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I am the proud mother of a beautiful 22-year-old daughter. She’s been a stellar student—she graduated from an Ivy League school—and a terrific kid, and we have a great relationship. She’s living back at home after completing college and working part-time as she prepares to apply to law school. Recently, I forgot something I needed and hurriedly ran into the house. As I went by her room I saw her naked and performing sexually on camera. When we spoke about it later she didn’t seem embarrassed and explained that while it was not any of my business, it was something that she and her boyfriend do frequently when they cannot be together physically. I’m not proud of this, but the next day while she was out I sneaked a peek at her computer. I found literally hundreds of explicit pictures of my daughter with men and women, and I do mean explicit. Knowing that I violated her privacy, I’m a little apprehensive to come clean and tell her what I found while snooping on her personal computer. But I want to find out more about her extracurricular activities and express my concerns that theses types of things could have a way of coming back to haunt her later in life.
—Freaking Out Mom
I share your concern about your daughter's judgment given that she has neglected to put password protection on a computer loaded with explicit images. I understand your shock, but it's also true that her sex life is none of your business. Philip Larkin wrote in “Annus Mirabilis”: “Sexual intercourse began/ In nineteen sixty-three/ (which was rather late for me).” You are of proper vintage, Mom, to have experienced sexual liberation. What's different for your generation from your daughter’s is that once the deed was done, it remained only as a memory (or a baby, or an STD). But today there can be an electronic file that can follow someone the rest of his or her days. I know some young people will argue that recording and sharing such intimate moments is going to be so much the norm that if these images get loose, all they will rate is a shrug. (Experimenting with drugs was once thought to disqualify someone for the presidency, and then Barack Obama wrote a memoir in which he portrayed his youthful reliance on marijuana.) You just don't know what she's done with this sex file, whether it's private and for her own pleasure, or whether she is engaging in some sort of pornographic activity. So there is the possibility that these images are already out of her control. If the latter, I agree her having allowed this would be foolish in the extreme, but given that you violated her privacy to snoop, and that your daughter is an adult, you could permanently damage your relationship with her by revealing what you found. At the least you know she exchanges explicit images with her boyfriend. She is in love with him and thus certain he would never betray her. But I bet many of the women victimized by revenge porn felt the same way. Let’s hope that when your daughter goes to law school, a class about this area of jurisprudence will cause her to take her own privacy more seriously. But since you did stumble upon her during a highly personal moment you both wish you hadn’t seen, it’s fair for you to bring it up with her once more. Say you know she's an adult and you are sorry about intruding, but your concern is not about her relationship with her boyfriend, but the nature of the internet. Tell her you want to emphasize the importance to her future of making sure any recording of intimate activity has the highest possible security protection from prying eyes.
My girlfriend is what you would call “judgy” and it’s seeping into our personal life. She’s constantly saying my behavior is not normal, which includes such things as the way I stock the fridge. When she doesn’t like my opinion or the way I’ve phrased something, she proclaims that we’re going to have a new restriction about what I’m allowed to say. When I was a grad student and took longer than she liked to study for an exam, she called up my friends to find out how long it took them to study. When she was mad that I couldn’t go out on a certain weekend, she took down all the photos of us in her apartment. How do I put an end to this judgmental and controlling behavior? I feel like I’m on eggshells. We actually have a good time together until I say the wrong phrase, don’t abide by her schedule perfectly, or don’t meet other expectations.
What you call “judgy,” I call abusive. The domestic abuse of men is a source of hidden shame, but one that needs to be brought out in the open. You sound like so many female abuse victims I’ve heard from over the years—asserting that when the abuser is not being abusive, things are good! These letter writers want to know how to encourage that “good person within” to make more of an appearance. Of course things are good sometimes. You’d have to be an off-the-charts masochist to stay in a relationship that had zero pleasant moments. But the answer to how you spend more time with a good person and less with an abuser is to dump the abuser and find a good person. Your girlfriend is not a good person. She is nasty, controlling, insulting, and demeaning. Sure, she may have moments of kindness, but these are the exceptions to her obsession with your wrongdoing. You aren’t married to this woman and blessedly don’t have children with her. You don’t even live together. So what you do is say to her: “Here’s a phrase of mine you won’t be able to correct: We’re through.” Then get some therapy to find out what it is about your psyche that has allowed someone to walk all over you for so long.
