Dear Prudence

Help! I Think My Son’s Russian Girlfriend Might Be Using Him.

Each week, Prudie discusses a tricky letter with a colleague or friend, just for Slate Plus members. This week Jenee discusses “From Russia With Issues” with her husband and fellow Slatester Joel Anderson.

Dear Prudence,

Our 30-year-old son met a 25-year-old Russian woman via Instagram. Their only in-person interactions have been vacations in Serbia, Mexico, Istanbul, and London, for which he has paid. We met her in person at Christmas in London with our other two sons, daughter-in-law, and grandchild. She showed no interest in spending time with us. How best do we discuss our concerns with our son?

— From Russia With Issues

Read Prudie’s original response to this letter.

Jenée Desmond-Harris: I feel like we’re both experts on these types of situations because I always have you watching Catfish or Love After Lockup (Although not 90 Day Fiancé, which you inexplicably think is “too sad”) or some similar show about people who insist upon dating despite massive red flags. There is always a scene where their friends and family express concern and guess what? They never care!

Joel Anderson: They never, ever care. And even before we binged hundreds of episodes of Catfish and Love After Lockup together, I had learned at least one thing from watching family members and friends introduce their partners to loved ones: You can’t talk anyone out of believing they’re in love.

They’ve already caught the bug. So unfortunately, From Russia, pretty much all you can do is wait until it passes. Or, hey, maybe they’ll live happily ever after! You never know. Like you said, they’ve at least met already and see each other regularly.

Brief aside: I think there’s lots of sad people who appear on Catfish and we often avoid those episodes that you know I won’t be able to stomach! Love After Lockup? I know it’s probably wrong to enjoy so much but, hey, I’m human.

Second brief aside: Current geopolitical events and decades of domestic red-baiting aside, it’s kinda funny how people use Russia as a descriptor that’s supposed to tell us something lol. Like, if she was Peruvian or Canadian, would this person be suspicious?

Jenée: And you know, re-reading the letter, there aren’t even that many red flags. People are allowed to be from Russia. And yeah, the son paid for trips but so do lots of boyfriends. I’m not hearing that he sends her tons of money every month or something. What do they think her plan is? Going on vacations with someone she doesn’t love until the end of time?

Joel: Well, and here’s something that’s uncomfortable and might require some honesty and deep, deep introspection: Has the LW thought about the possibility that their son’s partner is simply responding to things he’s said about them, or even the way he treats them himself? It could be that she’s simply following his lead.

Also, we don’t know anything about how they’ve all handled previous relationships.
Like, I’m reading their concerns and they’re not really registering as red flags. Maybe he’s learned they’re not going to be fair or reasonable about any of this anyway, and they’re just carrying on accordingly.

Jenée: Also! Someone who was really scheming to marry for money or whatever WOULD show interest in sucking up to her boyfriend’s parents, right? Maybe her being authentic (authentically not at all interested in them) is a good thing …

Joel: Absolutely. Like, she’s clearly not pressed. Maybe it’s a good thing? Ok, other thing: How much have the LW and her partner extended themselves to this Russian IG girlfriend? Have they tried to learn about her and her background and interests? Did they ever even pretend to be interested in getting to know her as something other than a foreign scammer?

The LW didn’t say, and maybe they’re not the best judge of their own interactions here. But it might help if instead of bringing concerns to her son, she just asked very general questions about her and the relationship. Then, hey, she might learn something!

Jenée: Good advice. “Tell us all about her!” “How is she doing?” and “What do you love most about her” are better than “Son, we’re worried you’re being scammed.”

Joel: My dad literally asked me a couple months ago: “So why did you choose Jenée?” It was very much out of the blue. But it was so touching. I gave him what I considered a thoughtful response, and I feel like I might never forget him asking me that for the rest of my life.

Jenée: That’s so sweet! I would ask you to repeat the answer for a public ego boost but I already demanded it and heard it in person. Also … wait … do you think your dad thinks I’m a scammer?

Joel: We both agree you’re more likely to be the scammee than the scammer.

Jenée: I mean, I did give up all my personal info in the last Slate email phishing challenge so that’s fair.