The “Forced Contraception” Edition

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S1: Slate plus members, it’s survey time again, which means it’s your chance to tell us what you think about Slate Plus and Slate in general. It’ll only take a few minutes and you can find it at Slate dot com slash survey.

S2: You’re for your prudent, prudent, given your prudent here. Do you think that I should contact him again? No. How I think. Thank you.

S1: Hello and welcome back to The Dear Prudence Show once again, and as always, I am your host, Dear Prudence, also known as Daniel and Laborie. With me in the studio this week is Alexis COH, a historian and the New York Times best selling author of You Never Forget Your First a biography of George Washington. She was a producer on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Washington series on the History Channel and is also a producer on the film adaptation of her first book, Alice and Frida Forever A Murder in Memphis. Alexis, welcome to the show.


S3: Thanks for having me, Danny. I’m glad to be here.

S1: Thank you so much for coming in and letting us know where you stand on the a historian versus an historian divide.

S3: Yeah, I just felt like we needed to get it out there.

S1: Let’s get it out there. You know, you’re strictly on a 20th century Americanist pronunciation kek and that’s as it should be.

S3: I’m not afraid to take those kinds of bold stances in the world of history.


S1: I’m very, very happy to hear that. I’m excited to bring,

S4: I think, a

S1: historical perspective, especially to our first letter.

S4: Which boy, oh, boy, does that tap into


S1: a rich historical vein?

S4: It made me real mad.

S1: And by the way, listeners, you can’t see this. Alexis just started covering her mouth as soon as I brought up our first letter and has not stopped,

S4: which is right

S1: about where I’m at.

S3: Yeah, it’s a lot. I mean, a bunch of Victorian novels come to mind and then we can go all the way up through American history. I thought a lot about JFK, his sister Rosemary. It is. Yeah, it bummed me out. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. It was somebody apparently sort of independently arriving

S4: at, you know, a

S1: eugenics policy of sterilization,

S4: seemingly in a vacuum, which is


S1: never great. I mean, obviously not in a vacuum. Right?

S4: Never. Great. I’ll just start by reading it shall. Yes. The subject is forced contraception. Dear Prudence, my

S1: husband and I have a 19 year old

S4: daughter, Emma.

S1: Emma is moderately, intellectually and developmentally delayed. She requires frequent redirection and careful supervision.

S4: If she

S1: cooks, she’ll forget to turn the stove off, even if you remind her 30

S4: times her

S1: sister asked her to watch her seven month old for 10 minutes while she took a shower. And Emma left the baby on the floor and went to another room to watch TV.

S4: Thankfully, the baby was fine. She will probably


S1: live with us or in a care facility for the

S4: rest of her life. Over the last two


S1: years, I’ve noticed she’s become increasingly interested in sex and dating

S4: almost to an uncomfortable degree. We had the talk with

S1: her years ago with reminders in

S4: between, but I really don’t

S1: know if she can legally consent to sex.

S4: Even though

S1: she has the mind of an eight year old, she still has the body and hormones of a

S4: young woman. I’m not

S1: really sure how to handle

S4: this. Do I put

S1: her on

S4: birth control? It would have to

S1: be something permanent and she’d never take a pill every day. But Emma has expressed a desire to have a baby, so I don’t think she’d allow any sort of implant. And I’m uncomfortable lying to her about what it would be. On the other hand, there’s no way she can care for a child and my husband and I just don’t have the resources to care for another child. She goes to a school program for delayed young adults, and her teachers have mentioned that she has been trying to kiss people and go even further. She also propositioned her cousin last Christmas who politely declined and immediately made me aware of the situation.


S4: How do we handle this?

S1: My husband is completely in denial and I’m worried that Emma will end up pregnant or someone will take advantage of her. I want to start by saying I’m glad you don’t want anyone to take advantage of Emma.

S4: I think

S1: that sterilising her without her consent or

S4: knowledge would qualify

S1: as taking advantage

S4: of her. So a good

S1: place to start is to pay attention to the part of you that says,


S4: gee, sterilizing my daughter and lying to her

S1: about it would make me uncomfortable.

S4: It should it’s

S1: also eugenics,

S4: it’s also illegal.

S1: Don’t do it. Alexis, is there a history


S4: of

S1: forced sterilization in the United States that might be useful context here? Sorry, I don’t sound like I’m on Sesame Street asking you to explain the letter K to us, but I’m trying to rein in some some bigger aspects here.

S4: I mean,

S3: that was the interesting part of this of this letter. As you pointed out, we understand that the parents MEANWELL that they have a child who they will be taking care of their entire lives and surely they worry about what will happen after they list all the ways in which this has the evidence they have. But what was striking to me is, were the letter otherwise? Sounds like they’re operating in a time period where people don’t understand or have no access to literature experts on this. And the only option is sterilization or lobotomy. Sterilization happen to women all the time without their consent. Fannie Lou Hamer, for example, she went in to be treated for, I think, a fairly small procedure. And without her consent, I can’t even begin. It is and it is illegal for a reason. And then, of course, Rosemary Kennedy and I say, of course, because my next book is on JFK and Daphne is aware of I sneak in a lot of like presidential history into the conversations all the time. And this is JFK sister who in order to from birth, had issues and then had this exact trajectory. Her parents explained that she was becoming sort of like hyper sexualized and they were worried about that. And then Joe Kennedy, without consenting Rosemary or his wife, had Rosemary Lobotomize and it left her far worse off. So I would suggest that they they talk to people at the school, that they talk to other experts. And surely there is a better way. I mean, I’m not sure how to handle it means seek out all the information you can.


