Dear Prudence: I was falsely accused of rape.

Advice on manners and morals.
July 7 2011 7:33 AM

An Innocent Man

An ex-girlfriend falsely claimed I raped her. How do I reveal this hurtful incident to future love interests?

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Dear Prudence,
A few years ago, I was falsely and maliciously accused of rape by an ex-girlfriend. I spent a day in jail but was never charged. It's something that I've probably told around 20 people in all. I've reached a point where I feel ready to meet women and try dating again. It seems like it would be a right-to-know issue for them. It was a very traumatic experience for me that is a significant part of who I am now. At what point and in what way should I tell someone I want to date or am dating?

—When To Disclose

Dear Disclose,
Although it's tempting to see your letter as a commentary on what did or didn't happen in Suite 2806 of the Sofitel New York, I'm taking your word that you are an innocent man who was falsely accused. You mention that this took place "a few years ago" and that you are only now ready to consider dating again. That speaks to what a trauma it is to be arrested for a crime you didn't commit, especially such a heinous offense as rape. But if you have not been able to approach women for all these years because you feared them, or felt like tainted goods, then you really aren't over this. As hideous as this episode was, the system worked, the falsity of her claims was revealed, and you were never charged. I wish you could see this as justice working swiftly for you. What's worrisome is how deeply this accusation has insinuated itself into your consciousness. What happened was awful, but you need to find a way to make it an "insignificant part" of who you are now, because it sounds as if you've been emotionally derailed. It would surely be helpful to discuss your feelings with a therapist who specializes in trauma. As for when you reveal this, I don't think there's any rule (unless the arrest comes up when someone Googles your name). It's certainly not something you need to broach on a first date. "By the way, I was falsely accused of rape" might unnecessarily mean there's no second date. Sharing information this painful and private is better done when you know someone well enough to feel safe doing so, and you are confident that she knows you well enough to see you're telling the truth.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Flatulent Boyfriend

Dear Prudie,
My father-in-law is an alcoholic; my mother-in-law is an enabler and denier. They are very kind grandparents, but because of his problem, we do not allow our 4-year-old son to their home in the evenings or to ever get a ride from my father-in-law. Recently, however, my mother-in-law picked my son up for the afternoon and did not return him at dinnertime as we expected. Instead, they took him to a restaurant for dinner and we didn't know where they were. They brought him home late in the evening, and when I questioned my son the next day about who drove, he said it was Grandpa. My husband and I are furious about this. My husband wants to confront his parents and tell them that they are not allowed to drive our son anywhere anymore. I think the confrontation will be futile and will only cause a fight without results, and we should just make sure that our son never gets into a car with his grandparents again. Your thoughts?

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—Mother Against Father-in-Law Driving

Dear Mother,
The world is full of other people's darling children, and since you know your father-in-law is an alcoholic who takes to the roads, you and your husband must contact the Department of Motor Vehicles to see what their procedure is for reporting a chronic drunken driver. Think of how you will feel if he harms someone and you two didn't try to stop him. I also think you both should consider an intervention to try to get your father-in-law into rehab. You say your in-laws are good grandparents, so it's sad to think your son's grandfather is going to drink the rest of his life away. Contact Al-Anon for help getting started on taking action. In the meantime, you and your husband must tell your in-laws that given that your father-in-law is an alcoholic and they have shown they can't be trusted, from now on one of you will be present when they spend time with your son. Only if there is evidence of a serious period of sobriety will you consider lifting this restriction.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
A month ago, the day after my 27th birthday, I found out that my boyfriend of two years was cheating on me. We're dealing with it, but it's been very difficult so far, and we know we have a long road ahead of us through recovery. I have my outbursts, my breakdown moments, and we both have accepted that I probably will for a while. He's been so patient about it, and he won't even let me apologize afterward: "Please stop telling me you're sorry for the pain I've caused you!" Little by little, I'm  becoming less angry at him because I'm able to get it off my chest to the person who caused it. The girl (who just turned 21) works with him. I met her, and she seemed like an attention whore. She sent him naked pictures and invited him over when her boyfriend was out of town. Yes, I've been deceived by both of them, but how do I get rid of all the anger I feel toward her? I desperately want this wretched feeling to go away. I have had anger affect me negatively in the past. I don't like living with it; it's a parasite, and I want it out of me! I just can't find a way to keep it at bay.

—Seething

Dear Seething,
I know your question is how you deal with your anger about the sexting seductress at the office. But you tell me you are 27 years old and are facing a long road of recovery because your boyfriend of only two years didn't have the judgment to realize, "She's young, she's sexy, and she's one major nut job." So there you are playing out this psychodrama: months of you having breakdowns so that he can demonstrate, in a smarmy fashion, just how patient and caring he is. To me, this relationship sounds like a dreary slog for everyone concerned. It would be one thing if your boyfriend had come to you to confess he'd slipped and had a stupid one night stand with this co-worker and deeply regretted it. But you "found out" that he was cheating on you, which implies this was an ongoing relationship only ended through your discovery of it. You two aren't married, you don't have kids, so I'm wondering why this mess seems worth all the work. As for the question of your anger, it's good for you to recognize that it feels out of control. Unfortunately, we can't just pluck out the distressing parts of our psyches as if pulling out a screwworm. Perhaps instead of trying to figure out a way to feel less rage toward this young woman, you should spend some time with a counselor understanding your own anger. You're a human being, so you'll never be fully free of wretched feelings, but you shouldn't live in fear of them descending on you. Maybe working on yourself will allow you to go forth and be in less wretched relationships.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am pleased New York is legalizing gay marriage. I have supported gay rights for years and am proud that we are striving for a more equal America. Last night my family was watching a movie and there was a wedding scene. My 3-year-old son asked, "Who's getting married?" It occurred to me that I'm not sure what to say to him about a man marrying a man or a woman marrying a woman. I want my son to understand the world in which we live, but I think it could be too confusing an issue to introduce the new paradigm.

—Who's on the Cake?

Dear Cake,
This came up for me a few years ago when my favorite section of the Sunday New York Times, the wedding announcements, started carrying same-sex weddings. I had the paper open on the dining room table and my then-elementary-school-aged daughter walked by and her eye was caught by a photo of two men. She pointed and said, "Mom, what's this one?" It was easy to explain to her that while most weddings are between a man and a woman, sometimes they're between two men or two women. She realized she already knew something about this, since she'd gone to school with kids who had two dads or two moms. What she'd never seen evidence of before was a same-sex wedding. But absorbing this "new paradigm" took only a few questions and a few minutes. Your son is just 3 years old, so there's no need to explain to him the fine points of the legalization of gay marriage. In the coming years he'll see that families don't always consist of a father and mother, because many of his classmates will have single parents, and a few will have same-sex parents. Because you are perfectly comfortable with this fact, you'll be able to follow his lead and answer what questions he has. And if he seems anxious about this, it may just be that he wants reassurance that his family is going to remain the way it already is.

—Prudie

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Emily Yoffe is the author of What the Dog Did: Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner. You can send your Dear Prudence questions for publication toprudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

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