Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers on Mondays at noon ET. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Advice Week is over but the advice continues! Let me know what you’d like to talk about this morning.
Q. Home Alone: I have found myself in an uncomfortable situation and I’m not sure how to proceed. I’m a 40-year-old woman who is married to a man. We live in the country and I work from home so I’m alone with my wimpy dogs all day. I love it! I could go into the office every day but it would be over two hours round trip so I’d rather not.
We hired a guy to cut our grass weekly. He does a beautiful job, is reliable, and has a great rate. Since I’m the one who’s home, he has my cell number. He has also met my husband. Right from the beginning, he would send me passively flirty texts randomly throughout the week. At first, I responded because I thought he was starting a friendly conversation before getting into a work message. As soon as I figured out the texts were just social, I stopped responding. But when he’d come to cut the grass, I’d always pop out to say hi because that’s the civilized thing to do. Then he started bringing me treats. I made it clear that was not appreciated and stopped going out to see him, but I’d send a quick “thank you” text after he finished cutting. Then, just over a week ago, he sent me a message saying he’d take me out for dinner if I wasn’t married. The text said other flirty stuff but nothing particularly alarming. I considered it inappropriate since we are supposed to have a professional relationship, and I’m married. I decided that no response was a pretty strong response and I think I was right because the next time he came, I got a very short response to my thank you text. My husband is aware of all of this and suggested we fire the guy if I’m uncomfortable. I said we should first try to work through the slight awkwardness.
But I was still left with an uneasy feeling about his lack of respect for boundaries and the fact that he knows I’m home alone all day. So I Googled his name and found that a man of the same name and similar age, in the same small town, was recently charged with sexual assault of a minor and is on probation awaiting trial. I don’t know for sure that it’s the same guy because there were not many details in the article. I haven’t told my husband this detail because I don’t want him to worry until I figure out whether or not I’m in danger. I could probably ask a couple of people in town to figure out if it’s the same guy, but I’m guessing it is the same guy.
The fact is the guy already knows where I live and that I’m home alone all day. So if I fire him now, I could just escalate the situation. I live right on the road and we have an active neighborhood watch and I am not going to spend my days in a locked house. I have to either decide that everything is under control, or that I need to do something to address this. The other concern is that my immediate neighbors have two young kids. Should I alert them to the threat of this guy? My instinct says yes, but then if I think he’s really a threat to the kids, I should fire him for sure. I am also trying to allow room for “innocent until proven guilty” but I can’t imagine how sexual assault of a minor can be a false accusation. What should I do?
A: I don’t think you need to alert your neighbors—since once you send this text, he won’t be at your home anymore—but you need this person out of your life and out of their lives yesterday. Here’s your message to him: “Dear Mr. Grass Cutter: Thank you so much for the work you did last week! The lawn looks beautiful. I’m writing to let you know that unfortunately, some things have changed on our end and we will not be able to continue to pay for lawn service. We appreciate all you’ve done for us and [this is a white lie] wish you the best.”
What he’s accused of is disturbing, but I don’t think there’s a basis to worry that he’d respond to the end of a professional arrangement with physical violence. So take all the safety precautions you normally would (lock doors, etc.) but beyond that, if he doesn’t contact you in a way that makes you concerned, I think you’re in the clear.
Q. Tired of Being In the Middle: I’ve recently found myself caught constantly between my sister and our mom. My sister lives four hours away and I live close to our mom. As my sister puts it, mom is a guesser and my sister is an asker. Mom is also super passive-aggressive and uses other people as excuses. (“Oh, that’s totally fine with me but your father would be upset.”)
Lately, it’s like the two of them have lost the ability to communicate. I get a call from mom saying my sister is being unreasonable over something, my sister will go off about how mom never listens, and the answer is both. Recently, my dad got COVID, my mom had to cancel a visit from my sister, and my sister kept insisting it was OK to visit for a laundry list of reasons. (None had to do with if either of our parents actually felt up to having people in the house.) My mom told me to talk to her, and my sister finally said, “Well, she said she had to check with dad but if she didn’t want me to come she needed to just say that.”
Every time I say I’m done being the go-between, I wind up getting dragged back to it by one or the other. I don’t want to see two people who mean a lot to me stop being able to be around each other but I’m really tired of being stuck in the middle. How can I help them communicate better?