S1: Right. Right. It makes sense that you wouldn’t know how to handle all of this. It makes sense that you would feel uncomfortable. That’s not the problem. Going from that to my husband’s in denial. Should we just get an IUD thrown into her and not tell her what it is? That’s the part where you need to slam on every single break in the world and really

S4: invite expertise,

S1: help familiarize yourself with the history of forced sterilization in the United States, especially on people with intellectual disabilities. I understand your desire not to have her being taken advantage of, but I think it’s really

S4: important to separate

S1: that from the part of you that also just doesn’t want to be


S4: uncomfortable.

S1: You know, the letter writer says she’s really interested in sex and dating. Well, she’s 19. That makes sense to me, almost to an uncomfortable degree.

S4: OK, you know,

S1: you can set some rules and limits in place such that you can do your best to make sure that people aren’t taking advantage of her. What you can’t and shouldn’t do, I think, is to say the discomfort that I feel when my daughter talks about sex and dating, perhaps without the sort of filter that I myself have. That’s a problem that’s serious enough that I want to put a stop on that.

S4: First of all, sterilisation


S1: would not stop that interest. Second of all, even if it did, that wouldn’t make it OK. So the fact that her teachers, for example, have just been letting her letting you know that she tries to kiss

S4: people good, that they’re


S1: letting you

S4: know about that,

S1: ask them what they’re doing about it, you know, is she distressing, these other kids as she upsetting them, as she pushing boundaries? Do you need to have more conversations with her about other people’s autonomy?

S4: You know, you

S1: then you have that talk with you. You say you had the talk with her with some reminders in between.

S4: Great.

S1: You’re probably going to have the talk with her about not kissing other people without consent a lot. Start having that conversation a lot. You know, you say that sometimes if she’s cooking, if I’m supervising her, I have to remind her 30 times.

S4: And I I think that, you know,

S1: there’s no part of you that thinks, should I make it so that she can never be near a stove? That’s not something where you want to remove her ability to access something. It’s the sex stuff that I think makes you so uncomfortable that you want to put that barrier in between her and sex rather

S4: than having

S1: uncomfortable conversations or thinking about sex,

S4: which makes you uncomfortable.

S3: Absolutely. I think you’re totally right. The last half of the last sentence really struck me because she’s talking about birth control. But then she ends and she fairly frequently suggests that someone will take advantage of her birth control, will

S4: not

S3: preclude that. So so, again, we come back to this this problem. She’s avoiding the fundamental problem. And I also think, you know, there are whenever I see someone in the archives say I am protecting this person, I am looking out for them and I have some sort of they have lost autonomy to me or I own them or whatever it is, depending on the era. It’s it’s really a

S4: moment

S3: to turn the tables and to interrogate yourself on what you’re really protecting them from and how you’re doing it.

S1: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. And to really separate out what are things that make me uncomfortable

S4: versus

S1: what are things that might put her at risk, because those are two really different things. If she can understand what sex is, if she can demonstrate an interest in kissing other people, that suggests to me that there are potentially circumstances under which she could consent to sex. And you will need to think about that as her parent and one of her caregivers. And that might not feel immediately and intuitively comfortable or easy. And I don’t expect that it will feel those ways. So you don’t have to

S4: be angry

S1: with yourself for not immediately feeling comfortable. But I do think that you should seek

S4: out expert

S1: knowledge and lots and lots of writing on the subject that really, you know, looks through like a disability justice model and that really prioritizes autonomy and consent in the context of, you know, centuries of institutionalization and forcible sterilization for people with intellectual

S4: disabilities. Absolutely.

S3: Yes, absolutely. It seems like the only and best solution.

S4: Yeah.

S1: And I say all of that of of course, if you and your husband can’t take care of another child, I understand that I don’t in any way want to fault you and say, like, well, you should just be ready to do that. These are all conversations you can have with your husband, even if he wants to be in denial about it, you know, push for it, seek out a couples counselor, make this a priority to discuss. But this is not something that you can push away. And this is not something that you can bury by


S4: saying, I’m uncomfortable

S1: that my 19 year old

S4: daughter is both

S1: interested in sex and is intellectually disabled. I’d rather she weren’t. And so I kind of want to see if I can sterilize her to stop wanting that.

S4: That is wrong. It’s eugenicist.

S1: It’s it’s not good. Don’t pursue that line of thinking.

