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.
Several months ago, I met a nice man at a gathering of friends. We hit it off and started dating. He’s smart, funny, and sweet. He clearly adores me, and I’m starting to feel the same about him. We are both well over 40 years old. On a whim, I Googled his name and found a news article, with a photo of him, describing his arrest several years ago on a charge of soliciting a young teenage girl over the internet for sex. There was no mention of the outcome of the case, and he’s not listed on a sex offender registry anywhere. He is divorced and his son lives with his mother. I have no children. The physical part of the relationship has been great, and he seems extremely happy to be with non-teenage me. Do I bring this up or keep it in the past, where he seems to want it? Should I out him to our friends, none of whom have young children? How do (or should) I unlearn what I found out about this otherwise wonderful man?
I bet your boyfriend sometimes wishes the web was never invented too; then it wouldn’t have been so easy for him to follow his desires to have sex with an underage girl and find himself nabbed by the authorities. You’ve been dating a man you really enjoy for only a few months. Now you’ve found out something terrible about him that he hasn’t told you about, something that’s possibly fatal to the relationship. Think about what you’ve written: You can’t seriously be considering trying to mentally deep-six the knowledge that he was arrested for seeking sex with a minor. You can’t unlearn what you know, and you must learn what you don’t know. He hasn’t been straight with you, but you should be with him. Say: “I found out about your arrest. I Googled your name for fun and saw an article. I’d like you to tell me the whole story.” Then let him explain, and note his demeanor. Is he defensive and evasive? Direct and relieved? (I’m assuming there is something to the charges and his arrest wasn’t a horrible error—and if he says it was all a mistake, get confirmation.) If, after hearing him out, you feel you can continue the relationship, tell him your peace of mind requires seeing the court record and speaking to the prosecutor. He should understand this, particularly in light of his not volunteering that part of his past. As for whether you should tell your friends, you can’t decide what they should know until you learn the facts. Your Humbert Humbert may be “wonderful,” but this is too big an “otherwise” to leave unexplored. —Emily Yoffe
From: “I’m Dating a Potential Pervert” (July 28, 2011)
My in-laws are unbelievably superstitious. My mother-in-law believes she’s psychic, my father-in-law believes her, and my husband—otherwise rational—turns we can’t know for sure! credulous around her. I find the stream of insights and ghost sightings grating, but they can believe what they want—until it reaches the end of my nose.
My husband and I are looking to buy a house, and his mother is constantly bothering me with her visions of “dark auras” and “bad vibes” about the houses. She’s not even with us. Apparently she can tell a duplex has more ghosts than Disney’s Haunted House from two states away.
I’d just tune her out, but my husband says we should listen to keep the peace. Apparently she won’t ever visit if the house is “haunted.” My husband caving to her is the worst part of it. Is this going to be how it is going forward? It’s a house! A mortgage! The only thing to tie us together more would be a child. So I’m wondering if maybe we need to rethink more than just the “haunted house.” Or am I being unreasonable?
Oh, boy. Yeah, if your husband’s response to this has been “Sorry, we’re going to have to pass on this affordable duplex until my mom is convinced it’s not chockablock with ghosts,” then that’s a bad strategy. His idea of “keeping the peace” is financially and relationally unreasonable, and you should make it clear to him that while you won’t go out of your way to antagonize her or make fun of her conviction that she is some sort of real-estate medium, you’re also not going to entertain endless requests to put off buying a home until she can sweep it for signs of the paranormal.
