Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the 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 email@example.com.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, let's get to it.
Q. Reveal Past Affair?: Years ago I was pressured by one of my superiors into having an affair with him in exchange for a promotion and substantial raise. I was very young at the time, and didn't know how to stand up for myself. I've always felt terrible for what I allowed to happen to me, and that I just let the man get away with it. I had been considering reporting him to his superiors (I've heard through the grapevine that he's put several new hires and interns in the same position to date) but he left the company to run for a prominent office in our city. I'm now faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to expose him publicly for what he really is. I feel it would be the right thing to do, but part of me is afraid of the scandal that would surely follow, and I'm not sure I want to be in the middle of it. Should I take the plunge?
A: This is a terribly hard decision to make because unfortunately, as has played out over and over again, women who truthfully accuse powerful men of sexually abusing them often find themselves trashed. If you go ahead, you need to be prepared to have your entire life exposed: that shoplifting arrest in high school, the bad check you passed in your 20s. As you know, men who behave this way almost always do it to many women, and they need to be exposed and stopped. When Herman Cain was first accused of sexual improprieties, he went on the attack and it wasn't pretty for his accuser. But then other women stepped forward and Cain was cooked. I hope you step up, but first you should protect yourself. Talk to a lawyer about how best to go about this. If you have the names of other victims, maybe an attorney can reach out to them and they might come forward to support you. You can strategize about how best to make your situation known—probably through an interview at the local newspaper. You will be doing the citizens of your state a service by letting them know the true character of the man who would serve them.
Dear Prudence: Litterbug Smoker
Q. Peeing Tom: My wife and I were in the shower together and I peed into the drain. She was disgusted, even after I explained that urine is sterile so it can't be that unhygienic. She said it is psychologically disturbing to know that I pee where she washes herself, even if there are no lingering germs. She made me promise not to do it again, but I can't help it. I've started peeing in the shower in secret, even as my wife bangs on the door to conduct random checks and remind me how disgusted she would be if I peed. I have never lied to her about anything before so I feel guilty telling her I didn't pee when I actually did?
A: I have an image of your wife with an EPA inspector barging into your bathroom and collecting water samples. Perhaps your wife will also be psychologically scarred if you tell her you place your hairy, germy tush on the same toilet seat she uses. I agree that when you're in the shower, the warm, cascading water makes it impossible not to contribute your own stream. And for goodness sake, not only is urine not germy, there are no traces left given the torrent of clean water that follows. OK, shower pee makes her shudder. So she need to occasionally spray the stall with Lysol if it makes her feel better. Mostly she needs to let you shut the door and be at peace.
Q. No More Baby Talk: My ex-husband divorced me last year so he could marry his pregnant mistress. Much to everyone's surprise, our kids together adore their new baby brother. They love to go over to their father's house to play with the baby, and sometimes I feel like the bad guy because I'm unwilling to give up my custodial time with them so they can visit the baby. They talk about the baby all the time, even though I've told them talking about the baby hurts me. My 10-year-old son wants his little brother at his upcoming birthday party, even though my ex and I agreed to have separate birthday parties from now on. Hearing about my ex's new fabulous life is agonizing. I know it's crazy, but I feel like my kids are choosing their dad's new family over ours, too. I'm still reeling from the divorce. Sometimes I get short with my kids when they're talking about their brother. I am trying as hard as I can not to taint the relationship between my kids, their father, and their new brother. Is there any healthy constructive way I can tell them not to talk about the baby so much? I'm worried I'll blow up one day if I hear much more about the baby.
A: I had a neighbor in exactly this situation and I could only marvel at her confidence and generosity as she seamlessly brought the new sibling into her children's lives. That baby brother was often at their home and he attended all the important functions of her two kids. When I said something to her about how amazing she was, she said whatever the adults did, the children were all a family and she wanted them to feel that way about each other.
I doubted I could have been that magnanimous. So I understand your anger, grief, and pain. But it will benefit you in the long run of life if you can support your own children's embrace of their new sibling. To get through this I think you need a therapist to unload to, at the very least. Together, you can figure out strategies so that you can support this newly constructed family without feeling you are going out of your mind. If you have primary custody of your kids, because of your husband's perfidy you have become a single mother. That's a huge load to carry, so don't be so quick to limit your children's time at their father's. It's good for them, and for you, if he is stepping up and spending a lot of time with all his children.
Q. Re: pressured by one of my superiors: Well, here's the problem. You didn't HAVE to sleep with him. You did it to get a promotion and a substantial raise.
A: It's all very nice to say that young, vulnerable subordinates should quit, or report the boss, or otherwise stand up for themselves. But master manipulators use their power over others to get what they want. This guy holds the threat of unemployment over the women he pressures into bed. He's a creep and the voters should know it.
Q. Very Awkward Sex Life Dilemma: My husband suffered an accident at work in which he lost his genitalia. Needless to say this has killed off what sex life we had before the accident. Nevertheless, I have decided to remain faithful to him. We have bought several sex toys and he likes to please me as best he can. I would never tell him this, but I'm actually enjoying it more now than before when it was the "real deal." This makes me feel very guilty. Also, I worry a lot that he can tell I like the artificial sex more and that would hurt him a lot. Can you give me any tips for moving forward?
A: Tragically, this kind of wound is being suffered more and more by our soldiers and I hope your letter gets widely distributed among them. There is nothing for you to feel guilty about. You do not need to tell your husband things are better, you just need to reassure him that he remains a marvelous, inventive lover. Tell him that you are so lucky that out of a terrible sorrow, you two have been able to become closer.
Q. Struggling To Be an Equal Opportunity Grandma: I adore my 13 grandchildren. One of my daughters and my son each have three children. My eldest daughter and her husband adopted seven mentally delayed and physically disabled children from Bulgaria and Russia. I sometimes offer to baby-sit my younger daughter's and my son's children, because I can easily care for three children at a time. It's more difficult for me to offer to watch my eldest daughter's children, not only because there are seven of them but also because I feel I cannot adequately attend to their needs at the same time. I spend time with my eldest daughter's children, but usually only when my daughter, her husband, or other people are present. I have given my eldest daughter and her husband considerable financial support over the years, support which I have not offered to my other children because they do not need it as much. No one seems to resent this arrangement, but my daughter recently began to demand that I watch her children, too. She has accused me of hurtful things like not loving her children as much as my others because they're disabled and adopted. I try to explain to her how I do not feel like I can properly care for her children on my own, but she doesn't accept this explanation. I believe she wants me to stop watching my other grandchildren, to be "fair." Am I being insensitive to my eldest daughter and her children?