Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

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Advice on manners and morals.
Sept. 1 2005 7:22 AM

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

Getting back on track with an insulted co-worker.


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Dear Prudence,
I work for a small business. Recently, I made a huge mistake and opened my big fat mouth to complain loudly about one of my co-workers. To my extreme embarrassment, he was sitting in the next room and heard every word I said. There was a painful silence after my speech in which I realized what had happened after the person I was complaining about walked in and looked at me as if to say, "I can't believe you just did that!" There is already tension between myself and this co-worker, as he's quite anti-social and uncomfortable. I believe there is an unspoken dislike that is mutual, but we are polite to each other and try to stay out of one another's way. I have been sitting in my office replaying what I said and cringing, turning red, choking on my foot, going insane with embarrassment. It is such a quiet, small office that I can't imagine what it will be like as I try to avoid him and how guilty I will appear when we do have to interact. It wasn't such a horrible thing that I said, but more the way I loudly and obnoxiously said it. I have learned my lesson. Now what do I do to help the situation?


Dear Mort,
Ah, yes, Prudie has been in your situation more than once. (Her mouth wears a size 7 1/2 shoe, by the way.) Your only real option in a situation like this is to go to this man—difficult as it will be—and tell him you are mortified, not only to have been overheard saying what you said, but by the fact that you said it at all. Say it had been a difficult day for you because of an issue with (dog/children/mother-in-law/indigestion/take your pick). And you might use the occasion of your atonement to say that you would really like to improve your relationship with him, and does he have any suggestions as to how the two of you can be better office friends? You will be eating crow, my dear, but who knows? Something good may come of it. At least you will feel better for having tried.


—Prudie, contritely

Dear Prudence,
In my circle of girlfriends I am considered the "man of the group." This is because I have had numerous sexual encounters with men that I am not attached to in any emotional way. My girlfriends find it bizarre that I am able to have sexual relations with someone without an emotional attachment. I personally see no problem with it, as long as I have a handle on the difference between having sex and having a relationship. Men are able to satisfy their needs to no end and are almost heralded for their actions, while women become labeled something else. My girlfriends are older than I am, ranging from 38 to 51, while I am the baby of the group at 31. I don't quite know how to respond. We are a tight group and share everything with each other, but I am beginning to wonder if I should rethink sharing my encounters with them. What do you think?

—One of the women

Dear One,
It's too late to rethink sharing your encounters, cupcake, because you've already done it. Any future silence on your part would simply say to the group that your MO hasn't changed ... just your choosing to discuss it. Though you may be considered "the man of the group," the girls apparently feel close to you, even if they don't exactly understand your sexual choices. (And for anyone reading who is wondering why Prudie is not giving you static about your choices, let the record show that that was not the question you asked.)


—Prudie, directly

Dear Prudence,
I never thought I'd write to you in spite of the fact that I love the column, but recently I did something I'm ashamed of and would like to know your thoughts. A co-worker of mine took a short business trip, and she offered me the chance to use her office (bigger and nicer than mine) while she was away. For some crazy reason (too much time on my hands?) I decided to go through the recycle bin and found out she is having an affair, and that the trip was to meet her lover there. The problem is that I feel bad for invading her privacy, but probably not as bad as I should. I actually giggle when I think about it. Am I a terrible person?

—Feeling OK

Dear Feel,
You are not a terrible person, but you are a nosy one. Granted, what you did is not in Seymour Hersh territory, but this woman's recycle bin was clearly none of your business. You have reason to feel guilty because you repaid a bit of generosity by snooping in the woman's computer ... no different than going through her trash. Prudie hopes you have told no one about your "findings." Your silence is the best way to close out this episode. Giggle if you must, but tell no one.


—Prudie, penitently

Dear Prudie,
Are there such things any more as charm schools or classes to learn etiquette and social graces? I can't find anything locally, or I am not looking for the proper thing. I have a granddaughter who desperately needs some coaching in such things as manners, graceful posture and eating habits, walking, self-possession, poise, etc. She is very much overweight and her overeating is undoubtedly a solace type of behavior; she has had a very unsettling life. She is sweet and very sensitive but has gross habits that just emphasize her size. I can't make the suggestions as it would hurt her feelings. She tries to dress in the outrageous current teen styles, e.g., low-slung jeans, short, tight T-shirts, etc. I just don't know how to help her or to get her to accept help. I have very limited finances but will do whatever I can to help her. Do you have any suggestions?

—Worried Granny

Dear Wor,
Your granddaughter's "unsettling life" is most likely what's behind the overeating, along with the absence of anyone to guide her and teach her. When you say you can't make suggestions because it would hurt her feelings, try and fathom her feelings as an overweight teenager who feels out of it. Prudie would strongly suggest that you take a chance and tell her you care about her a great deal, you regret the deficiencies in her life, and you would like to try and help her improve the situation. What you are calling "charm schools" have mostly gone by the boards, but a relatively new wrinkle are executive etiquette firms. If you do some research you might be able to find one, and perhaps one of the trainers might help your granddaughter on a pro bono basis. If this is not possible, you should become the adult who teaches her what she needs to know. A good first step would be for her to join a group like Overeaters Anonymous or Weight Watchers. The cost is minimal, and the support is strong. Dropping some weight would give her the incentive to follow the self-improvement route. Please don't feel reticent about discussing her weight. She knows she's fat, and Prudie is sure you will find the words to let her know you are bringing all this up because you care about her. Good luck.

—Prudie, proactively