Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 9 1999 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,

As 1998 has drawn to a close, I have found myself in evaluation mode and have felt ever increasingly blue and bluer.

Though I do long for a permanent relationship, I also have not been gathering moss till the right one comes along. The result is I have several ongoing, fairly long-term relationships that are basically sex and nothing more. All these gents are unavailable for reasons of geography, marital status, and/or neuroses. The problem is, even though there is no pressure for me to make any of these relationships permanent, none of these guys treats me very well. I'm not talking trinkets here, either. I just don't feel warm and fuzzy--more like cheap and tawdry!

Is a big housecleaning the answer?

--Confused in the Big City

Dear Con,

YES!! A big housecleaning is the answer. And Prudie knows you will succeed because you are so cleareyed about what's wrong. It is not everyone who can be her own Greek chorus.

Turn your blue to white: Become a born-again virgin. Get your self-respect back. Only truck with men you decide are worthwhile. It will be a new beginning. How insightful you are to use the word "unavailable." And how wise to want to bag relationships in which the other person is far away, married, or a filbert. The time has definitely come to say to all these chaps: Adios, yo-yo. (Translation: Farewell ... you're on your own.)

Do begin again, and Prudie predicts 1999 will be your year. Let us all know how things develop.

--Prudie, resolutely

Dear Prudie,

Growing up, I was taught that a gentleman precedes a lady when entering a public place (e.g., a restaurant), as a sort of vanguard, and follows her upon exiting. Is this behavior still appropriate and/or useful?

Please reply to

--Anonymous, via Internet. Thank you.

Dear Anon,

Your training is still appropriate. Good manners never go out of style. If Prudie could channel Emily Post, however, she might suggest that you also precede the lady upon leaving an establishment, if only to push or hold the door open.

--Prudie, precedently

Dear Prudence,

What is with all these people who take offense at social pleasantries? And why are you encouraging them? Salutations such as "How are you?" and "Have a nice day" are obviously free of malicious intent and have virtually no semantic content, thus providing no basis for umbrage. Such pleasantries are clearly intended to be both polite and friendly, and responding to proffered congeniality with disdain, reproof, or sarcasm is nothing short of boorish. Rudeness needs dissuasion rather than promotion, as there is already rather enough to go around.

Have a nice day (a sincere wish, expressing my hope that the reproving tone of my missive will not tarnish your humor).

--John Douceur, Bellevue, Wash.

Dear John,

Prudie is not anti-semantic. Au contraire, she is so devoted to language, as it appears are you, that it pains her to hear empty phrases bruited about. However, your point is taken that well-meaning pleasantries should be accepted for what they are, and Prudie's New Year's resolution is to chill when it comes to banalities. How's that?

--Prudie, resolutely

Dear Prudie,

As for "Have a nice day," it has the same ring of sincerity as the robot-voiced "Your call is important to us, please continue to hold."

Approaching an acquaintance I haven't seen in a while I often say, "Nice to see you" (which is true). The reply, "Nice to see you, too," can be completed quickly, sparing each of us the awkward head-swiveling to which "How are you?" "Fine ... how are you?" often leads.

Yours,

--Calculating in California

Dear Cal,

Do you know what Prudie is thinking? Prudie is thinking your idea is stellar. Let's both make an effort to say this in '99 and see if we can make any headway with the "Have-a-nice-day" and "How-are-you?" crowd.

--Prudie, hopefully

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