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

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

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Dear Prudie,

My husband and I have been together for more than four years and married for two and a half. He has a child with an ex-girlfriend. My mother-in-law has told me that the ex confessed to planning the "accidental" pregnancy because my husband was talking of leaving her, and she hoped it would keep him around. I was quite disturbed by this, and now more so since a woman friend of his ex told me she has done the same thing to another unsuspecting man.

I feel that someone needs to put this woman in her place but don't know if it's any of my business. I think if I don't ... no one will. (She's a bad person to have mad at you, by the way.) It just doesn't sit well with me to see another child used in this way, and another good man being manipulated like this. For some reason I just can't forget about this.Thanks.

--J.T.

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Dear J.,

Prudie understands why this issue presses your buttons. It is not, however, your job in life to put people in their places. Another reason for butting out is that you say this latest trapper is a bad person to have mad at you. People can get knocked down, as well as up, you know. What I mean is that by confronting this woman with something that is really none of your business, you run the risk of incurring her enmity and making yourself a target for social unpleasantness.

There are times when a dearly held principle makes interjecting oneself acceptable: when you can affect the outcome. In this situation, however, the man is already trapped (and presumably committed to child support) and the woman is not about to undergo an integrity makeover. Prudie suggests you go to the gym to work off some of this (understandable) hostility.

--Prudie, athletically

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Dear Prudence,

Is it proper to make your bed in a hotel room at the end of your stay? More to the point, is it considered impolite to not make the bed?

I was brought up to make the bed before leaving, but my friends say it is just more work for the maid--who has to strip the sheets anyway.

Your thoughts?

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--Wondering in Mass.

Dear Won,

You have slipped a stitch somewhere. Making one's bed in a hotel is like whipping up your own souffle in a restaurant. Other people have been employed for just those purposes.

You perhaps are confusing staying in a hotel with being a guest in someone's home, where it is good manners to make your bed. The wild card, however, is when your stay is over. Prudie finds it useful, and mannerly, to ask the hosts how they wish the bed to be left. Some people want it stripped, others left as is for their housekeepers to deal with.

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Prudie applauds your thoughtfulness, however, and is sure you are one of those considerate people who, when ending a hotel stay, leaves a tip for the maid.

--Prudie, tidily

Dear Prudence,

I have been in a relationship now for about two years with a most remarkable person. He and I have been going through many growth and development phases. We have realized that I am somewhat conventional and that he is non-. The differences in our values are sometimes trivial, sometimes important. None of the differences, however, interfere with our trust or love. The differences have to do with issues such as saving/spending money, independence, and socially expected behavior.

How does one know when you are giving, expecting, or hoping for too much? Is there an answer to this? Thank you.

--Questioning

Dear Quest,

A lovely Zen quotation comes to mind: There is no solution, seek it lovingly.

Using the word "remarkable" bodes well for your future together, as does your understanding of your differences. There are no guarantees, of course, about how differences will play out, so all you can do is try to look ahead and imagine if you both will adopt the other's ways, carry on comfortably with distinct approaches, or wind up killing each other.

--Prudie, philosophically

Dear Prudence,

How should young children address adults? My wife and I believe that Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. are in order. For very close friends, perhaps "Aunt" or "Uncle." Most of our (yuppie) friends have their kids call my wife and me by our first names. Not a big deal, but we think this is a bad example for our children. What do you say?

Sincerely,

--E. in Toronto

Dear E.,

As a rule, children should address adults in the manner in which the adults ask to be addressed or, alternatively, in the way in which their own parents instruct them. The real example for the children ought to be what is comfortable and polite. With luck, they are the same thing. It sounds to Prudie as though you and your spouse are a little more formal than the times. Perhaps you might take a social inventory of who is calling whom what in your circle and then make a standard ruling for your children. If, however, you are seriously unhappy with youngsters calling their elders by first names, no one could take affront with the "Aunt" or "Mrs." form of address. It might make your children stand out, however.

As you said, not a big deal.

--Prudie, conversationally