Listen to a radio version of this piece on NPR's Day to Day.
I have a friend, Kathryn, who is a post-op transsexual (she was once a he) and appears by most standards as an attractive female. However, Kathryn is currently dating a man who does not know about her past. (She told me she'll tell him when she's sure he loves her.) Fred is a nice straight man who I think should've known about Kate's secret a few months ago. Kate is an old friend (from high school) whom I stuck by through all the trials and pain she endured. Now I feel like an accomplice to a huge lie. Do I tell Fred? Do I wait for Kate? It's a strange problem, and I have no one to ask. HELP!!
"M. Butterfly" and a few details notwithstanding, Straight Fred will most likely discover "the secret" on his own. And you are in no way an accomplice unless the three of you are, um, in love. You have no standing in this matter, as it were. Kate may learn, the hard way, that "forgetting" a gender change is not in the same category as omitting the fact that one had a brief, annulled marriage, for example. Unfortunate reality: If you, Kate, and Fred are all in the same town where you two "girls" went to high school, the secret is a cherry bomb waiting to explode. It has been Prudie's experience that you can warn a friend once, maybe twice, and then you must step back.
A co-worker with whom I am good friends confided to me that she is keeping company with a 16-year-old boy. Today she admitted she could "get arrested" for what the two of them do when they spend time together. My friend is a single, divorced mother of two young children (ages 4 and 9). I am greatly disturbed that she is behaving this way. It could have serious consequences, not only for the teenager but for her and her children. She showed me a picture that featured her 9-year-old son with the teenage boy. Do you have any advice for me as to how to handle this situation? I do not know the teenager, not even his name (she refers to him only by a nickname), so there is no way for me to contact his parents even if I wanted to intervene. I have reminded her that her interest in him is a dangerous game that could result in her incarceration and the loss of her children. That doesn't seem to faze her. My instinct is to stay out of it. After all, we're just co-workers who share girl talk over lunch, but the fact that what she's doing is illegal (not to mention harmful to more than one person) greatly concerns me.
Prudie wonders if your friend is familiar with the case of Mary Kay Letourneau. She is the mother and teacher now in prison for "keeping company" with a minor. Your friend clearly knows she is playing with fire. (People mistakenly think this type of situation is nirvana for a teenage boy, but this is far off the mark.) Perhaps the thing for you to do is Google the name of the aberrant Ms. Letourneau, print out the material, then pass it on to your friend. Though you have no legal obligation to alert the appropriate agency in your town (because you are not a teacher or a doctor), you may decide that that is what you need to do. Ethically, this decision is not a straight shot because you will have to factor in how you would react to whatever consequences might come about. Let's hope the "reading material" does the job.
I've been in a relationship with a wonderful man for the last four years. Although the intensity and honeymoon phase have ended, we still love each other very much. Recently, I met someone else who has the same characteristics and personality of my significant other. This man has been showering me with attention, sending flowers and cards. He completely dotes on me ... opens doors for me, won't let me carry things, and the man literally threw his coat down over a puddle on the passenger side when he parked so I wouldn't get my shoes wet! He was in a bad 25-year marriage and has been divorced for four years. He tells me he wants to live his life with me, and we speak on the phone for hours at a time. My significant other travels a lot, so I've been able to spend time with this other man, and I'm falling hard for him. My significant other doesn't know anything about this, but the "other man" does know about my four-year relationship. He hasn't asked me to end it, but he's indicated that when "things fall apart" with my significant other, he will be there and wants to marry me. I think I'm in love with two men! Is that possible?
—Torn in the Midwest
It is actually possible to love two men … just as it's possible for someone who is immature to agonize about which ice cream flavor would be the most delicious. Prudie has a shock for you, so please sit down. The intensity and the honeymoon phase ALWAYS end. People cannot go through life looking for newer versions of the previous love interest, nor can they strike up love affairs so they can continually enjoy a red-hot romance. You will just have to take it on faith—since you seem unable to observe it from living—that even Sir Galahad, in time, would keep his coat on while you negotiate the puddle as best you can. (And of course you are lucky that Contestant No. 1 has not yet discerned that you are stepping out on him. That discovery, were it made, might take the decision-making out of your hands.)
I work as a case manager for our county mental health department, helping down-and-out people get back on their feet. The problem is that I tend to date people who have issues that need "fixing," from the guy who lives with his parents and has no job or ambition to the guy who can't take care of any of the simple things in life for himself. Everyone I pick seems to have issues! Where does a 25-year-old professional woman find men who are self-reliant, self-sufficient, and don't need a baby sitter? And what is it about me that draws me to these people? Thanks Prudie!
—Looking for Love, Not a Liability
Women should not plan to "fix" men. A cat maybe … but not men. We are not reform schools, and the smart woman knows that, except for minor adjustments, the man she sees is the man she gets. To respond to your question about where a young woman finds men who are self-reliant, etc., in your case Prudie can state it's definitely not at your particular place of employment. Your inclination suggests there are not enough hours in the day for you to use your rehabilitative skills, which is not what a personal relationship should be about. You need to reorganize your thinking (perhaps with help) about what—and who—make a good relationship. Your clients, or people like them, categorically do not.