Dear Prudence

Grocery Store Grazer

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Dear Prudence,
       I would appreciate your views about an experience I had recently. I was at the supermarket buying bulk candy (a confection called “Hokey Pokey”). It’s in a bin, you scoop it into a bag, write the bin number on the twist-tie, and pay for it by the pound at the checkout. As I was writing the bin number on the tie, I noticed a woman politely waiting for me to finish. I moved out of the way, then she–I know you see this coming–scooped up a handful of Hokey Pokey and popped it in her mouth. I didn’t say or do anything, and now I wish I had.

It’s irritating enough that I and other shoppers have to cover the cost of in-store snacks for her and others. But I have recently become a parent and wonder how I should react to this type of situation if I were with an inquisitive child. Do you think I should have said something to the woman? Should I have told the manager? I’m interested in your opinion.

–R. in St. Paul, Minn.

Dear R.,

This is one of those public issues where the act seems minor, but the collective price is significant. It is of course, as you perceived, an ethical lapse. As for the questions you raise, Prudie thinks you were correct not to say anything because that would have undoubtedly led to a brouhaha in the aisle–perhaps with some Hokey Pokey being lobbed. It would also have seemed petty to go to the manager and tattle–mostly because he would probably have been disinclined to approach her and say, “I was informed you’ve been eating the Hokey Pokey.” Arrests at candy bins are probably rare.

Had Prudie been there, in lieu of saying anything, she might have made eye contact with the woman and then raised an eyebrow, the message being “My dear, what behavior!” If your child was old enough to witness the candy bin caper and wondered why the woman was eating from the bin, you would have been perfectly within the bounds of propriety to say, “You are quite right. What the lady is doing is dishonest, but we are not in charge of other people.” If the transgressor were to hear this, you’d be in the clear because you would not have been talking to her … and she would be just as embarrassed as if you had been. In sum, what you witnessed was petty thievery, not someone poisoning the city water supply, and no person was being harmed. You did the correct thing by not trying to be a policeman. The key to the question: To intervene or not to intervene, is judgment. That’s what it’s all about.

–Prudie, judiciously

Dear Prudence,

I have a situation. I have a good friend of the opposite sex who I’ve known for three years. Although he was initially attracted to me, the feeling wasn’t mutual, so we became platonic friends. He even got married recently. The thing is, we’ve become closer–and now I’m attracted to him. We haven’t had sex, but a frolic or two has occurred. Since I’ve never thought of myself as “the other woman” type, we are not hanging out again until this goes away. His friendship is important to me, and I take those duties seriously. Do you think we can go back to being really good friends sans frolic? Or does my wish to be a good friend require severing the relationship? Help!!!!

–Where the Hell Did This Come From?

Dear Where,

It is quite likely that you are suffering from the Grass-Is-Greener Syndrome. And, oh, to know what a frolic is! The image it suggests to your steadfast adviser is of two children dancing in a meadow … though Prudie knows this can’t be what you mean. And when you say the friendship is on hold “until this goes away,” what, exactly, is “this”? The wife? The marriage? The attraction? Perhaps what needs to go away is you; that is, put the kibosh on the get-togethers. The electricity is not going to diminish, because most men like to … frolic. If you are sincere about being a friend, you will save him from himself by keeping your distance. Not entirely unmarried men are seldom worth the trouble.

–Prudie, definitively

Dear Prudence,

Having read many cases in which you handled tricky situations very adeptly, I am hoping you can help me do the same with mine. I have known a good friend for several years now (we are both graduate students within a small department), and we’ve always gotten along very well. However, I have noticed that there is a great turnover in her circle of friends each year as people inevitably get dropped. To compensate, she always seems to turn to a new crowd (usually new arrivals in the department) about whom she is wild for a while, until the ardor cools. Several people have noticed that she pursues people to add to her collection of friends, and she takes great pride in bragging about all the people she knows. She is intelligent, attractive, and friendly, but it seems to me she turns on the extroversion to hide insecurity.

Having been her friend for years and watched this happen again and again, I had thought I was immune. But alas, in the last months I seem to have been increasingly blacklisted. She still refers to me as a friend, but I feel I am treated quite coldly now. I hate to see this hurtful pattern continue. Prudie, work your magic!

–Newest Odd Man Out

Dear New,

OK, abracadabra: Clap your hands together three times and say, “All right, I’m out of this game.” The “friend” sounds like the kind of person we used to call “a user” in junior high, or “a narcissist” in grown-up psychological circles. At best, this soi-disant queen bee is fickle, so what is there about the friendship that is of value? Since it’s easier to change one’s own behavior than that of another, you might want to consider why this person is important to you. There is perhaps an element of your having felt like the chosen one–someone so marvelous that even a notoriously picky person could not discard you. This is not what friendship is about. Prudie is sympathetic, however, because narcissistic people are often attractive. The problem is that they’re not worth it.

–Prudie, magically

Dear Prudie,

My dilemma has to do with one-upmanship. A close relative, my father’s oldest sister, has a terrible habit of having “the worst case the doctor ever saw,” or “the worst (whatever) the mechanic ever dealt with.” No matter what difficulties anyone else present has, hers are always worse. Our family get-togethers seem more like a meeting of pathologists, each trying to dredge up more horrific experiences. How can I keep this from happening at our upcoming family reunion? (I am hosting it.) I am aware that this woman is very emotionally needy, but it’s all getting to be too much.


Dear B.,

Where is your sense of humor? The battle of the calamities is really kind of funny–and if you’re onto it, so must everyone else be. Actually, it sounds like a nice change from the more common, “My neurologist is the best in the country.” Those who truck in superlatives are recognized by thinking people as loose talkers and are not taken very seriously. Prudie doesn’t see what the harm is, and perhaps some light joshing in Auntie’s direction–since she seems to egg on everyone else–might advance your goal of diminishing the family game of “Can You Top This?”

–Prudie, pragmatically