Offspring Obligations

Offspring Obligations

Offspring Obligations

Advice on manners and morals.
July 16 1999 3:00 AM

Offspring Obligations

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

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Dear Prudence,

The twit who inquired about dissing the offspring of the discarded relatives needs perhaps something more along the lines of a swift kick in the rear. If these are older children, as is suggested by requests for letters of recommendation and invites to graduations, then these are more or less formed people, who deserve to be accepted or rejected on their own merits--not for any slight their parents may or may not have committed. Anything less is the moral equivalent of present-day Jews not buying a new VW Beetle because it's made by a German company, a sort of inherited grudge, if not racism.

In England, they think people are important, or not, based on their birth. This is America, and we hold that people deserve to be admired or respected because they have earned respect or admiration.

--Yours,

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Mike C., Brunswick, Maine

Dear Mike,

Though Prudie doubts the estranged relative will be swayed by your opinion, Prudie agrees with you and hopes that your thoughts might make a difference in someone else's thinking.

--Prudie, agreeably

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Dear Prudie,

We have close friends who have us to their home for dinner almost every week. (The wife doesn't want to go out or come to our house.) When we're there, however, she spends a large part of the evening on the phone or on the computer. Her husband says she actually spends less time on either because we're there. Should we be honored or insulted?

--Insulted and Ignored

Dear Ig,

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I don't know what her problem is, but I bet it's hard to pronounce. The mistake that is commonly made about neurotics is to suppose that they are interesting. It is not interesting to be engrossed with oneself and socially idiosyncratic. Or rude.

It sounds to Prudie as though there is a genuine friendship amongst the four of you, though given the wife's peculiarities, it may be that the man is the primary friend. If this has been going on for a long time, which is what Prudie infers, go along with the program without being honored or insulted. The woman's behavior has little to do with you. For whatever reason, she is glued to her house and not interested in social intercourse. Prudie hopes, by the way, that the hospitality-free hostess is a good cook.

--Prudie, understandingly

Dear Prudence,

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As you no doubt know, living with roommates is no longer just a college thing. Many single adults live with other nonrelated adults to defray the high cost of city rents. I currently share a four-bedroom house with three other people. Here's the problem: Three of us don't like the fourth and are unsure of how to get rid of him.

What's wrong with Roommate No. 4? Well, that's difficult to put a name to. He does his chores, pays rent on time, isn't noisy at night, and isn't messy. The problem is he's a know-it-all with something negative to say about everything. What makes the situation difficult is that there's no obvious reason to ask him to leave, and he seems intent on staying. It's to the point where at least two of us bristle when we hear him come through the door. He is oblivious.

We aren't comfortable saying, "We just don't like you. Please leave." Is there a polite way to tell him, "This just isn't working out"? Is that even legal? I'm the only original lease-signer still living in the house, and we now rent month-to-month. He's lived here a little over two years. Your assistance is appreciated.

--Sincerely,

Have a Nice Life Somewhere Else

Dear Have,

Prudie has met people like the roommate you describe. She calls them The World's Greatest Experts, because they know everything. But to answer your question: There is nothing legally tricky in your situation, though you might have to give him a month's notice. On month-to-month tenancies, tenant or landlord has to give notice, usually equivalent to the period of rent payments. This may not apply to nonsignatory roommates, but it seems the decent thing.

There is nothing wrong with saying, "This isn't working well," or "Sometimes it's just time for a change." Prudie would say, simply because she couldn't resist, "We don't know how to tell you this, but the three of us are seeing someone else."

--Prudie, puckishly

Dear Prudence,

Am I obliged to return a voice mail that is garbled ... where the name of the person and most of the message is garbled (because the caller is slurring), but the number is the only understandable part of the message?

--Slurred Off in Melbourne, Australia

Dear Slur,

This all depends on the mood you're in. Unclear messages are annoying, and you have every right to ignore them. If the number, however, is clear, and you're feeling charitable, you might call back and say, "This is Slurred Off. I have no idea what you said in your message, but I am returning your call."

If the number is familiar to you, this may help to decide which way you're going to play it. And just FYI, if people think it's important to reach you, they will keep trying. And keep in mind that we are dealing with machinery. Slurred messages are not always signs of Jim Beam or careless callers. They may, in fact, be courtesy of faulty microchips.

--Prudie, clearly

Dear Prudie,

In re " In Need of Help in Ohio," I think I am half of "this other couple who invited us to be their guests at a minor league baseball game." I think I'll call and let them off the hook, maybe schedule a dinner or something ...

--D.

Dear D.,

How wonderful that both parties in a dilemma are reading Prudie! This just proves that virtual reality is its own reward.

--Prudie, ecstatically