Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on manners and morals.
Aug. 1 2002 11:21 AM

Getting No Respect

9_dearprudence_01

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.)

Dear Prudence,

I have a learning disability. I am not a total idiot. I have common sense. Problem: I can only do minimum wage jobs. For the past two years, I have cleaned a small office building. I am there after hours, but there is usually one hour when there are people there. Some of them are wonderfully kind people ... then there are those who turn their faces away when they see the "janitor" coming. Some are downright rude. I have always been pleasant. I try not to be around them too much, but it can't be helped sometimes. I make fairly good pay, and the benefits are wonderful. I haven't been able to find another job that provides these benefits. I have a family. I always smile, even to the rude ones, but I come home and feel so down about myself. Cleaning people are human, too! Just because we aren't the brains that others are, we have feelings. I can't quit, and I can't always find a corner to duck into. Anything I can do to feel better?

—Darn Good Cleaning Person

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Dear Darn,

Your understanding is quite good, and it's too bad about people whose behavior is determined by another's job or IQ. Prudie suggests you interact with the "wonderfully kind" people you write about and be somewhat aloof with the others because they really don't deserve a warm hello from you. What you are talking about is the way the world works, my friend, and it goes on at every imaginable level—e.g., a CEO who doesn't have the time of day for a typist. The thing to remember about people who are rude or dismissive that might help reduce your "down days" is that there's nothing wrong with you ... but there's plenty wrong with them.

—Prudie, admiringly

Dear Prudie,

I have a problem with my mom but am not sure how to handle it tactfully. My parents are very good to me and have always been there for me forever, and I love them like crazy and don't want to cause any problems. You see, my mom has real trouble being told the truth. If you tell her something, and you're being very nice about it, she gets upset and angry. I have three girls, and it's quite obvious she favors the eldest. My daughter who is now 6 has picked up on my mom's favoritism. She showered the oldest with a ton of presents for her birthday and had only gotten my 6-year-old one thing; I could tell she was hurt, and I felt bad. I believe in treating my kids equally. Strangely, that's how I was brought up with my older brother. I want this to stop, but I don't know how I should go about it without getting her too upset. Please help me out.

—Upset Up North 

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Dear Up,

Yours is a more common problem than you might imagine. Prudie thinks all parents wish for equitable treatment by the grandparents, but alas, that sometimes doesn't happen. (The fact that your mom doesn't do well being told "the truth" is a little sidebar to the situation.) If you have said nothing up until now, try having a gentle talk with her. You might say that the source of what you want to tell her was your two younger ones who felt slighted ... implying that the focus of the problem was the children's sensitivity, not grandma's unfairness. This might be face-saving. There's a chance she may be unaware of the trouble her favoritism is causing. It is hard to imagine, if she knew, that she would wish to belittle your two younger children. Maybe you could even enlist someone else in the family—your dad?—to help you make your point. If she persists in her lopsided gift-giving and attentions, given your basically good relationship, you will just have to explain to the younger ones that there is nothing wrong with them but that Grandma does things in a way that you would not. Then try to make it up to the other two—explaining to the eldest, if necessary, what is happening and why.

—Prudie, equitably

Dear Prudence,

I am a successful working mother who is beginning to have doubts about my marriage. My husband is in many respects a remarkable partner. He is extremely successful, devoted to our three beautiful children, and works as hard at home as he does at work. I do not know anyone else whose husband is as successful and shares the work at home to the extent that he does. The problem is that he can be exceptionally mean at times and says incredibly hurtful things. I, too, work very hard and keep long hours at both work and home. However, all he sees is the work that is not finished at home, and he reacts by telling me I am useless and irresponsible. As his outbursts get more and more hurtful, I am beginning to consider walking away from the relationship. I am at my wits' end living with this person who makes a good partner but whom I find very difficult to like.

—Tired of Being Berated

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Dear Tired,

Here's what is needed for a possible solution: a maid for you and impulse control for him. Because you write that he's "extremely successful" (and that you work as well), household help should not be a financial hardship. This would take care of any complaints about undone housework. His material success should also make therapy possible. What you don't say is whether he's nice to everyone but you; Prudie has no information about the relationship between the two of you. If he's unwilling to deal with his mean mouth and it makes things untenable, then perhaps it's time to think of separate maintenance. Good luck.

—Prudie, hopefully

Dear Prudence,

I found some e-mails my boyfriend wrote to his ex (who is his child's mother) while he was away on a trip. They said things like, "I wish you were here with me, and I love you and miss you." At the same time, he was writing me the same thing! I confronted him about this. He said that he wrote them because he didn't know what else to write to her. I guess she e-mailed him first. Then, in another e-mail, she wrote asking him to tell her the truth about his feelings and if he was going on vacation alone or if he was going with me. I have been cheated on before. I don't know what to do. I thought about writing her to get more information. I love him, and he says he loves me. He also says if he had a ring in his hand, he would ask me to marry him.

—Unsure

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Dear Un,

Prudie doesn't want to ruin your day, but any man who writes an ex that he loves her, misses her, and wishes she were there ... then tells you it's because he "didn't know what else to write" is either a moron or a liar. He shouldn't have been writing her at all. And the "if he had a ring" business is so much poppycock. People get engaged without rings every day. Run, dear, don't walk away from this fellow. He is buying time and is clearly untrustworthy. You can also conserve some bandwidth by not writing the ex. There is nothing she could tell you that would prove useful.

—Prudie, regretfully

Note: I am catching hell for the letter about who gets to be called "Dr.," but this column is an opinion column: mine. Let us not lose sight of the fact that the real question in that letter was the propriety of someone with an honorary doctorate wishing to be addressed as "Dr." This, to Prudie, is like a beauty queen asking to be called "Your Highness." I accept that Ph.D.s in an academic setting are properly called "Dr.," but in common parlance the term "Dr." is usually used for a caregiver. This may be a matter of ego, however. For example, my husband, Dr. Pussycat, never cares if he is addressed as "Mr." ... but then, he's only a cardiac surgeon.

—Prudie, medicinally