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I am a male college student, and ever since I can remember, I have spent a week or two visiting my aunt, uncle, and cousins during the summer. One of the cousins is a few years younger than I am, and I have always thought of him as a brother. I was there on vacation last week. One day while my aunt and uncle were at work, I walked in on my cousin masturbating. He had a necktie attached to his bed post and wrapped around his neck, and was performing something called autoerotic asphyxiation. I quickly left the room, and we didn't speak a word about it. I know that for his own good and safety, I probably should tell his parents, but I don't want to ruin our great relationship by divulging something that is very personal and private. I would love to tell them anonymously, but they would know the information was from me. I remember the time I got caught doing the deed by my parents (I, however, was not choking myself) and how horrendously embarrassing it was, so I don't want to unnecessarily humiliate him. What should I do?
—Confused, Worried, and a Little Disgusted
In bygone days, to keep people from masturbating they were told it would lead to blindness, insanity, and hairy palms. However, since there appears to be no need for hand depilatory, the populace has largely concluded that these warnings were lies. But the truth about autoerotic asphyxiation is that it can kill. Among the victims of this practice are actor David Carradine and British politician Stephen Milligan. Sure, it's embarrassing to walk in on someone "doing the deed." But if it's standard masturbation, all the walker has to do is turn around, and all the wanker has to do is clean up. What you saw, however, is a potentially self-eliminating form of self-gratification. Think of how you would feel to find yourself sitting in a pew at his funeral knowing you possibly could have prevented this. You must not only alert your aunt and uncle, but as a fellow young man who understands the need for release, you should talk directly to your cousin. Tell him that you feel really awkward bringing this up, but the image of what you saw has left you scared about what could happen to him. Explain to him there's no safe way to engage in auto asphyxiation, and if he feels he can't immediately cease, he needs to get help. Tell him that you're also going to let your aunt and uncle know. Seeking the high that comes from cutting off the oxygen supply and the thrill of danger itself can become compulsive, and parents need to be alerted when their children are playing deadly games.
Dear Prudence: My Boyfriend Has Slept With Everyone
I'm an American who not long ago got a job in Bahrain in an industry hard-hit at home by the recession. My wife and children are still in the United States. I was getting ready to move them here but now wonder whether it would be the right thing. It was wonderful to see the peaceful Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. But things here have been less than thrilling. The police and military have cracked down on protests and are arresting activists. Even if half the reports are true, the government is engaging in behavior I find atrocious. But here I am, in a job that doesn't oppress anyone, minding my own business. Occasionally, I have to drive through a police checkpoint, and sometimes there are tanks on the street. However, I have heard of no violence against Americans. I like my job, and I think it will provide for a great future for my kids. But is it ethical for me to bring my family here? Is moving them here tacitly supporting the regime?
When I watched the foreign nationals leaving Libya for their own safety after the people began their uprising to topple the dictator Muammar Qaddafi, I didn't feel that their presence as employees of global companies meant they personally supported the reigning lunatic. Individuals should weigh what it means to them to work in countries that lack freedom and oppress their people in myriad ways. But China and Saudi Arabia, for example, both have appalling human rights records as well as vigorous economic activity with the United States, and few would conclude the foreigners employed there are tacitly endorsing those governments. There may be regimes so repellent, and dangerous, that you'd never consider working there or bringing your family. But right now, the United States has a complicated relationship with Bahrain—after all, it hosts our Navy's Fifth Fleet. It's admirable that you are grappling with these issues, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't continue your work or consider having your family join you. Before you bring your wife and children, have a serious discussion with your company's security division and find out their plan in case Americans need to be evacuated. You should also contact the consular office at the U.S. Embassy. They offer such services as the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which alerts Americans abroad of dangerous conditions in the host country. Then, if you conclude the right choice is to all be together, let your children know they will be embarking on a great adventure.
My brother-in-law has Alzheimer's disease. He is one of a large family of brothers and sisters, and I have known him for 45 years. He still recognizes his family and occasionally emails us. We are planning a family get-together over Memorial Day. His recent trajectory has been of accelerating decline, and I want to find a way to say goodbye to him while he is still with us, but I don't know how. I broached this with the rest of the family. They strongly suggested I just keep my mouth shut. I respect all of their thoughts and concerns, so I am torn as to what to do. Any advice?
I think you have a wonderful impulse, but you just need to recast it to make it more palatable for the rest of the family. I suggest you tell them their reaction made you rethink your suggestion and that instead of finding a way to say goodbye, you would love to enlist all of them in creating a celebration of your brother-in-law's life. Explain that you would like to make it something tangible that would also be helpful and comforting to him, such as a family memory book. Suggest that everyone who wants to participate bring a photo of themselves and a written account of something they did with your brother-in-law. Tell them you will put all of these together, and also label all the photos with names, emails, and phone numbers. This book should be a source of pleasure for him now, and perhaps a resource for him as his memory erodes. It will also be a wonderful way for his children to hang on to who their father was before he was taken away by this dreadful disease.
I recently went on a date that ended badly. Our meal was cut short because my date had too much to drink before and during dinner. Since my date was causing a scene in the restaurant, the manager had to come to the table and escort him outside. I was stuck paying the bill, which came to $350, largely due to the amount of expensive wine and scotch that my date had ordered (which has made a serious dent in my budget). After I finished paying the bill, I found him wandering around outside the restaurant, so I took him home. Understandably, we have not seen each other since. Is it OK for me to ask him to reimburse me for the meal? He asked me on the date, and the bulk of the cost came from his alcohol consumption. He also makes more money than I do.
—It Was on Me
You should definitely ask him to reimburse you, and fast, because it's a miracle someone who acts like this is able to hang on to a job. There are several lessons in your letter. One is that if your date arrives at your door drunk, that's your opportunity to shut it in his face. Another is that if you get to the restaurant and he starts behaving as if he's auditioning for yet another remake of Arthur, you should bolt before he's tossed out and you're handed the bill. The third is that before your date is bodily removed for bad behavior, you should tell the management to make sure he presents his credit card and pays for the meal. Let's hope that since the date he's been sober enough to regret this dreadful evening and wants to make amends. Get in touch and tell him you were forced to bail him out, but you need him to make good on the cost of his liquid meal. If he won't, you've just learned an expensive lesson about the cost of being a polite chump.
More Dear Prudence Columns
"Financial Affairs: I want to bequeath money to my mistress in my will. Is that wrong?" Posted March 24, 2011.
"A Fool for Love: My wife is super hot but dumb. How can I make the best of our union?" Posted March 17, 2011.
"I Can't Relate: My estranged half-sister wants to get to know me, but I'm afraid my parents won't approve." Posted March 10, 2011.
"Diamonds Aren't a Girl's Best Friend: My ex is blackmailing me for sex. How can I get out of it?" Posted March 3, 2011.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
"This Baby Shower Is a Wash: Dear Prudence advises a reader who thinks her brother impregnated his girlfriend to steal her own baby's thunder—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com." Posted March 21, 2011.
"Teacher Gone Wild: Dear Prudence advises a schoolteacher caught on tape acting a drunken fool—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com." Posted March 14, 2011.
"Dead Letters at the Office: Prudie counsels an office worker who found love letters while cleaning out the desk of a recently deceased colleague that are not from her widower—and other advice-seekers." Posted March 7, 2011.
"Nightmare Vacation: Prudie counsels a reader who regrets her promise to take an ailing family member to Disneyland—in this week's live chat." Posted Feb. 28, 2011.