Got a burning question for Prudie? She'll be online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers each Monday at 1 p.m. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
When my youngest sister, "Dana," had been dating her boyfriend, "James," for several months, I asked her when she was going to bring him to a family function so we could meet him. After some prodding it turned out that he couldn't come because of the presence of our young nieces and nephews. James is a convicted sex offender, and without a parental release, he cannot be around minors until he completes probation. After he became an adult, James was prosecuted for molesting his younger sister when he was in his midteens. He was in prison for more than a year. Dana claims James was innocent, had an incompetent attorney, and pleaded guilty in order to spare his family the pain of a trial. My brother-in-law and I, both attorneys, investigated and discovered James had an excellent attorney and he pleaded guilty after the trial began, following a suicide attempt by his sister. My parents, siblings, and I have come to the conclusion that we will not spend time with James because of the potential risks to our children. Dana says she loves him, that we are pushing her away and being un-Christian. Should we accept James or stand our ground and watch my sister walk away from the family?
How society should treat released sex offenders is a major problem, and I understand the argument that making all of them permanent pariahs means they can't reintegrate into society and are therefore more likely to re-offend. I also appreciate that your family does not want to be the test case for seeing whether this convicted molester can keep his impulses under control. You've done your due diligence and discovered his situation is not some prosecutorial overreach in response to sexting teenagers, for example. In the best case, your sister would be saying that James owned up to his teenage crimes, was getting help, and was dedicated to making something worthwhile out of his life. But no, instead he's got her convinced he's the victim. That's an indication that James could be a sociopath, which means your family is right to be wary. Then there's the question of why your sister has chosen just about the most unsuitable partner imaginable and is willing to part with her family over him. I think a couple of you should present to Dana the information you found about James and tell her that the record shows he is misleading her. (Expect her to respond defensively, but hope that at least she files these facts away.) Tell her all of you love her and will always be there for her, but that for the safety of the youngest members of the family, you will defer to the court's wisdom that James is a potential danger, and for now he will not be welcome at family gatherings.
Dear Prudence: Singalong Nuisance
I'm having horrible post-holiday troubles. I warned my in-laws this Christmas that I was not able to buy gifts up to their usual standards due to financial issues. I gave my mother-in-law perfume that I thought she would love, and she sent me a purse that cost at least twice the price of my gift. I sent her a thank-you note, and in return I received a letter telling me that I was a cheapskate for not pricing my gift to her correctly and calling me a dumb bimbo because she's allergic to the perfume's main ingredient. Now she is demanding that I send back the purse. I have no idea what caused this cruelty, and my husband is confused as well. How should I respond to my mother-in-law's actions? Should I return the gift?
Since both you and your husband find her outburst bizarre and out of character, your husband needs to get in touch with his parents and find out what's going on. Hostile behavior such as this can be a sign of a variety of possible illnesses, especially in an older person. However, if there is no underlying medical cause for her attack, then by phone or letter you should let your mother-in-law know you are hurt and confused by her accusations. Say you thought she understood you were not in a position to buy expensive gifts, and the perfume was given with affection—and no knowledge of any allergies. Tell her you hope you both can just put this episode behind you. Maybe she will back off and that will be the end of it. But if she insists on getting the purse back, it's up to you whether to send it or just say: "Janet, we exchanged Christmas gifts. I'm sorry you didn't like yours, but I like mine. Let's not be silly about sending them back."
A co-worker of mine was recently fired after a string of complaints relating to his behavior. He is intelligent and skilled—and he excelled at the technical part of his position. But some of his job required social skills and he seemed aloof, didn't understand sarcasm, and overreacted when things didn't go his way or the routine was changed. I concluded that he had Asperger's syndrome. He confided in me that he had been fired from multiple jobs and that people often didn't seem to like him; he expressed confusion with these circumstances. After he was fired, he asked a co-worker, "What do you think went wrong?" Is there a way I could have suggested that he consult a doctor? I know it's intrusive, but I feel like he would be much more successful if he was diagnosed and received some sort of behavioral therapy. He is in his late 20s, so he still has time to get better, but what if no one ever tells him to look into this?
Please call your former colleague and invite him to lunch. Tell him you have been thinking about him and you know he is an impressive and highly skilled person. Then say that, from your observation, the trouble at work stemmed from his difficulty with social interaction. Acknowledge you're no doctor, but that's not going to stop you from suggesting he might have Asperger's and that you think it would be really worthwhile for him to look into this possibility. Explain that if he does have it, it is a condition that comes with great strengths and some weaknesses. He demonstrates many of the strengths in his focus and dedication to getting things right. But his difficulties were in not being able to read social cues, which can result in unfortunate misunderstandings. Tell him the good news is that there are lots of resources for him to get help so that he can learn to smooth over some of his rough edges. Offering a diagnosis of a mental condition might not be greeted with joy and gratitude, so be prepared that your socially awkward colleague may have a socially awkward reaction. Please also look at my answer to a previous Asperger's question in which I list some books and resources. Since your co-worker is a concrete thinker, print this out, give it to him, and say he should start his exploration with these books and Web sites, and that you have great hope for his future success.
Every once in a while, a bunch of us get together for a fun but serious poker game. (There is usually quite a bit of money involved.) We are all friendly, but one of the individuals, let's call him "Q," is a very good, old friend of mine. Recently, two members of the game approached me to tell me that they had noticed Q cheating while dealing a hand. To be honest, I am not too shocked by that. How should I approach this? Should they or I confront Q directly? Should we let it go, but not invite him anymore? (Eventually, he would catch on.) Should we request that he give back any money that he has taken from these players? How can I deal with this properly so as to rectify the situation, but not ruin my friendship with Q?
—Perplexed With Poker
Don't people get shot for pulling this kind of stunt? I'm assuming you've become the point man because you introduced this joker to the gang. Obviously, you are not responsible for his behavior, but now that it's been brought to your attention, you do have to do something. Forget asking Q to ante up his ill-won gains. But tell him that two members of the group have made a serious accusation that he has been cheating, and as a result he is no longer going to be included in the poker games. Listen to what he has to say in response, but since you believe he did it, let him know you're not bluffing and that the group's ban is irrevocable. Since you so blithely accept the disturbing charge that your friend was cheating, maybe you need to rethink your closeness with a guy who mistakes a friendly poker game for The Sting.
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.