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. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Brother-in-Law’s Confession Could Destroy Family: My husband’s sister “Beth,” her husband “Eric,” and their 2-year-old daughter recently came into town. Eric and I have never seen eye-to-eye, but we are civil. After hosting a big family party in our sun room, everyone went to bed. Eric offered to help me clean up, which I agreed to. Initially, he complimented my outfit and hair, which I thanked him for. Then, he implied that Beth no longer has sex with him. I wasn’t positive if that was what he meant, so I chose not to say anything further. That was when he mentioned that he had always thought that I was beautiful, then laughed as he mentioned that “no one” would hear us if we had sex together out in the sun room. Thinking that he was drunk, I said, “Well, we’re both married, and your wife is probably waiting for you in the guest room.” He answered, “I’ve already had to have a little fun on the side.” I turned around to leave and found him standing with everything on display. I didn’t say anything, just hurried into the house and went to bed. I avoided them until they left, then asked my husband what he and Eric drank; he told me that Eric was completely sober. I didn’t mention what happened. While I know my husband would side with me if I came forward, I know it could rip him apart from the rest of the family. But I’m also scared that if I keep quiet, Eric might tell the family that I came onto him, which could be even more damaging. What should I do?
A: Eric has an unusual perspective on how to warm up chilly in-law relations. He’s deeply sick, but I don’t understand why you didn’t immediately tell your husband about this. I would hope he would side with you! Your husband’s family must have some strange dynamics if you were more concerned about the news that Eric exposed himself to would ruin their July 4 picnic than the fact that people need to know that Eric is an out-of-control creep. Yes, it would be terrible for your sister-in-law to find out that she has a toddler by a pervert, but Eric’s behavior needs to be exposed. Someone who would do this with his family sleeping a few feet away is someone potentially headed toward needing the services of a criminal defense attorney. Please tell your husband immediately, then you two can figure out how to tell his sister. If this results in you and your husband being ostracized, then that might be a blessing.
Q. Wife and Nephew: My wife and my teenage nephew seem to have gotten quite close. They have given each other back rubs and foot-rubs. My sister is a good, involved, and seemingly affectionate mother, so it’s not as if my wife is filling some void. Am I just being paranoid, or could there be something bad developing? I’m not sure how to broach this with my wife or my sister.
A: This chat is developing into a modern dress version of Game of Thrones. Even if your nephew is interested in becoming a massage therapist, the person he practices on should not be his auntie. It’s hard to imagine a teenage boy not squirming with embarrassment if his aunt picked up his foot and started rubbing it. Sure some families are more touchy (in both senses) than others. In yours it could be perfectly normal for one family member to massage the shoulders of another. And the feet of children can be irresistible for tickling or rubbing. But when the kids get to be teenagers, things get way more hands-off. You are there, you’ve seen how your wife and nephew behave, and it’s freaking you out. So tell your wife about your concerns, ask what’s going on, and keep an eye open at that July 4 family gathering.
Q. Re: Brother-in-law confession addition: I forgot to add: my concern stems from the fact that Eric is a professing Christian and takes every opportunity to bring up his piousness, and my in-laws adore him. Meanwhile, I am the liberal atheist. I get the impression that most of the in-laws tolerate me and are likely not to believe the accusation anyway. Not because they want to protect an obviously troubled person, but because they believe his act. I have decided to tell my husband regardless and hopefully Beth will leave this guy. If not, I’ve washed my hands of the situation. Thanks for your clear-headed advice, Prudie!
A: Maybe the believers in your family lack an interest in the news. Because they might have noted a few examples over the years of pious people who use their religion as the means to gain trust and do horrible things. I’m glad you’re going to tell your husband. Beth also needs to know. Let’s hope your in-laws apply some secular sense to this mess and don’t just conclude you’re Satan.
Q. LGBT Issue: I attended a casual friend’s BBQ over the weekend and struck up a conversation with “Campbell,” a person obviously born female but very butch. During the course if our conversation, I very quickly asked what pronoun Campbell would prefer me to use when referencing her. I thought I was being aware and polite in case she identified as something else, but she got huffy and almost yelled, “Don’t I look like a woman?” She then abruptly ended our convo, and I could tell she was whispering about me for the rest of the night.
A: If you meet someone at a party, when in conversation with this person it just does not come up that you refer to them in the third person singular. Unless the person specifically makes a reference to how he or she identifies on the gender spectrum, you don’t bring it up. When referring later to someone whose gender may be ambiguous, you can ask a mutual friend. Or you can just say, “I met Campbell and had a really interesting talk with her.” Then if you don’t get corrected, you will know which pronoun to use.
Q. Hot for Teacher: I’m an 18-year-old high school senior. I’ve dated around like most kids my age, but I’ve always had a thing for older women. One woman in particular is my calculus teacher. She’s single, 31, personable, and smoking hot. She knows I have a thing for her and has made it obvious that the feeling’s mutual. She’s smart enough not to get involved with a student, but did tell me that if I still feel the same way about her after I graduate, then I should contact her. My friends feel this is crazy and that I should date girls my own age. I don’t see a problem. Even if it just turns out to be a summer fling, I’m comfortable letting it go in whatever direction it takes us. Do you agree with my friends, or do you think there’s no problem in my seeing her after I graduate?