Dear Prudence: Polyamory—should he tell his family he's in an unconventional sexual relationship?

Advice on manners and morals.
June 23 2011 8:11 AM

Loving Thy Neighbor

I have sex with the couple next door. Should I tell my kids about it?

1_123125_122976_2180583_dearprudence_ey2

Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

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.

Dear Prudie,
I am a widower in my mid-50s with three grown children and many grandchildren. My wife died 10 years ago, and three years ago I moved into a new house. I hit it off very quickly with my next door neighbors "Jack" and "Diane," a married couple in their late 30s with a now-7-year-old son. Our relationship soon became sexual and we are a three-member "couple." Their son, whom I love dearly, has his own bedroom at my house and calls me "Uncle." The problem is my youngest son recently lost his job, is in terrible financial straits, and has asked if he, his wife, and two young children can move in with me! I haven't told any of my children about my unconventional relationship. My wife and I had a happy marriage, and we raised our children in a normal, loving home. Yet when I met the couple I am with, everything seemed to flow so naturally that I didn't give it a second thought until now. Turning away my son in his time of need isn't an option, but breaking off my relationship isn't an option either. Should I keep the whole thing under wraps while my son and his family are here? Jack and Diane think I should be upfront and tell my son, but then everyone would know about this. Most people wouldn't understand, and frankly it would be humiliating!

—Can't Stop This Thing I Started

Dear Can't,
Now that Big Love is off the air, I hope HBO considers the possibilities of a series called Uncle Bob, which tackles both polyamory and the burgeoning social trend of broke adult children returning home. Since you're a loving father who won't turn away his son, you lay out clearly your three options for how to proceed: put your threesome on ice; sneak around; come clean. But since you say you're unwilling to temporarily retire from your trio, that's out. And, frankly, your grown son's financial debacle shouldn't require you to put the kibosh on your romantic life, however odd. Sneaking around may seem like a possible solution, but consider how that's going to work. Announcing, "I'll be staying over the neighbors' for a few nights so that all of you can have the house to yourselves!" is only going to raise suspicions, especially since little Jack Jr. has his own bedroom at your place. I'm afraid I agree with Jack and Diane: The best course is for you to tell your son. This means explaining that, unlikely as it may be—and no one is more surprised about this than you—you are in a relationship with the couple next door. Obviously, say you aren't going to go into the mechanics of this set-up, and you intend to protect his kids, as you are protecting the couple's child, from the details of your intimacy. (I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt that you are.) Explain that you are only revealing this aspect of your personal life because privacy is going to be at a premium, but you hope he can discreetly accept your situation. Sure, it will be a shock, but ultimately news of your personal arrangements pales in comparison with being in financial freefall. How sly of you to choose Jack and Diane as pseudonyms for your friends. John "Cougar" Mellencamp may have sung about a similarly named pair: "Oh yeah life goes on/Long after the thrill of living is gone." But your Jack and Diane have found that a once-lonely grandfather is the way to bring back the thrill.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Brother-In-Law Crush

Dear Prudence,
I'm a recent film-school graduate, so finding any job is hard. I managed to get an interesting, prestigious one working for a married couple who are successful documentary filmmakers. The office is very small. It's just me, the bosses, and some interns. But in the months since I started, I've become very uncomfortable. The husband and wife are overtly abusive to each other, verbally and emotionally (I also think physically, though not in front of us). Sometimes they come back from "lunch," and the husband has puffy, black bruises on his face. Every once in a while the husband makes outrageous requests of us, and then verbally berates all of us when we are unable to meet his insane demands. I came from an emotionally abusive childhood home, and although I would like to think I am a stronger person because of that, I have found myself emotionally shutting down recently. Still, the job is an impressive résumé builder, and I love the work—when I'm not being yelled at. In this economy, when do you decide the job you have is too much?

—Is Stressed My New Normal?

