Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 27 1999 3:30 AM

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com.

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Dear Prudence,

I don't know if that was my son-in-law Dan Jacob hrumphing about in-laws who won't visit, but let's say it wasn't. Still, let me tell you my story: I am a father-in-law who gets along nicely--I thought--with his daughter and her husband, but who refuses to enter their apartment because they have hung a lewd picture of themselves, er, copulating in the living room. They call it art, I am sure, but it is almost medical in its detail.

I like them, I like their values, but I just cannot stand to see that picture. They must know how it can bother a father to see such a graphic representation; even if the behavior is encouraged-- grandchildren, bring them on!--I don't have to see it. And if they don't know it, they should. I thought I was avoiding a confrontation but evidently not. I guess I will tell them ... even if that wasn't Dan hrumphing. Thank you.

--Greg Garman

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Dear Greg,

Whether or not HRUMPH and his wife are your children, these young people certainly march to a different drummer ... perhaps one who owns an adult bookstore.

Prudie is in your corner, and she is blushing. Art it may be, but in such poor taste that one wonders what this young couple is thinking and where is their judgment. Since you like your children but do not wish to see the image you describe, by all means articulate your discomfort and suggest they throw a blanket over the "art" when you come to call, or temporarily substitute a nice still life.

By the way, this drama makes Prudie feel clairvoyant, because she answered the young man who wrote that his in-laws would not step foot in his home: "There is some little missing piece here." The piece is that picture.

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Prudie hopes your children outgrow their need to shock and that you can enjoy visits in each other's homes soon.

--Prudie, properly

Dear Prudence,

I have a question about a man I recently started dating. I am an attractive single woman, and he has spent a fair amount of time getting to know me and taking me to nice dinners, dancing, etc. We laugh and have great fun together and share many of the same interests. He has kissed me and I feel that he is physically attracted to me. My concern is that he seems to have nearly all the characteristics of most gay men that I know.

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This man was born in Germany, is wealthy, educated, well-traveled ... so I don't know if he is exhibiting the lifestyles of the rich and famous--European style--or is gay. First of all, he has more clothes than any woman I know and loves to shop. He doesn't like to watch sports. He doesn't like violent movies, just the sweet Disney ones. He stays tanned and gets his hair colored. HE DRIES FLOWERS! He drops names of clubs and restaurants that he likes, and a lot of them are frequented by the gay community. (I know this because my late brother was gay.) I know he is open-minded and has gay friends, so surely, if he were gay or bisexual, why would he hide it? I don't want to come right out and ask him about his sexuality because if he hasn't "come out," then my asking him will not be answered honestly by him anyway. I really like this man, but my inner voice is telling me he must be gay.

--Masculine Mystique? From the Twin Cities, Minn.

Dear Masc,

Your gentleman friend could be straight or gay, but he is definitely effeminate. He could be highly repressed, he could want to use you as cover, he could be in denial about being one of nature's bachelors, he could see you as a soul mate, or he could genuinely want to build a relationship with you.

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Since you do not want to ask him outright (which you may want to reconsider) there is a piece of furniture that could go a long way toward answering your question. It is called a bed. If he shows no interest in going there with you, that's a pretty strong indicator of where things are. That you felt he was physically attracted to you from his kiss is something to consider. Your task now is to decide if you wish to have him in your life as any of the following: a bisexual partner, a platonic friend, or a straight though swishy companion.

--Prudie, empirically

Dear Prudie,

I am often greeted with the salutation: "Hi, how are you?" when I meet my patients in a crowded psychotherapy office waiting room used by many of us. I learned quickly not to reply with: "Fine, how are you?" Some people would launch into their troubled lives no sooner than the last word escaped my mouth.

At any rate, now I have trained myself to answer with "Fine," or "OK." Would you advise on a more appropriate reply please?

--Busted Confidence

Dear Bust,

Your noncommittal response "Fine" or "OK" is just right, in that it does not invite an answer. In other words, your one word reply is the perfect verbal package ... shrink-wrapped, as it were.

--Prudie, psychologically

Dear Prudence,

I'd appreciate your views on when it's time to settle down and when it's time to settle. I'm 31, no looker, but reasonably attractive, in good physical condition, well educated, and employed in a challenging position that pays well. I regularly attend cultural events, contribute to my community (both monetarily and through volunteering), and read voraciously.

Not surprisingly, I would like to meet someone with similar characteristics. When I actually do meet such a person, I am not afraid to express my interest. Unfortunately, I find my interest is almost invariably unreciprocated. Equally unfortunately, I find the people expressing interest in me do not possess the qualities I seek in a partner.

I am quite comfortable as a single person, but I would prefer to develop a personal relationship with someone who can share my interests and characteristics. My question to you is, at what point (if ever) does it make sense for someone to abandon, wholly or partially, his or her search for an ideal partner and settle for someone with a less than complete set of assets?

--Settlement-Minded in Our Nation's Capital

Dear Set,

What a thoughtful problem to bring to Prudie. You sound extremely desirable, if not perfect, but obviously something is wrong. It might be useful to ask a good friend, of either gender, from whence your difficulty springs. Explain that it would be an act of helpful friendship to be totally honest.

The idea of settling is an interesting one. This probably depends on how badly you wish to be part of a couple. Prudie's instinct is to tell you to wait for someone who does seem just right. Prudie also understands your wish to make a life à deux (which is why she has rice marks, herself, from her various tries).

It was comforting to read that you are comfortable as a single person. Until someone wonderful comes along, Prudie hopes that, to quote Mauriac, you will "revel in the pleasure of the unshared bed."

--Prudie, uncompromisingly

Dear Prudence,

Surely I am not alone in my complaint: weeknights and weekends, if there is any kind of game on television, my husband is watching it. We have no children, so I can't stick it to him that he's ignoring the little ones, but I feel he is ignoring me--and might better spend his time reading or socializing or going to different events. What would you do?

--Annoyed in Pound Ridge

Dear Ann,

Prudie would make popcorn. If women can have PMS, why can't men have ESPN? Your spouse sounds as though he's not particularly interested in doing other things, so your best bet is to suggest something you'd like to go do and ask if he's inclined to go with. If not, make your own fun ... go out with the girls, start a project, read a book.

If it's a no-hoper and the darling jock continues to park himself in front of the tube, get into the spirit of things. Don't cook. Order out. In fact, you could lay this blessing on him: Domino Vobiscum (The pizza guy's here).

--Prudie, poppingly