Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week’s chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, I look forward to your questions.
Q. Unethical Fake Job Reference: Joanne, my BFF and co-worker, and Melanie, a former co-worker, both recently applied for the same exciting, awesome job. When the diligent, talented Melanie left our company, I offered to be a reference for her. Joanne told me how intense the application process was—her parents were divorcing at the same time, so she was frazzled—so I expected a call from the hiring company. It never came. Neither Joanne nor Melanie got the job. Recently Joanne confessed that while in my office one day, she intercepted a call from the hiring company; the rep wanted to talk about Melanie's employability. Joanne told the rep that Melanie was intelligent but also lazy and entitled. She didn't think the reference was bad enough to tarnish Melanie's or my reputation permanently and begged for my forgiveness. Joanne is normally a sweet person, and I don't think she would have done this if she hadn't been so stressed. My question is, what do I do now? I don't want to see Joanne hurt.
A: You've got to step up and try to restore Melanie's reputation. Maybe being frazzled has permanently fritzed Joanne's brain because you are not the person she needs to seek forgiveness from. She's a long way from dealing with what she did if she thinks describing a former employee as "lazy and entitled" didn't crush her chances for a job. I hope she's not seriously excusing her behavior by bringing up her parents' divorce or the "intense" application process. What she did was inexcusable and possibly actionable. You should tell her that her obligation is to contact the company and come clean. It's likely she'll say she can't (being frazzled and all). But even if she says she will, I'd be dubious and I think you should follow up on what you've learned. Call the company, ask to speak to human resources, and say you've been told an unfortunate piece of information about a false referral for a recent job applicant. You can say you'd prefer not to give the name of your friend, but do give the details of what you were told. Add that Melanie was a superb employee, which is something they should know. If Joanne isn't capable of trying to right this serious wrong, then you have some devastating information about the character of your best friend.*
*Update: I read over the fact that Joanne was impersonating the letter writer, so in fact Joanne does owe her a huge apology, as well as one to Melanie. Then the letter writer needs to explain to the other company that she just discovered when they called her for a reference for Melanie, another employee intercepted the call. She should explain that she would have given a glowing recommendation for Melanie. I also think Melanie deserves to be alerted to what happened. There are consequences for trying to ruin someone's career.
Dear Prudence: Trashy Sister
Q. My Boyfriend's Surprise Baby: I have been dating a co-worker for several months. He told me he loved me in December, and I returned his sentiment. Last night I received an email from him; he sent it to all the people in our office. He told us he would be on paternity leave for the next month and attached a picture of his three-month-old daughter. From what I can tell, we started dating when his baby-mama was six months pregnant. I feel blindsided by his email and have no idea how to respond.
A: You could send an email saying: "Congratulations! She's adorable!" Feel free to skip the gift. When he returns, limit your contact to the minimum required. Consider yourself lucky you aren't married to, or pregnant by, this creep. And if he runs for president someday, make sure to tell the reporters covering him your interesting story.
Q. Brother's Bridezilla Problem: My brother's fiance is a nightmare of a bride. It doesn't help that she has a wedding budget roughly equivalent to the GDP of a country. My brother thinks it's the "stress" of wedding planning that has her acting out. She wants her bridesmaids to have matching skin tones, she expects us to undergo spray tans. She invites hordes of people to her dress fittings and gets offended if people don't attend. She offered to pay for a gym membership for my mom. I feel strongly that my brother shouldn't marry this woman—no one should! But obviously that's not my business. How can I support a marriage, and attend a wedding, I don't believe should take place?
A: You have some kind of nerve thinking you're entitled to ruin this wedding—and the photos!—by showing up with your pasty face. You understand you can't stop this marriage. But you don't have to take being bullied. Have a talk with your brother—try to keep your tone neutral—asking him to ask his bride to reconsider the way she's treating everyone. Explain you are not going to change your skin tone for her and your mother is not going to change her body. Say that you understand she's stressed (she may even be frazzled, which apparently gives people carte blanche to exuberantly hurt people), but that he needs to tell her she's damaging what will be a very long relationship with your family. Whether or not he's brave enough to do this, the rest of you are not her subjects and don't have to spray yourselves or lift weights according to her demands. From now on do the minimum—basically showing up at the wedding. If she starts ordering you around or bawling you out, stay calm and say, "Courtney, I know the wedding is the biggest day in your life, but everyone else already has a life, and I'm afraid I don't have time for your dress fittings, and I'm not interested in changing the color of my skin."
Q. Stepdaughter's Lie Unforgivable?: Two years ago my teenaged stepdaughter hit her half-brother (my son) so hard she left a sizable bruise. She then gave herself a black eye and called the police. I almost lost custody of my son and was immersed in various legal battles for months. When the truth came out, my stepdaughter had to see a counselor and was punished with hours of community service. Since then she's completely shaped up and is now loving towards her younger half-siblings. But I struggle to fully forgive her, and I will still not let her be alone with my children. I know my reticence to embrace the "new her" hurts her feelings and, to a certain extent, disappoints my husband. I have been to counseling too, but whenever I see her, I remember the fear at the prospect of losing my baby. And I remember the size of the bruise she left on him. Do you think I am being unreasonable? Too harsh?