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 Queries should not exceed 200 words in length. Please indicate how you wish your letter to be signed, preferably including your location.


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

Dear Prudence,

Though I do realize that you are the expert on all things advisory, I would like to suggest a different solution for Dorothy S. on the subject of bad breath. Tic-Tacs.

Keep some on your person, and when confronting the foul offender, produce them, pop a few into your mouth, and offer them to the co-worker. It may not work, but I've always gone by the rule "If someone offers you a Tic-Tac, take it." They're also nice because they are not quite as blatant as breath mints but get the job done.


--Hopefully Helpfully,

R. Kriger

Brookline, Mass.

Dear Hope,


Prudie thanks you for your diplomatic idea--and guesses the Tic-Tac people do, too. As the Brits might say, your approach is brilliant. It being only polite to offer a companion what one is oneself ingesting, you will have spared the offender embarrassment and, with any luck, caused the smellable breath to be sucked away.

--Prudie, refreshingly

Dear Prudie,

I am married to a very nice man 10 ½ years older than I. The problem is I don't love him. I've tried to explain this to him, but he just keeps apologizing for things. I feel like I'm living with my brother. (By the way, Hubby is 60, and I'm 50. He makes me feel old before my time and embarrasses me often in public.) He also lost a very good paying job shortly after marriage, and now we're in debt up to our eyeballs. How can I make him understand I want out?

--Please Help!

Dear Plea,

With this announcement: "I am filing for divorce." If it's really a no-hoper, you must be assertive and spare both of you more years of unhappiness. If Prudie sounds lenient regarding divorcing, it is because she herself has lost more than one husband ... in divorce court. Life is too short, my dear, to continue with a husband who feels like a brother, makes you feel old, embarrasses you, and has put you both in debt.

--Prudie, experientially


I was recently at a restaurant, and when the bill came, the waitress had written at the bottom, "Suggested tip: 17.5 percent." Then when the credit card slip came, the "suggested tip" had been written in. I was appalled for so many reasons ... that she had to put a suggested tip (as if I didn't know) and that she put it higher than normal (the service certainly was not above and beyond the call of duty) and that she further did not give the option of a lower tip.

What does Prudie suggest in such a situation? I have no problem with the extra 2.5 percent above the norm, but to have it forced on me in such a forward manner seemed extremely rude.

--Peeved in Palo Alto, Calif.

Dear Peev,

Everyone knows that a restaurant waitstaff has many jobs, but giving instructions for the amount of the tip is not one of them. Prudie would give anything to know what you did, caught off guard as you were. She hopes that you thought fast and lined through the "notation" and wrote in what you wanted to leave.

You would not have been out of line to have brought this aggressive and off-putting action to the attention of the owner or manager, whichever one was present that night. For future reference, should a serving person deliver substandard service, the diner is perfectly within his or her rights to specify "no tip." This way it is clear that the lack of a tip is neither an oversight nor miserliness but a reminder that a tip is a voluntary thank-you for good service.

--Prudie, gratuitously