Help! An Anonymous Emailer Is Trying to Shred My Self-Esteem—and I Think I Know Who It Is.

Advice on manners and morals.
Aug. 14 2014 6:00 AM

Inbox Bully

An anonymous emailer is trying to ruin my self-esteem—and I think I know who it is.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
Two months ago, after posting a picture to my Facebook in which I said I “felt beautiful,” I started getting email messages from someone I didn’t know that were vicious and cruel. I am chubby, and my harasser wanted to tell me, as nastily as possible, that I was deluding myself for thinking I could be beautiful. Not knowing who was writing to me, I made my Facebook profile more private. But recently a friend suggested that I compare the IP addresses of my harasser to the IP addresses of emails from people I know. To my shock, I discovered my harasser has the same IP address as my best friend’s boyfriend, Adam. Adam lives alone, and based on the times the messages were sent I do not believe another person sent those messages from his computer. Adam has always been kind to me, and until my discovery I thought he was my friend. His behavior makes no sense, and I don’t know what to say to him or to my best friend. What should I do?

—Confused and Hurt

Dear Confused,
I find myself hoping that Adam has a tendency to lose count of his drinks. It’s no excuse, but if late at night the Mr. Hyde side of Adam seeks to express itself, then at least there’s a proximate cause for his venom. But if Adam just likes to vent his free-floating hatred under the guise of a false identity, he is a major creep. Just to make sure you weren’t going off on a digital tangent, I spoke to some people on Slate’s technology team and they said that identifying an IP address can help point you toward a suspect, but keep in mind your evidence is not conclusive. They also suggested that you do as broad a search as possible of the IP addresses of your correspondents to make sure you’ve turned up a singular match between your tormenter and your friend’s boyfriend. If you remain convinced, I think you should first talk to Adam, then tell your friend. Don’t call a solo meeting with him—you want an easy way out if things get even weirder—but next time you’re at a social event together, pull him aside and say you’d like a word. Explain that recently you were getting a series of abusive email messages. So you did some investigating and were disturbed to find that the IP address of your new correspondent was the same as his email. Then fall silent and let him respond. If he indeed is the culprit, let’s hope that he owns up, abjectly apologizes, and says it will never happen again. If so, tell him that obviously you have some thinking to do about your friendship with him, and this also complicates your friendship with your best friend. Say you are going to tell her, but you will let her hear it first directly from him. If he denies knowing anything about it, then say while you think the evidence is strong, you accept that it remains a mystery. Add that you’re going to let your friend know about your conversation. When you tell her, acknowledge that this is putting her in a difficult situation and that there is an element of doubt, but that you felt you needed to say something. Take comfort that Robert Louis Stevenson had some pungent observations about the (possible) Adams of the world: “I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both.”

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
Earlier this year I met a lovely woman and our chemistry was off the charts. I’ve been single the better part of a decade, she and I are in our 50s, and we both recognize how seldom one finds such a connection. I might be what marketing folks would describe as “generously appointed.” The first time she saw me naked she gasped. After our first afternoon in bed she was in pain for several days. This was a new experience to each of us. It quickly reached the point that she became fearful of intimacy. She’s since seen several doctors, only to have them confirm she is not ill and has nothing organic amiss. She wants to have what she calls a normal sex life with me, that is, intercourse as she has always known it. I’ve suggested therapy or a specialist, but she says the problem is not in her head. I believe that her reaction is now reflexive, but can be addressed. For all the men who think they would trade places in a heartbeat, I’m a guy who has found a woman I would love to get smaller for.

