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. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. Let's get to it!
Not a pedophile: When I was 26, I dated a 16-year-old. I know it sounds like I'm a pervert, but we were seriously in love. She was smart, funny, kind, beautiful, and mature, and as unlikely as it seems, we connected on an adult level. (For what it's worth, our relationship was not illegal in our state.) I didn't like sneaking around, but we kept the relationship from her parents. We were together nine months before they found out, and they were understandably furious. For the sake of her family peace, we eventually agreed to break it off. I was heartbroken but moved on, she went to college, and we lost touch.
Eight years later we found ourselves living in the same city once more and starting dating again. We've been together for two wonderful years now, and I feel incredibly lucky that I got another chance with this woman. Her parents, however, refuse to see me. To them, I am the pedophile who took advantage of their teenage daughter. She is now 26, but I am not welcome in their home, and they will not visit us either. I understand they're angry that I deceived them years ago, but I've only ever wanted the best for their daughter. How can I get them to give me a chance? I want to marry this woman, but they won't even speak to me. My girlfriend is distraught over the rift.
Emily Yoffe: A 10 year age difference between romantic partners depends so much on perspective. Between a 26- and a 36-year-old, it is a notable but hardly cavernous gap, but it is an objectionable one between a 16-year-old and a 26-year-old. If you had just come along now in your girlfriend's life, the 10 years might have rated a mention by her parents, but hardly a veto. Unfortunately, you are fixed in their minds as the predator/pervert after their budding flower. And as the mother of a teenager myself, my stomach lurches at your description of your 26-year-old self connecting on an "adult level" to a 16 year-old.
However, in the past two years you have proved your nonpedophile bona fides by the fact that you truly are in love with this adult woman—and she with you. Yes, it is wrenching for her to be caught between her parents and the man she wants to marry, but she is not a teenager anymore. As a grown-up she has to address her parents firmly and directly. She should tell them she completely understands that they are finding it hard to get over their long-ago concerns. But she needs to say that you two have had two wonderful years together, and you both want your happiness to continue for the rest of your lives. She should explain that she can't stand being pulled apart by the people she loves most, but ultimately she will have to choose you. That means she needs to make clear that it is up to her parents to decide to move on and accept this situation, or create an official breach. Then she should say it's time for all of you to have dinner together and begin the process of detente.
Houston, Tex.: I've been married to a wonderful man for five years, and we've been together for almost 10. We have a child who just turned 1. Our one big reoccurring problem is in bed—he's just not that interested, and its been that way from the very beginning. We have had arguments about it for years; he says he is attracted to me, etc., but what used to be just weeks without has now turned into months and months without, and I can't live like this. Please don't say I should be initiating it, because I feel like I am always the one that does, and the last thing I want to do is dress up in something "pretty" when I feel completely un-pretty. Does this mean my marriage is doomed?
Emily Yoffe: This is a recurring theme—the long, unhappy marriage punctuated by childbearing. You have been sexually frustrated for 10 years, yet 21 months ago you thought it would be a good idea to have a child with this man, so that you would either be tied to him forever or you would ultimately decide to become a single mother in order to seek sexual fulfillment. If your husband is as wonderful as you say, you should be able to talk to him about your needs and how you two go about addressing his low sex drive. He obviously needs a physical workup to start with. As for your needing to sing, "I feel pretty" in order to get him to perform—that says you two need a therapist who specializes in sexual issues before you conclude you're doomed.
Atlanta, Ga.: I'm facing a moral quandary. A giant bottom-feeding corporation (the company shall remain nameless, but it's one posting significant profit during the downturn and is known for putting independent stores out of business) just e-mailed to let me know that they will be crediting my card back for a purchase I have returned, to the tune of $300. Only problem is that they have already credited me back the full amount, several months ago. Husband thinks I need to fess up about the double payment. I think I should take the money and donate it to charity. What say you?
Emily Yoffe: And if you found this corporation to be more to your moral liking, would you decide you would not rip them off due to a clerical error? Here's a way to make everyone happy: You call their 800 number and tell them you've received double credit for the return of a purchase; then you donate some money to charity, anyway.
Albuquerque, N.M.: I manage an accounting department. Recently, my boss showed me an e-mail from a worker who reports to me. The e-mail indicated that the writer believed my boss was of the same opinion and would enjoy a rant by Ben Stein against the president of the United States. She was sufficiently savvy as to NOT send me a copy. My boss, a very kind and gentle man who does not like conflict, was appalled, as was I. How could this employee be so misguided as to think my boss would enjoy that e-mail? Not to mention that any kind of religious or political opinions are inappropriate for sharing. I now think very differently about this reliable worker. I hesitate to clue her in that sending this type of e-mail is, well, just plain stupid, because I have been protecting her against layoff. Knowing her true political opinions, I am no longer inclined to protect her. I would not want her to suspect the true reason for being part of the next layoff. Am I being reasonable?
Emily Yoffe: You are supervising someone who is sending political rants through interoffice mail. It's your obligation and duty to tell her these don't belong at work and she needs to keep her political opinions to herself. Then, as long as she does, you put out of your mind that this is your chance to punish her for those beliefs. How insidious to maneuver to lay her off because you realize you have the chance to punish someone whose views you find repugnant. I assume this would be the kind of thing that would appall you if people on the other end of the spectrum were doing it.