me relentlessly, asking if a co-worker and I had any problems. Before the holidays, I did get snippy with another management person (I have anxiety, OCD, and ADHD), so I said that’s all I could recall as an incident. Apparently, the 17-year-old high school student I work with and their parents (who are my age) think I’m trying to “groom” them! As a woman in retail, I’m well aware that we tread a fine line between being perceived as not friendly or flirting-friendly. I’m 46 years old, I have a partner of 17 years, and honestly, 17-years-old seems so young to me, to the point where when I’m scheduled with them, I refer to that shift as babysitting. (This person played with walkie-talkie feedback for 45 minutes one night and was super bummed we don’t have a water fountain, as examples!) I’m on disability for psychiatric reasons and need this job. Apparently, this kid and their parents think small-talk (e.g. “have you watched Wednesday on Netflix?”) equals romantic interest. It is so absurd that I’d be laughing if it wasn’t so, so serious!

What do I do!? Do I buy a fake engagement ring and band? Do I print a picture of my partner and me on a mug and use it every time I work? My HR person said even though I am happily partnered, I “could still be grooming.” But I absolutely AM NOT! I’m supposed to work with this person this weekend and now I am incredibly uncomfortable with doing so. I contacted a Union Rep, and I told my therapist, who told me to refuse working with this individual alone for my protection (we’re a small store with only six front-end employees), which I was already strongly thinking of doing. This has set my already bad anxiety through the roof. What do I do now? Will I find another job? Should I be very stand-offish to this kid? Please help!

— Bewildered and Freaked Out

Dear Freaked Out,

If it’s at all possible, get the hell out of there. No, it’s not fair that you should be the one to have to deal with applying for open positions when you didn’t do anything wrong. But I worry about these allegations against you and the possibility that they could get worse, ruining your reputation or putting you at legal risk. And I don’t think there’s any amount of proving you have a partner that will convince people who have already decided you’re a creep that you’re not. As tempting as it is to prove your innocence or repair the misunderstanding, it’s not worth it. Look for a new job, and make it clear to HR and your superiors why you can’t work with this person alone in the meantime—I would think they would support that, regardless of what they believe.

Got a question about kids, parenting, or family life? Submit it to Care and Feeding!

Dear Prudence,

My niece is a very talented young gymnast. In the last few years, she has begun competing and is on track to try out for the national team once she hits the age requirement in a few years. She regularly places first in her competitions, and her family (immediate and extended who are all quite close) are very proud (rightfully so). She receives a lot of praise and attention for her success. As the stakes of her competitions inevitably increase, I am worried her success will overshadow her younger brother. I have started seeing a fairly obvious discrepancy between the attention she receives at family gatherings versus her brother. How can I help to make sure her brother feels seen and that his pursuits/interests are valued even if they don’t bring home gold medals?

— Gold Medal Not Required

Dear Gold Medal,

Do a little research with his parents. What is he into? What has he accomplished recently? What are some of his wonderful qualities? These don’t have to involve medals. Maybe he learned to ride a bike, or was student of the week at school, or made a really nice card for a friend who was sick. Then blast this out over the family text with celebratory emojis, saying “I’m so proud to be his aunt. I’m going to make sure to make a big deal about this the next time we see each other. Feel free to join me!” Spend 10 minutes at each family gathering one-on-one with him, looking him in the eyes and letting him talk about whatever he wants. I can tell you’re authentically interested in him so you won’t have to fake it. Don’t pity him. Remember that he could be totally wrapped up in his latest chapter book, his interest in dinosaurs, or his quest to get more screen time and not even thinking about his sister. Having a gymnast sister is all he’s ever known, and it might just be background noise to him. In childhood, accomplishments and accompanying praise ebb and flow, and it’s more important for him to feel cared for and loved than it is for him to feel celebrated.  

