Dear Prudence

Beyond Binaca

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Dearest Prudie,

I read your column religiously, and though I never thought I would have the opportunity to avail myself of your services, it just today occurred to me to write you about a problem that might be fairly common. My significant other, the love of my life, the mate of my soul, does not brush his teeth as often as I’d like him to. I have dropped many hints. I have pestered, begged, groveled, and even threatened him. I bought him one of those interesting-looking utensils used to make flossing easier. (To his credit, he used it once.) He, like many men, has a fragile ego, and while I’d like to broach the subject with him, I wish to do it in a way that doesn’t hurt his feelings—if possible.

—Holding My Breath in Portland, Ore.

Dear Hold,

Prudie applauds your wish to be gentle with the love of your life, the mate of your soul. She questions, though, whether a flossing device—given as a gift—along with pestering, begging, groveling, and threats qualify as “hints.” Because your relationship is an intimate one, and sounds loving, you can and should be direct. Just tell him that his breath, somewhat frequently, is not fresh (that’s a good word in this instance) and that it would be good for his social interactions (as well as romantic) if he would brush his teeth more often. I say brush because the mints and sprays do not necessarily solve the problem. There is a chance that your beloved has an internally generated halitosis, and he might want to see a dental specialist about this. If he just plain forgets to brush, then you must “retrain” him so that it becomes routine.

—Prudie, breathlessly

Dear Prudence,

Even after 10 years of marriage, my husband’s mother still refuses to accept or acknowledge me. If I answer when she calls our house, she asks, “Who’s this?” My husband and I are happily married and see very little of her, as we live in a different city from her. But this still bothers me, because it has been going on for so long. I’m not going anywhere, so she needs to accept the fact that we are together. What should I do? I try not to think about it, but when she does call it makes me angry. Thanks for a prudent answer.

—Shunned Wife

Dear Shun,

If this woman is not crackers, her level of hostility must be at barely manageable levels. Since Prudie believes humor to be a most effective weapon, the next time Miss Congeniality calls and asks who you are, try answering: “Sharon Stone.” She will be flummoxed and terribly surprised that you’re having fun. It will leave her, shall we say, at a disadvantage. If she is fool enough to ask who you are the next time she calls, go with yet another famous name … maybe “Madeleine Albright.” Keep Prudie posted. Having had a few go-rounds with her own former mother-in-law, Moby Dick, she is always interested in how these little dramas play out.

—Prudie, playfully

Dear Prudence,

I’ve been dating a woman for a year now. I love her and would like to marry her, but she has some serious problems. Whenever something goes wrong she cries uncontrollably and starts talking about how no one likes her, the world is out to get her, and how her life will never get any better. She’s gone to counseling, but only for a couple of weeks, and then she quits. I’m at the end of my rope and am becoming very frustrated. Please help me. I don’t want to leave her, but I can’t take much more of this stress. It’s affecting my job.


Dear Hank,

You shouldn’t have to take any more of this stress. The fact that she goes for help, then quits, is the clue to your solution. Insist that she choose a therapist with whom she is comfortable and make an ultimatum: If she does not stay with treatment (which she clearly needs), you will not stay with her. What sounds to this layperson like paranoia, extreme immaturity, deep-seated pessimism (if not depression) are making a productive and contented life impossible. If she will not agree to your condition, then you must call it a day, because nothing will improve for her, and you will go down with her ship. Consider yourself lucky that you have this “warning” before you legally tie the knot.

—Prudie, unwaveringly

Dear Prudie,

Maybe the real issue here is airline cruelty to coach passengers, but I’m wondering: Can anything be done when the person sitting directly ahead of me leans back his chair, driving the seat-back into my knees, and reducing the sparse legroom? My experience is that people don’t ask. They just tilt … and if I’ve got the tray down, then that winds up wedged in my midsection. (I’m not fat, but I’m tall.) People on planes are so uptight, I worry that any request to pull forward is going to get me slugged. And I never recline, unless the seat behind is empty, because I’m so self-conscious about the inconvenience. I can’t afford first class, and the airlines aren’t going to redesign plebe seating anytime soon. How can I get some room without causing an in-flight incident?


Dear Scrunch,

Prudie feels your pain … literally. Many is the time some clod has thoughtlessly pushed the recliner lever, full throttle, winding up inches from your adviser’s lap. Prudie has, on occasion, said sweetly, “Would you mind bringing your seat forward just a little?” Sometimes this is met with an “Oh, sure.” Other times there is a stony look and a tiny modification. If the person lowers the seat with nary a backward glance and then goes into sleep mode, you are pretty much out of luck.

You are right to blame the airlines, by the way: It is their design and their allotment of space that has turned coach accommodations into sardine cans for humans. The very fact that the recliner lever has the span it does carries the implicit message that it’s OK to use it. And not everyone is thoughtful—or even thinks, for that matter. The only useful thing you can do, and this is provided the flight is not full, is look around for a seat where no one is occupying the one in front, or one that is behind a child. You might also try to book a bulkhead seat in advance. As for getting slugged, that is a growing problem, and often has nothing to do with limited space. The occurrences of air-rage in first class are just as numerous, maybe more so. Interestingly, that’s usually where the drunks are.

—Prudie, uncomfortably