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. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Scent of a Stranger: Last week my partner and I went for a much-needed and long-overdue stay at a bed and breakfast in Florida. The day before we left, while lying by the pool I saw the concierge/desk helper let himself into our room. Wondering why, I got up to check and found him wrapped up in our bed sheets and smelling a pillow. I got angry, and he started crying and said we were an attractive couple and that he “just wanted to feel alive again.” It was awkward and embarrassing, and he said he would never do it again, so I just let it drop and didn’t tell my partner or the proprietor about this. I figured the sheets are their property, and I’d think it was just weird or kind of funny had he just replaced the linens and done that in the laundry room, but in the room itself it felt like a gross violation of our privacy. Plus, if it had been a big chain hotel there’s no question I’d have marched straight to the manager’s office. Should I have told anyone?
A: I can just imagine the Yelp review you could give this place: “The setting is magnificent, the food sensational. And if you’re looking to find the concierge in your bed, masturbating to the scent you’ve left on the pillows, the Come Again Lodge is the place for you.” Let’s put aside for the moment the pervert in your bed. If I were to stumble upon this scene, I cannot imagine going back to the pool and not saying, “Ah, Dear, you remember that nice guy who checked us in ...” This would have become a treasured vacation tale we dined out on for years. However, once we regained our composure, I would have insisted we packed our bags (after carefully checking our underwear) because I would not be able to spend a night at a place where there was a guy with a serious fetish about my bed sheets and a key to my room. You absolutely should have told the proprietor. If you ran a B&B, I assume you’d want to know if you had an employee who felt the aromas of the guests were a form of True Blood. And surely finding the concierge rolling in your sheets would have gotten you comped for the entire vacation.
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Q. Complicated Paternity Problem: Before he met me, my husband started a relationship with a woman who stated she was pregnant as a result of stranger rape. They got married, but eventually divorced and she is now in prison. My husband has custody of the child who is 7. While my husband is the only daddy my stepson has known, we tried to be honest about his biological parentage as age appropriately as we could. He knows, for instance, that his biological father was a bad person who hurt his mommy and is in jail, too. Then we got the shock of our lives when a man contacted us stating he was the real biological father. Contrary to the original story, it turns out this man was married to my stepson’s mom, she divorced him without telling him she was pregnant, and ran off after depleting his bank account. He eventually discovered the existence of his son and spent some time tracking us down with the help of a private investigator. He came with proof of a paternity test and told us he is open to us conducting our own tests—but looking at the two of them, it’s obvious they are father and son. He wants to meet my stepson and start a relationship with him, but we are scared and worried. My stepson has already gone through series of emotional upheaval in his life, he thinks his biological father is a “bad man,” and most of all we are scared he might sue for custody. If we refuse, are we denying our son’s right to know his true parentage?
A: Indeed, you are right, your stepson has known far too much travail in his seven years. And the arrival of his biological father—who was another in the string of victims your husband’s ex has left behind—means that more upheaval is ahead. But surely you understand you can’t keep the boy’s father from him. Before you make any introductions, all of you adults need some excellent professional advice. You and your husband need a family law attorney to look out for your interests and that of your stepson. Unless the mother committed the most heinous of crimes, she’ll be getting out of jail one day and likely will want to assert her own custody rights. So you and your husband need to clarify your legal situation. You also need an excellent child therapist. Get some recommendations and talk to the therapists first to get a feel for them before you choose someone to introduce to your son. This is a very complicated story for him to absorb, and given his age (or any age!) it has to be handled with psychological care. He’s going to find out his father is not a “bad person.” He will come to understand the bad actor in his life is his mother who told the most awful lies. (While telling your son what you thought was the truth about his father, I wish it had been done in a way that didn’t make the boy feel that he sprung from someone evil. He could have known his father made a mistake and did something bad, not simply that he was a globally bad person.) What’s important now is that all the adults recognize the need for your stepson to feel he is in a stable situation and that there will be no abrupt changes. That means you and the biological father agree about how he gets introduced and the next steps to take. At best, this will be a good turning point for this boy. He has essentially lost one damaged parent, but perhaps he is gaining a more loving one.
Q. Estranged Husband Visiting Grandkids in My House: I am in the process of divorcing my husband due to his soliciting other married women on the Internet to have sex with and carrying out his intentions multiple times over many months. His adult son from a previous marriage, whom I am close to, continues to live in my home, along with the son’s wife and two young children. They cannot afford to live elsewhere currently. I am fine with that. My soon to be ex-husband lives 2 miles away. Initially, I allowed him to come for dinner twice weekly. I made plans to be out of the house on those nights. It allowed my ex to see his grandchildren, 2 and 4 years old, in their own home and read them a bedtime story, etc. This has become quite uncomfortable for me. I have suggested to my ex that he childproof his own home and see his family there. While I would like to treat my stepson as if this were their home too and they could entertain friends and family, I am thinking of limiting my ex to one time per week or even none. What do you think?
A: I think you are a really nice person if you own the home you and your soon-to-be ex were living in and you are allowing his son and family to continue to stay on an open-ended basis. You have to know that even if you wish to forget you ever married this cheater, you won’t be able to since you are the landlord for his immediate family. However, of course it is within your right to say you are tired of having to vacate your own home in order for him to see this group. If you don’t want your ex around, tell him so and tell his son and daughter-in-law. Say you do not want to interfere with their relationship with him, but he is no longer welcome and you want them to see him at his new place. If gramps had the means to wine and dine other women, he surely can spring for a baby gate.
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