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Dear Carolyn: My niece just turned 15. Physically, she reminds me of myself at her age – she looks about 19. I lost my virginity when I was 14, so ever since last year I’ve been wondering if there is a way I can talk to her about what she’s thinking about sex. She has a good mom, but they are very different – her mom (my husband’s sister) is religious and was always kind of nerdy and well-behaved in school, while my niece is not religious, is a popular cheerleader, and has always tended a bit more toward the wild side than her mother ever did. So I’m not sure how much they have or have not talked about this.

I pretty much see my niece only when the entire family is there, but she doesn’t live that far away. Should I ask my sister-in-law if they have had this conversation, and/or if she thinks it would be helpful for me to approach this topic with my niece (given my status as hip younger aunt with similar wild-child past)? Should I invite my niece out with me and try to un-awkwardly bring it up?

– So, Had Sex Yet?

A: “Since I was popular, since Daughter is popular, and since you were one of those people in high school not even thinking about sex because, well, that’s obvious, isn’t it? I was thinking I could pinch-hit for you when it’s time for The Talk with your daughter. You know, since I actually know something.”

Good?

Besides being awful in about 17 different ways?

Only one of those kinds of awfulness really matters: This girl has a mother. A good one, by your own estimation. Your quest to be part of her education ends there, unless and until mother or niece takes the initiative to invite you in – and even then, you tread lightly.

That’s because the mere act of volunteering for that role would say to or about your sister-in-law, “I don’t think you’re up to this.” And who says she’s not up to it just because she is different from her daughter, and her views are different from yours? Differences might even help.

If you care about your niece, then care about your whole niece, not just her early bloom. Talk to her about all kinds of things. Even better, listen to her about all kinds of things. Even even better, rewind the world and start laying this foundation when she’s 5 or 7 or 10, if you haven’t done that already. Your interest is suspiciously close to being about how groovy you are, versus what your sister-in-law and niece actually need.

I hope I’m wrong about that, but it’s up to you to make sure I am.

Marriage and power

Dear Carolyn: The other day I was having a conversation with my mom and she said marriages are really about power. I am finding that, days later, I’m still really bothered by it. I am feeling angry (because that seems unfair to my dad), feeling sorry for her, but also wondering if maybe there’s some truth to what she is saying. What do you think?

– Anonymous

A: I think it’s worth digging into why this bugs you so much, including a follow-up with your mom.

I also think there’s some truth to it, but I’d say unhealthy marriages are about power.

The healthy ones are about equilibrium – meaning, the power question is resolved to the satisfaction of both.

Spouses whose needs are mostly being met and whose voices are being heard aren’t the ones battling to have their way, their day, their say.

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