Dear Dear Prudence, Volume I

Every week Slate, an online magazine that’s a lot like if Gawker was written by the editors of The New Yorker, runs an advice column called Dear Prudence.  Written by D.C.-based Emily Yoffe, the column is similar in format to Dear Abby (ask your parents) and covers a range of topics such as manners, etiquette, familial relations, and of course how to deal with the weird sexual kinks of our loved ones.  At least one of those makes it into the column a week.  Drink when you hit it.

Her answers tend to be thoughtful and well-reasoned, but many of these questions deal with issues that are just a little thorny to be answered from only one perspective.  With that in mind, I bring you Dear Dear Prudence.  Each week I will “help” Ms. Yoffe navigate the turbulent waters of anonymous people’s problems.  Let us start off with last week’s column, dated September 1.

Dear Prudence,
I’m a mother of two attending graduate school and constantly in need of quiet time to study. My husband is a great help, but with two toddlers he’s got his hands full. His father often asks to take our daughter to help “lighten the load” but doesn’t ask to take our son, as well. I don’t like my father-in-law because of comments he’s made about women in general and me in particular. He has also served time for drug-related offenses earlier in his life. But I don’t want my feelings to taint my children’s view of their grandfather. He’s recently converted to a neo-Buddhist religion in which he “lives in the now” and tries to get everyone around him to be “enlightened” and forgiving about things that happened in the past. I keep getting this strange notion that something is inherently evil about this man, though he’s tried hard to convince everyone that he’s a new person. Do you think that people can really change in such a significant way that it’d be safe to let him spend time with my kids? Or should I trust my instincts and allow only supervised visits or no contact? My husband doesn’t like his father but humors him so that he doesn’t “have to deal with him.”

—Conflicted Mother

Her father is possibly a child molester and wants to babysit her kids!   We have our weird sex letter of the week, everybody drink a shot!  My first takeaway from this letter is the phrase “inherently evil.”  That is so broadly damning it’s almost hard to take seriously.  How many other people does she think are inherently evil?  Society thinks his worst crimes were drug offenses, which you can probably toss in the Reagan Bin, and she doesn’t say anything about having been molested herself.  What did he do that she’s not telling us about?  Did he chew loudly with his mouth open?  Murder Robert F. Kennedy?  It’s a bit of a leap from “bad father who went to jail for riding the snake” to “kiddie cornholer.”  For the sake of argument let’s take that leap and assume he has an XBox and a 6-pack of Bartles & Jaymes ready to pull out of his van the moment an unattended child crosses his path.  How bad would that be for her kid really?  There are certainly worse things than being molested.  Hell, if anything it builds character.  I grew up Catholic and we used to have this old saying in Youth Group – “walk it off.”  The kid’s gonna have her world shattered someday, you might as well let their granddad take care of it early during Secret Special Time.

Well that was a slam-dunk, on to the next question!

Dear Prudie,
My boyfriend used my laptop one afternoon, and the browser stored a few of his passwords. The next time I accessed the Internet, I was able to log in to his email and Facebook accounts. I snooped around and found messages from the last few months in which he had contacted past girlfriends or women he appears to have dated. He got in touch with an ex who is overseas, apologizing for the way things ended and discussing racy videos of them together. He asked her to visit. He also asked a number of local women if they would like to go hiking, to the movies, or to dinner. Most of them responded, “Please don’t contact me again.” I don’t know what to do. We’ve been together for two years and I could see myself marrying him. I trust him completely and have never had reason to be suspicious. If I admit to snooping, he will be hurt and offended. I’ve had to be apart from him for the last three months, and he’s assured me he hasn’t felt lonely or neglected. Should I let what I’ve discovered slide, or am I setting myself up to be hurt?

—Curiosity Killed the Cat

You know what I do when my girlfriend’s phone screen lights up with a new text and she’s in the other room?  I leave it the fuck alone because that’s not my phone.  Your boyfriend’s saved password isn’t any different, but first let’s back up and acknowledge something:

GENTLEMEN, LOG OUT.

That’s not me laying the “he was asking for it” defense at the feet of this woman who, like many, thinks the rules of trust and privacy do not apply to her.  I am simply acknowledging a the truth – she is much less likely to stab you if you don’t put a knife into her hands and draw a red X on your chest.  Log out.  If you’re not going to put a password on your phone then you better keep it on you at all times or make absolutely sure there’s nothing on it she won’t like.  REMEMBER, “she doesn’t have a right to get mad about this” and “she will be upset by this” are not the same thing.  That flirty thing your ex drunk texted you one night that you just let sail by?  She may not have a right to get mad at you about that, but it will upset her.

