Dear Prudence answers readers' questions live at Washingtonpost.com.

Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 1 2010 2:39 PM

The Pervy Principal

Prudie counsels a school worker whose boss trolls Internet porn on the job—and other advice seekers.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. A transcript of this week's chat is below. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. Let's get started.

_______________________

Phoenix: I work as a computer technician in a high school. One day last week when I was working late, I accidentally dialed in to the principal's computer, which is one digit off from our server's address. He was scrolling through pornographic Web sites. I didn't even realize whose computer I'd connected to until I went back to check the address. I have always been annoyed by the fact that, during my daily monitoring of the network, I would see that he spent a large portion of the school day on sports Web sites. Now I'm really irritated if this is what he's doing when people assume he's so dedicated to his work that he stays those extra hours. He knows that we monitor the network during the day, but I don't think he figures anybody looks at what goes on after hours, which we usually don't. More disgusting is the fact that the girls on these sites are probably not much older than his daughter, who is a student at this school. If this were a student or a teacher, the principal is who I would report the occurrence to. I've never had to report a student or a teacher for anything like what the principal is doing. So, do I report him, and if so, to whom? At the very least, I feel I need to have the Web sites he was viewing blocked so students can't get into them. Sites like that are usually blocked anyway, so I don't know how he was able to find those that weren't (he's not a very technology savvy). If I ask the district office to block the sites, it will want to know how they were discovered. Being female myself, it can get a little uncomfortable reporting these kinds of things to the group of men who run things at the district.

Emily Yoffe: I am not defending porn, but as a society I believe we have gone too far in the direction of ruining people's lives because of their viewing habits. In particular, prosecuting teenagers and labeling them lifetime sex offenders for "sexting" is itself a crime. A school principal has a few dozen screws loose if he thinks scrolling porn at work is a good hobby. (And porn sites show young women; you don't say he's looking at child porn.) However, if you report him, it almost certainly will mean the end of his career. If you don't want to end his career, as uncomfortable as it may be, you should tell him that in the course of your duties, you found that he was looking at porn on school servers. Tell him this is something you probably should report, but you wanted to give him a (ahem) heads up, and that if it stops, you will not say anything. However, you should perhaps preserve the evidence in case he is a true jerk and turns on you.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: I think I need to break up with my therapist, and I'm not sure how to do it. She's helped me a lot in the past, but I think she's trying to move me in a direction that doesn't work for me. My life has changed a lot recently (job changes, etc.), and I'm not happy with her. The thing is, she can be really intimidating, and I know she will try to coerce me into staying. What do I do?

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Emily Yoffe: A therapist who is intimidating and tries to coerce you is not a good therapist. Even a relationship with a wonderful therapist can run its course. But if you're afraid to be honest with your therapist, that says the therapeutic relationship is dead. You can call and cancel your appointments and say you're going to stop coming. Or you can show up for your appointment and say this is your final one and you'd like to use it for "wrapping up." If she starts making you uncomfortable, cut her off, pay your bill, and leave. You can tell her one thing therapy has done for you is to enable you to stand up for yourself better.

_______________________

Rockville, Md.: I've been (for the most part) happily married for several years, and I'm not sure how much weight to give the following issue. My husband and I share a lot of inside jokes. He's a naturally goofy person, and I usually enjoy this aspect of his personality. However, when I'm trying to discuss something, I would say nine times out of 10, he'll interject with a stupid joke (particularly if I inadvertently use a word from one of our "inside jokes"). Most of the time, it's merely a nuisance, as I'm just recanting a story from my day. But he'll also do this when I'm discussing a serious topic, like an illness of a friend or a family issue that's been troubling me.

It makes me feel like he doesn't really care about what I have to say. I've told him that this bothers me and why, but he hasn't made any serious effort to change. (Sometimes, instead of making the joke, he'll just make an exaggerated face that indicates he's suppressing the joke. Not much better.) I've halted my story in the middle of it, which only serves to frustrate me, as I'd really like to be able to go to my husband for support. If I go ahead and finish the story/discussion anyway, he'll listen, but his attention span is short, and I don't feel like he's really listening anyway.

Any suggestions on how to handle this better, or should I just get over it? Am I overreacting here?

Emily Yoffe: Private jokes and teasing are wonderful—they are a great way of cementing intimacy. But as you know, they can also be a way of distancing yourself from true emotional closeness, which is what your husband is doing. Tell him you need to have a discussion about how you discuss things and the ground rules of this discussion are: no "inside jokes." Explain that you love your private language in its place, but you two need a way to have more serious discussions without ruining the mood. Tell him you need a way to signal that you want some joke-free time. Maybe by saying perfectly straight-forwardly, "Babe, I need to talk about something with you—joke-free for now." If he can't do it, then tell him you want to see a counselor to help you two establish some better ways to communicate. (I know the therapist in the letter above has some free time—but don't go to her.)

_______________________

Indianapolis: My ex-fiance and I were engaged for nine months before we broke up. We'd been together for a long time and as the wedding approached, we gradually realized we were getting married because it seemed like the next step, not because it was something we really wanted to do. We ended things on pretty good terms a few weeks ago, and she has moved into her own place.

So what about the ring? I spent a lot of money on it, and while I was happy to do it at the time, the engagement has ended, and it would be really nice to have it back. I don't work in a recession-proof industry, and I'm facing some job uncertainty. Is it appropriate for me to ask for the ring back or is that something she is supposed to offer?

Emily Yoffe: You should have already gotten it back. The ring was not just any piece of jewelry, but an announcement of your engagement, and since you aren't getting married, the ring reverts to you. Since she hasn't given it back, you might have some trouble getting it back. If you run into a problem, you can cite any number of etiquette books to back you up. But if she won't budge, you probably don't want to take her to small-claims court. If she's intransigent, comfort yourself that the cost of a ring is a small price to pay for being released from marrying the wrong woman.

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