Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
May 18 2006 7:01 AM

There's No Getting Over It

Can we make others understand that you don't just get over a painful family experience?

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Get "Dear Prudence" delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Dear Prudence,
Last year my husband and I found out that my stepson, who lived with us from age 11 to 20, had molested our daughter—his sister—from the time she was 7 to 12. We reported everything to the authorities and kicked him out of the house. Our daughter is in her late teens and has been seeing a wonderful therapist since this all came out. Our daughter has said she doesn't want to have anything to do with her brother. We did inform certain family members and my sister was one of them. My sister is getting married soon. I was supposed to be the maid of honor, but she informed me through e-mail that she invited my stepson. She said since it's her wedding, she can invite anyone she wants, he is part of the family, and my daughter and the rest of us need to get over it. I have since dropped out of the wedding and anything to do with it. My daughter knows he's coming and doesn't want anything to do with her, either. Is this the right thing to do? I feel that my daughter is my top priority. I have come to the conclusion that my sister may not be part of my life anymore. Will she ever get it?

—Feeling Betrayed

Dear Feeling,
Yes, your daughter's recovery is your priority and she should not be bullied into a social encounter with her brother. I talked to Peter Pollard, public education director of Stop It Now!, a child sexual abuse prevention organization (www.stopitnow.com—refer your sister to it). He agreed that your daughter's wishes are paramount—part of her healing involves acknowledging the harm that was done to her that she hid for all those years. She now needs to be able to exercise the power to keep her brother away. He also said your sister's behavior is not at all unusual. Sometimes family members are made so uncomfortable by what has happened that they want everyone to "get over it." That doesn't help the victim or the perpetrator. Your situation is complicated by the fact that the perpetrator is your husband's son. If the son is in treatment and willing to acknowledge the terrible acts he has committed, then having a relationship with his father will decrease the chances he will end up a chronic offender. That said, your daughter may never be able to be in the same room with her brother. Your sister needs to respect that in order for you to happily be in the same room with her.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am 21 years old and graduating from college in one month. I am also getting married in two months. The problem is, I don't think I really want to get married. I am marrying my high-school sweetheart and have never even dated anyone else. I think I have the urge to "sow wild oats," but at this point there really isn't any possibility of seeing other people. If I were to tell my fiance I wanted to do that, there would be no going back and I would lose my best friend. Also, my family loves him. I am becoming quite panicked, even more so as gifts arrive and things are paid for. I love my fiance, so I don't know why I feel this way. I worry that if I just marry him we will end up divorced, I will end up cheating on him, or both. I know I should have addressed this earlier; I've been feeling this way for at least a year. I thought it would go away, but it's just gotten worse and worse. Is it too late to change my mind?

—Feeling Trapped

Dear Trapped,
When you say "change your mind," do you mean is it too late to be persuaded that you really do want to get married? Because right now, it's clear your mind wants out. You're correct that you can't head toward your wedding day while trying to sneak in a few illicit dates—it would be awkward to miss your rehearsal dinner because you're out with a great new guy. These are not last-minute jitters: Your desire to see what's there in the world for you is stronger than your desire to set up a joint checking account. Perfectly reasonable feelings for a 21-year-old to have. I think this is about more than dating—it's about wanting to see who you are on your own. So, yes, when you break off the engagement, you may lose your fiance forever. That's the painful part of making this decision, but you can't cryogenically freeze him in case you conclude you want to go back. Be ready to stand firm if your family insists you are making a mistake. Then return the gifts, settle up with the caterer, and have some wonderful, terrible, amazing experiences.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
My husband and I have been married for just one year. We live in a small town, on the same block as his parents (who live on one side of us) and his sister and her husband and children (who live on the other side of us). They are wonderful people, but my sister-in-law, and now her children, cannot seem to master the art of knocking first before walking into our home. I have never just barged into any of his family's homes without waiting for someone to answer the door. I call his parents Mom and Dad and love them to pieces, but I just don't think it's right to not knock. My husband and I don't have anything to hide, we are definitely not secretive people, but we also feel that we shouldn't have to keep our door locked at all times if we wanted to sit around in our ratty pajamas on a Sunday morning without fear of being seen in our not-so presentable states.

—Hiding in the Bathroom

Dear Hiding,
Everybody Loves Raymond has gone off the air, and you need to cancel your own version of it. If you're going to live in a family compound (and it's not Sandringham, where you can tell your footman to warn you when the queen is heading down the hall), you need to set some limits. Not having anything to hide doesn't mean wanting to be on exhibit in your own home. Since it's your husband's family, it would be best if he told them that while you love having them all so close, you're not always ready for company, and you'd appreciate a phone call before they come over. To help train the in-laws, start using your locks. If they come to the door without calling first, just stand in the doorway and explain with a smile that you're in the middle of something and you'll have to get together another time. Buy the 210-episode box set of Everybody Loves Raymond, watch it, and realize you may have to move.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
I work for a doctor who has remarried within the past year. In the past few months, the new wife has started to take on more responsibilities in the office. While we have pretty much gotten used to her occasional presence in the office, one thing that I and the co-workers have not gotten used to are the public displays of affection that go on between the doctor and his wife during office hours in front of the staff and patients. They often kiss, making slobbery, kissy noises to each other. Maybe we are being too uptight, but we are all adults and think that in a professional office, PDA should be left at home. How do we approach this with our boss?

—Uncomfortable in the Office

Dear Uncomfortable,
You don't. You just keep in mind this rule of human relations: The more time the wife spends in the office, the faster the kissy-face fades. But if they're one of those unusual couple for whom the honeymoon never ends, just be glad you work for a very satisfied boss.

—Prudie