S&M—Snooping & Meddling

S&M—Snooping & Meddling

S&M—Snooping & Meddling

Advice on manners and morals.
March 8 2001 11:30 PM

S&M—Snooping & Meddling

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Dear Prudence,
This is a real doozy—much more morals than manners. I have a relative, a close family member. He is a caring man, an upstanding citizen, married for 40 years to his high-school sweetheart. To all outward appearances, their marriage appears loving, stable and mutually respectful, added to which he is an ardent supporter of many feminist causes. I was recently a guest at their house, and my relative allowed me to use his computer to do some work. Unfortunately, I accidentally happened upon some files with titles that were obviously sadomasochistic pornography. (I know that sounds bad, but I honestly was not snooping.) I want to respect his privacy, and I don't believe the argument that pornography necessarily corrupts people. As I see it, I have a few options:

1) I could tell his wife.
2) I could tell him. He clearly doesn't realize how exposed these files are, and if he ever lets anyone (including his wife) use his computer, he runs a high risk of being discovered. I could tell him how to keep the files better hidden or tell him he ought to remove them.
3) I could drop a hint. I could, in a computer-related conversation, explain how easily viewable files are and explain how a (hypothetical) person might better hide such files.
4) Of course, I could mind my own business. 

Do I have an obligation to ensure that this habit isn't in any way dangerous? Does it override his right to privacy? As I said, in all other ways, he seems a gentle and decent man. I hope at least my concerns seem well-intentioned.

—Flummoxed Family Member


Dear Flum,
Are you nuts? You find the cyber-equivalent of dirty pictures in a man's desk, and you're considering telling his wife?! This relative, by quick calculation, is at least 60 years old, and this whole thing is none of your business. He lent you his computer—he did not come to you for counseling. Forget any conversations about "hypothetical" people hiding files. He would be mortified, and so would you. No. 4 is the right answer. You may be well-intentioned, but you have created a whole drama—where the wife is at risk, no less—based on what is most likely a kinky pastime. Promise Prudie you will go forth and peek no more, and try to work on your busybody inclinations.

—Prudie, privately

Dear Prudence,
Here is a tale that took place in the men's room one  afternoon in the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington. While using one of the fixtures against the wall in a fairly exposed environment, I noticed a girl, perhaps 6 years old. She was walking up and down the aisle, staring. I am not accustomed to being examined by young children in such circumstances. When I finished, the girl's father, presumably, emerged from a stall with a boy, even younger. I said nothing, of course, and neither did anyone else, though several of us exchanged glances of discomfort. My first reaction was, what's a father to do with two small children, other than keep them together? I guess what bothers me the most is the notion of a small child examining the anatomies of adult males, surely of some psychological consequence. Can you think of any alternative solutions?

—C. in D.C.


Dear C.,
The little girl's father obviously has oatmeal cookies for brains. Aside from being wildly uncomfortable for the men using the loo, the experience may have been close to traumatic for the child. If a flasher can frighten girls of this age, imagine the situation with multiples. It never should have been allowed to happen, and Prudie is surprised no one admonished the father. For any man who finds himself in that spot—having to take a little girl into the men's room because he can't leave her anywhere—the child should be with him in the stall. To be bold about it, better to see her own father exposed than a group of strange men ... and a guy with his head on straight would then instruct the child to face the door of the stall. There is an ongoing discussion among child development experts about whether family nudity is harmful or not, but to allow a little girl to gaze at strangers' genitals is somewhere between abusive and outrageous.

—Prudie, sputteringly

Dear Prudence,
I have recently been diagnosed with cancer, which is difficult enough, but there is something else I am having trouble dealing with: other peoples' reaction to the news. Relatives whom I have not seen in 30 years are calling to say "hi," and friends are letting me know they are quite upset. I really don't want to take care of these people; I need to take care of me. What do you advise?



Dear Strug,
Most people are unsure of how to behave in the face of another's misfortune, particularly illness. Prudie suspects the friends and relatives were "trying to do the right thing" by phoning. Many people actually withdraw and never inquire because they feel threatened by sickness—which can, in turn, make the sufferer feel uncared for. Feeling as you do, perhaps you might thank your "inquisitors" for their interest and good wishes but explain that the way that's best for you is not to talk about it. There are people, and now you may understand why, who tell only a few close friends about an illness, eliminating the problems you mention. Prudie wishes you well.

—Prudie, understandingly

Dear Prudence,
I am a college freshman at a large university. My roommate is a Texan, and one who seems dedicated to proving the proposition that everything is bigger (and more irritating) in Texas. His personality has been a source of much conflict on my floor, and I generally regard him as a disagreeable person with whom I associate simply because of our room assignment. The problem is that one of my female friends is both extraordinarily attractive and a close confidante. Unfortunately, my roommate wants to meet this friend solely on the basis of her good looks. For months, I have dodged his questions of "when am I going to meet ------ ?" However, it's becoming hard to keep this up. Should I bite the bullet and introduce my good friend to this blight on Texan statehood?

—College Boy

Dear Col,
Though it's been a while since Prudie trod the halls of academe, she seems to remember that students at the same school didn't really need introductions to one another. Someone saw somebody they wanted to talk to and said, "Hi." Prudie also thinks you may not be giving enough credit to your gorgeous confidante's good judgment. If the guy is obnoxious, she will get the message. She might even ask what you think of him.     

—Prudie, easily