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I recently discovered that Mr. A, my favorite teacher at my all-girls private school, is having sex with one of my closest friends, Bee. Mr. A has known us since we were 12, and we became close to him when we entered high school. When my parents divorced, he was someone I could talk to. When Bee's mom got sick, he was a sounding board for her, too. I've always thought of him as a father figure and a mentor. I've lost a lot of respect for Mr. A, because I feel he's abused his position of power over Bee. He's 45, she's 16, and I doubt they'd be together if he wasn't a trusted teacher. But Bee's smart, she's had sex before and has been responsible about it, so I'm not sure what to do. Should I tell someone? If not, should I tell her how I feel? She wants to use me as a cover so that she can spend the night with him at a hotel. I'm being drawn into this situation and don't know how to react. I'm terrified of losing her friendship if I do the wrong thing.
—Student Is Confused
I'm going to assume that you are confident in the evidence that this affair really is happening, and that Bee isn't just indulging in a school-girl fantasy. In that case, you must tell someone in authority that there is a sexual predator at the school. I understand no teenager wants to feel like a rat, but this is a matter of protecting your friend from a fiend—it's unlikely Bee is Mr. A's first conquest. Your biggest dilemma is whether to warn Bee that you can't keep her secret. At the very least, you should tell her that while you would never want to hurt her, you will not lie on her behalf. Explain that however grown-up her relationship with Mr. A seems, he is actually a creep who is taking advantage of his position and her emotional vulnerability. Surely she knows that his actions are a gross violation of your school's standards. As with a breach of the honor code, knowledge of something like this must be reported. You need to tell a guidance counselor or other administrator. If it would make this conversation easier, enlist your parents and ask them to go with you when you have this talk. It's true your friendship might end up shattered, and that's the unfortunate consequence of finding yourself in this untenable position. But I assure you that in speaking up, you are protecting many other susceptible girls from Mr. A's ministrations. And, ultimately, you will be helping your friend get out of a situation with terrible destructive potential.
Dear Prudence: Lap Dance Led to Engagement
My husband and I are in our 30s, and recently our only child died of sudden infant death syndrome at 7 months old. Needless to say, we are having a hard time as we move into the Christmas season. The issue we are having is with my husband's family, whom I love dearly and who live across the country. In a desperate attempt to maintain "normalcy," my mother-in-law is going all out on holiday planning. We think Christmas is mostly for the kids, but we usually try to get meaningful gifts for other family members, too. We planned to give our niece a few presents and give gift cards to my husband's extended family. However, my mother-in-law is violently opposed to gift cards because they require no forethought and instead has instructed everyone to make it "easy" on us by e-mailing, texting, and Facebooking their Christmas lists to us. The thought of having to venture into the retail fray so that my mother-in-law can have her Norman Rockwell holiday turns my stomach. Our visit will last several days, and his mother wants us to stay with them and not in a hotel, which is what I want. Should I tell Mom that we're only doing gift cards? I know she's grieving, too, and she thinks that I'll get some joy from holiday shopping, but I just can't face it this year.
—Not Feeling Normal
I am so sorry for your devastating loss. As you acknowledge, your mother-in-law is grieving, too, although in a frantic, destructive, dictatorial, "let's pretend nothing happened" way. It's too bad she did not have the compassion to say to you, "We know you're mourning—all of us are. What can we do this Christmas to help you?" Instead, her answer is to inundate you with ridiculous lists of gifts. You must attend to your own needs and not succumb to her madness. This means that if you want to stay at a hotel, you book a room. If you only have the strength to get gifts for your niece, you give hugs to the adults. It also means that if the best thing would be to stay home this year, or go away to a beach, or just visit with friends, then that's what you do. And you do it without making excuses or letting yourself be harangued. Your husband needs to have a blunt conversation with his mother, telling her that while he knows she means well, everything is not normal, and she needs to back way off and give you two space to grieve. And, please, if you haven't already, find a support group of other people who have lost children to SIDS. (Here are a couple of places to start.) You need the comfort of others who know exactly how you're feeling.
