Advice on manners and morals.
July 4 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,

I am employed in a leadership position where I meet a lot of different people a few times a year. I have real problems remembering names. Have you heard this one before? I've tried several ways to compensate. The one that works best for me is to review the list of names I should know and visualize their faces. But I still fail.

So my question to you is: What is the best way to handle the introduction of somebody whose name you should know but don't when they join a small conversational group you're with?

--Sign me,Bill From La Jolla

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Dear Bill,

Far worse than picking up the wrong fork is stumbling around with an introduction. But take heart, you have a lot of company falling into this particular social pothole.

Prudie does not recommend an association technique. For example, years ago a certain woman's name would not stay in Prudie's memory. The woman wore crazy hats--often sporting fruit--so "Carmen Miranda" seemed a useful aid ... until Prudie addressed the woman as "Mrs. Miranda."

You are luckier than most in that your elevated position gives you something of a pass. Many individuals will assume that you meet so many people that name recollection would be tough, at best. Actor Robert Wagner (R.J. to people who could remember his name) got around this by calling everyone "Pallie." This stunt only works, however, in direct address, and is no help with introductions.

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Prudie is willing to blow her cover and offer you her trick: When stuck, just say, "Tell me your whole name," implying (alas, fraudulently) that she remembers one name, but not both.

Happily, most people pick up on someone's difficulty and introduce themselves. When nothing happens to relieve the situation, you can say, forthrightly, "I'm so sorry, your name has gone right out of my head."

--Prudie, forgetfully

Dear Prudie,

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I have long wanted to ask your advice concerning a problem that is certainly not new to me. I have been in a committed relationship with a man for four years. We have everything going for us, and I feel it's time to marry. It seems to be the next logical step. We've been talking about this for over a year, so this is not a new subject. Last week we had a huge fight about our relationship and getting married. It ended with him storming out and me crying. My question is: If a man keeps saying he's not ready to marry, is this his way of saying "I'll never marry you"? In other words, should I just move on?

--Impatiently Waiting

Dear Imp,

Oh dear, the beloved is having trouble with his feet. They're cold. It's the old commitment problem, which seems to afflict more men than women. The goings-on you describe sound like a cross between psychodrama and dating, never good for the nerves. You have these options, as Prudie sees it: You can stick it to him and force a decision; you can coast along and see if he starts to feel more "ready"; or you can make a deadline--spoken or unspoken--at which time you will either call a caterer or tell him it's been lovely.

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What some women have done, though Prudie doesn't recommend it, is to make the beloved jealous with other men. This is sometimes effective in extracting a proposal, but it is also a little like lassoing a calf, and who wants a groom one is dragging to the altar? The dilemma on whose horns you ride is that sometimes "not ready" means just that, and at other times it really does mean "not you." The hell of it is that often the real meaning is unknown to the gentleman himself. As one of the French philosophes put it, "Men and women deserve something better than each other."

If things work out, do let Prudie know so that she can wish you mazel ton ... tons of luck.

--Prudie, hopefully

Dear Prudie,

So one of Prudie's "hot buttons" is the government's failure to provide clean needles to addicts? May I suggest you take your finger off the button, calm down, and review the history of Vancouver's 10 year experiment doing just such a thing.

The results are not encouraging. The number of addicts has risen, and the percentage infected with AIDS has gone from around 3 percent to 24 percent, if memory serves. Compassionate sounding ideas do not always pan out; it's good to look at the evidence and be willing to change your mind if necessary.

--Concerned but Skeptical

Dear Con,

Your giving Prudie the needle, pardon the expression, is understandable. As with all studies, there are opposite findings to be offered. Alas, it is the nature of the statistical beast.

Your figures for the Vancouver study are correct, but there is no way to know if the number of users would have gone up without a needle exchange. Some experts have also quarreled with the design of the Vancouver program. The complaints have to do with the low limits on exchanges per addict, and poor timing. That is, the crack epidemic had just taken hold, and according to the Toronto Sun, injected cocaine and crack use often require 30 to 40 needles a session. With impaired judgment, a guaranteed result with injected drugs, one would not know how many or whose needles one was using.

Prudie thinks it best we agree to disagree, and err on the side of humane considerations.

--Prudie, agreeably