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Dear John: My Mother-In-Law Is Sex Offender Paranoid

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


What’s your problem? Write to John at [email protected].

Dear John,

My mother-in-law has developed an unpleasant habit of keeping a close eye on the state sex offender registry and showing us “who you should be keeping an eye out for,” in her words. (We have a four-year-old daughter.) It’s not just in our neighborhood, either. It’s also wherever we happen to be travelling. I’ve told her that I’m not overly worried unless one moves in next door, but she doesn’t seem to get the hint. I don’t want to dismiss her concern all together; I just don’t want to be forced to look at police photos every time I go to her house. And I know she means well. What can I say to get her to stop doing this?


Dear Offended,

Just refuse to look. Next time, when she summons you over to the computer to show you who might be lurking wherever you’re going in the weeks ahead, simply say, “I really appreciate your looking out for us and everything, but please just tell us if someone moves into our immediate neighborhood. When we’re away from home, our daughter is literally never out of our sight, so we really don’t need to know every sex offender within a ten-mile radius.” Then change the subject.


Dear John,

I am a freshman in college. I’m living in a dorm room with two other girls. We were all thrown in together by the school’s housing office.

This is my first time living away from home. I was raised by very old-fashioned immigrant parents. I had an upbringing that was very strict (loving, but strict). Girls were expected to fulfill certain roles, as were boys, although the roles the boys were expected to fill seemed more appealing to me! To make a long story short, I was raised in an environment I found very stifling and that didn’t leave much room for fun or rule-breaking (on a minor level). I was determined to break away from them by going to a college far enough away that I wouldn’t be under their thumbs.

I got my wish, and it has turned out to be more than I bargained for! All of a sudden, I am surrounded by things I have no experience with and with which my roommates and new friends are very familiar, namely, alcohol, marijuana, and sex! I feel like it’s all too much, too fast. My roommates are fun-loving and very friendly, but wild, at least compared to me. They have already each had a guy spend the night in our room with them, they smoke pot in the room and make me very nervous they’re going to get caught, and they are out drinking every night. I feel like I’m trapped. I don’t want to move out—I like them as people—but this is all too much. Please help!

The (Relatively) Quiet One

Dear Relatively Quiet,

It may not be one of the most exciting things you learn in college—not by a long shot, by the sound of it—but one of the most valuable lessons you and your roommates can take away from this experience is how to express your various needs and expectations so you can arrive at an arrangement that works for all of you. You should sit down with your roommates and talk about establishing some ground rules you can all live with. If you trust them, it’s okay to say what you said here: you’ve led a bit of a sheltered life and you wanted to explore new experiences in college, but this is all too much, too fast. It’s your room, too, and it’s perfectly reasonable to request that they not smoke pot in it or host strange guys overnight. (Let me add here that different colleges would have vastly different reactions to the activities you’re describing, some of which may get you into trouble just by being present. It depends on the school. I’m telling you what I think will help you with your friends, but I know some readers will think any illegal activity should be reported to your RA.) If you can learn to clearly describe your needs while being flexible and accommodating the needs of others (assuming they’re reasonable), you’ll be developing a skill that will serve you as well as anything else you’ll be learning over the next four years.


Dear John,

I am in the middle of a huge mess. I was at a dinner party recently and my friend’s husband made a pass at me—or so I thought. (Just to provide a little background, I am single, my friend’s husband has always been a little flirty with me, and he has had at least one other affair I know of. Making a pass at me would not have been entirely out of character for him.)

I was upset by this, and I made the mistake of discussing it with a mutual friend. Then the worst-case scenario happened: word got back to my friend, who called me and blew up, to say the least. She had already discussed it with her husband, who insisted it was a big misunderstanding, and his explanation makes sense if you’re inclined to believe him. Which, of course, my friend is. Now she is furious with me and is making me feel really, really bad, reminding me that they have been working on their marriage, her husband has been making such an effort to be a better guy, why did I tell this mutual friend about it, why didn’t I go to her, etc. She even strongly implied that if he DOES have another affair, it would be my fault because he would just be living “down to everyone’s expectations!” (Oh, and I just remembered another one: if he were going to cheat on her, it would be with someone better than me!) The entire debacle is making its way through our circle of friends with me cast as the villain.

John, I feel absolutely awful. I’ve apologized repeatedly, but I’m not sure our friendship can even recover from this. Any advice?

On A Sinking Friendship

Dear Sinking Friendship,

I wish you had related exactly what he said in your letter. I’m having a hard time imagining something that could be construed as a pass but that could also be convincingly explained away later.

You’re absolutely right about where this all went awry. You never should have shared this with your other friend, especially considering how lacking in discretion she turned out to be.

But what’s done is done. Nothing you did is hard to understand. And now, I’m afraid your other friend—the one whose husband you misunderstood—is milking this to keep you feeling guilty and on the defensive for some reason. Frankly, she sounds just a little unhinged. I think there’s a possibility her husband really WAS making a pass at you (a fine example of the simplest explanation being the best one) and on some level she knows it and is punishing you for being the object of his attention. The bottom line, though, is you apologized, and she should accept your apology. I would stop being on the defensive, stop absorbing her diatribes, stop apologizing, and start reminding her that it was a misunderstanding, you’ve said you’re sorry, and she is the one who’s keeping this on everyone’s mind, not you.


John is a middle-aged family man from Providence, Rhode Island. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at [email protected]. He's away from the advice desk this week, so he's chosen some of his favorite letters from previous columns to share.


Related Slideshow: Marijuana Use in the New England States

Prev Next

6. Maine

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 12.45%

Possession Laws: Decriminalized (2.5 ounces or less)

Prev Next

5. Connecticut

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 12.50%

Possession Laws: Decriminalized (less than 0.5 ounce)

Prev Next

4. Massachusetts

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 14.19%

Possession Laws: Decriminalized (1.0 ounce or less)

Prev Next

3. New Hampshire

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 14.60%

Possession Laws: Medical Use Only

Prev Next

2. Rhode Island

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 14.85%

Possession Laws: Decriminalized (1.0 ounce or less)

Prev Next

1. Vermont

Percent of respondents who used marijuana in the past year: 14.9 %

Possession Laws: Decriminalized (1.0 ounce or less)


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