Small-Town Shun

Small-Town Shun

Small-Town Shun

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 22 2000 11:30 PM

Small-Town Shun

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com.

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Dear Prudie,
Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes other people know about them, but my situation is worse than most. My "mistake" was common knowledge because I live in a small town. I had a well-known affair with my boss, and he finally didn't leave his wife—as he promised. Anyway, I've changed my job, so I don't have to look at him every day, but I feel now that everybody is looking at
me. I really don't want to leave this town. It has many wonderful things about it. How do I hold my head up and stop obsessing that whenever anyone sees me they think: home-wrecker-wannabe?

—Sadder but Wiser

Dear Sad,
If Monica Lewinsky and Dick Morris can go out in public, so can you. And although some people do still look at them and visualize ... well, whatever they visualize ... there is life after scandal. The important thing is that you have learned from the "mistake." There is no percentage in letting this misstep cloud your future. Stuff happens, and sometimes the hard-earned lessons are the valuable ones. The fabled acting coach, Stella Adler, had a great saying that applies to life as well as acting: "Don't go back. Go on." Let that be your mantra, along with "No more borrowed husbands."

—Prudie, optimistically

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Dear Prudence,
I have a beautiful daughter who is 23 and lives with me. She's a great kid, but she has ADHD and drives me insane. She keeps her room in such a mess that sometimes I could cry. I was so distraught at one point that I spoke to a psychologist whose answer was, "It's her room, so just shut the door and forget about it." I can no longer do that. It has reached the point where her slovenly habits are frequently the topic of conversation with her friends and family members. I have given many ultimatums, threatened to toss her things or make her move out. Of course I am equally guilty because I have never followed through. There must be some resolution, short of making her leave, which she can't afford to do. Got any ideas? (Her car is the same as her room.) HELP.

—Grasping at Straws Mom

Dear Grasp,
Attention deficit-hyperactive disorder is the diagnosis du jour for kids and young adults. It entitles them to all sorts of educational benefits and enables parents to give them Ritalin. Obviously some kids as well as adults do have it, though Prudie's parents' generation called it "ants in your pants." Since you find you're unable to take the advice of the psychologist, perhaps your daughter should see one. In the meantime, you must either ignore the chaos in her wake or invite her to live on her own. A 23-year-old can get a job and live independently of her mother.

—Prudie, pragmatically

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Dear Prudie,
I am 30 years old, divorced with two kids, aged 3 and 5. From the age of 4 to my teen-age years, my older brother molested me. It's been nearly five years since he's stopped "commenting" on the situation, but for a while he continued semi-trying, but I always warded him off. He is married and his wife doesn't know any of his past with me. He lives in Texas, but a few months ago he came back to visit the family and to try to sell his house. I let him stay at my house. One night, while I was on the computer trying to find a book, I was having no luck and said under my breath, "Well, screw me." He heard me, and answered back, "Well, if you insist." I felt sick. He has harassed me for so long, and even made jokes about incest to his friends so that they began to wonder. My mom has wanted me to keep this whole thing quiet so I don't make people dislike him. I am very angry and now no longer speak to him. The problem is, Christmas is coming. His wife is hoping we can reconcile before the holidays. I don't want to. Am I overreacting? How should I handle the coming holidays?

—Angry in Indiana

Dear Ang,
So people won't "dislike" him?! He's a molester, for God's sake. Your mother is a quart low when it comes to grasping the situation. She is obviously more concerned with appearances than reality—or your feelings. How terrible for you to have your own mother try to protect your brother ... who is the perpetrator, not the victim. You had an unfortunate Stockholm syndrome-like response by letting him even stay with you. By all means skip the holidays with this "family" ... one of whom jokes about his forceful incestuous actions, and the other who wants to put on a charade by pretending it never happened. If your brother's wife presses you about making nice and all being together, tell her the real reason you are not going to be present. You do not owe your brother silence. In fact, it might be helpful—for you—if your brother has to live with his wife knowing the truth, and your mother has to face it. When it comes to a loving family, you surely were shortchanged, so Prudie suggests you make your good friends your family.

—Prudie, supportively

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Dear Prudence,
My highly esteemed assistant and I ask your help in settling a disagreement. Frequently when I'm speaking to her about business matters, she continues opening (paper) mail, etc., which I sometimes find quite distracting. She claims that she can multitask mindless tasks while she gives full attention to our conversation. Am I being too picky or is she being thoughtless?

—Rattled in Seattle

Dear Rat,
Prudie supposes some people can successfully "multitask," but she shares your perception that the two-things-at-once routine is rude, if not distracting. The good news is that you two agreed to Prudie's arbitration, so here's the verdict: Because her busy hands distract you, she should wait until your confabs are over to do her "mindless tasks." By the way, sometimes the positions are reversed in terms of who is subordinate to whom, and then the issue is stickier. For good or ill, the boss's wishes trump an employee's.

—Prudie, purposefully