Dear Prudence

Driving While Flossing

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Dear Prudence,

My 12-year-old daughter is friends with a girl whose single-parent mother is rarely at home. While I understand that she has to work, I cannot understand why she chooses to spend most of her free time with her boyfriend, who lives an hour away. The result is that her daughter is at my house most days after school (well into the evening) as well as most weekends. Her mother calls to check on her, but this is no substitute for the time and attention her daughter needs.

Both my daughter and I feel very sorry for her friend and understand her unwillingness to be alone so much, but I am concerned by her mother’s neglect and resent the free childcare. I have considered sending the mother a note but am convinced it would only result in hurting the daughter and making her feel unwelcome in my house. I do not want to be ungenerous to a child in need. How should I handle this?

–Concerned Mother

Dear Con,

Sending a note to this neglectful mother, you correctly imagine, will not change the situation for the better. The not-so-hot mother will become defensive, and one way or another the kid will pay the price. It sounds to Prudie as though you and your daughter like this child, so why don’t you redo your thinking, privately, and come to see this de facto member of your household as a kind of foster child. Think of your open-door policy as an act of charity, a chance to make an important contribution to a youngster’s life. Your kind approach will also serve as a model for your own daughter. If you think it useful, discuss your new approach with your daughter. It can only help her if she knows her own mom is consciously trying to make a difference. It can only be a wonderful lesson, by example, for her to see generosity put into practice.

–Prudie, inclusively

Dear Prudie,

Recently my wife wrote to you concerning my flossing while driving. Your answer was predictable: It’s unsafe; tell him to do this in private. Well, my wife nearly fainted to see me castigated in public, no less on the Internet!

However, I feel constrained to respond. I never do this in an unsafe driving situation–i.e., curves, crowded lanes, etc. I’ve done this all over the United States, in New England mostly on the turnpike, with never a mishap. My wife cannot say the same … and she doesn’t floss while driving. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if a person can maintain control of the situation, he shouldn’t be found guilty of not operating according to the manual.

Thanks for letting me vent.

–Flosser’s mate

Dear Floss,

One might surmise that your driving record while flossing is better than the beloved’s with both her hands free. Perhaps this is a tug of war where the rope is, symbolically, dental floss. Prudie hopes you two can settle this matter amicably so that the next step is not clenched teeth.

–Prudie, prophylactically

Dear Prudence,

Some weeks ago I made the acquaintance of a new co-worker (of the opposite sex). We hit it off well, and I asked him to lunch. After some scheduling problems we managed the meal and had, I thought, a charming time. After that he was quite pleasant when we ran into each other. Recently I asked him to join me again for lunch. He pleaded the press of work and asked for a raincheck. After letting a week tactfully pass, I asked again. He again declined, mentioning the proverbial raincheck. His manner has definitely changed, and I know he’s going to some lengths to avoid me.

Needless to say I am disappointed, but I’m certainly not planing to press my attentions on him. Unfortunately the atmosphere now feels strained. Should I speak to him or just let matters rest? I’m puzzled.

Thanks for your assistance.


Dear Lunch,

To pass on a wise nugget from Prudie’s favorite, Dorothy Parker: It’s not the tragedies of life that defeat you, it’s the messes. What has happened is that the object of your attention began to feel crowded … for whatever reason. It could be that he found you more aggressive than was comfortable, since the first and second invitations were yours. It could be that while he behaved politely, the initial lunch was not as charming as you thought. It could be that he intuited more of an interest on your part than he was prepared to deal with. He could very well be neurotic, or you may not be aware of your own firepower. Whatever the actuality, he is definitely ducking you, and your next move should be this: Behave in a cordial, correct, and distant manner. When you encounter him, simply nod, smile, and keep going. This approach is the best thing for both of you.

–Prudie, plainly

Dear Prudie,

I just received a wedding invitation via e-mail at work. It’s from a person I don’t really know that well. I will not attend. Am I obligated to send a gift?


Dear eg,

A wedding invitation via e-mail? At work? And you don’t know the person well? My, my, how outré. Do not even think of responding with a gift. What might be in order, however, is a certificate of chutzpah.

–Prudie, properly

Dear Prudie,

I have just written a letter to a friend I have been out of touch with for several years. He and I were the closest of buddies. Then my friend moved away from our small hometown and married. We both settled down … considerably. I have written to him a couple of times over the last few years and have received no response. I would really like to reawaken the friendship. Any suggestions?

–Anonymous in Wyoming

Dear Anon,

The ways of the world are largely a matter of guesswork. Your letter has every indication that your pal from the old days is uninterested in picking up the thread. One might postulate a number of reasons. Your youthful best pal may not remember things the way you do, he may be disinclined to pick up a long-distance friendship, or, sadly, his life may have gone haywire and he just isn’t up to rejuvenating the old bond. Do leave things alone, and accept that you may never know the underlying reasons.

–Prudie, regretfully