Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on manners and morals.
Sept. 30 2004 8:13 AM

Hello, How Much Do You Weigh?

When did "you've lost weight" replace "how are you" as a greeting?

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

Dear Prudence,

I am 19 years old and a size 12—not obese, just naturally curvy. A few months ago, I started eating better and must have lost a few pounds. As a result, people keep telling me I've lost weight. I understand that they mean this as compliment, and so I usually say "thank you" and change the subject. However, I was wondering if there's some polite way to convey that, while I appreciate the "compliment," I'm perfectly happy with my curvy self. Also, when did "You've lost weight" become a compliment? Wasn't there a time when losing a noticeable amount of weight meant one was sick or malnourished? Just to clear up any confusion, I started eating better not to lose weight but simply to fix my bad habit of snacking on foods with no nutritional value while I still could. Thanks for any advice you might have.

—Curvy and Confused

Dear Curv,

You make an interesting observation about "You've lost weight" having become a compliment, if not a greeting. A good guess about when this happened would be when fashion magazines began to feature sliver-thin models, then some actresses followed suit, seeming to be in a competition to see who could eat the least without keeling over. Thin became in, size 4 became a goal, and diets joined the zeitgeist. (And of course, historically, fat people were the rich ones because they could afford the food. Now that has totally reversed.) At this point, "You've lost weight" has become just a friendly thing to say—accurate or not. There is no need, by the way, to convey to people that you are happy with your curvy self, or even to explain that you gave up cheese doodles in an effort to simply eat more healthfully. And let's all remember that Marilyn Monroe was plenty curvy herself.

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—Prudie, comfortably

Dear Prudie,

I need some advice. A friend has recently found out that he has a terminal cancer. I have dealt with family and friends in the past who have been sick by talking openly with them and encouraging them to fight it and never give in. But none of them have been terminal, and there was always hope for them … which is not so in this case. I am at a complete loss as to how to act around this man or what to say to him. Your advice would be really appreciated.

—Sincerely,

Dave

Dear Dave,

This is the kind of situation where you must take the cues from the person who is ill. When you visit, listen to how he talks about his illness—IF he talks about it at all. People respond differently to life-and-death possibilities. Some get comfort from speaking openly and honestly about the chance they might not make it; others may entertain those thoughts privately but don't wish to have a dialogue about it. Some patients need to be in denial about what's going on while others want someone to talk to about their fear of dying or their acceptance of the situation. So the bottom line answer to your question would probably be to be sensitive and to follow the lead of your friend. It would be a failure of friendship to insist to someone who is trying to come to terms with a fatal illness that he'll get better if he only has positive thoughts.

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—Prudie, palliatively

Dear Pru,

I recently met a woman, and I've really enjoyed our conversations and time together. Although I have only been out on a half-dozen dates with her, I felt like I knew her pretty well and that I could trust her. Last night, we were having a conversation, and I said that most of my friends in their mid-30s are usually settling down, buying houses, and having families. She then said, "How old do you think I am?" I then said, "About my age?" I am 28 years old, and it turns out she is 32. I am not bothered by the fact that she is older than me, but when I met her, she told me she was 26. Can I trust her? Is lying about age something that all women do? And should I worry that she is lying about things other than her age as well?

—Mr. X

Dear Mr.,

Lying about one's age is, forgive the expression, an age-old practice if one is a woman. Not all women do this, but many do. Historically, it's been rude to ask a woman her age, but when "modern ways" took hold, it became a non-issue—but only for some women. The late Ruth Gordon, a wonderful actress, used to add to her age and lie UP, explaining that when you did this, people's response was, "Honey, you look so great!" Prudie happens to always tell the truth. (She is 18 Celsius.) As for your young woman, try to exempt the age issue from your truth and trust test. Fudging about one's age is generally considered a side issue to general truthfulness. And she did, after all, cough up the six lost years once you'd gotten to know each other.

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—Prudie, forgivingly

Dear Prudence,

I would appreciate your take on a family situation. My husband and I have invited his siblings and their families to a party at our house over a holiday weekend. His family doesn't live near us, so they will be in town for a few days. My husband's ex-wife is quite put out with me for not inviting her to this party, or to a similar one we had last year for the same group. She maintains that his family was hers, too, for almost 30 years, and that she should be invited to anything that we have that involves them so she can visit and catch up with them. My husband's children are all adults, and last year they came to the gathering and also made arrangements to visit their mother along with their dad's family elsewhere. So my question is: Am I the bad guy here by not including the ex in the party at our house? I'm not especially fond of the woman, for various reasons, but she seems to think that I have an obligation to allow her to see her ex's family at my house.

—Thank You!

Elisabeth X

Dear El,

It is Prudie's great pleasure to tell you that, in this situation, the current wife rules. You are not a bad person to choose not to include the first Mrs. X in family gatherings. She is, after all, not part of YOUR family. (For certain occasions, of course—like weddings—you are stuck.) Your husband's kids did it just right last year when they arranged a separate gathering. And if the ex wants to "visit and catch up," she could always host her own gathering. Prudie is not saying that a longtime ex should be cut loose from people who were her in-laws for years, just that the current wife is by no means obligated to entertain her. As you no doubt know, there are some "extended" families where the exes are great friends … but yours is not one of them. And for what it's worth, Prudie would rather roll around in a clothes dryer than socialize with her husband's ex.

—Prudie, customarily