Non-judgmental Ethics Sunday: My Ex Is Advertising for Sugar Daddies. Can I Tell Her Mother?

October 30, 2016 by Joshua
in Ethicist, Nonjudgment

Continuing my series of responses to the New York Times’, The Ethicist, without imposing values, here is my take on today’s post, “My Ex Is Advertising for Sugar Daddies. Can I Tell Her Mother?


I recently broke up with a longtime girlfriend. We are both in our mid-20s. She was temporarily without work for the summer and low on cash. After our breakup, it came to my attention that she had made an account on a “dating” website and had been messaging much older men about, basically, exchanging herself for money. Establishing “relationships” like these is in vogue among girls in our age bracket who seek to pay off college loans or take exotic Instagrammable vacations on someone else’s dime. Yes, I understand it’s 2016, and women are empowered to do what they wish with their bodies, but I fear that these men are probably unstable (most likely married, let’s be honest) and definitely do not have her best interests at heart. Maybe it’s watching too much cable news, but I fear for her safety. I considered bringing it to the attention of her mother, who I know will not be supportive of this line of employment, but I’m conflicted. I know it’s not my place, but if something were to happen to her and I had this information at my disposal beforehand, wouldn’t I be in the wrong? Name Withheld

My response: I answered this question and gave advice on it in my posts,”On giving unsolicited advice,” “Unsolicited advice annoys people: how to avoid giving it,” and “Giving unsolicited advice generally backfires. Here are alternatives.


The New York Times response:

It’s dispiriting that seeking “sugar daddies” is in vogue. While sex work shouldn’t be illegal, in my view, it doesn’t follow that there’s never anything ethically dubious about it. Adultery is, generally speaking, wrong, and so is abetting it. And there’s reason to worry about the attitude to your sexuality implicit in treating your body as a commodity. I suspect many “sugar babies” in your circle will end up regretting what they’re doing.

But it’s not a decision for you to make. You don’t have any information that your ex doesn’t have. And she’s in charge of her own life. Dragging her mother into it is just a way of pressuring her to drop a pursuit she thinks is just fine. It isn’t your place to do so. Let your ex know your concerns about her safety, but don’t launch a campaign. If something bad were to happen to her, it wouldn’t be your fault; it would be the result of a risk she voluntarily accepted. Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that sugar daddies, too, can be at risk: The Times has reported on a New York octogenarian who was robbed and left bound and helpless in his apartment after such a date. Exploitation, in these affairs, can run in both directions.

A person I knew slightly as a student and subsequently at a distance during his distinguished academic career was recently paroled after completing most of a 20-year sentence. He was placed in a halfway house; if all goes well, he will be eligible to live on his own. In order to do that, he will need a source of income.

I assume that the relevant authorities have made a rigorous determination that he is not a danger to himself or others. I have not held a conversation with him in close to 20 years; although I was shocked when I learned of the crimes of which he was convicted, I have no basis in personal knowledge either to vouch for his bona fides now or to reject them. A mutual friend, who has a very high regard for the parolee’s capabilities, has approached me to ask if I might be able to offer consulting work for the parolee.

It seems to me that if we are going to have a society that attaches finality to terms of incarceration (is that what we do, really?), and that offers parole under some circumstances, we must offer circumstances that permit a reasonable prospect of successful rehabilitation. This includes work, certainly, but does not necessarily imply that the former work at which the person excelled should be restored. Do you have thoughts on how an individual might act ethically in such circumstances? Would my duties include informing my clients and acting only with their “informed consent”? Name Withheld

My response: I don’t understand your question. You believing society has obligations to someone doesn’t mean you personally are obliged. Nor does someone asking you if you might offer consulting work oblige you.

I’m half inclined to approach you to ask if you might offer me free cash, if you consider just being asked an obligation.

The New York Times response:

I completely agree with you about treating a sentence served as a punishment completed, not an ineradicable condition, and about providing prospects of rehabilitation. You don’t say what business you’re in, so I don’t know what sort of consulting this person would be doing for your clients. But unless you think the parolee’s working for you poses a threat to them, they have no right to know anything about him, except that you vouch for the work you’ve asked him to do.

My concern is with the well-being of my elderly, visually impaired aunt who still lives alone at 89. She has lived in the same one-bedroom condo her entire life. Since she rarely goes out, she has limited ability to walk but is still able to get around her condo. For many years, she has been able to secure the help she needs with driving, cleaning and personal affairs by asking acquaintances if they know someone who will help her for $10 an hour. Amazingly, this has worked out pretty well for her. One woman, with a very kind and generous heart, went over and above in her assistance. This lady has now quit, because my aunt can be strong-willed and verbally abusive. Additionally, my half sister and others cite her personality as the reason they have not spoken to her for about a decade, even though they live blocks away. I live thousands of miles away; it is a three-hour flight.

