Words of Experience

Words of Experience

Words of Experience

Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 28 2000 11:30 PM

Words of Experience

Get "Dear Prudence" delivered to your Inbox each week; click hereto sign up.Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com.

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Note: The following is a surprising and compelling letter. Prudie has never run anything of this length, but it offers "another side" to a situation Prudie never imagined had another side. The correspondent wrote in response to "Angry in Indiana," the woman molested by her brother. Her mother and sister-in-law were pressuring her to "make nice" at family affairs, which she did not even wish to attend. Their mother knew of the forcible incest but seemed to gloss over what had gone on. This letter is perhaps a useful reminder in the New Year that, even in desperately serious circumstances, there can be shades of gray and exceptions. It is also a reminder that there's no authority like someone who has lived through the drama.

Dear Prudence,
I just read your advice to "Angry in Indiana," and I had the urge to make a comment on the subject, seeing as I have experience in the matter. Telling her to completely shun her family was a little harsh, I think. I believe she needs to have a serious talk with her brother. Being that she was so young when it happened, her brother was probably young as well. Obviously he had some major issues growing up and was more than likely molested himself (it is usually a learned behavior).

Sometimes the guilt of perpetrating such horrible acts is too much for a person to handle, and some people turn to humor to deal with overwhelming issues. Since the brother's humor is often inappropriate, he needs help to deal with his guilt in a healthier way. "Angry" needs to sit down with her brother and let him know how much he hurt her and exactly how offensive his comments are to her. If he shows no remorse for his actions, then a wise choice for her would be to no longer see him. But she really needs to at least talk to him first. Forgiveness is possible. Believe me, I know.

As regards the mother, you must understand that a mother's instinct is to protect a child. Do you honestly expect her to disown her child for what was a horrible mistake? I guarantee she feels heartbroken that it took place. I guarantee she feels guilty for not having stopped it. How terrible she must feel for not helping her children, and now she is helpless to fix it. All she can do is apologize to her daughter. It's a confusing situation for a mother. I'm sure she's angry at her son for doing something so terrible to her daughter, and yet she feels awful, too, for not seeing that her son needed help.I've watched my mother go through all those emotions. It's a natural instinct for a mother to not want any child of hers to be hated. I think "Angry" just needs to be more understanding of that. But once again she needs to sit down and seriously talk with her mother too.

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After all is said and done, if her brother turns out to be one of those malevolent people who are truly dark inside, then so be it. Don't consider him family, and try to help the mother see it too. But Prudie, you should've told "Angry" to at least talk to her brother before taking such harsh measures. Even though molesting is a terrible thing, when someone does it, he is usually acting out what has been done to him ... and when he realizes what a bad thing he's done, is deeply regretful. It is possible to forgive even the most hurtful act if you have some understanding in your heart. It worked for me, and I now have a happy, healthy life.

—Experienced Young Woman

Dear Ex,
In a strange way, you are one of the lucky ones. Forgiveness and understanding are powerful curative emotions. The following letter touches on another point.

Dear Prudie,
I wanted to comment on the letter from "Angry in Indiana." I think you gave her excellent advice, however I would like to add that maybe she shouldn't wait for her sister-in-law to press the issue. If the brother and his wife don't have kids yet, they may, someday, and this is valuable information any woman would want to have. I don't know the statistics or behavioral patterns of molesters, but it doesn't seem unreasonable to me that if he would do it to his sister, he might do it to his children. I think she should definitely tell her sister-in-law, especially since he is still so "interested."

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—Concerned

And here is the last word from a psychologist who wrote:

I have a long-term patient who has undergone this exact experience. (Her older brother had intercourse with her for years prior to her puberty.) Two years ago, after a number of years of my prompting, she confronted both her brother and their parents. The brother took responsibility, and he and his parents now pray for forgiveness on Sundays—but otherwise have dropped the ball. They never bring it up. The offending brother is still the apple of his mother's eye. The moral: Talking helps, but is no panacea. In situations of incest, often the perpetrators just don't get it. But it's always worth a try.

NO, Prudie!
Bad advice to "Honored." She wrote: "Should I tell him I still have feelings?" You said, "By all means. What do you have to lose?" The answer is: a whole lot. For members of the wedding party, weddings are usually a two- to three-day affair. If you tell your ex right from the top that you still have feelings for him and he says he doesn't feel the same, the rehearsal (best man and maid of honor walk down the aisle arm-in-arm), rehearsal dinner, post-rehearsal party barhopping, wedding (arm-in-arm again), reception entrance (best man and maid of honor enter together), first dance (joining wedding couple on the floor), post-reception partying, brunch—will be a big awkward bummer. I met my fiance when he was the best man and I was a bridesmaid at his brother's wedding, and believe me, after three days packed with mostly romantic activities, you'll know if there's chemistry by the time you board the plane home. There is no need to get it squared away at the beginning. That would spoil the romantic tension or kill any chance for it to develop. No need to force romance at a wedding. Go with the flow. That's the beauty of weddings ... you just never know.

—Perpetual Romantic

Dear Perp,
Prudie bows to your broader experience because, alas, she was never a bridesmaid but always a bride. And on that note, dear Prudie people, we finish the year 2000. As we approach the New Year—which some say is the real millennium—Prudie thanks you for your challenges, insights, information, support, and even your slams. As for the problems upcoming ... well, bring 'em on. Prudie will be here at the same old stand.