Dear Prudence answers readers' questions live at Washingtonpost.com.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
May 26 2009 2:58 PM

The Gift They Keep on Giving

Prudie counsels a woman whose loutish brother-in-law passed off her present as his own—and other advice seekers.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com every Monday at 1 p.m. to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. This week's chat took place on Tuesday because of the Memorial Day holiday. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.) An unedited transcript of this week's chat follows.

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. Let's get going.

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Somewhere, Ore.: A woman and I were at a friend's house. This woman revealed to us that she sells her pain prescription medication to someone as she needs money. I was dumbfounded. I know this woman has a very hard life. She is disabled, not on any assistance and is raising a teen. I hire her to do housework to help her out. I don't want to know this, but now that I do I'm torn between reporting her to the authorities and pretending I never heard her. So far I've done nothing. Is doing nothing good decision?

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Emily Yoffe: Now that you know, you could initiate a talk with her about the various disability services and support she may be eligible for—maybe you can help her find a caseworker. You can also say that you are very concerned that if her small business activities get discovered, her problems will be massively compounded by her entering the criminal justice system. But you should assure her that won't happen because of you. What purpose could be served by blowing the whistle on an ill, desperate woman trying to raise a daughter alone? She needs support, not prosecution.

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Chicago, Ill.: On Mother's Day my brother-in-law surprised my mother-in-law with a very lovely framed grouping of family pictures. The gift brought her to tears. The problem? I originally made and gave that gift to my brother-in-law for Christmas (I had taken the family pictures at Thanksgiving and thought he would appreciate the gift as he has a very close relationship with his mother). He passed the gift off to his mother (right in front of me) as something he created himself and gave out of the goodness of his heart. I held my composure at the time but later mentioned the incident to my husband in private. He only replied that his brother didn't have a lot of money right now to buy a gift (although the man never has a shortage of new clothes and "toys").

I really wouldn't have minded had my brother-in-law come to me prior and asked if he could give the gift to his mother because she might appreciate it more (and had he not passed the gift off as his own creation). Compounding the problem is the fact that my husband and I currently live with my in-laws (and brother-in-law). I have to look at this gift every single day. Am I out of line to have my panties in a twist over this event, or should I mention something to my brother- or mother-in-law?

Emily Yoffe: The larger problem here is not the photo but the fact that you, your husband, your mother and father-in-law, and your brother-in-law, are all living under the same roof. Sure you have to look at his ridiculous re-gifting escapade every time you go into the living room. But if all of you aren't killing each other every morning over who ate the last serving of cornflakes, then you have a remarkably tolerant family. Forget the portrait and work on saving your money so you don't have look at the picture of them, or them in the flesh, every day.

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Charlottesville, Va.: Hi Prudence,

My husband and I are giving a dinner party with dancing to a local band, in three weeks. On my guest list is a couple who experienced a tragedy yesterday. Their daughter, whom I have met a number of times died suddenly. Of course I will express my condolences as one would for a good friend. However, my party invitations are going to be mailed tomorrow. I don't know whether to send their invitation or not. I think not, but my husband thinks we should. I doubt that they would attend and they will know we have them in our prayers. Help!

Emily Yoffe: You first must express your condolences in writing, and I hope visit your friends to offer your sympathy for this wrenching event. After your visit, you can call to follow up and see how they're doing. During that conversation you can mention you are having a dinner party and if they're up for it, you would love them to attend, but you understand if it's too soon for them to socialize. In any case, you and your husband should make separate plans to, say, have dinner with just the two of them—it's so important for people not to feel abandoned during times of grief.

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Houston, Texas: Dear Prudie, I am currently dating a wonderful man, whom I have fallen in love with. He is patient, understanding, and kind. My dilemma is that a few years ago, (before I met my current guy), I had an affair with a married man. I know I made a terrible mistake, and am slowly learning to forgive myself, but I still feel awful for what I've done. My boyfriend and I are becoming serious, and I don't want to lie about my past, but I don't know what to do. Should I tell my boyfriend?

Emily Yoffe: Being honest about your past does not obligate you to give a full accounting of all the sexual and romantic encounters you had before your current one—unless they are relevant. That would mean telling of contracting herpes, for example, or that you once dated your boyfriend's uncle. As you get to know each other better, if you feel you want to unburden yourself, then do so. Surely if he is so patient, understanding, and kind, he will be generous in his response to a mistake you made that you now regret.

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Vienna, Va.: My brother and father have been estranged from each other for over 15 years; my father has had no contact with my brother or his children whatsoever at my brother and his wife's direction. My nephew (my brother's son) is now graduating from high school and my sister-in-law wants my father's address so they can send my father a graduation notice. I think it is highly inappropriate and tacky since the have refused any and all communication requests by my father. Do you agree?

Emily Yoffe: Is the notice going to say, "We still hope you go to hell, old man, but before you do, send a generous graduation gift to your grandson"? If it's strictly about the gift, then yes, they are behaving horribly. But perhaps the notice is about the fact that they are realizing the estrangement has caused the grandfather to miss all the important events in his grandson's life. In any case, you shouldn't withhold the address. Let the notice go out, and let the involved parties work it out.

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