You ask if this is how it’s going to be going forward. I’m not a psychic like your mother-in-law, but my guess is that if your husband is willing to indulge some pretty intrusive behavior from her about home-buying, it’s going to be a pattern that will crop up again. So it’s good to address it now. You and your husband don’t have to agree on everything, but you do have to deal with your in-laws as a team and back one another up. It’s one thing to say, “We can’t know for sure” about the existence of ghosts; it’s quite another to say, “Because we can’t know for sure if ghosts exists, we should pass on every house my mother believes to be haunted.” One is a general, open-ended statement about the nature of possibility; the other is granting his mother total purchasing power in your marriage. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! My Mother-in-Law Says She’s Psychic, and My Husband Won’t Tell Her She’s Full of It.” (Sept. 6, 2017)
I’ve been divorced for five years, raised a wonderful daughter who is in her fourth year of college, and started dating a wonderful man one year ago. Things were going great for me, my daughter and my relationship with “Tim.” Tim and I were set up by a mutual friend who is a professor at the college my daughter attends. My daughter took a class from him last year on my suggestion. While in that class she met and started dating a fellow classmate who decided to take the class because of a suggestion from his father. … Yep you guessed it! My daughter and I are dating a father and son. I feel like I am in a horribly written daytime soap opera. My daughter had met my boyfriend early in our relationship but was only just recently invited to meet her boyfriend’s father—he is a widower of 10 years. She was in shock when she realized it was the same man, and I still am after finding out. I guess the question is what to do? Continue with our relationships? I feel like all four of us are getting serious and marriage has been talked about between both couples as well. Is it considered a major social scandal to have your daughter-in-law be your own daughter?
You two couples should have a double wedding and, instead of the wedding march, play “I’m My Own Grandpa.” It would be amusing if your daughter and her husband became stepsiblings, etc., but it’s hardly a scandal. Both couples getting married would certainly solve the dilemma of deciding which in-law gets to see the kids at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The only red flag I see here is that your daughter and his son are a little young to be settling down. Many people do successfully marry their college sweethearts, but I don’t see why they would rush into it. Young marriage does put people at a higher risk of divorce. If your daughter comes to you for advice about getting married upon graduation, separate out what you say from your own concern about how good a stepson her boyfriend would be. —E.Y.
From: “Help! My Daughter Is Dating My Boyfriend’s Son.” (April 16, 2012)
I have an aunt who’s only five years older than me. (I say this because she should know how an iPhone works—and she has one.) We met for lunch a few days after I’d gone on a trip for work and she’d asked to see my photos on my phone. I hesitated. I’m a gay man—guys I’m dating sometimes send, er, personal shots. I took a minute to make sure that there was nothing remotely filthy near any of the travel photos. And I’d also warned her that there may be embarrassing photos and to stick to the ones nearby. She swiped backward through the photos really fast and it ran though like 300 photos at once. Of course, like a slot machine she landed on one of like two dick pics out of 1,000 photos. Somebody had sent it to me years ago. I was horrified and apologized. I thought it was over. But she brought it up again the other day when we went out for lunch after I’d just been on another trip: “I’d ask to see your photos, but I don’t want to see another penis.” I apologized again, but now I’m really pissed off. Shouldn’t there be some expectation of privacy when somebody looks at pictures on a phone these days? She should have stuck to the few that I was showing her.
I could not be more on your side. Grabbing other people’s phones is rude; if someone wants to show you a picture, let them do it, and always ask if you want to scroll through something yourself. Assume everyone’s phone has at least 14 nudes on it, or at the least the possibility of something private (photos of a weird rash, embarrassing texts that might pop up while you’re holding the phone, etc.) that they aren’t necessarily eager for you to see. I suspect that your aunt was looking to snoop and found exactly what she wanted on your phone. She got to be titillated and scandalized at the same time, and now she’s going out of her way to remind you that she knows your terrible little secret: that you, like many sexually active adults, have at least once in your life looked at a picture of someone’s dick. There’s no reason for you to apologize, and if she brings it up again, you can politely but firmly shut her down: “Sharonette, I’m a single adult who uses a smartphone to date. I’m not forwarding you dick pics of the guys I’m seeing, but if you grab my phone and go through the archives, there’s a nonzero chance you’re going to accidentally see someone’s genitals. It seems to have made you really uncomfortable, and I don’t want to put you on the spot, but you keep bringing it up. I’d appreciate it if you could let it go.” —D.L.
From: “Help! My Aunt Saw a Photo of Genitalia on My Phone and Won’t Let It Go.” (Oct. 31, 2016)
More Advice From Dear Prudence
I’ve been dating a loving man named “Andy” for nearly three years, and we recently moved in together. We both had marriages that ended badly, and we feel truly compatible. The only problem is that I have a pretty big secret, and I don’t know how to tell him, or if I even should.