Help! My Stepdaughter Hit on Me After My Wife Died.

Advice on manners and morals.
April 5 2012 6:00 AM

Loss and Forbidden Love

My stepdaughter hit on me after my wife’s death. What should I do?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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 Prudence,
It’s been almost eight months since my wife passed away, and I am finally starting to feel that maybe I am not going to die when I wake up and she isn't there. We were married for just over 10 years, and she had two children from a prior marriage who are now grown. We had no children together, but I had the privilege of being part of her children’s lives. Her son lives across the country. Her daughter lives near me and has been a constant companion through my grieving, spending most Sundays at my house since her mother’s passing. My wife was significantly older than me, and my stepdaughter is only five years younger than I am. This past weekend we were getting ready to have dinner, and she told me she was starting to have romantic feelings for me. She is college educated, young, and attractive, but I am not ready for anything resembling an intimate relationship. I can't describe all the emotions that slammed me: fear, desperation, shame, and exhilaration. The last one is the worst. The dinner was awkward and she departed shortly thereafter. What do I do? I’ve been dodging her ever since.

—Lost

Advertisement

Dear Lost,
How odd it must have been for your stepdaughter to have had a young man barely older than herself come into her life as her stepfather. I’m sure this caused much fascination and speculation among her friends. Then her mother was gone, and all the forbidden thoughts she may have had about you over the years no longer seemed so bizarre. You two had a father-daughter relationship for 10 years, so that’s all you need to know about the taboo that’s been erected to keep you from ever pursuing a relationship with her. After months of desolation, you are feeling ready to rejoin the living. And lo and behold, there in the flesh is an attractive woman expressing her desire for you, one who just happens to be a younger variation of the love you just lost. It’s a good thing that your autonomic nervous system went into alert, warning you of the danger ahead. It’s understandable that despite all your negative feelings, there was the tantalizing hint of something thrilling. But the only thing for you to do is to quash it, and it would have been best for you to have made clear at dinner that nothing was ever going to happen between you two. Now you need to deal with what she said directly and decisively. Get together with her and explain that you both have leaned on each other because of your loss, which has naturally brought you closer. But you were married to her mother and that means you two can never have a romantic relationship. Say that because you’re both adults you will put this conversation behind you and continue to care about each other, but in a way that won’t sully the memory of the woman you both loved.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Scary Ex Dilemma

Dear Prudence,
I was a shy, homely girl who was bullied viciously by both siblings and schoolmates through most of my childhood. My lunches were stolen, I was regularly hit, and more. Teachers ignored what was happening, and my parents blamed me for being victimized. It was a sad, lonely, and hopeless childhood, but I have struggled to move past it. I’m now happily married, with a great kid and a decent job. I moved away from my hometown as soon as I could, and in recent years when I’ve come back to visit my parents, former classmates have approached me to apologize. They go through incidents, in detail, that apparently haunt them, asking for forgiveness. They get their absolution, and I’m forced to relive those awful memories. A reunion is coming up and my contact information was published in a directory. I’m getting notes telling me how much I’ve been missed at previous reunions, how everybody wants to talk to me, and how I owe it to them and myself to come. How can I get people to understand that I forgive them, but that I would appreciate being left alone as I am trying to forget my unhappy past?

—Go on Without Me

Dear Go On,
Bullying is much in the news, with a new documentary out and the suicides of Phoebe Prince and Tyler Clementi resulting in criminal charges being brought against their schoolmates. Your childhood sounds heartbreaking and dreadful. It is appalling that the adults around you refused to see what was going on or, in the case of your own parents, blamed you. (They are lucky you are still willing to visit them.) At least some of the creeps who attacked you, now that they are adults, have the decency to acknowledge the awfulness of their acts. That you made it out and made a good life is a tribute to your resilience and strength. So please don’t let the bullies re-victimize you with their demands. You wisely point out that your washing away their sins comes at a high price to you. I wish the people who push others toward making up with their tormenters had a better sense that disinterring the past can be damaging. It’s kind of you to forgive your classmates, but you’re not required to go on an amnesty tour. You can ask the organizers of the reunion to remove your contact information from the directory and spread the word that you won’t be coming. Delete the emails urging you to come, or answer with a terse explanation that your busy schedule precludes a trip down memory lane.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I'm a recent college graduate who just landed an amazing job in an office of about 10 employees. The pay is good, the people are fun, and the work is challenging. My hard work is being noticed and my supervisors have been clear about their intentions for my career advancement. On the other hand, the vice president of the company has taken to constantly joking with me, and because I'm young the jokes are usually about me drinking and doing drugs. I normally roll with the punches, but he just asked if I would prank the general manager by letting him fill a whiskey bottle with iced tea, which I would then drink while at my desk. I know enough to realize this kind of behavior is inappropriate, and all the joking is beginning to make me uncomfortable. But he's my boss and a happy-go-lucky guy, so I'm not sure what I should do. Please help!

—Confused and Employed