Love and the Paper Tiger

Love and the Paper Tiger

Love and the Paper Tiger

Advice on manners and morals.
March 17 2000 3:00 AM

Love and the Paper Tiger

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

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Dear Prudence,

I have a problem of when (if ever) to let people know that my boyfriend and I are not "doing it." "Crispin" and I have been dating monogamously for over two years, and I know he plans to ask me to marry him in the spring. We relocated across the country together and are living in the same apartment—even sleeping together on the same futon. There's a lot of snuggling and cuddling, but nothing Prudence would blush to see. We are both 24 years old. He has had sex before; I have not. Why are we remaining pure as the driven snow? It is not for religious reasons. The main reason: Crispin has a little problem that Bob Dole could probably help him out with, if you get my drift. But also, apart from the equipment failure, there is an almost complete lack of sexual interest on his part. (He says he can't feel anything going on down there. C'est la vie.)

This has caused problems in our relationship in the past, but we have worked through most of them, and I am content with things as they are. He's not gay, wasn't abused as a child, and I'm very attractive (or so he tells me, often). He's just one of the 2 percent of men who have no interest in sex. Of course everyone I talk to assumes that Crispin and I are shagging the night away. Although I've told my (very religious) father that Crispin and I are living like "brother and sister," he doesn't believe me. He refuses to mention my boyfriend and pretends I am living alone. I know what happens in the privacy of our apartment is our business, but I sometimes get frustrated with people assuming things. When the "girls" start dishing about their sex lives, it's difficult for me to deflect their questions. (I don't want to betray Crispin's lack of virility.) My relatives assume I'm in a state of mortal sin. Are these assumptions simply the price I must pay for living with my sweetie?

—Dating One of Nature's Monks

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Dear Date,

The short answer is yes. But just between you and Pru, there are numerous problems here. Your boyfriend is making like Flaccido Domingo and says he doesn't particularly mind. Your father thinks you are "sinning," while your girlfriends think you're holding out on them. You are clearly getting the name without playing the game … not to mention contemplating a life of married celibacy.

Prudie does not know where you got the 2 percent figure. Perhaps you're thinking of reduced-fat milk. You do mention some issues that are worth more thought, however. It is your call as to whether or not you are "content with things." Sex is not the be-all and end-all, and many people in fact have little interest in that department. If you want to have children, however, you may find yourself in a marriage that requires a turkey baster. As for him having "no feeling down there ... c'est la vie," Prudie does not buy the "c'est la vie" part. Rather, the lack of sensation suggests "une problème physiologique" ... one you both may want to look into, perhaps with an endocrinologist. The lack of interest is another matter. If you are committed to this man, then put out of your mind what other people might be thinking or assuming. That part has no importance. What does matter is your acceptance (or not) of the realities of this relationship.

—Prudie, chastely

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Dear Prudence,

My husband is a university professor, and we get many invitations to dinner parties, formal gatherings, and other social functions. He just started teaching at a university where showing up at things matters; he believes our presence at these functions is important to getting tenure, even if only marginally. Our problem is that we are now in the South, where they serve meat like it's going out of style. We are both vegetarians. Though we certainly don't expect people to tailor their menus to our personal preferences, how do we politely decline meat dishes without offending the host and hostess?

Just to give you an example of our difficulty, at the last dinner party we attended I was seated next to the hostess. She absolutely raved about how good the main course was going to be. (She had hired the staff of a local restaurant to prepare her favorite meal.) I didn't want to be rude—she was the dean's wife, after all—so I ate a few bites of the Beef Wellington that was served. My husband did the same thing, and we got terribly sick afterward. How should we handle these situations? Any help would be much appreciated.

—Lone Vegetarians in the Lone Star State

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Dear Lo,

"Publish or perish" may be a truism in academia, but Prudie cannot believe its counterpart is "Eat meat or leave." In the year 2000, with so many alternative lifestyles and beliefs, surely being a vegetarian cannot be a professional kiss of death. While it's one thing not to care for green beans, it's quite another to be made ill by beef. What if you had a severe allergy to nuts? You would not eat them just to be polite.

Prudie suggests you utilize one of the following options. Where possible, eat what is served that is vegetarian and ignore what is not. Pushing food around on your plate will disguise the fact that something has remained untouched. If it's a smallish dinner party, give the hostess a heads-up about your dietary restrictions and offer to bring a substitute for you and your husband if she doesn't immediately offer to solve your problem. If a seatmate should be so rude as to ask why you've left something untouched, simply say you and your husband have been vegetarians for X number of years. In time, people will come to know this about you. Till then, Prudie implores you not to place so much importance on that kind of "fitting in," and not to eat things you wouldn't choose for yourself at home. It would be too distressing to believe that tenure and tenderloin had any connection whatsoever.

—Prudie, confidently

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Dear Prudence,

I am a college student who is in the position of having to write a large number of thank-you notes to prospective employers for interviewing me (and in especially lucky circumstances, recruitment dinners, etc.) as well as the families of friends who have treated me to meals. My problem, I have HORRIBLE handwriting. Sand script is easier to translate then my chicken scratch. No matter how hard I try it always turns out illegible. Is there anyway I can get around this problem in expressing my thanks to these generous people without it appearing as though I am sending a generic typed response? Thanks for your help (at least in thanking you I have to use e-mail).

—Eagerly Awaiting Your Reply

Dear Eag,

Letters to prospective employers actually should be typed, being, in their way, business letters. As for personal correspondence, once again, good sense trumps tradition. Prudie, too, has rather odd handwriting and therefore types everything. Handwritten communications that are unreadable are annoying and worthless. Another plus for you: You might be spared some mistakes if you have Spellcheck. For example, "Sand script," my friend, is actually Sanskrit ... having nothing to do with writing in the sand. As for your fear of a letter seeming like "a generic typed response," some little reference particular to the person or the evening will solve that problem.

—Prudie, sensibly

Dear Prudence,

You've touched on another aspect of this problem, but my question is a little different. Why is it that so many people do not wash their hands after using public restrooms? There isn't a day that goes by that I don't encounter several men failing to wash up. Women friends tell me this is quite common in ladies' rooms, as well. Would it be improper to say something like, "Excuse me, but aren't you going to wash your hands?"

—T.

Dear T,

Revising a familiar saying, Prudie would answer you this way: "I am my brother's keeper—except in public restrooms." To instruct a stranger to wash his hands is going to elicit a dirty look—or worse—and will not accomplish retraining. Hand-washing or skipping it in the situation that you describe is a habit. Alas, it is not your business.

—Prudie, habitually