For the last seven years I have included my daughter's best friend and her young family in our family holiday celebrations. They have been a joy and expressed their gratitude for the invitations, because they have no family in this state. My problem is that our own family has grown: My son is now married and has a baby, and my daughter is now engaged. So after all these years of inviting my daughter's dear friends to our family celebrations, I find I just no longer have room at the table for them. I feel guilty for leaving them off the guest list this year, because I know they have nowhere else to go, but I can't shrink my family. I know they have come to depend on our invitations, so I don't make this decision lightly. Do I have a moral obligation to continue hosting them in spite of the lack of seats at my table?
I understand your guilt at saying there's no room at the inn—I mean table—and I'm tempted to ask whether you could set up a satellite kids' table or otherwise accommodate these friends who are like family. But if you're convinced there's no good alternative for you but to take them off the guest list, then that's part of accepting that no tradition remains static. Family members are added, others depart. People move far away, hostesses decide to hang up the apron, and sometimes people just light out for Christmas in Vegas. Your daughter's friends have understandably come to expect an annual invitation, and since you care so much for them, you need to tell them as soon as possible that because of your own family's growth, you can't have them this year, and that you say this with great regret. Even though it will be sad for all, it will give them the incentive to start a holiday celebration of their own. But there's no reason to banish them completely. Perhaps you could start a new tradition—maybe a post-Christmas brunch—at which they would be welcome guests.
My sister has four young grandchildren—a preschooler and three infants. For the past several years, I have made a generous contribution to the oldest child's college savings program as a Christmas gift. I am much closer to the mother of this child than I am to the other parents. In addition, these other parents have never acknowledged the gifts I sent when they were married and when their children were born. I would like to continue just to give a gift to the oldest child and not to the others. The problem is that my sister administers the college funds, and I send the check directly to her, so she'll know if I give a gift to only one of the children. Should I just give a lesser amount to all four, or is there a kind way to give a gift only to the family with which I'm close?
What's unfortunate is that innocent little ones, all of whom would eventually benefit from and appreciate your generosity in helping them go to college in the 2020s, are going to be punished because of their ungrateful parents. It is your money, and you are free to do with it what you like, but since your sister will know whatever you decide, have a conversation with her about your feelings. Let her know that you welcome her, in turn, having a frank discussion with her offspring about their lack of acknowledgement of your gifts and what the consequences to their children will be. Tell your sister you will make a donation to all the college funds this year in hopes that you get thanks sufficient enough not to make you feel like a chump. If the recalcitrant parents shape up, continue letting all the kids benefit from your desire to see them educated. But that doesn't mean you're not free to divide up your largesse in a way that's most satisfying to you. So go ahead and acknowledge financially the quality of your relationship with your favorite niece. And if, even with the warning, the others can't be bothered to thank you for your generosity, then they will get an education in the cost of ingratitude.
More Dear Prudence Columns
"A Cornucopia of Crises: Prudie takes on Thanksgiving quandaries involving uninvited guests, the ghosts of holidays past, and exiled smokers." Posted Nov. 18, 2010.
"Bob & Carol & Ted & Malice: My parents' swinger friends are trying to blackmail our family after Mom and Dad's tragic deaths." Posted Sept. 30, 2010.
"No Debt of Gratitude: I borrowed cash from Dad to care for my dying mom. Now he's demanding payback." Posted Aug. 12, 2010.
"Dirty Pretty Things: My girlfriend has worn the same undergarment for weeks. Isn't that disgusting?" Posted Aug. 27, 2009.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
"The Grinch Who Stole Thanksgiving: Prudie counsels readers on Turkey Day predicaments, such as flying solo for the holiday, hosting irritating in-laws, and attending multiple dinners. Posted Nov. 22, 2010.
"Baby Mama Drama: Prudie counsels a sleuth who uncovered a baby-trap scheme—and other advice-seekers." Posted Nov. 1, 2010.
"The Family That Bathes Together: Prudie counsels a mother who wonders when the time is right to stop bathing with her little boy." Posted Oct. 12, 2010.
"Help! I'm Too Hot for My Age: Prudie counsels a woman whose youthful looks bring her nothing but problems—and other advice seekers." Posted Feb. 8, 2010.
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