Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 21 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,

I disagree with your opinion that nine years of living together equals marriage. A person is either married or not, like being pregnant. While the father can be friendly and caring to his daughter's live-in boyfriend, he is not a son-in-law and shouldn't be treated as such. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe commitment means marriage. Anything less is just dating.

--Happily Married

Ms. Duffy Lewis

Mt. Pleasant, S.C.

Dear Hap,

Prudie will split the difference with you. Of course you are right that not being married is not being married, and living together does not "equal" marriage. Commitment, however, need not involve marriage. Prudie knows committed couples whose relationships have all the ingredients of a really good marriage, and all that's missing are recognition from the state and contractual obligation. Prudie, in fact, can speak of this with firsthand knowledge.

The age and experience of the couple may be a factor. A committed relationship between twentysomethings would, of course, have different underpinnings than one between middle-aged people who have had, perhaps, a marriage or two under their belts.

--Prudie, perspectively

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