A Bum Situation

A Bum Situation

A Bum Situation

Advice on manners and morals.
Sept. 24 1999 3:30 AM

A Bum Situation

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

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Dear Prudence,

I hope you will take a look at my situation. Four years ago I took in my younger brother (then 31 years old) who was down on his luck. I was divorced and raising two small children, and it really was nice to have the adult contact. I remarried a year later, but my brother doesn't seem to want to leave.

He has never had a place of his own--always staying with friends or relatives. He finally got a part-time job, but there's no way he could afford to live on his own. He pays me $40 a week room and board, which of course doesn't begin to cover his expenses. The worst part is that he has "borrowed" many things from my home and sold them for money. We have had so many discussions about this that now he just hides in my den (his bedroom), and I hardly ever see him. My husband tries to stay out of the line of fire and is no help at all. My friends tell me I am an enabler and that I should put him out, but I can't. I am his only family in the state and am so afraid that if I do, someday a policeman will knock on my door to tell me that they found my brother frozen to death in some paper box under a bridge! I know that I'm not doing him a service letting him stay, but what am I to do?

--Caring Sibling

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Dear Care,

What a lovely sister you are. Now you must be a strong friend. He has no life living in your den and hocking your belongings. For your sake and his, he has got to go. Do not look at it as "putting him out," but rather steering him to an independent life. It sounds like there's an underlying emotional problem in his way. Get him in touch with a local mental health service. For example, he may be clinically depressed, in which case medication might jump-start a new and motivated life. Family Service America provides low-cost or free therapy and job training. Ask advice about arranging housing--maybe a group situation allied with a service group, perhaps someplace such as YMCA.

Painful as it may be, tough love is what's called for. If you can afford it, give him a stipend for a specified period of time as a tangible sign of your helping hand. That would also lessen any guilt you might have. Four years is a long time to provide a crash pad for anyone. If you don't do something soon, you may lose your husband and still have your brother hiding in the den. Much luck to you.

--Prudie, positively

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Dear Prudie,

I have always wanted this woman who was recently widowed. How can I approach her without seeming like a vulture? Should I, like Jerry and Elaine, make it clear that I am "there for her"?

--Mr. V.

Dear Mr.,

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The Seinfeld approach would be fine. Kindness is never confused with being predatory, assuming you are already friends. Prudie would suggest you not ask the recently bereaved widow to a dancing party as your opening salvo; instead an invitation to Sunday brunch and a stroll would strike the right casual note. You won't, of course, confess you've always had a yen for her. Got that?

Small caveat: Since you do not say just when the deceased shuffled off this mortal coil, check with mutual friends to see just how grief-stricken she is. If she's in terrible shape, give her some time before you ask her out. In fact, a phone call to ask how she's doing would be a good precursor to any invitation.

--Prudie, sensitively

Dear Prudence,

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I have been dating this man for the past year and a half. I left my husband for him, which I now know was a huge mistake. The man is still married, but he tells me that he doesn't love his wife. He says he loves me and promises that eventually we will be together. I know being with him is wrong, however I can't not see him. I realize the best thing to do is forget about him, but how do I do that?

--Hopeless 27

Dear Hope,

If Prudie had a nickel for every married man who swore he didn't love his wife and that "eventually" he and the girlfriend "would be together," her fortune would rival that of Bill Gates. Borrowed husbands are bad news--even when they leave her and marry you. Guys who cheat have a screw loose, forgive the unfortunate metaphor.

How do you forget him? You review the situation and tote up a big list of every negative thing you can think of ... starting with the fact that you left your husband and your inamorato did zip. You're the dish on the side, period. As a mechanistic approach, start acting like you're available, spend time with the girls, get active in hobbies or groups, do things where single people meet each other. (Prudie hears that the Habitat for Humanity projects, for example, are quite a good venue.)

Now repeat after Prudie: Borrowed husbands are bad news. And if the 27 in your signature refers to your age, that's the prime time to attract suitable men. And even if it refers to your waist, get cracking.

--Prudie, wisely

Dear Prudence,

I was recently asked by a good friend to be his best man. While deeply honored, this occasion presents me with great difficulty. You see, I am gay. Though it may not be apparent to everyone, my close friends are fully aware of my "persuasion." Having said that, my big problem centers on the "traditional" stag party that the best man is asked to host. Since the groom has both straight and gay male friends, how does a gay best man host a stag party that will be fun for my friend as well as those in attendance? Should his gay friends not be invited? Thanks in advance for your advice, Prudie.

--Best Man

Dear Best,

Prudie has a hunch that girls jumping out of cakes would amuse anyone ... if they still do that kind of thing. Actually, Prudie doesn't know what goes on at stag parties. Which is why she suggests you enlist a straight friend of the groom to help you plan the party. That way, you will come up with an evening enjoyable for both heterosexual men and nature's bachelors. Keeping a group of men--gay and straight--amused for a few hours should not be all that difficult. And what the honoree will remember best is that all his buddies were there.

--Prudie, festively