Advice on manners and morals.
April 25 1998 3:30 AM

Drawing upon her rich experience of life, Prudence (Prudie to her friends) responds to questions about manners, personal relations, politics, and other subjects. Please send your questions for publication to Prudence@slate.com. Queries should not exceed 200 words in length. Please indicate how you wish your letter to be signed, preferably including your location.

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Dear Prudie,

Please hold the morality lecture and give me an unbiased opinion and your best advice. For the past three years I have been the girlfriend of a married man. We work together. His wife really does not understand him, and he swears that if it weren't for his young children he would bail out in a heartbeat. Without actually promising, he's made me feel that, in time, we will formally and legally be together.

Strangely enough, his marital status is not my problem. What is disturbing is that I'm quite certain he is seeing someone in addition to me. (Office computer systems have infinite possibilities if you know what you're doing.) Sooner or later I have to deal with this new wrinkle.

Thanking you in advance, I am--Confused in Virginia

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Dear Con,

The wrinkle you refer to is not so new. There is, in fact, a wonderful country and western song about this: "Lady, Your Husband Is Cheating on Us."

Your specific instructions to skip the morality lecture inclines Prudie to cut right to the chase. A man for whom a wife and a girlfriend are insufficient is a louse and a tomcat. This romance will ultimately bring grief, because you will come to feel jealous and betrayed. So why don't you pole vault out of the relationship sooner rather than later, and save yourself some time?

--Prudie, assuredly

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Dear Prudence,

I have a teen-age daughter, 14, who loves to chew gum. To make matters worse, she wore braces for years and just got them off. She was unable to chew gum while the braces were on, so now she is going "cow wild," so to speak. I find the gum habit objectionable. Could you please speak to this issue, with regard to the social ramifications of gum chewing in public?

Thank you,--Dagupster

Dear Dag,

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Prudie agrees there is something tacky about being seen chewing gum. Your use of the term "cow wild," instead of "hog," is apt. With teen-agers, however, the habit does not rank up there with green spiked hair and nose rings, so at least you have one blessing to count.

Your mention of the words "in public" suggests a compromise that will keep you from seeming like a completely snobbish ogre. Hand down the edict that the newly braces-free child may chew gum only when she is alone. Try to communicate that the jaw's constant movement up and down is not attractive and sends the wrong message. If she feels in need of something to occupy her mouth, suggest breath mints. Sugarless, of course, since you do not need more expenses for your offspring's teeth.

--Prudie, decorously

Dear Prudence,

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I have recently been diagnosed as bipolar. I've been fairly nutty for 20 years, and it's a relief to get some medication and therapy that helps.

My question's this: How and when does one share this little tidbit? I'm an entrepreneur in the media industry, and I'm single. So now that I'm clearing up those pesky little mood swings, prospective partners abound!

I don't want anybody to feel led on, and I'm not ashamed, but I don't want to run around advertising this to everyone I meet. I prefer to lay back a bit, socially. Suggestions?

Thanks,--NW Weather Vane

Dear N,

How very nice that you have been stabilized and feel as though you are living a new life.

As for sharing your health report, you do not owe this information to casual acquaintances. It would, in fact, be peculiar to breeze it about as an opening gambit--not unlike saying, "Hello, I have diabetes."

The time to confide this kind of health history--any health history--is when a relationship feels as though it is deepening. Do know, however, that your situation is not unusual--hence the name of a best seller: Prozac Nation. Prudie would even give you odds that of those you pursue, a fair number will be chemically balanced themselves.

--Prudie, tranquilly

Hello Prudie,

Jamie T. from Philadelphia recently inquired about proper footwear in public. You observed, "The idea of entering a place of food service without shoes (or a shirt) seems vaguely Appalachian to Prudie."

I have visited many places of food service across America in my 45 years, and since I moved to Appalachia in 1985, I have continued the practice. Oddly enough, I have never observed anyone entering an Appalachian eatery barefoot.

Since your Appalachian epithet would seem authoritative (I cannot imagine Prudie substituting a different ethnic group in her admonition), would you please document the claim? Prudie, your behavior here is incorrect, impolite, and unjust.

--Steve Booth-Butterfield,Morgantown, W.Va.

Dear Steve,

Prudie is contrite and apologizes profusely for the slur. As penance, she promises to retire the hillbilly stereotype from this day forward.

--Prudie, repentantly