Obviously I have more advice for the boyfriend than the actual letter writer.  The good news is she’s found a real diamond in the rough – someone who apparently can’t find someone to cheat with.  Failure can wear on a man.  Enough rounds of that will file his self-esteem down to a nub and you’ll have a lifetime of watching True Blood together to look forward to and he’ll just be happy you settled for his pathetic self.  So yes, let it slide and eventually he’ll sigh his way into some compromised version of your dream wedding in another two to five years.  Mazeltov!

Speaking of weddings:

Dear Prudence,
I’m about to travel to my best friend’s wedding. It’s going to be a small ceremony with about 20 guests, and I will be the maid of honor. The bride’s mother, “Amy,” passed away a year and a half ago. Amy always treated me like her daughter, and I feel as though I should acknowledge her during my toast, particularly since Amy’s wishes are the only reason my dear friend is having a “real” wedding and not eloping. At the same time, I don’t want to cast a pall over the day or make the bride’s father (and his new girlfriend!) feel uncomfortable. Is there any way I can tactfully give Amy her due during my toast, or should I avoid the subject entirely?

-A Reluctant Maid of Honor

Folks, when it’s “wedding season” it can be easy to lose sight of reality.  It’s exciting – finding a venue, buying a dress, getting that one last huge hit of money out of your parents…magical. For at least half of your guests, though, opening up a wedding invitation makes their credit card twitch.  Now they have to fly somewhere, get a room, buy some piece of kitchenware the bride momentarily liked when she had a portable scanner in her hand, and if they’re unlucky enough to actually be in the fucker, they get to do all that while renting a tux or buying a dress.  That dead loved one of yours who always wanted to see you walk down the aisle?  They don’t have to do any of that shit.  While you’re having a fight with your fiance over whether blueberry filling for the cake matches your reception’s centerpieces they’re busy playing chess with either Gandhi or Hitler, depending on how their points spread worked out.  My point is, if you want to elope, elope.  Everyone will appreciate it.

This bride wanted to elope but didn’t, and now this bridesmaid has to come up with some toast that includes a way to acknowledge the bride’s mother, who was so pushy when she was alive that she forced a church ceremony and rented banquet hall out of her family post-mortem.  If I was her I’d just make up a speech about how she helped me through my ibogaine addiction (“the lost decade”), compliment her future stepmother’s realistic implants, and wish her grieving father happy motorboating, but that’s probably why my friends and family are smart enough not to have me give toasts at weddings.

Did that help?  I don’t even know.  Last one!

Dear Prudie,
Recently while walking in the New York theater district, my boyfriend found $80 on the sidewalk. The area was crowded, and we did not see who dropped it. I would have kept it, since the odds of finding its original owner were virtually zero. However, my boyfriend was uncomfortable keeping money that wasn’t his. Since we were just a few feet from a busy theater, he decided to turn it in at the front door on the off chance the owner of the cash was seeing the show and would come looking for it. I think it’s more likely that the ticket-taker to whom we gave the money kept it and hopefully treated his wife to a nice dinner. We’re not rich, but neither one of us is losing sleep over $80 that was never ours to begin with. What should we have done?

—Girlfriend of a Good Samaritan

Look, cash isn’t used to be.  Back in the day cash was all you had.  You cashed your paycheck, kept all that money on your person till you got home, then you stuffed it under a mattress, plowed the field, beat your wife, and watched half your kids die of Tuberculosis.  The good old days.  Now, cash is basically spent money.  I’m going to assume this was four 20’s and not a pile of wrinkled 1’s and 5’s since it was the kind of place you take walks though.  That eighty bucks?  The owner is never coming back for it.  They didn’t lose their week’s salary, they lost their money clip.   Did it come in a clip?  Don’t worry if it didn’t, it means they still have the golden band they use to bind paper together in their pocket.  They’ll be fine.  In the meantime guess what?  You just won $80 from God!  You could be a tool and donate it to Heifer International or you could do what the universe wants you to and have fun with it.  See a show – that tidy sum will buy you half a ticket to The Book of Mormon – you and your boyfriend could take turns watching the show in ten-minute shifts with another couple.  There’s probably even a Groupon for it.  Enjoy the show, and don’t forget to bring your cameraphone so you can watch the whole thing later.

Well that’s it for this week, we’ve really helped some people here.  Just a reminder, if you’d like your question answered you have to get it on Dear Prudence first, just send your questions to prudence@slate.com.

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