S3: Absolutely. Yes. This is a good I mean, yes, that’s a good takeaway. But I mean, there was also this feeling as though she’s like, oh, there’s this is a new thing. Here’s another thing to add to it. It’s like, well, if you have to remind her to turn off the stove 30 times, you’re going to as you said, you’re going to have to have this conversation a lot.

S4: Yeah.

S1: And you seem prepared to do it about the stove. So I think you should you have that capacity within you.

S4: Absolutely. Yeah.

S1: I think the last thing I’ll say here, because I,

S4: I feel very fired up.

S1: You know, the letter writer describes a couple of different events. Right. Like one of them was her sister once asked her to watch her seven month old for ten minutes. It didn’t go

S4: well. I’m really glad the baby was OK. I hope your sister learned that I’m

S1: sorry that my sister learned that that’s not a position that she should put me in. I think everybody in your family, whoever spends time with Emma, should be made aware. You can’t ask Emma to supervise something by herself that’s putting her in a position where she’s not going to be OK. So she you know, she should not have done that,


S4: come

S1: up with different plans for taking showers. You know, the fact that the school called you to to let you know that she was trying to kiss the other students but isn’t trying to pathologies her interest in sex and romance, that seems good to the fact that her cousin told you, you know, right away, hey, I’m proposition me. I turned her down. Just wanted to let you know again. That’s a good outcome. I get that it was uncomfortable. I get that that was not what you hoped would happen at Christmas,

S4: but everyone acted well

S1: there. You know, the cousin said, no, thank you and let you know. And it sounds like you were able to redirect or refocus the conversation. That’s good. I am sorry that that happened. It is uncomfortable. But the answer to that is not, hey, is there some kind of surgical procedure that can get rid of Emma’s desires? When they freak me out, it’s coming up with plans. That’s coming up with safety plans. It’s coming up with consensus so that their scripts and that people in your family know how to handle uncomfortable situations

S3: and that Emma can have what she wants out of life. There is some opportunity for her to find love and to have a physical relationship that’s safe for everyone. It would be wonderful.

S1: Yeah. If there are peers at her school who want to kiss her back and there are ways that,

S4: you know, not

S1: without just like completely removing all safeguards, but also without, you know, hovering over and micromanaging every aspect of that interaction that she can go on that date or they can kiss. That will be really good. That sounds like that’s something Emma wants. Don’t take that from her. Don’t take that opportunity from her.


S4: Would you read our next letter?

S3: Yes, the subject line is just trying to help. Dear Prudence, I am currently with a great woman who I love very much, we connect on every level and I treasure every moment we have together. We’re just a little more than a year together and I can see myself spending the rest of my life with her. We are so close. And she shared with me something she has never spoken to anyone about the fact that she was sexually abused by her father and in unrelated incidents, rape twice by extended family members when she was 10. I am honored she felt safe enough to share this with me and really proud of her for starting counseling. I’m reading everything I can to support her through this as best I can. The act of acknowledging this abuse to me and her counselor appears to have unlocked a lot of rage here and often obsessive and manic behavior. These episodes come about once every nine days and dominate her behavior for about two to 14 hours. I think getting super angry and coming up with weak and often bizarre arguments that seem designed to push away the people she loves, it’s like she becomes an entirely different person. She can be very verbally abusive during these episodes. What she says could easily be something she is trying to say to her abusers, particularly her still living farther apart. Break my heart. My question is about her 11 year old daughter, Lily. Lily is often present during these episodes. She’s a smart kid, loves her mom and is clearly trying to understand her behavior. Lily is very smart and wise beyond her years. I feel like knowing what happened to her mother might help her understand why her mother sometimes acts the way that she does. Is there a right way to let a child of that age know her parent is a survivor of sexual abuse? Or is it something that shouldn’t be discussed, if ever, until she reaches a specific age? What’s missing for me here is the mom’s opinion on telling Lily.


S1: Yeah, I think the thing that troubles me the most about this one, or I think that I want to redirect the most is. The letter writer

S4: says this woman’s amazing, she

S1: also has something very troubling going on that causes her to verbally abused her

S4: child. I want

S1: to explain to her child why her mom is verbally abusing

S4: her. And this sort of

S1: implication there is Lily is really smart, really wise beyond her years. Is that a good reason to treat her like an adult instead of a child in need and to put the burden of understanding and contextualizing

S4: and excusing

S1: her mother’s abuse onto her rather than I love this woman. I sympathize with her suffering. So I don’t want to address her abusiveness

S4: because I

S1: want to think of her solely as a victim and not as a causer of

S4: harm.

S1: But letter writer.

S4: I think right

S1: now you need to take some of that empathy that you are saving for

S4: your girlfriend and you need

S1: to directed at Lily, who is 11 years

S4: old, who is not

S1: responsible for the abuse that her mother

S4: suffered, who

S1: does not deserve to be abused.

S4: In turn, it

S1: is not a necessary function of going into therapy to deal with your own childhood abuse, that there’s some phase you go through where you then start to abuse your own kid.

