Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 6 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 Pru!

My sister married (18 years ago) a man who, while talented and charming when in the mood, turned out to be very abusive (verbally) and have a major bad temper. This affected her well-being but, instead of concentrating on the marriage or seeking treatment for him, she decided to blame our parents for all her ills ... including the choice of a husband.

She spends hours talking about the "abuse" we were subjected to as children. Our parents were not perfect, but about average, or maybe a drop below. I believe that dwelling on the past is just an excuse and easier than dealing with the present. What can be done to convince her that, despite all the psychobabble we are exposed to, the past is not as important as the present? I want her to get on with her life, get help for her husband, and stop driving my parents and everybody in the family nuts.

Respectfully,

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--Forward-Looking in New York

Dear For,

Prudie's guess is that your sib has not been receptive to your suggestions, so save your breath to cool your soup. Your sister's life has not turned out as she had hoped, and her way of coping is to apportion blame. Unfortunately, in her game of emotional Tag, your parents are "it."

Prudie hopes you will disengage from the marital psychodrama and be as supportive as possible to your folks. Also, in the name of self-defense, you might decline to listen to your sister's version of her difficulties. Simply say that you, for whatever reason, did not experience any parental abuse, and you wish her well in what is, essentially, a private matter: her marriage.

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--Prudie, palliatively

Dear Prudence,

Why assume that a benefaction to animals wouldn't be beneficial to people--including the homeless? (See the letter from " Burned Up.") Here in our unnamed fair city, we have a huge population of feral cats and dogs--and our share of homeless. Feral dogs have been known to attack the homeless and their food supplies! Feral cats in poor neighborhoods like mine spread diseases, and their large number can make you feel you're living in a litter box.

Please send some of those animal dollars our way and neuter these poor neglected creatures ... for all our sakes.

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--D.

Dear D.,

Alas, Prudie is not the dispenser of the windfall for animals, but she cannot disagree with any of the points you make. She had always been aware of feral dogs but not the cats. Goodness, if the city authorities don't get a hold of this situation, there's going to be Rigor Morris on a grand scale ... loosely translated, too many dead cats.

Prudie suggests you badger the proper agency in your community to do something about all the livestock roaming the streets.

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--Prudie, supportively

Dear Prudence,

Weighing in on the "Have a nice day" debate (for a recent entry, click here); look up the etymology of "nice" in a good dictionary (I used Webster's New World), and you'll find that the root meaning of the word is "stupid, foolish, ignorant." If you think about this, this explains a lot. "Have a nice day" is a subtle insult, and instinctively we all know this.

Personally, I like to say, "It's good to see you" (when it is). Otherwise I just say, "Hello."

--David Rosenthal, Sedona, Ariz.

Dear Dave,

Prudie feels so much better knowing the subversive underpinning of that goofy greeting. Bless you.

--Prudie, appreciatively

Dear Prudence,

The reason "Confused in the Big City" does not have a long-term relationship that is good for her is due to her willingness to settle for crumbs, i.e., "something is better than nothing." The fact is, her attitudes are actions that have led to her current state.

She needs to get rid of the current crew, get herself into insight psychotherapy, and get rid of anyone in her life who tells her all the good ones are married or gay. If she is overweight, she needs to get rid of that, as well. Men do not go for fat women, regardless of the stories one may hear.

--Faithful Reader

Dear Faith,

Thank you for being a Prudie.

What, by the way, is "insight psychotherapy"? And just for the record, there are, in fact, men--called "chubby chasers"--who, for whatever reason, do like generously proportioned women.

--Prudie, expansively