Advice on manners and morals.
Sept. 19 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,

As just an ordinary citizen I could never have believed that I would become embroiled in the presidential scandal. Not publicly, of course, but among my circle of friends.

Although I am not a wagering sort, I foolishly made a bet with a friend before the president's first apology. I insisted that he would not come forth with a public mea culpa. My friend insisted that he would. After some heated discussion we agreed to place a $5 wager on the whole sordid mess, thus adding five more dollars to the $40 million cost.

Now that the president has spoken, I am in a terrible quandary. I am a law-abiding, honorable, decent citizen, and I stand by my responsibilities and my debts. But the question is: What is my debt? Was that speech a mea culpa? I say, "No." My friend says, "Yes." I have thought of a Solomonic approach in which I would send $2.50 to my friend and he would send $2.50 to me, but I am also a principled person, and it is my view that this was no mea culpa--and I am backed by many commentators, such as Mike Kelly, who said in the Washington Post, "This speech wasn't a mea culpa. It was an everybody-else culpa."

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I do not want to seem cheap, but if one parsed that speech, perhaps one might settle on it being one-twentieth of a mea culpa. I would then owe my friend 25 cents. Is there any way at all that you can help me do the right, honorable, and principled thing here?

You be the judge.

--Heads or Tails

Dear Heads,

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Prudie is not a betting parlor, but she sympathizes with you, having had her own doubts about that speech. Since there is disputation about what exactly got said, and your bet was with a friend, Prudie suggests the two of you go out to lunch--Dutch--and devote some of the luncheon conversation to the sad and shabby affair.

You are right that there was no obvious winner in your wager--not you, your friend, or even, alas, the president. And by the by, Prudie could not help thinking that had Mr. Clinton waited 24 hours to give that speech, it might have been quite different.

--Prudie, compromisingly

Dear Prudence,

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I have a loving daughter (beautiful, intelligent, but not always self-assured). She has been living with a musician for nine years. She is 29, a schoolteacher, and working on her master's. He is a popular trumpet player with his own band.

Here is my question. I'm worried about my lovely daughter's future, though that's her business. I keep my mouth shut. But when it comes to occasions such as his birthday or Christmas, am I supposed to just send a card, or do I treat him like my other sons and send a gift?

--G. in Arizona

Dear G.,

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Goodness, nine years is longer than Prudie's marriage to her starter husband, so the young people certainly sound committed to each another. The problem, Prudie divines, is not that you don't care for the young man but that you wish the children were married. Try to put your parental concern aside, since 1) you don't get a vote and 2) marriage isn't for everyone.

Since the young man with a horn is your daughter's spouse equivalent, by all means treat him as a son, or a proper in-law. Who knows? The family feeling may have a positive effect.

--Prudie, hopefully

Dear Prudence,

I need some ideas. I'm a 21-year-old man, and I just moved to a new city and a new job. I'm having difficulty meeting women. One might wonder how that's possible, given the plethora of meeting places most big cities offer my age group, but my troubles are twofold. First, I don't drink (don't like the taste or the fuzzy-headedness), and second, I can't stand loud music. (I don't mind other people drinking, though--it's not a moral thing.) And I tend to cough when confronted with cigarette smoke.

Anyway, I've tried bookstores without any luck, and the average patron's age at the local dance studio is about twice mine. Churches and the like are out, too, since my atheism probably wouldn't go over too well at such functions. Do you have any ideas for me? Do I have to start drinking, believing, and packing Advil for the music headaches?

--Clueless in the Capital

Dear Clue,

Do not start hitting the bottle, for starters. If the need arises to order a drink, try Prudie's favorite: cranberry juice and soda, in a wine glass. Also hang in there with your boycott of deafness-inducing music. The only people you would find there, anyway, are those whose musical taste would clash with your own.

You also need not find religion, or feign it, to meet women. Simply get out and about. Try affinity groups, classes, volunteer groups of interest to you, singles' nights at the supermarket, etc. And don't neglect to put out the word to friends and co-workers that you're available. A 21-year-old man who is a teetotaler and appreciator of good music sounds very desirable for a young woman of taste. And don't dismiss the fact that the numbers are in your favor: Washington, D.C., has more women than men, for reasons unknown to Prudie. Good luck.

--Prudie, socially

Dear Prudence,

I keep on wondering about the president's current situation. Why would anyone be interested if the president had an affair? I could not care less what he does in his personal life. I know he has plunged himself in deep waters for committing perjury--that does interest me--but why does everyone make such a fuss about his affair with silly Monica Lewinsky anyway? She is a grown-up, they knew what they were doing, it was certainly not harassment. Please help me clear up my thoughts.

--Confused Mone From Mexico

Dear Con,

Well, as to why anyone would be interested, perhaps it's an American thing. For whatever reason, we are, unlike Europeans--and apparently Mexicans--always interested in the sex lives of the famous. Maybe this is none of our business, but that's probably why we are interested.

Prudie suspects the Lewinsky situation became wildly interesting for the following reasons: She was near the age of the Clintons' daughter; she was a low-level employee; she was not looking for financial gain; she was, er, Rubenesque; and she was a source of interest to the president for a relatively long time. And you are right. It certainly was not harassment.

Remember, too, that one of this president's defining characteristics is his Hot Springs gene, the one that impels him to chase skirts. A fitting coat of arms for William Jefferson Clinton might carry the legend veni, vidi, vice: I came, I saw, I partied.

--Prudie, regretfully