S4: So to me, there’s way

S1: too much context here. Already the issue is not how do I make Lily understand? The issue is how can I talk to my partner about the fact that she is abusing her child?


S3: Absolutely. I mean, Lily, it’s repeated twice that she’s smart, she’s smart, she’s wise beyond her years. That doesn’t matter. There’s this idea that just because someone is capable, it doesn’t mean that you give them so much. You give them more than you would someone else at the same age, the same, you know. And I understand again that this is like there are good intentions here, he wants to support Lily, but he automatically assumes that the way to support her in this is to tell her what’s going on. And there are other ways that, again, experts can can help figure out that sounds like family therapy. It sounds like Lily should be in therapy. And this behavior, these outbursts should be assessed by a professional.

S4: Yeah, yeah. So just

S1: letter writer. I want to be really clear.

S4: I think your

S1: intentions are very good. It’s clear that you love your girlfriend. It’s clear that her suffering from her own childhood abuse is real and serious. But the question you’re asking is, I’ve seen my girlfriend abuse her child. I’m wondering if I should tell the child about her mother’s own childhood abuse so that this child is more patient and understanding about being abused herself.

S4: And I just

S1: want you to, you know, sit with that sentence for a minute and think, do I really

S4: want to do that?

S1: Is that really a good goal?

S4: And I think

S1: you will feel

S4: pretty quickly. No, that’s the

S1: wrong road to go down. So the road that you do need to go down, I’m afraid, is

S4: to talk to your partner to make it really clear. Not that she’s like being


S1: a little messy around the edges

S4: or

S1: that, you know, she’s going through a really hard time. But you need to say I’ve seen you verbally abusing your daughter.

S4: It needs to stop. It needs to stop now. And we need

S1: to talk to other people about this,

S4: including your therapist.

S3: Absolutely. And even if it’s not, you know, Lily, he’s very specific because Lily is often present during these episodes. We you know, we have to assume that, yes, she is she has been on the receiving end, certainly. But I also like it doesn’t matter if you witnessed this as an 11 year old, that is it. That over and over again with this sort of frequency that he’s implying, that’s traumatic.

S4: Right. And you’re

S1: right. Thank you for pointing that out. It is unclear whether Lily is always

S4: the the

S1: victim of these tirades, whether she sometimes is, whether she’s usually the bystander and he is the subject. I found that lack of information interesting. It seemed intentional.

S4: My my gut

S1: assumption there was that the letter writer wanted to leave that vague because he didn’t want to admit

S4: she’s verbally

S1: abusing her

S4: child. But that’s just a gut response. Is it possible that it’s him? So either way, her 11 year old should not be have it’s

S1: abusive for her 11 year old to be subject to that, whether it’s happening to the other adult in the room

S4: or to her, she

S3: is not equipped to deal with it. Absolutely.

S4: Yeah.

S1: So that’s what you need to say. I think it would be wise to


S4: say it at a

S1: time and a place where, you know, that you have emotional back up of your own. I think you should be looking for a therapist of your own as well. I think you should talk to probably not a relative of your girlfriend because it sounds like her family is pretty abusive. But if you have any mutual friends or if you are at all close with any of her mutual friends, with her

S4: friends, I get

S1: that it’s not going to be comfortable. No one ever wants to get a call from somebody saying, hey, your dear friend is verbally abusing their kid and I need your help calling them in.

S4: But that’s what

S1: friends are for, you know.

S3: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. There are there clearly this woman and her daughter have a lot of people who care about her and want to help.

S4: Yeah.

S1: And so just the really clear thing needs to be

S4: you have

S1: started becoming abusive.

S4: It seems

S1: to come on

S4: a little bit more than once a week. And you need help and it

S1: needs to stop. You need to stop doing this in front of your child. That’s the thing. Everything else is secondary to that. That’s the thing that needs to be said. None of that

S4: means her childhood

S1: trauma is not

S4: real or important.

S1: None of this means that she is an irredeemable monster who is incapable of loving her child. None of it means she cannot get help. If this is really new, if this is really sudden onset, if this is out of character for her, as bewildering and distressing as that may be, it’s also a good indicator that. This is not a lifelong pattern for her, and


S4: it will be possible to help her stop,

S1: but it needs to start with real clarity. It’s child abuse.

S4: She needs to stop it.

S3: Your your point is important here. The essence, when you boil it down, there is no justification for abuse. Take away the first paragraph. All we know is that this young girl is in a risky situation.

S4: Yeah. Yeah, and, you know, it’s just.

S1: You say that she could often be saying things to her abusers, particularly her still loving father.

S4: Again, I really

S1: feel for her

S4: that sounds really bewildering,

S1: sad, upsetting, scary for you and for her. But she’s also not talking to her abusers. And that’s really important. She’s talking

S4: potentially to

S1: or at least in front of an 11 year

S4: old girl who

S1: hasn’t done anything and does not deserve this and certainly does not deserve to have her intelligence used as

S4: a reason to prematurely

S1: end her childhood. You know, just like the idea of having your smartness as an 11 year old girl wielded against you as evidence for

S4: you’re smart enough

S1: to understand why you’re being abused. And so it’s OK that it keeps happening.

