Help! My Dorm Mate Diddles Herself While I’m in the Room.

Advice on manners and morals.
April 2 2012 3:09 PM

The Wrong Touch

In a live chat, Dear Prudence offers advice on a frisky roommate, felonious family members, and friends who become lovers.

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A: I occasionally get letters from people who have suddenly, and for no apparent reason, had a friend disappear from their life. That this is a possible reason makes a lot of sense. You have betrayed your husband and your friend, and she has been left in the dark as to why. What a jerk of a husband she must have. Surely she has turned to him distraught over the inexplicable end of the friendship. He's just sat there and lied that he has no idea what happened. Your husband made an unfair demand about leaving your friend in the dark. But if you were to tell her, you would have to let your husband know and also consider the effect it would have on her marriage. If you don't want to tell, I still think she deserves an explanation, however cryptic. I think you owe her the courtesy of telling her that she has done nothing to harm the friendship, and that it's end is your responsibility. Explain you know your behavior has been cruel and you hate having to hurt her, but that sadly, for reasons you don't want to go into, your friendship can't be repaired.

Q. Greedy Surrogate: I am hugely grateful towards my cousin for being a surrogate for us. We are obviously paying all pregnancy related expenses, however, some of her recent requests are causing an eyebrow raise. It started when she asked us to pay for someone to cook and clean for her family after the birth. We happily agreed, until she said she wanted the home help for three months. We thought it was a little over the top but didn't want to make an issue out of it—this wonderful woman is giving us a child, after all. Then she asked us for gym membership for a year and ongoing personal training until she went back to her 120 pound figure. We agreed to this as well, thinking that I might have done this for myself if I had the baby. Then she started sending us receipts for expensive, upmarket maternity clothes. I knew she gave away her maternity clothes after her two kids so I was expecting to take her shopping, but she buys clothes that would have been completely out of her budget with her own pregnancies. In this situation is it out of line for me to ask her to keep to a reasonable price range? I'm also reconsidering personal training because it seems unnecessary when we're paying for her gym membership after birth.

A: You don't mention you are paying your cousin outright for the surrogacy. I've read that when contracting with a stranger to carry your child the cost can run around $20,000. So if she's coming in under that budget, and a personal trainer, some help at home, and high-end maternity clothes shouldn’t break the bank, then you should consider yourselves lucky. Three months of help for her while she recovers from her pregnancy sound reasonable, and once she gives birth her leverage to ask for lifetime domestic help will vastly decrease. Pay up with a smile—in a few months she will be giving you the most precious gift imaginable.

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Q. Perping Grandpa: While doing my new in-laws’ taxes a few years ago I needed a birth date and availed myself of our state's online court records. I was shocked to find my new father-in-law had been charged with child molestation and I confronted my husband, who was also shocked. Over the past few years we have never said anything, and the only child we have is never allowed alone with FIL, but I feel like a fraud when they're around. Should we tell them we know and are glad he got help/therapy? Do we mention to the victim (his granddaughter, who is now grown) that we know? Or do we keep quiet and go on pretending we don't know?

A: I think your husband should have a private meeting with his parents to tell them what he discovered. Obviously he will explain this was very distressing, but he can say he wants to hear the full story. You write that he was charged with molestation, but not convicted. Maybe there wasn't enough evidence, maybe your then-young niece was pressured not to cooperate, maybe it was a grotesque misunderstanding. How his parents react will help your husband know whether his father (and mother) have really addressed what happened, or are full of excuses and denial. This is also an opportunity to say that because of the charges, your child will not be left alone with his parents, and surely they can understand this decision.

Q. The Last Resort: My brother is divorced with two kids. Their mom is disabled and lives in a home for people with disabilities. He used to live with our sister, who would help him look after the kids after school. The two of them had a huge argument and have completely severed their relationship. My brother asked if I could look after his girls for three months while he sorted out a house and childcare. I agreed, thinking I was doing something to help my brother and my nieces. The three months have now turned into two years. He keeps saying he will take them in a couple of months but it has never happened. He quits his work frequently over minor disputes and moves around a lot. My older niece has just turned 12. I was willing to help my brother out on a temporary basis, but I can't do this for the next several years. I have my own kids to raise and our finances are tight. Things are already hectic at home and my marriage is under severe strain because of the stress of having five kids in the house. We have three bedrooms and one bathroom, so everybody screams and fights every single morning. That's Every. Single. Morning. My children are resentful because I can't spend much time with them. I am so stressed that I find myself regularly screaming at the children and hating my nieces for being in my home, then feeling horrendously guilty because I know it's not their fault. My younger niece needs weekly (and expensive) speech therapy and my brother refuses to contribute. Would it make me a bad person if I just take the girls and leave them at their father's place?

A: It would not make you bad person if you find your nieces a stable situation that is better for them than the one you are providing. That situation is not with your brother, sadly. Think of the life these girls have led with two parents who are unable to care for them. That's tragic, and given that you have taken them in for two years, you obviously have a great deal of compassion for these girls, even as they drive you crazy. This is my day to add to the case load of child protective services, but that is who you should call. Social services should step in to help you sort this out. It could be that with a case worker and occasional respite care you might be able to keep the girls. It might be that a kind foster home is the best place for them. But because both parents are unable to be parents, these girls need a professional advocate, and you, too, need some professional help to make sure everyone is getting the best care possible under the circumstances.

Q. Wedding Dilemma—Sorry, Another One!: I'm getting married this year and we're getting the invite list together. My fiance has a huge family and countless friends. He's a social butterfly and has been involved with various hobbies and sports clubs over the years. He also works at a large firm where he got to know a lot of his co-workers personally. I, on the other hand, am an only child with relatives scattered across the world. I have no hopes of them attending. Worse, my parents are divorced and they're both arguing they won't come if I invite the other. At this stage I don't even know if my own parents will make it. I have four close friends I meet up with on a regular basis. I met them at different stages of my life and they don't really know each other well. Although my fiance assures me it doesn't matter, my guest list looks pitiful. I would feel embarrassed taking photos where the bridal side is over in thirty seconds. I'm wondering if I should just invite people I don't know well (neighbors, random co-workers, etc) to make up for it. What do you think?

A: How sad that your parents would cancel each out of their only child's wedding. How wonderful that you are marrying into a large, happy family. Since your wedding will not end with a festive tug of war between the bride and groom's side, it doesn't matter how many people you have there. But make sure the ones you do invite are special to you. You can talk to the ushers who are seating people and explain they don't need to do a groom's or bride's side. And pull the photographer aside in advance and explain you only have a few family members with you. Please don't think of yourself as pitiful—you are about to marry a wonderful guy and gain a huge family.