A: You want to stop being stuck in the middle. But you also want to help them communicate better. I’m sorry but you can’t have both! Helping them communicate better would mean…you guessed it…being in the middle.
So, I know this is easier said than done, but I suggest that you just stop. Your response any time one of them rants to you about the other should be “That sounds like a lot. You should talk to her”; “I wonder if there’s a misunderstanding. You should talk to her.”; or “This has gotten really heated. You should talk to her.” And then change the subject.
Q. Clothing Conundrum: I purchase most of my grandchildren’s clothing. They spend weekends with their dad who is my daughter’s ex and the clothing is never returned. He has a child from a previous relationship who wears the same size as one of them, who I believe is sharing them. My daughter won’t get involved as the relationship is difficult. Can you suggest a solution?
A: The solution is to purchase clothing for your grandchildren with the mindset that some of these items will be weekend clothes, which means they’ll be shared with the kids’ sibling, who is apparently in need. How generous of you, and how lovely for everyone involved.
Q. Unimpressed: I have an extremely low-stakes question. Near the beginning of the year, a mutual friend introduced me to “Siobhan.” Siobhan and I immediately hit it off, and, when my work was hiring in a different department, I recommended her for the position, and she got the job. She’s done great at the job, and I really enjoy working with her—but it means that I see her a lot more often throughout the week, and something that was initially an endearing quirk has started to turn into an annoying habit.
Prudie, Siobhan name drops constantly. She’ll take any opportunity to bring up the well-connected or famous people that she or her family knows. For example, if you ask her what she’s doing for the weekend, she’ll tell you that she’s seeing a family friend, followed by the friend’s entire resume working in Washington. Or today, when one of my co-workers made a comment about a popular athleisure brand, Siobhan immediately launched into the story of a class she’d taken from the choreographer for a famous Broadway musical.
To be honest, I didn’t care much about her connections in the first place, and at this point, I think I’ve heard most of these stories four or five times, so whatever meaning they originally had has been completely lost. I love Siobhan, but is there a polite way to ask her to knock it off, or do I just have to grit my teeth and ignore it?
A: Don’t tell her to knock it off. People are allowed to be annoying, and this is really harmless. Also, are the stories really that much more boring than the typical “Any interesting weekend plans?” “Not really, just plan to get some rest,” office small talk? Anyway, the amazing part about being at work is that you can go “I’m so sorry I have to get back to my desk, I have so much to do” as often as you want, including when someone is telling the tale of her very special celebrity dance class for the fifth time.
Re: Q. Home Alone: I wouldn’t say you “won’t be able to continue to pay for lawn service.” He’s bound to catch you out if you engage someone else. Just say something along the order of you won’t be able to continue to use his services. If he calls you out on that, you and your spouse can discuss the creepy texts with him as the reason, not the suspected criminal matter.
A: Ugh, I kind of thought about this. What if he drives by and sees another lawn guy working? Yeah, my white lie was too aggressive. I really wanted her to be able to avoid an explanation or confrontation but this is a good plan.
Re: Q. Tired of Being In the Middle: There is a very meme-able moment from How I Met Your Mother called the “Hell No Harmony.” Memorize it and use it.
A: This is great.
Re: Q. Clothing Conundrum: If you were my mom in this situation, I would want you to give me the grace of letting this go. If the relationship between your daughter is fragile, don’t press her to rock the boat about something this minor, and with potentially huge potential for things to go wrong if this causes an issue between the kids. Kids are hard on clothes, they lose them, etc. Let it go. Just keep buying more. If it’s a money issue, find a cheaper store or even check the thrift stores (often, my mom finds things at thrift stores that haven’t even been worn).
A: Great advice, and really good insight that making this a thing could cause issues between the kids. I didn’t get the sense that money is an issue but if it is, absolutely, find some cheaper options.
I have been married to my husband for 17 long years. I quit working when our second child was a year-and-a-half old. We now have four children and three of them have special needs. I have tried to return to work for the past six years but have been unable to get a job that would pay for child care. I have a master’s degree, but it has not helped me find gainful employment after such a long time as a stay-at-home parent. I want to leave my husband; I cannot.