S4: That is not. Don’t do that. Don’t do that.

S1: Letter writer. I’m so sorry, please write back and let us know how this goes, it will not be a fun conversation, but it needs to happen and needs to happen more than once and it needs to happen with multiple people. This is not something that you should just try to handle within the family. Lots of people in her life should know that she is verbally abusing her child because that will make it harder for her to keep doing it. Let’s go. OK, this next one is short, sad and straightforward.


S4: Subject is, should I end

S1: my friendship with my best friend over an inappropriate friendship he’s having?

S4: Dear Prudence, my 35

S1: year old best friend has been engaged in an inappropriate friendship with a 17 year old girl for the past

S4: year. He claims they’re just friends. He harbors

S1: romantic feelings for her, but she has

S4: none for him.

S1: He agonizes over every interaction with her. He risks ruining his reputation and more over this. And he has shut down all attempts at interventions. I am a father and I’ve told him if someone was acting the way he is towards my daughter, I

S4: would have called the police. He doesn’t seem to care. His other friends

S1: and I have all approached him about this issue, but he won’t listen. He’s been my best friend for 10 years.

S4: So what should I do?

S3: I mean, first of all, wrong question. He’s asking the wrong question and the answer is in there.

S4: He gave the answer.

S3: Thank you for the

S1: ranting about your own kid. Treat other people’s kids like your own kid.

S3: Yes, we’ve discussed this at length yet.

S1: Moderator I don’t often encourage people who write in to me to call the cops.

S4: You’ve got my permission. Call the goddamn

S1: cops. Tell the girls parents, contact someone at her school, get people in her life involved and call the fucking cops. This man is a goddamn predator and he’s been trying to like Engin. He’s been fucking grooming a 17 year old for the past year, which means at least since she was 16,

S4: everyone’s


S1: tried to talk to him and he’s like, no, I’m like, what the fuck is going on? You know what to do, do it.

S3: It’s and also I mean, ending my friendship. So you’re just going to look away, just look away, then it’s not going to do anything to change the situation. And also, it’s not your decision. Do you would you be OK if someone else and also not only like, OK, what would you do for your own daughter? What if he suddenly turns his intentions on your daughter? Wouldn’t you want someone to call the police or would you want them to contemplate ending their friendship with him?

S4: Yeah, and

S1: just. Yeah, you know, if that’s what it takes to think of 17 year old girls as people, I guess. But like Jesus, man, have some kind of conception of the humanity of teenage girls. It’s not just either my daughter and not my daughter. You know,

S3: like as a father of daughters,

S1: you know, like this girl does not deserve to be fucking harassed by a lovelorn 35 year old. You say that she has done for him, which means that he has

S4: at least forced her to

S1: say so on one occasion, which really strongly suggests to me that he has been harassing her. If you know this much about it, I guarantee you there’s a lot more that you haven’t seen. If all of his friends are this concerned,

S4: like this is

S1: going to be one of those things where, like when the story comes out, people will be saying things like, what the fuck? Why didn’t anyone do anything if this much was public knowledge? You have the power to not do that. I mean, they’ll still be the question of why have you waited for a year but you cannot go back in time. So the best time to do something about it was a year ago. The second best time is now. Call the police, contact the girl’s school, contact her parents,


S4: call in the goddamn cavalry.

S3: Let let them decide what to do. It’s not it’s not your responsibility at all.

S4: Mm hmm. Yeah.

S1: And absolutely ending your friendship with him is not that’s what you do with somebody

S4: who like doesn’t

S1: listen to you when you say, like, you’re always late and it really hurts my feelings. I wish you would at least try to let me know when you’re running late and they’re

S4: like, can’t you know,

S1: that’s like, hey, agree to disagree. We can’t be friends sexually harassing a 17 year old who doesn’t want

S4: you to fucking

S1: badger them

S4: again. Just for all the

S1: times I don’t say it on the show, call the goddamn cops,

S3: defund the police, but call the cops.

S4: Absolutely.

S1: Don’t don’t let that be the only thing you do. Also assume the cops are not going to do anything unless you hand them like a smoking gun. So get her school’s information and contact the guidance counselor, try to find out who her parents are.

S4: Try to

S1: don’t contact this girl directly because the last thing that she needs is one of this, like fucking creepy guy’s

S4: friends bothering her, too.

S1: But, yeah, find the adults in her life who are supposed to be looking out for her, find the mandatory reporters in her life and get in

S4: touch with them

S3: as many as possible. Because as we know, whenever you hear about these stories, in retrospect, someone reported it to someone, someone suggested this, someone told someone else. And it often doesn’t happen at all. But it takes many times if it’s going to happen. It’s I mean, even that the question is being asked. This whole the whole situation is very disturbing, as it always is.


S1: A teenage girl has been getting sexually harassed by a man in his 30s for over a year.