Years ago, my aunt drafted a will in which I am named as beneficiary; I am affluent and do not need her estate, but I should mention that it contains more than enough to pay for her care. All I want to do is keep her safe and content during the last years of her life. For the last few years, I have been speaking to her frequently about lining up consistent and reputable help, for which she would have to pay more than $10 an hour; she seems afraid to spend her money. Also, I would like to help her get her documents in order and put together a plan “in case of emergency.” After each conversation she says, “I’ll have to think about it.” If I press her, she gets very angry and starts shouting. When I tell her about dangers and unpleasant consequences that she could endure, she accuses me of trying to scare her. I’m the only one she has, and yet she acts with suspicion toward me.

At this time she has no help, except for a food service that brings her meals throughout the week. I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with continuing to just speak to her and reason with her. Is it even morally correct for me to continue to do so, knowing that we are not getting anywhere? If I were to take action and find legal ways to insist that a plan be put in place for her care, in her home for as long as possible, the scene could be alarmingly unpleasant for all involved. Even my mother, who is her sister-in-law and one of the few people who gets along with her, is not in agreement with my taking action. Name Withheld

My response: You didn’t say she’s mentally incapacitated. She told you she wants to think about it.

If you think she can’t handle herself, do your legal stuff. If she can, you sound like you’re meddling in an adult’s life. If you enjoy meddling and people’s reaction to it, knock yourself out.

The New York Times response:

Your mother has a point. You report that your aunt is cantankerous and mistrustful, but you don’t say that she’s lost the capacity for rational thought. So she continues to have the right to manage her own life. That means the only thing you have the right to do is to reason with her. You don’t have the right to take over her affairs.

That’s a little cut and dried, though, isn’t it? We know that age-related dementia is a gradual process; you’re on this side of the divide, and then you’re on that side of the divide, but in the usual course of things, there isn’t a particular day when you moved from one to the other. So perhaps there are ways to help your aunt make plans for her care.

The next time you see her in person, you might want to bring standard forms for recording her medical choices, and take her through the options. These are things it’s hard to discuss on the phone; she may also be daunted by (and defensive about) the prospect of organizing the paperwork. You can help get the papers drawn up and executed. If she’s worried about the expense, as older people sometimes are, you could offer to cover this yourself.

Then there’s the matter of getting, and paying for, proper help. A big issue here is how well she’s able to manage what geriatricians call the “activities of daily living” (bathing, eating, dressing, etc.) Help her to see that to accept help isn’t to give up independence; indeed, it’s what will enable her to maintain an independent existence as long as possible.

After six years at a job (and almost as many bosses), I got the boss from hell (think “The Devil Wears Prada”). This company was extremely mismanaged, there was a lot of turnover and H.R. saw what they wanted to see. I knew my new boss was building a case against me, in order to bring in her cronies from her previous company. I was already looking for a new position, with a different company — I had interviewed three times with them and was scheduled for my fourth — when I finally got fired. Was I obligated to tell them in my next interview that I had been fired? I didn’t want to lie, or lie by omission, but I was in dire financial straits and really needed this job. My recommendations were from old bosses — one who heard through the grapevine what happened and one who didn’t. I assume the one who knew based her recommendation on the time period I worked for her. Did I have an obligation to tell the other one? Did I have an obligation to tell the company I was interviewing with and that did in fact hire me? Name Withheld

My response: If you’re asking if there are legal issues, I recommend asking a lawyer, not a newspaper columnist. If you are asking about abstract principles, I recommend, instead, that you consider the results of your actions and do what you consider best, considering how your actions will affect others.

The New York Times response:

You don’t have an obligation to pass on information that’s not asked for and that’s not germane to your ability to do the job. There can be an exception when there are clear expectations to the contrary, but this is unlikely in most contexts. Still, the fact that you’re not obliged to say you’ve been fired doesn’t mean keeping silent was necessarily the best thing to do. Relations with employers are best when they’re open and straightforward. And had they found out that you’d been fired during the interview process, they might have worried about your candor. But you interacted with them. I didn’t. And there were obvious pitfalls here: Your bad-mouthing the old boss could have made them wonder what you’d have to say about them one day. If you thought they were capable of grasping the whole picture, though, I’d have urged you to tell them once you knew you had lost your job.

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