Dear Prudence

Help! My Daughter-in-Law Is “Investigating” a Horrible Tragedy From My Distant Past.

In We’re Prudence, Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. The answer is available only for Slate Plus members.

A woman looks curious next to an illustrated car accident.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by laflor/Getty Images Plus and Getty Images Plus. 

Every week on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:

Dear Prudence,

I just found out that my stepson’s wife has been “looking into” the death, thirty years ago, of my high school boyfriend and the loss of a child. That she has been doing this makes me uncomfortable. It’s none of her business, so I don’t understand why she has made FOIA requests, contacted the hospital (thankfully without any success), and ordered copies of local papers to try and find coverage. She also contacted my old schoolmates, which is how I found out about it.

The problem is, that I have no idea what to do now. It feels like she has overstepped the bounds of decency so thoroughly that I can’t imagine a proportional response. When I imagine talking to her, I can only visualize hitting her or spitting in her face—obviously inappropriate reactions, but I am extremely angry and I don’t get angry often. Right at this moment, I don’t see how I can have any relationship with this woman, and by extension my stepson, going forward. I repeat that she has no viable reason to pry into my past to this extent except some terrible prurient curiosity about my pain.

I know it sounds dramatic, I feel ridiculous for how upset I am, but I feel violated. I can’t sleep. Am I wrong? Am I being unfair? Is there some way I can look at this that doesn’t disgust me?

For the record, I don’t talk about this because it was painful. However, there’s no dark secret for her to uncover. It was a car accident and I unexpectedly miscarried at the hospital (I hadn’t known I was pregnant). My daughter-in-law is no relation to me, my late boyfriend, or the woman in the other car.

—Dead to Me

Dear Dead to Me,

You are 100 percent, absolutely not being ridiculous. As a matter of fact, I’ve never received as many calls for physical violence (by you, against your stepson’s wife, in this case) as I did when I shared this dilemma with Dear Prudence readers. She’s absolutely out of line, and you don’t need to question your feelings about her disturbing actions at all, whatsoever.

I am not going to tell you to fight this woman. But I’ll share some of the other insights I thought were valuable.

First, this doesn’t solve your problem, but it might help to contextualize what’s going on. A lot of people diagnosed your daughter-in-law’s behavior as a symptom of “true crime brain.” Too many podcasts about other people’s tragedies. Too many investigations into decades-old murders. Too much time on her hands:

The step son’s wife sounds like she’s been red pilled by listening to one too many true crime podcasts. — @staceyNYCDC

I’m trying to see her side and all I can think of is, “oh I’m just curious!” and failing to consider the difference from someone on a podcast/TV show and your husband’s stepmom — @bonyunicorn

Agreed. Honestly reading it again it sounds like one of those people on Reddit assuming every accident out there was really a murder.— @obsidian_blue

I like the idea of a direct confrontation—whether over email or in person—that makes it very clear that she, as you say, has overstepped the bounds of decency. Because of how weird she is (also because you shouldn’t have to deal with this alone) consider involving your husband and your stepson in the conversation:

In these situations, I’m fully in favor of exposing someone’s bad behavior and getting help in dealing with it. OP should involve the stepson and possibly her husband so that she doesn’t have to confront the DIL about her inappropriate behavior by herself. — @jannatesq

honestly, I’d just ask. I’d try to focus on facts and the actual impact of her actions: “I found out you’ve been doing XYZ. it’s been really painful for me. can you help me understand why you’ve done this, and would you consider stopping, given that it’s so upsetting to me?” — @kjxoxo

I think she should tell stepson and his wife what she wrote - how inappropriate it was, how angry she feels, and the fact that she now wants nothing to do with either one of them as a result. Maybe even tell DIL that she’s holding back from hitting her or spitting in her face! — @justkelly_ok

If she hasn’t already, she should let her husband know what’s going on then she should write an email that is a version of this letter to the DIL and cc the son and her husband. Afterwards, go no contact with the DIL. — @MsTeresaNeely

I would communicate in writing (even copying and pasting some language from this) so I didn’t have to think and react on the fly, and I’d send it to her CC him and wait for an apology OR end the relationship. — @julieruble

“Talk to her and firmly tell her to stop” is not the most creative advice, but I really do think it’s the best approach here. And I hope these responses reiterate to you that your reaction is healthy and normal and you should not hesitate at all to speak up.

One more kind of random tip:

BTW, install a lock on the bedroom door in case DIL ever comes to visit. she shouldn’t be in there anyhow, but OP doesn’t need to wonder what else she’s digging through. — @JaneLebak