S4: Do a lot, do a

S1: lot of things, go overboard,

S4: do too much. Call everybody sorry,

S1: not do too much. Don’t don’t follow her around and ask her if she’s OK,

S4: but contact the

S1: adults in her life, contact her school,

S4: get her some help and

S1: make it incredibly clear to him after you have done so. By the way, don’t give him a heads up. Don’t warn him that you’re going to do this so he can try to cover his tracks, make it really, really clear that what he has done is incredibly wrong and that you will do everything in your power to make sure he can never do it again.

S3: Yes, absolutely. And talk to the school, talk to parents, talk to people other than these friends, talk to your your wife. If you happen to your husband, talk to you. A lot of people, because this has been people know about this and this has been going on and they only know what he tells them.

S4: Yeah.

S1: And after, by the way, you have done all of those things and set in motion a series of, you know, processes and investigations that will not be in your control,

S4: you know,

S1: work on the part of you that waited a year to write to me. I don’t know if you have known the entire year, it’s clear that you’ve known long enough that you’ve tried more than once to intervene with

S4: him, you should.

S1: You know, when you find out that your friend in your 30s is sexually harassing a child, it’s not, hey, stop it now.


S4: This is really serious.

S1: It’s I need to take this out of your hands. The intervention goes

S4: over your head, he

S1: he he has forfeited the right to quietly and privately see the error of his ways and knock it off.

S4: It needs to be public

S1: and it needs there needs to be safeguards in place that he cannot be personally responsible for because he’s already made it clear that he cannot be trusted around

S4: children. Yes.

S1: Oh, man.

S4: Yeah.

S1: And then really work on that part of you that however long you let this one

S4: go, one year, eight months,

S1: six months, three months, whatever,

S4: that was wrong. You should not have waited that long. So work on

S1: that in the aftermath, but

S4: do the right thing now.

S1: OK, Alexis, would you please read our last letter, which is nice because it’s just about too stressed out people who want to help each other, you know? Oh, I’m so tired of I’ve been so emotional and up and down and this is just like I’m sleepy and I want to make pasta because he’s nice.

S3: I love this one because you can sort of imagine their lives in a way that we haven’t been able to do because everyone else has been sort of vague. But there’s a lot to hold on to here that gives you you almost feel like, you know, these they’re characters. You know them. So, yes. What turnabout is fair play. My dear Prudence, my boyfriend and I have been together for just about a year now and things are going great. We both come from broken homes and have both dealt with similar trauma. We have also achieved independence, security and are now well on the path towards professional success. It’s fun and easy. We communicate well and we are excitedly building a future


S4: together because

S3: of our similar backgrounds. He’s been comfortable talking to me about some of the things that have happened to him. Sometimes, after a particularly intimate conversation, he’ll break out into hives. And once he had a mild panic attack, I encouraged him to find a therapist. And he has. But I can tell he’s nervous and he keeps making self-deprecating jokes about how he’s going to be told something is monstrously wrong with him. It is not. I’ve also seen how talking about this stuff can have an intense effect on him. I know it’s not always comfortable or easy to process to work through bad memories. I have been there myself. I’m in the final year of a highly stressful, competitive grad program, so I am also under quite a bit of stress. He’s been enormously supportive during this time. He’s also moving into a stressful few months at his job. Now he needs my support, but I’m worried I won’t be able to return the favor. Things are piling up around his house and I can tell he needs some help. This is also the first relationship I’ve had while in my grad program before him. I was fiercely committed to my studies and had no interest in dating. I want to be there for him and I want to be a good partner to him right now. But I really don’t know how. Can you give me some good pointers about how to be supportive during a difficult time?

S1: Again, this was just really sweet to me.

S3: Yeah, they’re doing the work. They’re trying. It’s a process. It’s it’s a long process. It sounds fairly early on for him. And it sounds like she might be further along because he’s he’s sort of you know, he’s making her self-conscious about it. He’s making jokes. He thinks that the worry that we sort of all have when we start therapy, which is that they’re going to tell you something is terribly wrong with you. And it sounds like they need to begin with just, you know, some time.


S1: Yeah, I really think, again, like, you

S4: have the good

S1: intentions, good communication and self-awareness that I think are like 90

S4: percent of what you need

S1: to make it go well.

S4: So I think.

S1: The best thing you can do is be really honest with him about, you know, I’m under a lot of stress. I know you’re heading into a stressful stuff at work as well as starting therapy. So time is limited around here. So schedule in and maybe it’s half an hour a week. But like add to your calendars time specifically

S4: where, you know, he tells

S1: you how therapy is going and you to discuss

S3: it. But apart like being an independent person, which they both very much want to do, it seems they want to you know, they work hard. They’re trying to build a life by themselves and together for the last year. But a part of that is he needs to figure out how to clean his house. Maybe that happens with the therapy, if that’s not being discussed in therapy is a part of this. Maybe, you know, the suggestion should be that it is.

