Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

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Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 9 2003 11:50 AM

What's the Magic Word?


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Dear Prudence,

Here's a question about both morals and manners. My husband and I live in newly constructed yuppie townhouses on the edge of our town's toughest inner-city neighborhood. Street crime and violence have not been a problem here, but drugs are everywhere. We accept the trade-offs we've made in choosing to live downtown, including my daily commute of "running the gauntlet" through the panhandlers on my walk to work every morning. I know the usual characters well by now, and the minute they have collected enough change, they walk into the neighborhood to buy drugs in blatant transactions I can watch from my window. Therefore, my policy has always been to refuse to hand out cash. However, I feel morally obligated to help, so when I'm asked for money to buy food, I return with a sandwich instead. If it's a cold day, I'll return with a sweater. (After all, they aren't lying when they say they need money for food and shelter; it's just that addiction is stronger than hunger and cold.) Here's the moral quandary. I rarely get a "please" or "thank you," and it annoys me. Am I being petty?

—Charitable, but Under Protest

Dear Char,

Your approach to street people is indeed thoughtful and humane. Prudie would say this to you, however: The lack of a thank-you from someone for whom you hold a door in a public building, for example, is just rude and labels that person a clod. The lack of a thank-you, on the other hand, from someone in the group you describe should not raise your hackles. Odds are that some of these people are not operating at full mental capacity (either because of drugs or mental illness), they do not have the advantage of living in a please-and-thank-you world, or they are so hardened and bitter about their circumstances that they choose to remain silent. You are not petty; you are human, but Prudie hopes with some understanding the absent words of thanks will mean very little to you.

—Prudie, compassionately

Dear Prudence,

My husband of 39 years informed me that he has been in love with the girl he met while a teenager. He joined the Navy, and she got engaged to someone else. A while ago, she told him she did not really love her husband. She has also been married for 39 years. He wants to be with her and have her, and this has been his dream for 40 years. They got together and decided that they love and want each other. She came and talked to me and accused me of trying to ruin her marriage when I told her husband about the two of them. Her husband told her to get out if she wanted someone other than him. They have since reconciled, which is wonderful. However, my husband still wants her and tells me that he will leave me someday for her. I am crushed and very unhappy. I love my husband and have tried to be a good wife, with which he agrees and tells me I am better than he deserves. Can someone tell me what is wrong with him and what the chances are that he will he grow up?


Dear Shell,

How crushing for you to have lived as a couple for four decades and then have to deal with this development. As for the chances of his "growing up," they are about the same as coconuts growing in Alaska. The immaturity and heartlessness of this man, who has to be at least 60, are not likely to be "fixed" at this stage of his life. As to what is wrong with him, it could be described as Selfish, Midlife, Fantasy-Addled Geezer Syndrome. We will not even discuss the nerve of this woman—last seen when she was a teenager, not counting recent excursions—except to say it measures quite high on the Richter scale of chutzpah. And you say she has now gone back to her husband! If your spouse does not wake up from this fevered dream and persists in wanting to recapture his youth, tell him you two are in agreement about one thing: You are, indeed, better than he deserves, and then take the painful but appropriate steps.


—Prudie, dumbfoundedly

Dear Prudie,

I am a 15-year-old girl, and while I consider myself level-headed and mature, even I admit this is a problem I cannot solve alone. Recently, while snooping in my father's e-mails, I found an intimate e-mail to a young woman. The e-mail included many things he would like to do to her and also thanked her for money she gave him (even though we are well-off). He has cheated on my mother before, and they worked through it, but I have a feeling that this time wouldn't be the same. If I were an only child, I would have no qualms about telling my mother, but since I have two younger siblings, I don't think I should tear up our otherwise Norman Rockwell life. I also don't want to hurt my dad because I still love him.

—Hurt and Confused

Dear Hurt,

Apparently Norman Rockwell is in the eye of the beholder. To the best of Prudie's recollection, the celebrated chronicler of down-home family life never painted a teenage girl reading her father's mail or the father dallying with other women. And the gift of money makes no sense, but onward: Do not tell your mother. Often, Mother knows … and if she doesn't know now, chances are good that at some point she will. The fact that your parents have been down this road before suggests that your involvement is not necessary. Prudie agrees that you do, in fact, sound mature (if devious). It is really too bad that someone your age has to be burdened with such a concern. Good luck.


—Prudie, sympathetically

Dear Prudence,

My husband and I met online three years ago. We married very soon after meeting, and we got pregnant the week of our marriage. Ever since we got married and pregnant, we have not had sex. It is now three years later. NO SEX. He refuses to have sex. He says he is not cheating but that sex is too much work. I'm 36 years old. I think I'm a good-looking woman. I wouldn't cheat, but I don't know how long I can continue without sex. I never thought when we got married it would be like this, and my husband said he should have told me. There are so many questions and "what if"s. All I know is I'm 36, and sex doesn't look like it is around the corner for me.

—Up Against a Brick Wall

Dear Up,

Around the corner? My dear, it doesn't look like it will be in this lifetime with this man. Prudie is still reeling from your husband's declaration that sex is too much work. What does this chap do for a living—sit in a chair and ply the trade of chocolate-taster? Not only do you have a perfectly supportable reason to get divorced, you might even have a case for annulment. There is definitely something wrong with this man, not you, and he has no intention of fixing it. The real question is why he chose to get married in the first place. In any case, there is every likelihood that your life will be much improved without him. Odds are good that knowing what you know now, your next romance will involve a higher level of due diligence.

—Prudie, amazedly