Snooping boyfriend, smelly commuters, cheating high-schooler, and bickering parents—Dear Prudence advises readers at Slate.com.

Snooping boyfriend, smelly commuters, cheating high-schooler, and bickering parents—Dear Prudence advises readers at Slate.com.

Snooping boyfriend, smelly commuters, cheating high-schooler, and bickering parents—Dear Prudence advises readers at Slate.com.

Advice on manners and morals.
April 7 2011 7:02 AM

Dating a Cyber Snooper

My boyfriend hacked into my email and now uses my sexual past against me. Should we break up?

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Dear Prudence,
I have been living with my boyfriend for six months and recently found out he was accessing my email account to read more than five years' worth of my emails—from before we were a couple. I never gave him my password or permission to access my account, but thanks to the search feature, he was able to target words such as date, and sex. When I first questioned him about it, he denied reading them and confessed only when I showed him the computer's history. Previously, whenever he wanted to talk about my past relationships, I would say I didn't want to discuss it because none of it mattered and we're both healthy and together now. Now, anytime we fight, which has been more frequently lately, he brings up things he read in my emails, implying that I was promiscuous and not who he thought I was. Yes, I had partners before him, but likely fewer than he had, since he's older. Before all this happened, he was generally a kind, sweet boyfriend. Now, I feel extremely violated. Do you think we'll move past the anger and distrust we both feel?

—Not Saving Emails

Dear Not,
I find myself agreeing with your boyfriend about the fundamental truth he's expressed: It's possible to discover something about the person you thought you knew best in the world that forever alters the way you feel. Unfortunately, in this case the discovery is yours, and you've found out that your "kind, sweet" boyfriend is a devious, judgmental, manipulative liar. Often the real creeps wait until you're good and in—when you're in love, living together, or even married—to reveal the fetid swamp of their inner life. Now your boyfriend is throwing back in your face the supposedly sordid fact, which he gleaned from searching sex and date, that before you met him you sometimes had sex with men you dated. I'm assuming he knew you weren't a virgin. But his investigation confirming this has him acting as if he's establishing an American branch of the Taliban. I don't condone snooping, but I have occasionally given people a pass for it—mostly when there's mounting evidence they're being cheated on, yet their partner issues unconvincing denials. However, there was no reason for your boyfriend's electronic ransacking. He simply wanted to find what he needed to feed his desire to denigrate you. There's only one way to move past the anger and distrust: Move out.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Hard-Partying Parents

Dear Prudence,
I ride on public transportation to and from work everyday. My problem is that I have a very sensitive nose, and I am easily overwhelmed by smells. I am frequently in the uncomfortable position of sitting next to someone who is either wearing far too much cologne or who reeks of cigarettes and beer. I find it very difficult to breathe and end up unsubtly coughing as I inhale these noxious fumes. My commute is a little less than an hour, so I sit next to these people for quite a while. What is the protocol for asking someone to switch his or her seat? If I'm already sitting and there are other seats available, can I ask the olfactory offender to move? Or is it my obligation to move because I'm the one who can't stand the smell? How do I even approach the topic with fellow commuters?

—Need a Clothespin

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Dear Need,
I suppose the easiest thing to do would be to get a bullhorn and announce, "All stinkers to the back of the bus!" I'm afraid even if you're sitting next to someone who's bathed in Coty Musk for Men cologne, smoked a pack of Marlboros, and drunk a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon, there is no protocol for your twitching your nose and telling your fellow commuter he doesn't pass your sniff test. I have some sympathy for you, because the smell both of cigarettes and aggressive perfume makes me gag. However, on public transportation that's our problem. You don't approach this topic with fellow commuters; you retreat. You're dealing with strangers, so the only thing to do is go find another seat without carrying on as if you're Greta Garbo in the deathbed scene in Camille. It's another story when you're off the bus and dealing with, say, an office mate who drowns herself in Paris Hilton's aroma collection. Then you can have a low-key conversation requesting a lighter hand with the spritzer.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am a college undergraduate working as a private aide, mentor, and tutor to a girl in high school with a medical condition that causes serious physical limitations, as well as some learning and social disabilities. One of her foremost challenges this year was taking her first advanced-placement class, in which she is struggling to maintain a low B. She recently told me that on a test day she had a substitute teacher, and because of his lack of knowledge about her special accommodations, she was able to cheat on the exam. I believe she may have told me because she didn't understand the moral implications of her actions. If this comes to light, I know it could affect her college admissions process. Her mother just told me that her daughter received an A on that test—her first one of the class. The mother was ecstatic. Do I tell her parents about the cheating? I am inclined to just reprimand her and leave it at that.

—Befuddled

Dear Befuddled,
The girl's guilelessness in telling you does make it sound as if she doesn't understand how serious an offense she has committed. It's possible that she's heard many students boasting about their cheating and is proud she was able to join the club. But now that you know, you have to take steps to get the violation addressed as quickly as possible. You need to tell the girl that, unfortunately, what she did was really wrong, and the school needs to know about it. Say that everyone makes mistakes, but what's important is to acknowledge them and learn from them. Explain that you're going to talk to her parents so they can come up with a way to deal with this. Then tell them. If they seem reluctant to report it, explain that you know it's disappointing, but when the regular teacher returns, this significant discrepancy is sure to be detected. Say you know from being in school that it's better to come forward than to get caught. At that point, I think it's the parents' responsibility to act. And if they don't, that might make you reconsider whether you're working with the right family.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My parents have been divorced for most of my life, and during that time, the only way they have been able to communicate with each other is through lawyers or vitriolic phone calls that could be heard in the next county. We've had to have two of every holiday or family celebration because of their inability to be in the same room. Next month, I will be graduating from college, and both Mom and Dad have expressed interest in having a joint dinner or celebration. When I declined to have a joint function, they both seemed hurt. Both my mom and dad are excellent parents, and they jointly put me through college, yet I am uncomfortable with the probability of the day being ruined by yet another blowup. What should I do?

—Stumped

Dear Stumped,
A good test of how the celebration would go would be to suggest that the three of you go to dinner to discuss planning the party. (You could even say their respective new spouses, if there are any, are welcome.) Let's say either, or both, of them says that would be impossible, because neither could get through a meal with the other. Then you have your answer, which is, "Mom, Dad, I'd love nothing better than to be able to have one celebration, but if you two can't even have dinner to plan this event, then there's no way you can co-host it." If they agree to dinner and when the check comes it includes a fee to replace the crockery they've thrown, then again, they've made the case that a single graduation party is not going to work. But if you all go out, and no voices are raised or restraining orders issued, then maybe they've graduated to a mellower stage of life and it's worth letting them celebrate your accomplishment together.

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—Prudie

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