Dear Prudence,

I have a relatively low-stakes question here, so bear with me. I am a trans guy in my junior year of high school. I am out to everyone, but I am not currently medically transitioning, so I frequently get misgendered by strangers and people who just don’t know me well. My teachers have all been very kind and understanding about it as well. My question, though, is about a girl in one of my classes who frequently misgenders me. She is lovely to be around and chat with, except that she uses the wrong pronouns for me, and I don’t know how to correct her. At first, I was too nervous about being accepted to correct her, and now it’s the second semester, and I don’t know how to bring it up. Should I just bite the bullet and tell her? Do I mention it offhandedly after class? Should I just tough it out until the end of the semester knowing that I probably won’t see her again? Please help!

— He/Him Not She/Her

Dear He/Him,

Yes, if you’re comfortable doing so and can find an opening, definitely correct her with “My pronouns are actually he/him” the next time you’re chatting after class. But I know it must be tiring and irritating to constantly be misgendered. So if you don’t have it in you to correct this girl, is there perhaps a friend who could take her aside for you? If she’s lovely and chatty, that’s a great sign that she’ll be happy to correct herself once someone brings her mistake to her attention.

Dear Prudence,

I am seeing a woman who is not in a place where she can have a relationship. I have been seeing her for about three years. We go out to dinner, movies, and shows together, just the two of us. She says that we are friends, and she knows I love her and she has stated that she loves me also. I have invited her to go out with me and some of my friends or to some family function. She has implied that she doesn’t want my family to think of us as a couple.

She has another man, and they do somewhat the same things we do. She has gone out with this other guy and his friends, to his son’s birthday party, and a cousin’s wedding. She claims that they are just friends just like we are and that is all. I don’t want to lose her, but I don’t know what to do.

— Confused

Dear Confused,

Imagine how happy you would be if this woman not only said she loved you but also said she was ready to have a relationship and cut off her other boyfriend. Doesn’t it feel great? You can have that feeling! Just … with someone else. The tricky part is that to clear the way for a person who is enthusiastic about committing to you, you are going to have to cut this woman off before you stop loving her. You can’t wait until you don’t have feelings for her anymore.
You have to do it now. And because of your intense feelings, it’s going to be too hard to keep her in your life as a friend. Say goodbye, block her on everything, and begin the process of getting over her. I want you to meet someone who doesn’t send mixed messages, and I want you to do it before you waste another three years.

Dear Prudence,

Is there any way to encourage a good friend who has become obese? I have been in a walking group with two other middle-aged women for the past ten or so years, but one has put on so much weight that now she can barely walk. So our “walk and talk” outings have become talk only, and the other two of us really miss the exercise part. Our friend is a picky eater and has a very unhealthy diet. From what I’ve read, obesity is complex and it doesn’t help to give dietary advice, you should just “be there for them.” But I want my friend to eat healthy meals and get some exercise! She is envious that the other two of us often go for a long walk before meeting her for conversation, and says she wants to lose weight. Can we help? Help!

— Don’t Want to Be Judgmental but I Think I Am

Dear Judgmental,

I know you mean well, but let’s think this through together. Is your idea that your friend, who I assume has internet access, and television, and at least sees the magazine covers at the checkout line at the grocery store, has not heard of the theory that “healthy” eating (the definition of which seems to change every five years) and exercise can lead to weight loss? Come on. This woman has probably received enough unsolicited advice to fill a bestselling diet book. There is nothing you can tell her that she doesn’t already know. Not to mention, she put this weight on while she was walking with you—which should tell you that the way for her to lose isn’t as simple as “get moving.” But since she’s explicitly said that she wants to lose weight, and you want to be a good friend, I have four simple words for you, which you should direct at her, not me: “How can I help?”

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Slate

A few months ago, a mysterious package arrived in the mail addressed to my daughter, who had just turned 4. It was signed from “a secret friend.” I didn’t recognize the handwriting, but after some detective work I tracked it to my mother’s husband of a few years, a man I always found slightly creepy but ultimately harmless. Now I’m worried he’s grooming my daughter. What should I do?