Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 29 2001 3:35 PM

Don't Push It

Get "Dear Prudence" delivered to your inbox each week; click hereto sign up.Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

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Dear Prudence,

My wife and I are at odds about whether it's proper to open the other's mail without their knowledge and/or permission. It is my opinion that both parties should fully respect the privacy of another's mail. By respect, I mean that neither the husband nor the wife should open the other's mail unless asked to do so. In our situation we almost always share everything with one another—we have been married for almost 20 years, and that sharing is by choice. Personally, I always respect my wife's mail and the areas I feel are her personal domain (e.g., her purse. I will ask for something, and she will say "It's in my purse," yet I choose to bring the purse to her). My wife feels I am being silly. The recent example was that I wrote our pastor and when he wrote back (the letter was addressed to me), my wife opened and read it before giving it to me. This is not the first time she has done this or the first time I have asked her not to. Sometimes a married couple needs an outsider to shed some light on such a subject so that we both might re-review our positions. What is your opinion?

—Wanting To Be Fair  

Dear Want,

One's approach to this kind of thing usually comes from one's upbringing, and Prudie's upbringing was for mail to be opened by the person for whom it was intended ... even when not of a confidential nature. Prudie finds this issue akin to a spouse or family member listening in on an extension. It really is about the principle because as we all know, much mail and many calls are almost contentless. It should be enough for your wife that what is most comfortable for you is opening your own mail. There really is no reason for her to ... well, push the envelope.

—Prudie, privately

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Dear Prudence,

I am in dire straights. I have been married for five years, and last year I ran into someone whom I dated for about three months (about 17 years ago). Nothing sexual. Now I have been running into him more and more, and it's bringing back memories of what could have been. I think of him as a friend, and he has always behaved like a gentleman whenever I see him. Needless to say, my husband does not like it. He doesn't even know him. Is it wrong for us to be friends? I just want everyone to get along. Please help!

Flummoxed

Dear Flum,

Sorry, there is no good reason for "everyone" in this movie to "get along." The men don't know each other, you are toying with fantasies of "what could have been," and the whole thing annoys your husband. If any of the factors was different, then maybe what you have in mind would make sense. Given the givens, however, Prudie sees no reason for pushing the issue. You have nothing to gain. At the very least, this long lost "friend" would be fantasy fodder. Worst case scenario: You two would discover what it was you neglected to find out 17 years ago. What you have in mind is not necessarily "wrong," but it is dangerous. Let your husband win this one. Prudie feels certain you have oodles of friends already.

—Prudie, protectively

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Dear Pru,

I have a good friend who is quite loopy. He uncritically accepts lunatic ideas and believes almost anything. But I do like him; we grew up together and wound up working in the same office building. The thing is that he has harebrained schemes (for inventions, for starting businesses, etc.), and nothing he dreams up has the remotest possibility of succeeding. He also accepts really weird "theories" about conspiracies, aliens, our government, etc. I do try to gently tell him that he is not thinking clearly. What is hard for me is to accept that he's not a dim bulb ... but he is really kinda nuts. Can you help me understand his situation?

—At a Loss

Dear At,

There are always going to be people who do whatever their Rice Krispies tell them to do. It is sweet that you've maintained your friendship. Nothing you can say, however, will "straighten him out" about any of his nutty ideas, so try to focus your relationship on the agreeable aspects ... and don't even bother to "correct" him about things you know to be fatuous.

—Prudie, cordially

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Prudie,

Regarding the letter from "
Silent," I, too, could not agree more. I've found that a very effective tactic is to stare deeply into the other person's eyes and ask, "What color underwear are you wearing?" In my experience this usually results in silence and occasionally in the chatterbox asking to move to another seat. Note: This also works for discouraging telemarketers.

—Michael, quietly

Dear Mic,

Prudie is printing your letter as representative of the tons of suggestions that came in about how to close down talky seatmates on planes. Some offerings were rude, some were funny, a few were obscene, and most of them sounded effective. One reader said that beautiful women, however, were out of luck—that nothing would deter chatterers. Without identifying whom she has relied on to accept or reject this thesis, Prudie thinks this chap is incorrect. And let the record show that the chatterbox the writer refers to is not Slate's own, cherished Chatterbox, but one of the generics.

—Prudie, diplomatically