How Did Dear Prudence's Advice Take in 2012?

Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 26 2012 6:15 AM

Let Old Complaints Be Forgot

Prudie shares updates from memorable letters as 2012 comes to a close.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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This year a bumper crop of letter writers let me know what happened after I answered their questions, a trend I encourage. The most recent was from Want To Be a Dad, the white guy with an infertile Asian wife who concluded as long as they were going to use an egg donor he’d like the donor to be white. I gave him hell and told him it was a good thing he ran this by me before bringing it up with his wife. He wrote back: “I have decided that this isn't something worth risking upsetting her with so I am going to keep my thoughts to myself. I'm fine with having a biracial kid and if my wife makes it clear one way or another that's what she wants, that's what she'll get. But if we're choosing between whites and Asians I will lean toward a white donor.”

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As an unexpected bookend, I got a follow-up letter from a father who wrote in last year with his own donor-egg dilemma. His wife had been reluctant to tell their twins they’d been conceived using a donor egg, as she feared they would feel she wasn’t really their mother. I said that the husband shouldn’t tell unilaterally, but he should encourage the wife to change her mind and that talking to a support group of people who’ve used egg donors might make her more comfortable and provide advice on how to tell the kids. Here’s what happened, according to the husband: “You were the first person I reached out to, and it took another year, but my wife finally just relaxed and told me to go ahead and tell the twins the whole story. It turns out she was just really afraid that her kids would disown her in some way or not love her anymore. It was just the opposite! The twins were surprised, but their view of her as their mother hasn't changed. They are more grateful than ever that she went to such lengths to bring them into the world. They have no real interest in the egg donor herself either. The subject is now totally dead after only a week or so.” I was delighted to hear the mother came around and got such a loving response. But I did tell the father that while the subject may be dead for now, the children might get more interested later, and they should make sure the subject is not taboo.

In April I ran a letter from a young widower whose wife had been an older woman with a grown daughter. He and his stepdaughter had been providing emotional support for each other; then the stepdaughter confessed she was developing romantic feelings for him. He was overwhelmed with conflicting emotions and wondered what he should do. I said since this young woman had been his stepdaughter for a decade, it would just be wrong to start a romantic relationship with her. I solicited a follow-up from him, and he wrote that shortly after her confession, he went to see his stepdaughter and explained that they could never have a relationship. “She was very upset that I seemed not to reciprocate her feelings. Why was she not good enough? Had she done something wrong? Was there someone else? On and on. Finally I just walked out and left her crying, alone, and utterly devastated. I was dumbfounded, the world was sideways and everything was just gray.” Shortly afterward he was sent overseas for a months-long work trip. He alerted his stepdaughter of his return and she met him at the airport. “We hugged, she kissed me ... fully. I let her, but when she was done I could see that she finally got it. I told her to go home, and that was the last that I have talked to or seen her. And that, I guess, is that.”

I also asked the man whose fiancée was treating his young daughter badly what had transpired since he wrote. In the original letter the father had recognized that his fiancée, Janet, was less mature than his 8-year-old, but his main concern was that Janet, who couldn’t have kids, wanted to adopt and he didn’t feel she was ready to be a mother. I agreed she wasn’t, and added that his poor daughter shouldn’t have to put up with an evil stepmother and he should dump Janet. He wrote back to say that Janet continues to behave badly but that she has finally agreed to attend individual and couple’s counseling. He concluded: “I've not taken your advice, although I know I should. I'm hanging in there, hoping my partner will change, although I know she won't.” If you’re reading this, Dad, save your daughter years of therapy and get Janet out of your lives.

Another letter writer’s experience underlined the excellent point that I worry about every time I suggest therapy: Some therapists are nuts. This woman had written in because her therapist was pushing an incest agenda on her, although none had occurred. I said she should cancel her next appointment and start looking for a therapist who could actually help her. She did that, and after another bad fit, she reported: “I found one who actually listens to me and lets me guide where my therapy goes and I am much better for it. I am still drug free, have gotten a new great job, and am now working on building healthy relationships with my father.” As a reminder of how much letter writers leave out, she mentioned that she had been sexually abused, although not by her father. But a big issue in her life was that her father hadn’t protected her when she was young.