—Big Red

Dear Big,
Before I get to you, let me first make an aside: “Ladies, I’m sorry, but my privacy policy means I cannot put you in touch with Big Red.” You’re not just knocking at heaven’s door, you’re splintering it. I hope your letter is received with gratitude by less substantially endowed men; here is testimony that there are women who run screaming from the big kahuna. Though you aren’t being cocky about your equipment, it’s unlikely that therapy, at least of the head-shrinking kind, is going to do much good for your lady love. The issue might be more about technique. This sex toy website offers a good summary of the most salient advice: foreplay, lots of lubrication, slow pace, and position. Arriving at an approach that doesn’t send your friend diving bottom-first into a tub of ice should be a highly pleasurable exploration for the both of you. But if she’s just hung up on your less-hung predecessors, then you will eventually have to find someone with whom you are a better fit. (And gentlemen of more average proportions, sorry, but I can’t put you in touch with Big Red’s friend.)

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I’m a white American. My husband is a Chinese immigrant. When we married, I took his last name—let’s say it’s “Chang.” It’s been mildly amusing when people have a moment of confusion comparing my face to my last name. Now I’m job hunting and my last name is causing some problems. I work in an international field, and prospective employers always mistakenly assume that I am of Chinese descent. Of course they are not supposed to discriminate based on race, but when I arrive at the interview I can tell that they are disappointed, and I don’t get the job. Yesterday a prospective employer called for a phone interview. It quickly became clear that she was angling to find out my race, commenting that I had “no accent,” and inquiring about my “life journey” (meaning, where was I from). I related this to my husband who told me that I should not have taken his last name and that now my decision is undermining my job search. I don’t want to change back to my maiden name. I want my children, my husband, and I to share the same name. I hate to think that racial identity matters so much in this day and age, but I’m starting to see how my married name is confusing. I don’t want to send my résumés out and live my professional life as “Mrs. not-really-an-Asian-person Chang.” Do you have any ideas?

—Not Really an Asian Person

Dear Not,
I assume the companies know that the life journey of someone named “Chang” can be thoroughly American and not include speaking Mandarin. And that the journey of a “white American” can include being an East Asia scholar. I’m not sure whether you are assuming that these companies only want to hire Asians for departments that deal with Asia, or that that there is some kind of racism at work (Asians are smart and such hard workers!). If you are right that these companies are obsessed with your racial heritage and you are not being hired because you’re not actually Chinese, this is not only ridiculous, it’s illegal. I understand people may be surprised when they plan to interview a “Ms. Chang” and you walk in. But once they’re done with their double-take, they should be professional enough to make this a nonissue. However, since you’re trying to establish your career and you know that most job interviews just don’t pan out, suing a variety of potential employers to try to prove you are being discriminated against because you’re Caucasian is unlikely to enhance your prospects. First of all, put a photo on your LinkedIn page—that may cut down on the double-takes. And since every potential employer is going to want a résumé, make a small tweak to yours. Fashion yourself as “Daphne McGillicuddy Chang.” That does not require you to take back your maiden name, nor hyphenate your current one. Sure, you shouldn’t have to do this, but if implicitly spelling out your background lessens confusion and leads to a successful job search, it will be worth it.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence, 
My ex-wife and I divorced about three years ago. Since the divorce, she has kept my last name. That has annoyed me since we originally agreed that she’d take back her maiden name. Now she’s pregnant by her new boyfriend. There aren’t any young children of this generation in my family, and I’m worried that she’s going to pass on my family name to her child. I’d want her to change her name back to her maiden name, so how do I approach this conversation? Or is this a petty request?

—Surly Surnames

Dear Surly,
You’re not Mr. Chang, are you? While you two may have agreed who gets the keep the car, and who gets to keep the dishes, I’m afraid you can’t try to take custody of your last name. There are lots of women who at some point took a husband’s last name, and kept it even after the marriage went kaput—the president of Harvard, Drew Gilpin Faust, is one. Your ex gets to call herself whatever she likes, and that goes for the naming of her baby. If you do a White Pages search of your last name, surely you will find there are lots of people walking around with it, most of them not directly related to you. Your ex is pregnant by another man, which is pretty good evidence she’s moved on. Do the same.

—Prudie

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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