S1: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point, too, because it’s like the implication there is like, should I step in and do it for him? I’m worried that that will start a cascade of interventions. I don’t know if this is a straight relationship. Usually people tell me if it’s

S4: not one, but

S1: instead of making a lot of assumptions, I’ll just flagged the possibility of the fear of like, is this the well intended beginning

S4: of, you know,

S1: I do all his housework for him and then we never really come back from


S4: that. And maybe

S1: that was part of why I was always committed to my studies and didn’t want to date because I knew that heterosexuality is a real time waster for women, of all of which is just to say if any of that’s going on in the back of your mind makes a ton of sense, cherish that part of yourself, that loves and safeguards your independence and,

S4: you know, don’t be an

S1: asshole. But, you know, if there’s a part of you that’s like I always want to make sure I don’t just, like, preemptively do a guy’s dishes because he’s sad.

S4: Good. Don’t do

S1: it guys dishes because he said he won’t notice and he won’t thank

S4: you for it. And then you’ll just do

S1: his dishes for the rest of his

S4: life. I may be projecting a little bit here. It’s fine.

S3: I think that’s fine.

S1: But I mean to the UK to do a guy’s dishes for him and it didn’t get me what I wanted.

S4: So, you know, that’s what I’m the

S3: opposite of, what would serve her. I mean, it’s very clear that she she feels like if she we’ve all done that. We’ve all just put in a tremendous amount of effort doing something that we should not do for someone we really care about. But what is I have to say, I like them both. There is something I do. I like them most and I really like her. She’s so self-aware. And the thing that I think she’s she’s struggling with the beginning and the end of this letter is she is from she’s she’s dealt with traumatic experiences. She’s, you know,


S4: achieved

S3: independence. And she has this nice relationship. At the same time, she is well aware of she’s probably spent a lot of time thinking about maybe her entire childhood, the first eighteen years of her life, thinking about the kind of life that she wants to build in order to protect herself and to be happy and et cetera, et cetera. I am also projecting things onto her and she’s struggling between that. You want family, you want closeness, you want a relationship. It would be very easy for her to, you know, at the same time to get lost in that and to lose lose herself. And I think there’s a way for her to have it all. It’s really true. She can find someone who will allow her to, you know, be in this space by herself and to study and accomplish things. And also, you know, the person doesn’t have to be perfect, but to to work through it together.

S1: All that’s so helpful. And, you know, we can say all this and also just say, like letter writer, by the way, if this is not your dynamic, if you are not a straight couple, like, just ignore this part,

S4: you know, just. Yeah, turn

S1: us off, you know, where we’re talking out of our our necks or however the expression goes. But it is also true that he could be an amazing person and through no conscious fault of anyone’s own,

S4: you know, it could be

S1: that you fear this dynamic of like, he’s great. And yet I have found myself in the trap of heterosexuality without having intended to.

S4: And, you know,

S1: I’ll just throw that oftentimes in heterosexual relationships, the bar for a supportive man is very different from the bar. For a supportive woman, the expectations can be really, really different. And so, again, I don’t want to make assumptions about this guy, but if part of you feels like


S4: there’s a

S1: part of me that preemptively notices when stuff is piling up around his house, that thinks of ways that I could solve it and wants to solve it, even though there’s another part of me that wants to prioritize my independence and I’m terrified that I’m going to kneecap my own independence just because I am

S4: so used to prioritizing a man’s comfort, that

S1: would make sense. And I think that would be a great thing to maybe discuss with your own therapist. And I’ll just say, like, it sounds like he’s doing OK. You know, he’s nervous.

S4: That’s OK. I would be nervous, too.

S1: He’s he’s doing something big and daunting. He occasionally makes self-deprecating jokes, but I was told there’s something horribly wrong with him.

S4: That’s OK,

S1: too. You know, you can be reassuring in that moment, but it’s also OK to just make like a pressure relieving, self-deprecating joke. You don’t have to fix that for him.

S4: I would say if

S1: stuff piles up around his house, the most I would encourage you to do is say.

S4: How are you doing if

S1: you go through a really stressful time in your life? There’s a couple of months where you don’t do the dishes very much.

S4: That’s allowed, you know. Don’t don’t assume that

S1: you have to fix it in order to bring it up. You can also just ask how he’s doing and let him tell you,

S4: I

S3: also read this as a heterosexual relationship because it’s true. And at the same time, we could be totally wrong. I don’t think it matters because there are just a few things that that jump out about this, which is, you know, the letter writer wants to help him in so many different ways and doesn’t know how and. I think the letter writer has to have patience because, yeah, the the the way that this is phrased, I encourage him to find a therapist. And he has he’s worried he’s going to find something out. It sounds, again, like they’re just at the very beginnings. It’s in the most nascent stage and these things take time. So if this person can just sort of bite his or her tongue for for a little and let those things pile up and kind of let things happen and let him go through the process and let him learn how to deal with hives and panic attacks. And however that’s going to happen through like breathing or medication or whatever the journey there. Take them if you can do that. That’s maybe the best way to be a supportive partner.


