Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 7 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

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Dear Prudence,

I am a woman with a "strong personality." As evidence, my boss has said that I'm intimidating and, at times, pompous--but then, he has the IQ of a brine shrimp. Now, I would never be foolish enough to say to anyone in my workplace that he is a simp (and a mental shrimp), but I think that I somehow broadcast these kinds of messages.

Well, my goal is to pull it back a notch. I want to seem less threatening. When I announced my goal to present myself as a more middle-of-the-road type of person, several people were up in arms. "You can't change who you are!" was the most common line.

Now, Prudence, I have no intention of changing who I am. I just want to change the window dressing. Can I pull it back a notch, or am I doomed to come off as a scary bitch?

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--Strident From Detroit

Dear Strident,

It isn't necessary to change who you are, but it would be helpful to recognize who you are. You are certainly not the most brilliant--or otherwise wonderful--person in the world and probably not even in your own circle. Moreover, to whatever extent you are superior, it is probably the result of genes and attitudes inherited from your parents and not something you created for yourself. Accepting these realities will help you to behave in a more accommodating way without pretense.

But even if you do feel yourself superior, you can still learn to behave in a way that is not offensive. People who are attractively slim do not talk about the ugliness of obesity in the presence of people who are grossly overweight. Good manners can be cultivated. You may even find pleasure in realizing that you have acted with noblesse oblige in not flaunting your superiority. There is satisfaction in feeling that you are better than other people not only in intelligence but also in modesty and good manners.

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--Prudence, realistically

Dear Prudence,

I have a pal who was actually a very good friend of mine until she started going out with a certain guy. Now I hardly ever see her. Plus, she has changed a lot, although she doesn't see it. She is still in high school but has already slept with him a few times, and I believe she is pregnant. This is something that we both agreed was terrible, un-Christian, and something neither of us would do until we were married. Now, she sees everything differently, and in some way, doesn't see that she has done anything wrong. I feel as though she has committed a terrible crime, almost. How should I treat her now since I can hardly respect her?

--Sincerely,Worried and Confused

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Dear Worried and Confused,

Your friend does not seem to want help or comfort from you at this time and certainly would not welcome a lecture. I think it natural and appropriate that your relations with her should cool. That is one way she would learn the consequences of her actions, which may or may not bother her. But you should not be hostile, and you should be open to help her if she should turn to you later.

--Prudence, charitably

Dear Prudence,

In the social scene I have begun to notice people greeting each other with a kiss on the lips. I was rather appalled because I assumed that kissing, especially on the lips, was reserved for people with an intimate relationship.

Should two people who are only social acquaintances kiss each other? Is this even sanitary? How "socially acceptable" is kissing in public even for two people dating?

--Conservative KisserAugusta, Ga.

Dear Conservative Kisser,

Prudence is with you. If casual acquaintances kiss each other on the lips, what method of expression will be left for true lovers?--except to fall into bed, which is sometimes inconvenient or excessive.

--Prudence, conservatively

Dear Prudence,

I think you got it, but I'm not sure, and since I appreciate your weekly advice I wanted to be clear.

The letter you published on the advice columnist referred to as "Eppie" and signed by "Popo" was a somewhat veiled reference to "Ask Ann Landers" and "Dear Abby." I read a biography of the two (as you no doubt know, they are sisters in real life), and Eppie and Popo were childhood nicknames of Ann and Abby respectively. (The book was called Dear Ann, Dear Abby.) Therefore, it would seem the writer was intending to pose as Abby, putting down her sister, which would be in keeping with the oft-mentioned rivalry between them.

I don't think of you as one who would attempt to disrupt sisterly relations, and so wanted to make sure you understood the possible ramifications of what you printed. Thanks for your good words each week, and be well.

--Sue

Dear Sue,

Thanks. I didn't get it. I didn't know that Eppie and Popo were names for Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren.

I have great respect for both. Judging by the volume of my mail, I think there is enough unmet demand for advice to keep all of us busy. I suppose there are subjects on which they know more than I do, but I suppose there are also subjects on which I know more than they.

--Prudence, gratefully