Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at email@example.com.)
Q. Staying With the Anti-Choice Doctor: I live in a small town, and recently a number of local doctors signed a petition against Planned Parenthood, based on proven lies and obfuscation of facts. I was horrified to find a number of my own providers on the list, including a physician at my group OB practice. I am pregnant with my second child now, but long ago I had an abortion. I feel legitimately concerned about the quality of care I might receive if my OB knows I had an abortion (I disclosed this on my medical history). I’m almost into my third trimester, but I’m completely panicked about the potential of a doctor who may judge me or even deny me crucial medical care if something devastating were to happen during my pregnancy. I want to switch practices, but my husband thinks I am overreacting. There are not many other OBs in town. Should I talk to someone at the practice about my concerns? Am I being unreasonable here?
A: I think it’s perfectly fine for you to talk to your primary physician in this group practice, one who didn’t sign the letter, about the concerns it raised for you. Explain that of course doctors are free to sign petitions and letters, but you were disturbed that physicians would sign onto a letter that was demonstrably false. You can add that because you had an abortion, and that fact is in your chart, you were concerned about the care you might get from the doctor in the group who signed the letter. I’m sure your doctor will reassure you about the group practice and about the professionalism of the doctor who signed. That should reassure you that no matter what the doctor’s personal beliefs, you do not have to worry about the level of care you will receive. Having done that, I think you should then let this go. You are near the finish line, and you have doctors you like. I agree with your husband that there is no reason to create a major disruption now in your care.
Q. Two Years Later: I am a sophomore in college. When I was a high school senior, I had a relationship (sexual, emotional, you name it) with one of my teachers. I have always viewed our relationship as consensual, but as time goes on I have begun to see the negative effects it had on my life. It pushed me away from my friends, family, and activities I cared about. While my other friends went to football games and the homecoming dance, I was sneaking into my math teacher’s house through a laundry room window. Also, it was my first real relationship, and it feels weird to not be able to acknowledge it happened to this day even though it ended so long ago. I gave up so much to make that relationship work, and now I still feel like I’m carrying around a secret. I honestly don’t think my teacher is a predator, and I don’t want to ruin his life, but I’m at a loss on how to get over this whole situation.
A: At the time you may have wanted to be in a sexual relationship with your high school math teacher, but this relationship was not consensual legally, or even morally. You were a minor being exploited by someone in a position of authority over you. What he did, had it come out, would have ended not just with his dismissal, but likely with his arrest. You may say your math teacher is not a predator, but maybe you would change your mind if you found out there have been a string of girls over the years sneaking into his laundry room window. While that sneaking may have been exciting at the time, I hope you can see the utter tawdriness and exploitation of it now. It is a good thing you are looking back and seeing this wasn’t the special secret love you thought it was, but an unfortunate episode. Yes, you missed some things in your high school years that you can’t get back because of this creep, but the good news is that you are now putting this in its proper perspective. That will allow you to fully embrace the college opportunities you have—you are still very young, and there are still lots of campus sporting events to go to with your friends, and young men who are appropriate partners for you. You need to talk all this out with a therapist, and maybe even a lawyer. A good therapist will help you sort out and make sense of what happened and most important, help you move on. You need to discuss with your therapist the prospect of telling your parents, and the possibility of telling the authorities. Yes, the outing of this “affair” would end his career—which I think would be a good thing. But reporting would be an enormous step, one you would have to be fully prepared to make.
Q. Hot for teacher: I am a 22-year-old woman sexually attracted to my math lecturer who appears to be in his late 20s or early 30s. I will be graduating this semester and was wondering if it would be acceptable for me to proposition him once I am no longer a student. Since I will not be a student, he will not serve on any advisory boards related to me, and I would never ask him for a recommendation should the deed be done. Our relationship (for now, hopefully) is very professional. I am not looking to date him and I understand that even after I graduate there will be residual power dynamics in his favor, or so I read. I just really want to approach his asymptote with my curve. What do you think?
A: I guess my math terror kept me from seeing the true hotness of my math teachers. I know there are many lovely people who owe their existence to the inexorable attraction between student and professor. And it’s also true that once two adults are no longer student and professor, they are free agents—with the caveat that there may be rules about this in the school’s code of conduct manual. But all things being equal, I think this is a bad idea. You may be hot for your math teacher, but you’re 22 years old, so you are capable of having the hots for an almost infinite number of men. Your professor has exhibited not the slightest interest in you, so you would have to make an awkward approach that he likely would feel he has to rebuff, and the whole thing would be a negative for him. Do some calculations about the number of potential partners for you out there, then go looking for one less encumbered.