S4: Yeah, and

S1: that’s helpful, too, because I do want to, you know, now move out of the like, heterosexuality and dishes problem because it’s not universally applicable. And I also want to be able to speak

S4: to a different possible

S1: suite of relationship types. And yeah, I think, as you say, you know, the fact that the letter writer has been through

S4: some of what he is going

S1: through now and is a little further down the road, I think there’s also that sort of like, oh, I know what helped me next. And so I want to just be able to, like, give that to you via osmosis, because I don’t want you to have you know, I want you to have to take as long as I did. I want you to just get to where I am now because it’s hard.

S4: It really hit that, but, you know, I think, you

S1: know, letter writer that he has to go through it

S4: himself so and

S3: that they don’t come from they both come from broken homes. They both dealt with similar trauma. It just talking about

S4: that is

S3: great, but it doesn’t. And you can find connections, but it doesn’t mean that it was completely the same. So his path. Is going to be different than hers and on a different timeline.

S1: Yeah, and you don’t have to make up for it all now. I think that’s the other thing, too, is oftentimes like when you’ve been together for a year, that’s when you really start moving into some of the more

S4: like, you know, now that

S1: everybody spends the first year entirely on their best behavior. But you are at this point moving into a new phase of your relationship where you’re kind of getting into more of the nitty gritty, that you may be held at a bit more of a remove during the first year. And so there’s also that sense of like, well, are we going to build a future together? And if so, are we going to be home together? And that makes me think about the sort of home that I grew up in. And I want to be able to, you know, heal my own broken home and his and we need to be extra supportive and extra healthy with each other because of the pain we’ve already been through. And that’s a really high


S4: bar to try

S1: to force yourself to clear.

S4: So, you know, you sound like you’re doing great.

S1: I think if you add to it just a realistic assessment of, like, I love you, I can see that you’re going through a lot. And I also know we’re both heading into really busy times of our own careers and graduate studies. So I want to be honest about that up front, because I want to be able to give you as much time as I can. And I don’t want to overpromise and under deliver. And by the way, letter writer, feel free not to say this in, like, vaguely gross corporate language. I’m sorry. You do not have to say overpromised and underdelivered as somebody that you’re dating. That’s a horrible thing to say, but

S4: you know what I mean.

S1: I think he would appreciate that so much more than not at all. I can do it. I’m going to notice when your laundry’s not getting done and I’m going to do it for you or I’m going to see that you’re about to break into hives. I’m going to hand you some Benadryl in advance or I’m going to, like, give you my extra six months of therapeutic experience

S4: and just push that

S1: into your psyche like

S4: those are

S1: not things you have to do to be supportive.

S3: Know and. Agree with you on everything and just to say, you know, congratulations, letter writer, on not only building this life, but then allowing yourself to have a relationship that and and sharing your life where clearly a part of your process was protecting that. It sounds like you have made major strides and and you’re excited for him to do it to. And that will happen, you know, hopefully.


S4: Yeah.

S1: And you just both sound like really thoughtful of lovely people. I hope you both do great with your next busy year or season at work. And just,

S4: you know, I

S1: hope one of your friends comes over and does both your laundry

S4: sometime. Mm.

S3: That would be wonderful.

S4: You don’t have to but you know. Good luck. Wow. What a day, huh.

S3: Yeah. This is for you know, we don’t see people, we don’t interact. So this is this is a wonderful way to, you know, to sort of observe people in a way.

S1: Yes, it was. But I am glad that I got to see you. I’m very, very glad that I got to see you. And I’m very, very glad that

S4: we got

S1: to remind people like

S4: don’t

S1: forcibly sterilize your children just because they have intellectual disabilities and don’t look the other way when your friend is preying on a teenage girl, you wish you didn’t have to remind people, but.

S4: Right.

S3: I mean, that’s that’s sort of the you know, this better than I do. I see this all the time. I talk about history of stories because they’re the same stories over and over again. And in a way, you get the same letters over and over again. And we’re just trying to you know, we’ve got to get better.

S1: Yeah. Yeah. Trying your best is great. Sometimes your best isn’t good enough. Right. And you need to do somebody else’s best expertise.

S4: Yeah, I love it.

S3: Invaded in embrace it find generated expertise.

S1: Right. Because like eugenics, sometimes the experts were saying do a lot of eugenics. It’s good.


S3: Nothing new, nothing like a hodgepodge thing. And the body was also very hot.

S1: Oh no thank you. Well thank

S4: you. Thank you

S1: for bringing the historical lens to our to

S4: our problems

S1: today.

S3: Thank you for having me.

S1: Have a wonderful evening.

S5: Thanks for listening to Dear Prudence, our producer is Bill Cercas. Our theme music was composed by Robin Hilton. Don’t miss an episode of the show had to slate dotcom. Dear Prudence, to subscribe and remember, you can always hear more prudence by joining Slate. Plus go to Slate dotcoms. Pretty hard to sign up. If you want me to answer your question, call me and leave a message for

S1: zero one three seven one, dear. That’s three three to seven.

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S1: Keep it short, 30 seconds a minute, tops. Thanks for listening.

S2: Oh. Oh.

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