I have been married more than 15 years and have two kids. Sometimes Saturday mornings my wife and I like to sleep in late and maybe have a little naked alone time, so we lock the bedroom door and if I’m lucky, I get lucky. Nothing crazy or loud but my wife gets nervous and says the kids will think we are having sex. I understand and don’t want to advertise it, but after 15 years these times are precious and I don’t care at that moment what the kids think. What’s wrong if we lock the door sometimes and have some private time? Sometimes, I might join my wife in our shower and a few times one of the kids has come to the door because of a phone call and will ask, “Is Dad in there with you Mom?” Again, this makes us feel self-conscious, but I also feel it’s normal. My wife and I both came from divorced homes so we don’t have any memories of what our moms and dads did. Are we supposed to live like Mr. and Ms. Cleaver?
A friend once told me that every Saturday morning he and his siblings got unlimited TV cartoons because Saturday morning was when Mom and Dad locked the bedroom door and took a nap. Eventually, he came to understand and be amused by the realization that his parents weren’t really sleepy. What you’re doing is perfectly normal (and I also always got the impression that Ward and June Cleaver enjoyed their own adult time apart from Wally and the, umm, Beaver). It’s actually good for kids to know their parents have sex—in a general, abstract way. Because you grew up with divorced parents, you and your wife both missed the undercurrent in your childhood home that let you know adulthood offered exciting things ahead. So if one of your children comes to the bathroom door while you’re soaping each other up, don’t be embarrassed to shout, “Just take a message, we’re in the shower.” Sure, it might gross out the kids now, but someday they’ll look back—as my friend did about his parents’ nap time—and appreciate that even when you two were done procreating, you weren’t done having sex.
I am a woman in my late 20s working at a nonprofit with about 60 employees. Some of my work involves interaction with our executives, and I’ve had a pretty good rapport with one of them in particular, a man in his early 50s. He’s an easygoing, well-liked person who often chats and makes jokes with people (not just me) in the break room, at office parties, etc. However, lately he has taken to addressing me by pet names, like “blondie” and a common rhyme with my name (think “Anna Banana”). It’s never been anything overtly sexual, but it just strikes me as too familiar and inappropriate at work. More than anything I’m concerned about anyone else in the office noticing this and getting the wrong impression. How do I let him know I’d like this to stop without making too big a deal of this and damaging our otherwise good working relationship?
—Not Anna Banana
The next time he does this, when he’s back in his office, go by and ask if you can talk to him for a minute. Then shut the door, and without being defensive explain that while you enjoy that your office can have a light-hearted atmosphere, you are uncomfortable being called by pet names. Say they make you feel unprofessional, and that you’re sure that isn’t his intention. I’m going to bet he’ll be mortified and abjectly apologize. Probably he thinks of you in a daughterly way, but you’re right that he should banish such thoughts because they are inappropriate for the office. Then go back to your desk and write a time-stamped memo to yourself about this entire event. Let’s hope you never have to refer to it again, but if you do, you will have evidence that there was a problem with a superior and you addressed it in a businesslike fashion.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Keeping It in the Family: How do I explain to people I’m marrying my late wife’s sister?”
“Three Beds, Two Baths, One Body: We’ve found the perfect house. Only problem: a woman was murdered there.”
“We Have a Weiner: A woman I briefly dated is telling people I sent her crotch shots. But it wasn’t me!”
“Performance Review: I’ve been sleeping with an older man in my field. Can I ask him for career advice?”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“He Oughta Know: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman determined to reveal her husband’s affair to the partner’s spouse.”
“Can’t Bear His Grin: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman whose husband got a gold and rhinestone grill for his teeth.”
“Keeping Up Appearances: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose future in-laws don’t want her burn-victim father at the wedding.”
“The Hills Are Alive: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman on whether to tell her son’s busty girlfriend she should wear a bra.”
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