June 20, 2018
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Advice to a victim and her old bullies

Emily Yoffe
By Emily Yoffe, Slate

Dear Prudence,

I was a shy, homely girl who was bullied viciously by both siblings and schoolmates through most of my childhood. My lunches were stolen, I was regularly hit, and more. Teachers ignored what was happening, and my parents blamed me for being victimized. It was a sad, lonely, and hopeless childhood, but I have struggled to move past it.

I’m now happily married, with a great kid and a decent job. I moved away from my hometown as soon as I could, and in recent years when I’ve come back to visit my parents, former classmates have approached me to apologize. They go through incidents, in detail, that apparently haunt them, asking for forgiveness. They get their absolution, and I’m forced to relive those awful memories.

A reunion is coming up and my contact information was published in a directory. I’m getting notes telling me how much I’ve been missed at previous reunions, how everybody wants to talk to me, and how I owe it to them and myself to come. How can I get people to understand that I forgive them, but that I would appreciate being left alone as I am trying to forget my unhappy past?

— Go on Without Me

Dear Go On,

Bullying is much in the news, with a new documentary out and the suicides of Phoebe Prince and Tyler Clementi resulting in criminal charges being brought against their schoolmates.

Your childhood sounds heartbreaking and dreadful. It is appalling that the adults around you refused to see what was going on or, in the case of your own parents, blamed you. (They are lucky you are still willing to visit them.) At least some of the creeps who attacked you, now that they are adults, have the decency to acknowledge the awfulness of their acts.

That you made it out and made a good life is a tribute to your resilience and strength. So please don’t let the bullies re-victimize you with their demands. You wisely point out that your washing away their sins comes at a high price to you. I wish the people who push others toward making up with their tormenters had a better sense that disinterring the past can be damaging.

It’s kind of you to forgive your classmates, but you’re not required to go on an amnesty tour. You can ask the organizers of the reunion to remove your contact information from the directory and spread the word that you won’t be coming. Delete the emails urging you to come, or answer with a terse explanation that your busy schedule precludes a trip down memory lane.

Dear Prudence,

I am a 22-year-old wife and mother of two young children. My husband is not the father of my eldest child, who is 7 years old. I met my husband when my daughter was 2 years old, and since then he’s been the father figure to her. My husband’s family refers to her as their granddaughter. But they often ask why my daughter’s father isn’t in the picture and why his name isn’t on her birth certificate. It’s a private matter that I find difficult to discuss, so I just change the subject. When I was 14 years old, I was raped by a family member and became pregnant. I am ashamed and disgusted that I never pressed charges. The rapist is living his life like nothing happened. My husband is aware of my daughter’s origin. He wants us to tell his family so they will stop asking. But discussing it would be like reliving it over again. Is there something I can tell his family so that they will stop asking?

—Touchy Subject

Dear Touchy,

This guy got away with a heinous crime. Yes, your wonderful daughter is the result, but that does not undo the fact that a family member is a criminal and you may not be the only young woman he has violated. Deciding to bring him to justice would be painful but right, and I hope you will consider it. If you go ahead, contact the prosecutor’s office where the assault took place. Some states have no statute of limitations on rape, some fairly lengthy ones, so depending on where you live, prosecution may still be a possibility. The fact that you were only 14 years old when you were impregnated and that a DNA test will show it was by a family member could result in a powerful case. There’s no reason to be ashamed about the decisions you made. You were just a child yourself, and you should be proud of the fine family you have created out of such a tough beginning. Whether or not you move ahead with reporting this crime, you should get support for what you have been through. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network has a referral site that will help you find a local rape counseling center. Talking out what happened, and thinking through how to handle whatever decision you make, will help you feel more at peace. If you don’t report, you shouldn’t have to squirm when your husband’s family asks about your daughter. Have him privately say to his family that you were just a girl when you were impregnated, the circumstances were terrible, and that there’s no need to discuss it.

Dear Prudence,

My wife and I are buying our first house, and she’s gotten really excited about the decorating. For our new bedroom her plan was to make everything — walls, rugs, linens — her favorite color: pink. When she told me, I reacted badly and forbade her to do this, saying that I would never be comfortable in such an emasculating atmosphere. I know I hurt her feelings deeply, and since then I’ve apologized and tried to get her to look at bedding sets with me. I just want her to be happy about our house again and forget that I overreacted. What can I do?

— Just Color Me Happy

Dear Color,

I’m wondering exactly what you said: “Why don’t you just cut off my balls with pinking shears?” or “How do you expect me to get it up when I feel like I should be wearing a tutu in my own bedroom?” Either seems reasonable in response to her My Little Pony decorating scheme. You have apologized for seeing red and for being overbearing and rude. But maybe she should acknowledge that turning your bedroom into a princess purgatory for you wasn’t very thoughtful, either. If she’s sulking, or just planning to make the room into a brown man-cave, tell her you are as excited about the house as she is and that you want to work together on it. Then explain that a compromise — a rose-hued rug or a chair upholstered in raspberry — would be just peachy.

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