Q. Re: Anti-Abortion OBGYN: If you can change without jeopardizing your insurance, I would change. But the bigger issue is that the doctors you now distrust may be at your delivery, depending on who is on call. You need to let the practice know that the doctors you don’t trust are not to be on call for your delivery. This sort of thing is easily arranged.
A: If she is in a group practice and is happy with the care, and there are few choices, I don’t think it makes sense to change practice in the third trimester because one doctor in the group signed this letter. Perhaps there will be other doctors in another group who sympathized with the letter but didn’t sign. But I think you raise a fair point about asking that the letter-signing doctor not be in her rotation anymore. However, I don’t know how easy it would be to arrange for him not to treat her if he was the one on call when she went into labor.
Q. Co-Worker’s Loss: I have a co-worker, “Ann,” whose husband recently died in a car accident. He was young and I’m so sad for her. We weren’t close enough that we spent time together outside of work, but she and I did talk to each other frequently at the office. She had given me advice right before my wedding and shortly before the accident had been telling me how wonderful marriage is. She will be returning to work next week and my question is how should I behave? My instinct is to give her a hug and tell her how sorry I am for her loss. However, I worry such a gesture might make her emotional and I don’t want to make her cry at work. I wish I knew her well enough to reach out to her outside of work before she returns, but we’re not close enough that I have her phone number. What should I say to her?
A: You hug her, you say you are so sorry for her loss. You have a tissue ready in case she starts crying, and you listen. She has a long, slow, painful mourning ahead of her. Pretending she’s OK and that this didn’t happen will not make her believe it didn’t happen but will make her feel more alone. Then you see how things go at work. Maybe you will get closer to her. Maybe you will just be someone who can walk around the block with her, or go to the ladies room with her and listen or just sit quietly while she tries to pull herself together.
Q. Icky One-Night Stand: I am a member of a prestigious leadership organization at my university. For one event, members were encouraged to invite a personal mentor as a guest. I invited a teacher I was very close with throughout high school. We had a wonderful time at the event and reminiscing about the past. Afterward, we decided to get a glass of wine. A glass turned into a bottle and we ended up having sex. I am a bit uncomfortable with this. I have never been with older guys, and I viewed John as a mentor and father figure, not a potential boyfriend. We’ve texted a few times since this, but I’ve been rather cold. Yesterday, the president of the organization asked me to extend an invitation to John for our next big charity event. He said he thinks John could be a viable asset to our organization. If I don’t invite him, I forfeit my opportunity to make a good impression on the president. I’m sure if I make up an excuse for why he can’t make it, he’ll simply be invited to the next event. What’s your advice?
A: It’s not clear when you say “your university” whether you mean the one you attend, or the one at which you work. If the former, that means an older high school teacher slept with a still-young former student after the student got quite drunk. (I will assume you’re old enough to drink legally, which if you’re not is an entirely different situation.) This is creepy. You were not inviting your high school teacher because you were romantically interested in him, but because he was an important figure to you during your adolescence. Even given that you are an adult and made a choice—albeit an alcohol-assisted and unfortunate one—to get into bed with him, it has left you with a sullied relationship with a former mentor. I think you need to communicate with him directly that you regret what happened and that it has left you deeply uncomfortable. Electronic communication is fine—you two aren’t in a relationship, after all. Then you tell the head of your organization the teacher is unable to make it to your next event. That is true, because you are unable to invite him. Surely, there are other “viable assets” for your group that you, and the president, can pursue.
Q. My Boss’s Affair: I saw my boss kissing a man who is not her husband in an alley on my way home from work and saw the two of them going into a hotel the next week. She has a young kid and is married to a great guy. We live a couple of blocks away from them, and her husband and kid often bring us cookies they’ve made or invite us over for barbecues. When one of my own kids shattered his leg and I was away, my boss’s husband drove him to the hospital and waited by his bed for six hours until I could get there. Under normal circumstances, I’d stay out of my boss’s personal life. However, I think her husband deserves better and he’s done a lot for me. I see three options: say nothing, tell the husband, or talk to my boss. What do I do?
A: Say nothing.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.