Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 14 1998 3:30 AM

Dear Readers,

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Prudence is greatly pleased at the confidence so many of you have shown in her by asking her advice. Sadly she must, however, return to her needlework now. Some answers to questions previously posed to her will be posted here in the next few weeks, but she will be unable to answer any questions received after this date.

In leaving, Prudence would like to offer this last piece of advice:

Except in a very few instances, Prudence is neither better informed nor wiser than the persons who write to her. She is able to offer helpful advice only because the problems described are not hers; she is not emotionally involved in them and can consider them objectively. So her advice has two parts: First, when you are greatly troubled with a problem you should write it down in the form of a letter--which you may, if you wish, address to Prudence. The act of translating the problem into written words, rather than brooding over it endlessly and incoherently, will itself be helpful. It will enable you to see the problem in its true dimensions. Second, you should not mail the letter but should read it over to yourself and imagine what Prudence would say. You will find--not always, but often--that you know the answer. As Prudence read the letters she received, she often felt that the writer knew the answer but only wanted some confirmation. Try it seriously for yourself.

--Prudence, fondly bidding you farewell

Dear Prudence,

Aren't baby boomers suffering from a surfeit of Beatles nostalgia? Wouldn't Dear Jerry or Dear Altamont have been a nom de plume more worthy of Slate's cutting-edge tone? I mean, even my dad is sick of hearing references to the Beatles.

--Nathan

Dear Nathan,

Prudence was prudent long before the Beatles were beat. She has no intention of being evicted from her proper name by those upstarts.

--Prudence, defiantly

Dear Prudence,

I am a 50-year-old, blue-collar guy, I work out and take care of myself. I'll never make the cover of a muscle magazine, but I still turn a head now and then.

My wife is 5'4" and weighs about 300 pounds. I told her a few years ago that eventually I would no longer find her sexually attractive. This has long since happened. My wife has told me if she catches me fooling around she will pack up and take the kids.

My kids are why I get up in the morning and the rising sun and joy in my life. Losing them would break my heart. I think about doing something about the ladies that hit on me, but losing my kids is about more than I could face.

And about masturbation, I have calluses where only a warped imagination could imagine. Any bright ideas or suggestions?

--Too Young to Be Celibate

Dear Too Young,

You're old enough to know better. You want me to give you an OK to "fool around." I'm not going to do that. That 300-plus-pound woman is your wife and the mother of your children. You have an obligation to her. She wasn't 300 pounds when you married her. Perhaps she became 300 pounds because you rejected her. When you say that she is not "sexually attractive," you are describing the state of your mind, not her physical condition. You are giving a particular expression to the common feeling of 50-year-old men that they would like to try someone new.

Anyway, to be over 300 pounds is a dangerous condition physically, aside from what it is doing to your emotional life. You should encourage her to seek medical help for her overweight condition. And you should accept the fact that this is your wife and that you are not free to shop the market. I believe you will find there is much about her to love and your sexual desires can be satisfied with her.

--Prudence, unfoolingly

Dear Prudence,

Last year I went to the Ritz-Carlton in Boston for a buffet-style breakfast. I went up to the buffet table and took two pieces of bacon, and when I came back to the table I was unsure of how to eat the bacon. If I tried to eat it with a fork it would crumble and if I tried to eat it with my hands, I thought the people at my table would think I was rude. I will be going back there soon and I would like to know the proper way to eat bacon.

--Clueless at the Ritz

Dear Ritz-Clueless,

Don't worry so much about what people will think. If the bacon is crisp, pick it up with your fingers and eat it (unless you're kosher). If it is not crisp, why bother eating it at all?

--Prudence, crisply

Dear Prudence,

Is there a proper time to assert the first kiss with my female dates without seeming forward? Will my date let me know or should I just try and find out?

--Sincerely,A Gentleman

Dear Gentleman,

There is no rule about this. You have to be sensitive to her receptivity. There should be some progression--holding her arm, holding her hand, a kiss on the cheek, two kisses on the cheek, and a squeeze of the arm. You will see how she responds. If the response is favorable, you can try the kiss on the lips, sweetly at first.

--Prudence, encouragingly

Herbert Stein, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Presidents Nixon and Ford. He died in September 1999.

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