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.

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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

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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

Dear Confused,
And sometimes the bullies don’t actually mature and gain self-insight; they just get older and make life miserable for their co-workers. Unfortunately, jackasses such as your company’s vice president are sprinkled throughout offices across America, and everyone will encounter one. Sometimes the work bullies even have power over your paycheck. But the harassment will only escalate if you don’t firmly put a stop to it. The next time the VP comes over for one of his joke sessions, say, “Dick, I’m getting uncomfortable with the nature of your jokes, especially about drinking and doing drugs. I’m also not going to pretend to be drinking whiskey at my desk. Actually, I’d really appreciate it if you stopped making comments about the whole subject. Thanks so much.” Practice this at home and enroll a friend to play Dick so that you’re prepared for his possible come-backs. You can also start a personal file with a time stamp on it documenting Dick’s behavior in case he doesn’t get the message and either escalates or turns on you. If that happens, explain the situation to one of the higher-ups who thinks highly of your talents.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I’m in my late 20s and getting married shortly to a man with whom I have an incredible relationship. Many of our friends are getting married, too, and I recently found out that at a bachelor party last year there were strippers, when all of the wives and girlfriends had been told there were not. Apparently the men were sworn to secrecy by the groom. There was also a stripper at my future husband's bachelor party, when I had made clear that I was not comfortable with that. I am incredibly upset because my fiance has never been dishonest before. There is one couple in our group of friends who are the perpetrators of all this nastiness. The other wives and I think it's weird that a wife finds strippers for her husband's friends. Other than this, they are nice people. I feel betrayed and disrespected. How can I possibly get over these feelings before my wedding? How can I deal with my guy ever going to a bachelor party again? And how do I stand to see this couple socially?

—Stripped of Respect

Dear Stripped,
It will be a good lesson for your marriage to accept that even if you would like to dictate the terms of all your future husband’s encounters, you can’t. Your fiance didn’t order the strippers, and unless he paid them for more intimate services, he did nothing to harm you by staying at the parties. He wasn’t even required to tell you all the details of what went on there. Although he might let you know if you were the kind of person who could have rolled her eyes and even laughed at the whole business. If you asked him point blank about strippers and he lied, he should apologize. But have sympathy for a guy who’s about to go through life with a wife who has a mental meltdown over something stupid at a party. What you do about your wedding and the other couple is lighten up. Now that just about all of you are married, your gang's wedding season is coming to an end. I’ve never heard of strippers at baby showers.

—Prudie

More Dear Prudence Columns

"A View to a Thrill: Neighbor boys peep at my scantily clad daughters. Should I have them cover up?” Posted June 30, 2011.
Loving Thy Neighbor: I have sex with the couple next door. Should I tell my kids about it?” Posted June 23, 2011.
Fatherly Advice: Dear Prudence advises a dad whose wife fears he'll abandon the family in favor of his long-lost daughter—and other Father's Day advice seekers.” Posted June 16, 2011.
Businessman on the Road to Ruin: My wife doesn't know I visit strip bars and porn theaters while away on business. But that's not cheating, right?” Posted June 9, 2011.

More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts

All Dogs Go to Heaven: Dear Prudence advises a dying husband on whether to confess his infidelity—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 27, 2011.
Sloppy Stay-at-Home Mom: Prudie advises a man whose wife is great at everything except keeping the house neat—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 13, 2011.
The 40-Year-Old Mean Girl: Prudie advises a former bully whose kids are being mistreated by her victim's children—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 6, 2011.
The Accused: A young neighbor's unfounded claims put my family in danger. Should we allow the girl back into our lives?” Posted June 2, 2011.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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