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Over the weekend, during a heated argument with my 15-year-old daughter, I found out that she and her boyfriend of a year have recently started having sex. I had suspected this, and, to her credit, when I asked she said yes without hesitation. I spent many years talking with her about choices and trying to develop an open relationship. We are seeing her doctor to discuss birth control and talk about reproductive health. On paper, I've done all the right things. But I am devastated! I feel pained that she didn't come to me first, sad that she made this choice so young, and afraid that something horrible will happen. I'm sure this is a normal reaction but how can I move on? How do I make her understand that even though I know she is having sex, and even though I have taken her to see a doctor, that I'm not OK with her having sex? What discussion is appropriate for her dad and me to have with the boyfriend? Clearly lying in bed weeping is not the answer.
Parenthood requires the ability to accept the necessary and bittersweet truth that if you’re doing the right things your child will eventually shed her innocence and need you less. I understand, Mom, that you weren’t ready for your 15-year-old to be shedding her clothes and getting it on with her little pisher of a boyfriend. It’s true that according to the Guttmacher Institute, she’s younger than average for first intercourse—the institute says 16 percent of teens that age are sexually active. But by the time they are 17 years old almost half of teens have had intercourse. So dry your eyes and accept that in this arena your daughter is precocious. She is having sex with someone she cares about, and vice versa. There are so many lousy ways to lose your virginity—think of the drunken party in the basement—that it is a good thing she decided to do it in the context of a relationship. You are right that now she needs a safe and reliable form of birth control. She also needs to be able to talk privately with a gynecologist who can discuss pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other consequences of becoming sexually active, so good for you for setting this up. As for your fears that something horrible will happen, being a parent means living with that fear but not letting it disable you. There’s no reason to think her losing her virginity will start a cascade of disaster.
You ask what you and your husband should say to the boyfriend. I think you need to stick to things like, “Hi, Tyler, how’s school?” and, “Are you playing basketball again this season?” Sure, initiating a discussion with him about the fact that he’s having sex with your daughter might terrify and (temporarily) wilt him. But I don’t see anything good coming of it except awkwardness and a sense of violation on the part of your daughter. I agree with you that it would have been better had she waited to start this phase of life. But she didn’t, and your weekend weeping in bed made clear that you disapprove. You will only alienate her if you can’t come to terms with her decision and treat her with respect. You move on by accepting that you have only a few more years of your little girl living under your roof (you hope). Tell her you appreciate her being honest with you, and that even if you don’t always agree with her decisions, you will always be there to love and support her.
Dear Prudence: Husband Hung Up on Hair Length
My 32-year-old boyfriend is a great guy—cute, funny, smart, and loving. However, he is unhappy because he hasn't achieved success in his field. It's a hyper-competitive industry, known as “the industry” around here, and he works in a retail job he hates in order to make a living. A guy he went to school with has achieved massive success due to a project he created while in school (my boyfriend helped him perfect it in class, but they were never close). Now whenever that guy's name comes up, or he achieves more success, it sends my boyfriend into a downward spiral of depression. It breaks my heart to see him unhappy like this. I can't believe how much power he lets this successful guy have over him (the classmate hasn’t responded to my boyfriend’s emails for years). I honestly don't know if he will ever make it in this industry. He will almost certainly never make it the way his schoolmate did. How can I help him to help himself accept this and find happiness anyway? I am also trying to break into the same industry, with somewhat more success than my boyfriend is having, but seeing my schoolmates and peers make it just doesn't affect me the same way.
—Heart Aching for Him
I’m assuming the industry is entertainment and apparently your boyfriend has been fruitlessly trying to get a toehold for about a decade. So I have some news: He’s not going to make it in show business. I know that you can point to an endless number of people who’ve had breakaway success after years of failure. But they are an infinitesimal percentage of show biz strivers. Far more common is relentless failure, but no one wants to tell that story. Also common are people who have had some degree of success, which then dries up as they age (and in Hollywood, by your 40s you’re considered old). So you have a thwarted guy stewing in bitterness about his lot, hating the job he has, and having no real prospect this will change. You cannot make this better. What you can do is help him face reality. He needs to take a hard look at a career he would find satisfying and for which there are employment opportunities. If that’s not retail, he needs to get out, maybe get some education or training, and retool himself. If he won’t, in another 10 years he will be that hostile guy behind the counter at the mall obsessing over people with half his talent and a thousand times his money.