This year, Dear Prudence letter-writers had questions about everything from diaper fetishes to food-spitters to self-mutilation. But the answers that got readers most riled up were those in which you felt I unfairly maligned three already outcast groups: supercilious boyfriends, smokers, and pit bulls.
My answer to In Love With a Supercomputer, who said she was dating a genius who had to win every argument, outraged many of you. I said he was a twit and a bully and suggested he read Emotional Intelligence. Many wrote I was the sexist bully because my estrogen-addled mind couldn't accept the fact that there are certain people—they're called "men"—who simply are always right. "This article is the senseless dribble people in your profession spout out about the differences between men and women. Never have any of you made the recommendation for a woman to find a partner who is more illogical, needlessly emotional, or with lower IQ," wrote one dissenter. According to another: "There's something you should have learned as a little girl: rationality and intellect drive the world we live in and contrary to popular belief your emotions are not good for the world. You strike me as an arrogant feminist who thinks you are better then men because you have a vagina." Oh, gentlemen, you sure know how to charm a gal!
Other readers offered armchair diagnoses for the boyfriend—from Asperger's syndrome to Narcissistic Personality Disorder to having the personality type INTJ. Whether any of these conclusions is correct, I was too harsh in the way I described this young man. But I won't back down from my belief that this boyfriend needs a new set of social tools because no matter his IQ, no one is always right.
Probably no letter got more angry mail than my reply to Nest-Featherer, who complained that her upstairs neighbors were tossing their cigarette butts into their shared yard, which she wanted to keep clean for her new puppy. I took the opportunity to trash smokers for their penchant for littering and their general defensive hostility about their habit. Smokers smoldered in response. Hundreds of you rebutted my remarks and said such gross stereotyping belongs in the ash heap. "The way you replied sounded like you believe all smokers are slobby pigs who also can't handle their emotions. You owe many decent, non-littering, considerate, and perfectly mentally normal folks a great big apology," fumed one. "The neighbors are rude people who happen to smoke—they are not rude people because they smoke," another argued.
The smokers were right—I unfairly tarred all of you. However, look at the sidewalks of any city, and you will notice that they are covered with cigarette butts. So, please, considerate smokers of America, intervene when you see your boorish brethren toss their trash in the street.
Everyone got mad at me for my answer to Uneasy. She was writing because her 20-year-old sister—a single mother with a toddler—just moved in with a roommate who had a nervous pit bull. I said both baby and dog must be intensely supervised when together and otherwise separated to avert a tragedy. Pit-bull lovers said my answer maligned their loyal, loving breed. Pit-bull haters said I exonerated these malevolent dogs and sent me articles from around the country on pit-bull maulings. Single mothers and others were outraged by what they felt was a gratuitous slap when I said that since the mother of the toddler had her while still a teenager, that indicated she lacked an ability to understand the consequences of her actions. "The fact that she is 20 and a new mother and single is why she's not able to clearly see the danger. But you lost me the minute you basically called her a slut," one reader bristled. "Two years ago, the woman had sex. God forbid! If you ever have pre-marital sex, you could end up with an unexpected pregnancy. So what?" asked another.
No, I did not call her a "slut," and, yes, I agree she is too young to be a mother. The "So what?" is that it's a tragedy that so many young women with no education, prospects, or partner are raising children alone.
I need to completely atone for my answer to Church Newbies about the young couple who were converting to Catholicism and found the elderly couple who were their church sponsors to be creepily huggy and free with their hands. I said the youngsters should tell off the oldsters, and, if that didn't work, instead of telling the priest, they should find a new parish. Wrong! As one reader, the Rev. Joshua Williams, wrote to me: "First, if this older couple might one day serve in some sort of an official capacity, their actions might leave the church open to lawsuits. Second, if I were in the priest's position, I would want to know so I could keep an eye out for the older couple and try to help them understand the detrimental effect their behavior is having on the church's attempts to reach out to new members."
I blew another theological question, according to many readers, in my answer to Oy Vey, a non-Jew employed at a small Jewish-owned firm whose bosses let other Jews leave early on Fridays in the winter for Sabbath but expect everyone else to work. Since she had complained to no avail, I agreed with her that the owners were behaving poorly. However, I advised she'd be best off to let it go. Many of you suggested she should take legal action. Instead, I agree with reader Dan Phillips, who suggested Oy Vey take the perfect Biblical passage, Deuteronomy 5:14, to her bosses and show them that this injunction means that on the Sabbath, all should enjoy a day of rest.
The dilemma of Terrible Twos, the father who got no pleasure out of interacting with his 2-year-old daughter, provoked a variety of reactions. I praised him for being able to acknowledge this unpleasant truth, suggested he might find his daughter more interesting when she became more independent, and urged that he look for ways to connect with her until then. One young woman in her 20s wrote that from girlhood her father was distant and uninterested, and when she became a teenager she made a difficult choice: "For the sake of both our sanity, I finally decided that the best way to have a relationship with my father was to have none. I hope Terrible Twos takes some of your suggestions. Otherwise, he's going to lose out on knowing his daughter and hurt her in ways he never consciously would intend."
One father acknowledged: "I could have written that letter myself three years ago. The important thing is that fathers who feel this way know that they are not alone. It's not an easy thing to admit to feeling. But now that our daughter is five, it's a different story. Your advice is right, time and growth change everything. I've gone from 'What did I do?' to 'I can't wait to get home to see her.' "
And one mother wrote in response: "I would love if my daughter would initiate play with either me or my husband. I would love if she turned to one of us and called us by name. You see, my daughter is autistic. That father should count his blessings that she has an interest in him and wants him to be a part of her world."
Thanks to this mother for the reminder that counting your blessings is good advice for us all. And one of my blessings is that I have such forthright, provocative, and insightful readers.
Photograph of Prudie by Teresa Castracane.