I caught my boss masturbating in the office.

Advice on manners and morals.
June 3 2010 6:57 AM

Lawyer Caught Red-Handed

I walked in on my boss pleasuring himself at work. Should I complain?

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Dear Prudie,
I am a young female attorney working in a small law office. Recently, I arrived at the office much earlier than usual. The partner for whom I work was the only other person there. His door was wide open, and when I went by to let him know I was in, I caught him with his pants down, so to speak. He was behind his desk, but I am 95 percent sure of what was going on from the waist down, considering his reaction when I appeared. If I report anything, it would be the word of a young, new attorney versus an experienced and valuable partner. I also cannot imagine even having the conversation with the middle-aged men in my office. For the sake of my career, should I just pretend it did not happen, even though I am totally grossed out and uncomfortable? Unfortunately, he's not even the person who makes the pay decisions, so it is not as though I can leverage this in any lucrative way. What do I do?

—Yuck

Dear Yuck,
If the partner, thinking the office was deserted, decided it was a propitious time to squeeze in a wank, he should instead stick to double-espressos if he needs a morning lift. I assume when you came upon the scene, you beat a hasty retreat. I understand you're grossed out, and rightly so. But let's put this in perspective. It's not as if the partner, hearing you patter around, called out and asked you to take a look at his briefs. As out of line as his behavior was, he was surely as shocked and mortified as you were. If you pursue this with the other partners, given the absence of evidence of his transgression, he would have a substantial incentive to say you are deluded. If you were grilled about what you saw, your 95 percent certainty might wilt to the level of reasonable doubt. I'll take as a joke your musing that this presents a blackmail opportunity for you—an attitude that may work at the Glenn Close law firm in Damages but probably won't go over at yours. So, since there was some ambiguity to the encounter, your best course is to act as if nothing happened and put it out of your mind. However, as Eve, Pandora, and Prometheus all discovered, sometimes knowledge results in unpleasant consequences. So, in case this partner decides to take retribution against you, immediately write up everything that happened and put it in a memo to file on your home and office computers—and keep a hard copy. That way, you'll have your own record of why you may have suddenly fallen out of favor.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
Several months ago, following a fight about child support, my ex told our 15-year-old son inappropriate and erroneous details about our relationship. My ex described sexually explicit situations and claimed that I tried to place our son for adoption because I was unsure about his paternity. I found out only because I snooped and looked at some things my son wrote on his computer after he returned from his dad's home and wouldn't talk to me. My son wrote that I was just a dumb slut his dad had to marry when I got knocked up. (We found out I was pregnant shortly after we married.) I am furious but worry that I can't refute the lies because my son will know I snooped. I can't figure out what is worse. Please help!

—Mad

Dear Mad,
What a peach of an ex you have; at least I don't have to wonder why this marriage didn't work out. You're in a tough situation, and I think the best course is for you to be honest about what you did. Start by saying you did something wrong for which you hope your son will forgive you. Explain you felt driven to snoop because of how damaged your relationship with him seemed after he returned from his father's, and there's nothing in the world more important to you than the relationship you two have. Ask him to put aside the issue of privacy for now, and say you're sorry that because of a fight between you and his father, in anger his father struck out at you and unfortunately told your son not only hurtful but untrue things. Then, if he'll listen, explain the truth in an unemotional, factual, low-key way: There was never any doubt about his paternity, you never considered adoption, and you didn't find out you were pregnant until after you and his father married. Tell him that despite the pain of the divorce—and you know he's suffered more than anyone—finding out you were pregnant and having him was the best thing that ever happened to you. Given how destructive your ex is, you might want to get some counseling assistance for you and your son to help both of you keep your avenues of communication open, despite whatever awful disinformation campaign your ex may wage.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
I am in my mid-20s, and my best friend and I were very close. At the start of this year, we were in a car crash. I survived with a few broken bones. She was the driver and died on the scene. Everyone was devastated. My question relates to her material belongings. As I understand it, her grieving parents are slowly going through her possessions. Am I, as someone who spent years in a very tight friendship with this woman, entitled to go through her possessions, as well? I'm chiefly interested in gifts and trinkets that I gave her that would have sentimental value. I also lent her a book that would be nice to have returned. It would mean a lot to me if I could have some of her things (or at least have some of my things back). How do I gently broach the subject of her belongings with her family? Do I wait and risk having all the things I value thrown out? Should I just let it go, and know that I had and lost a good friend?

—I Lost Someone, Too

Dear Lost,
I wish I knew what book you'd lent your late friend, because I would be happy to order a copy for you myself, rather than have you assault these grief-stricken people and tell them there's a volume on their daughter's shelf that actually belongs to you. No, you do not have standing to rummage through her things. You've lost a friend and been through a terrible trauma, so I am trying to be generous about your unseemly desire to regift to yourself the items you gave this young woman. I'm assuming you two actually exchanged presents over the years, so what you have by way of remembrance are the things she gave you. You certainly could pay a call on her parents to see how they're doing. Keep in mind the pain you might evoke—after all, you lived and their daughter died. If they offer that they'd like you to have something of hers as a memento, try to restrain the impulse to load a moving box worth of stuff. If they don't, be grateful that you survived a deadly accident, which is the ultimate gift.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
My husband was in the military for 15 years and left the service in the '90s. Recently, he lost his right leg due to a medical condition that was unrelated to his time in the military. He has adjusted very well. However, often strangers will pause to talk to him while we are in public, and these well-meaning individuals will ask whether he is a veteran. When my husband answers yes, it is inevitably assumed that he was injured in Iraq, and he is often thanked for his sacrifice for our country. One elderly gentleman hugged him with tears in his eyes! While my husband is a veteran and technically qualifies for the warm gesture, it seems deceitful to allow these people to believe he suffered a grave injury in Iraq. We don't want to share my husband's complicated medical history with strangers, but we don't want to discourage people from giving thanks to vets in the future. What should we do?

—Didn't Lose a Leg in Iraq

Dear Didn't,
It's one thing to thank people in uniform for their service. It's another to seek out people with physical problems who look to be of the right age to have served and ask whether they're veterans. I get many letters from people with disabilities who fervently wish they could get through the day without attracting questions, stares, and even sympathy. But you and your husband understand that the people who approach, while they should mind their own business, are well-intentioned. So if your husband is willing to engage in a short conversation, he should continue to do what he's doing—say that, yes, he is a veteran, and then thank people for their expressions of gratitude. He's under no obligation to correct the misimpression about the reasons for the loss of his leg. If these strangers ever press the question, he should feel free to say, "It was nice to meet you, but I hope you understand I'd rather not discuss it."

—Prudie

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