Dear Stressed,
If you have a low tolerance for eccentrics, nay, lunatics, then you might want to rethink going into the film business. Apparently your education did not require you to read any profiles and biographies of celebrated producers and directors. Start reading so you will feel better prepared for the personalities ahead. Sure, even the insurance business has bizarre bosses, but having chosen to go into the entertainment industry has drastically decreased your chances of working for the even-tempered and mild-mannered. As for your current place of employment, you sound like a very lucky graduate to have found real work with productive filmmakers. You say you grew up in an abusive household, so instead of experiencing this couple's misconduct as flashbacks, be relieved that you are not trapped in their home being raised by them. Since you concede the vast majority of the couple's outbursts are directed at each other, and not the staff, tell yourself that compared to your parents' ability to make you miserable, these two are amateurs. They are also paying you and giving you invaluable professional experience—another positive distinction from your childhood. You want to be a filmmaker, so start taking notes for a screenplay on a pair of documentarians whose work exposes the dark side of life while living it themselves.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am a 28-year-old woman, and I am a crier. Any issue that pops up at which others would get angry or shrug, I will cry. I know that this is not a reasonable reaction from someone my age, and I get really embarrassed. Even when dealing with things as simple as calling a service provider to discuss questionable charges, I end up crying. There are days when I will cry all the way home in my car, for no apparent reason. I am not under an unreasonable amount of stress, and there is nothing so wrong in my life to justify my emotional instability. In fact, my fiance and I recently moved into a new house and I just got a promotion that allows me the flexibility to work from home. What can I do to help me manage tough situations better? My goal whenever dealing with an issue is to not cry, and yet I still walk away red-eyed. Help!

—Unwanted Bawling

Dear Bawling,
You may be on track to become the speaker of the House! Probably no one in public life blubbers as easily and frequently as Rep. John Boehner, yet he is one of the most powerful people in the country. He probably feels this is an odd disability that he's just had to learn to live with. Your berating yourself not to cry only makes you focused on your weeping and heightens your vulnerable emotional state. You say your life is fine, but you are experiencing your waterworks as a symptom of emotional instability. See your doctor, because there could be something going on physically or mentally that needs diagnosing. Maybe medication will elevate your mood and make each day feel less like a vale of tears. But if, in the end, nothing completely dries your eyes, try to make peace with the fact that you've got lacrimal glands that runneth over. The less mortified you are about this, possibly the more in control you will feel. At the least have something to say to relieve everyone's tension when the dripping starts: "I look worse than I feel. I'm afraid I just have over-active tear ducts."

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
My toddler daughter and I often frequent a quick-service restaurant near our home that has a "no tipping" policy. The service is consistently friendly and excellent. One employee in particular is always bringing us highchairs, extra water, etc. He has a child my daughter's age and recently told me that his wife is expecting another baby. I know that he makes close to the minimum wage and has a very long commute. If you put together all of the tips I would have given him, it would be well over $200. Is there a polite way to leave a tip or give him a gift card to help with the new baby? I don't want to create an uncomfortable situation or get him fired.

—Grateful

Dear Grateful,
Surely this company is not so Dickensian that an employee would get into trouble if a customer who has come to know him quietly hands him a card congratulating him on his good news. It's none of the company's business if inside of the card you enclose a check for $200 or cash. You can write in the card that you appreciate his kindness over the years and it's your pleasure to give him a personal gift (which is not a tip!) for the baby.

—Prudie

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.

Like Prudie on the official Dear Prudence Facebook page and like  Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 2:35 PM Germany’s Nationwide Ban on Uber Lasted All of Two Weeks
  Life
The Vault
Sept. 16 2014 12:15 PM “Human Life Is Frightfully Cheap”: A 1900 Petition to Make Lynching a Federal Offense
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 1:39 PM The Case of the Missing Cerebellum How did a Chinese woman live 24 years missing part of her brain?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 8:41 PM You’re Cut, Adrian Peterson Why fantasy football owners should release the Minnesota Vikings star.