Advice on manners and morals.
May 2 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 Prudence,

My fiance and I attend different universities. He is a scholarship athlete, and academics are not his forte. Lately, I have taken it upon myself to write a few of his papers. Now he has come to expect it. How can I tell him that I am not his tutor or his slave without causing a fight? I don't mind doing the work, I just know it's not the best thing for him.

--Two Diplomas, Washington, D.C.

Dear Two Dips,

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You unfortunately have a sticky wicket of your own making--and that may be the way out. Since it was your idea initially, tell the athlete something like "I have made a great mistake." Explain that you were not thinking ahead, imagined it to be a one-shot, and now know it is not beneficial for him in the long run. (No need to go into the national scandal of schools going academically easy on their athletes and graduating dumb people.)

Prudie foresees a potential fight, and then you will have to evaluate the young man's values and intellect in relation to your own. As one of Prudie's friends says, mazel ton ... tons of luck.

--Prudie, studiously

Dear Prudie,

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I need advice. A woman of my acquaintance recently announced that she has a "boyfriend" and wants everyone to introduce the fellow by that title. It seems to me that when you've reached the stage of life where your children are eligible for AARP, all your grandchildren are married, and some of your great-grandchildren have their own Web sites, you should find a term other than boyfriend for the guy with whom you're hooking up, hanging out, going steady, or whatever.

At social occasions such as my son's upcoming bar mitzvah, I would be reluctant to say, "I'd like you to meet my grandmother and her boyfriend." It just sounds wrong. Can you suggest an alternative term?

--Neologistically Needy in New Jersey

Dear Neo,

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Personally, Prudie is not wild about "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" for people over 30, and she loathes the term "lover" except when used by European women.

Prudie may be a tad retro, but the terms "beau," "lady friend," or "beloved" seem about right for grown-ups. Then, of course, you could always use the chap's name: "This is my grandmother's friend, Mr. Schwartz."

Would you feel very unhappy with Prudie if she mentioned that a married person's grandmother referring to her boyfriend is rather sweet, considering everyone's ages?

--Prudie, euphemistically

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Dear Prudence,

I am overly stressed by finals, and the question haunts me: When will the insanity stop? Teachers are asking more of students every year, and it's coming to the point where the average kid has to go to college for four years just to flip burgers. I am asking you: Why is everything so hard now--more so than 25 years ago?

--Pete Fiala

Dear Pete,

Prudie isn't sure how to square your complaints with all the news stories about grade inflation and college-level courses such as "The Structure of the Soap Opera" and "The History of Beads."

It is possible you are not in a college suited to your needs. If it's any comfort, Prudie cannot imagine how she got through her own university years and sympathizes about the increasing need for degrees just to get a foot in any door.

--Prudie, empathetically

Dear Prudie,

You counseled Holding a Secret in Toronto that she had a civic duty to report her old boyfriend for tax fraud. I can't say about Canadians, but we in the United States have no such duty.

A small informal poll indicated that we would voluntarily yield 14 percent of our income to government. Anything beyond that is not voluntary. A Reader's Digest poll indicates that the most anyone (at least anyone in a family of four) should have to pay is 25 percent.

I believe the current level of taxation is illegitimate because it is done without the consent of the governed. Prudie, even if you personally don't agree that we are at the point where noncooperation is a virtue, won't you admit that at some level of taxation, "noncooperation" with the Internal Revenue Service would become a civic duty?

During the Vietnam War, some conscientious objectors believed they were acting for the good of the country and did so at great personal risk. Perhaps tax resisters should be viewed with the same mix of emotions that we viewed conscientious objectors?

Prudie, can I get you to withdraw your blanket statement that we have a civic duty to report tax evaders?

--Charles Clack

Dear Charles,

Prudie's reply to her Toronto correspondent did not say that tax evaders must always be reported, but she wonders why you wish the Reader's Digest respondents made up Congress. While no one really likes forking over taxes, that money pays for a multitude of government services and functions. Which ones should be eliminated? (Whatever their true merits, widely unpopular items such as foreign aid make up only a tiny percentage of the federal budget.)

Taxes are, of course, a complicated issue. What is proper, and what is enough? The concept of a fiscal citizen's arrest (tattling on tax fraud) is subject to many considerations. What you call "noncooperation" with the IRS is called "tax evasion" by the feds and is punishable by jail time. Just as those who protested the Vietnam War paid various prices, it would seem logical that tax protesters make a similar determination. Gandhi would be the perfect person to consult about civil disobedience as it pertains to taxes but, alas, it is impossible to contact him.

--Prudie, representationally