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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. Let's get to it.
Q. I Am Not the Father: A little after my wife and I reconciled from our separation, we discovered she was pregnant. Although we were having marital problems, we were going through marriage therapy and I genuinely wanted to give it another try. I was, of course, over the moon about becoming a father. Things were starting to look up, until I discovered an ultrasound scan report which showed my wife was further along in the pregnancy than she told me. After a bitter, heated argument she confessed she conceived the baby with someone else while we were separated. She said she thought she was acting for the best because she knew I would be happy about the pregnancy. (One of the many reasons why we initially separated was because I wanted to start a family and she didn't.) To cut the long story short, I decided to get a divorce. Since I moved out, my wife has been spreading malicious rumors that I abandoned her and "our baby." She's been hospitalized due to complications in her pregnancy and I got a lot of hate mails/calls from her family and friends for not showing up. I don't want to get caught up in a dirty fight so I have been ignoring these. But I'm getting increasingly angry that she is smearing my reputation through lies. Should I clear my name, even if it means airing our dirty laundry in public?
A: It's one thing to be the bigger person, it's another to let a compulsive liar ruin your reputation. The story she's telling is that upon discovering she is carrying your child, you decided to divorce her. This makes you look like a heartless cad now, and you will be even more despicable when the child is born and you want nothing to do with it. I think you need to get in touch with your soon-to-be ex and tell her you know she is under physical and emotional duress, but you hope she can see that spreading what will be provably false stories about you will only hurt all of you, including her child, in the long run. Explain that even if she is not in a continuing relationship with the father of her child, she needs to establish paternity so that the baby can at least get financial support. Tell her you've said nothing to date, but because you are not the cruel person she is portraying as, you are going to begin to tell people the truth.
Then you can tell people simply that the baby was conceived with another man while you were separated, a situation that lead to your decision to end the marriage. You don't have to add the damning filigree that she tried to mislead you about the child. Since she sounds possibly pathological she will probably have a whole counterfactual account to challenge yours. But your simple assertion, and refusal to engage in character assassination, will at least put serious doubt in people's minds. If she continues to hold you out as the father after the birth, check into your legal rights to demand a paternity test to show that you are not responsible for the child. Oh, that poor child, to be born of such a manipulative mother.
Dear Prudence: Third Wheel Twin
Q. Halloween Harassment Over Oral Sex: Last year, my husband and I had a small Halloween get-together for some family. We left the door unlocked for our 12-year-old niece to come in if we were still getting things ready. She called and told us she would be more than an hour late. My husband forgot to lock the door, and figuring we had a little more time, we got down to business. Our niece popped the door open—much earlier than she told us she would be—and saw me paying "lip service" to her uncle. Since then, the gossip has spread through the family. I have received cards of an adult nature from my husband's family, and during family outings, most of the jokes are centered around oral-sex puns. My husband and I have both asked them to stop, we have even left family gatherings. It has been months since I've been to any gathering with his family. I have recently started getting Halloween cards in the mail in which his relatives have written things like, "Don't let it be a repeat of last year!" I am exhausted with defending myself. His sister is throwing the Halloween party this year, and I am definitely not going. My husband is on the fence. But I'm worried that if we don't show, this heckling will just continue—by email, mail, whatever. What should I do?
A: Folks, write your own trick-or-treat jokes. I understand the most shocking part of your letter is not that you decided to have oral sex while leaving the door unlocked for expected company, but that a tween showed up early to an event. At least your husband's family finds this hilarious instead of you two being excoriated for your behavior and an exorcism suggested. You're right that the anniversary of the great event is bound to blow things out of proportion, but I think you should go and laugh it off. Then at the end of the evening your husband should announce the joke has gone limp and the statute of limitations has expired. He can say you've both been good sports about this, but the word play about lip service has to stop or else as far as family gatherings are concerned you will both stop coming.
Q. Paternity Test Drama: My husband's first wife cheated on him throughout their marriage. He's been battling how difficult it is for him to trust women ever since their divorce. We've gone to counseling separately and as a couple to cope with how his difficulty trusting me has impacted our relationship. We love each other very much, though, and when I became pregnant with our first child last winter, I thought he finally trusted that I have never and will never cheat on him. Then he asked me for a prenatal paternity test to ensure the baby was his. His biggest fear is raising a child that isn't biologically his own. I was hurt by his request, because it implied he still seriously mistrusted me. He thought if I had nothing to hide then it shouldn't be a big deal, and he told me he trusted me, but needed absolute assurance. We argued about the paternity test for most of my pregnancy, but he lay off shortly before I gave birth to our daughter in July. Things have been wonderful ever since, until I discovered evidence that he and his mother ran a paternity test without my knowledge. Of course our daughter is his. Now we're fighting again. He's apologized for not trusting me, but I cannot stop feeling betrayed that he would do this behind my back. I don't know where we can goes as a couple from here. Am I overreacting?
A: Despite what this column might indicate, almost all men really are the father of the children they think they are the father of. You may love your husband very much, but I wish you'd paid more attention to the klaxons in your relationship. Being incessantly punished for the misdeeds of a previous spouse is not a good basis for a healthy relationship, and you had plenty of warning that you were being doubted. I bet if you wanted to check, you will find your husband regularly scans your cellphone and computer to try to gather the nonexistent incriminating evidence. That he and his mother did some genetic testing behind your back must have been a punch to your solar plexus. You now have a child with this man, so I assume you want to salvage your relationship and try to establish some framework of trust. Head back to the therapist right away. He needs to understand that while he's obsessed with you cheating on him, he's shown himself to be the great deceiver.
Q. Re: I am not the father: He also needs to check his legal rights. In some states (like Texas), the child is PRESUMED to be his because it was conceived during the marriage.
A: Interesting. Since he's in the middle of a divorce, he should make sure his lawyer is on top of this.