Prudie has the problem today. She is weary from the spitballs being lobbed her way. Most of the disparagement is of this nature: "What, exactly, are your credentials?" "Who do you think you are telling people what to do?" "Why should anyone listen to your lame advice, anyway?" Such heckling suggests that it's time to recapitulate: This is not a couch, and you are not patients. Honestly, no enforcers are moving around the country coercing people to write in their questions. As for credentials, Prudie does not bill herself as "Dr. Prudence" or even "Prudie, Ph.D." She is simply an experienced old babe with some ideas about handling predicaments. One has to assume that the people posing the questions are interested in Prudie's take on whatever it is. A colleague in the advice biz, Dan Savage, passed on the definition of advice from Webster's dictionary: "An opinion about what could or should be done." Ergo, Prudie's most noteworthy qualification for giving advice is simply having been asked.
I am 16 years old, a junior in high school. There is this girl, I'll call her "Julie," at my school. She's in the same grade as me, and despite the fact that we only share one class, she has found a way to stalk me. Well, OK, not really "stalk," but she follows me around all the time, which is very annoying. I can't seem to find a way to get rid of her without telling her directly to get off my back. I don't want to hurt her, but she's not going away on her own. I've tried ignoring her, even not being very nice to her, and everything else I can think of, but she went so far as to join the marching band just because it meant she could spend more time with me! Marching band used to be one of my favorite activities, but now I spend more time trying to get away from her than enjoying myself. Even some of my close friends are starting to become annoyed because they can no longer tell me anything because she is always there. Is there anything I can do about this without making her cry?
—Tired of Having a Shadow
Prudie agrees that this is kind of a mess. Shadow Girl clearly has a worshipful, if obsessive, crush on you. What she does not have is good sense or self-respect. Little kids might behave like this, but it is odd for a junior in high school. Because this girl is interfering with your life, you may have to go for the "making-her-cry" option, and even that may not work. No one should have to put up with a girl who is "always there." You have to tell her that you are uncomfortable with her efforts to be where you are and do what you do. You might also point out that genuine friendships just happen, they are not forged this way, and you hope she will get a grip, if not a life, and perhaps some professional help.
Any advice you could send my way concerning the following would be much appreciated. I have of late been in the company of a pathological liar who is soon to be family and is very much adored by my significant other, as they grew up together. At first I found the constant tales entertaining, as they were quite harmless. In fact, it never bothered me until he started making up criminal stories about family members. There's quite a difference between saying, "I was just at so-and-so's house," and, "I was just at so-and-so's house, and he was making threats and roughing up his girlfriend." (You'll have to take my word for it; I know for a fact this is 100 percent false.) My significant other refuses to confront said lying family member, saying he's always been like this and nothing you say will make him stop—"it's just who he is." I say he's crossed a line and needs to be called on it. Or do I just grit my teeth and tune him out?
This kind of stuff is murder to listen to, and Prudie well understands your wish to let this person know you believe not a word of his reports. The problem is that people who are actually pathological liars do not respond to anyone "calling them on it." They do not call it "pathological" for nothing. While you may think your significant other is being passive, he is actually being realistic. Talking to an inveterate prevaricator (OK, habitual liar) with a "cure" in mind is like telling a kleptomaniac to simply cut it out. The ray of hope in all this is that most people probably know that this chap is not to be believed. The next time you hear some invented piece of information, rather than trying to set him straight, you might casually respond that what he has just said sounds a little off to you. In short, you can't "fix" him, my dear, so tune him out.
I gotta problem. This life thing is draggin' by, and I'm wondering if it's all not just trivial ... these wars and talk shows and mountain bikes. Is it just me, or have people in America and probably other industrialized nations just totally lost touch with reality? Is anything in this culture real? Why am I bombarded with ads for cruises, new SUVs, and credit cards with low, low fixed rates? Maybe you're old enough to remember a life with a purpose, not just to get wealthy, attract a mate, and contribute to your 401(k). Is this it? Is this the great civilization handed to me by "the greatest generation"? I'm sorry; I really have no point other than to ask if other people are as disappointed in humanity as I. Maybe if I were born a hundred or a thousand years down the line, we will have done something worthwhile with our money and free time. But of course it would be silly to spend $30k less on a vehicle and give that $30k to AIDS research, wouldn't it? I'm sorry; I'm disappointed.
To be Wordsworthian about it, the world is too much with you. Of course there are people with rotten values and the illness of consumerism and all the superficial traits you mention. There are also, however, people with values close to your own. You just need to find and concentrate on them and disregard the credit cards beckoning to you, the SUVs (admittedly hard to do), the talk shows, and all the rest. There are simply too many of us in an overtechnologized society to have any real controls. Prudie has thought for quite a while that we are Rome, with huge numbers of us fiddling, but there is no turning back. Just make the best of your own, smaller world and hope for the gift of acceptance.