Dear Prudence

Dating Dad’s Pal

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Dear Prudence,

I was wondering if you could help me with this unique problem. I am 20 years old and am seeing a gentleman who is 20 years older than me. I know this doesn’t sound too bad, but the wild card is that the man is my dad’s best friend. I don’t know, well, actually we don’t know how to tell my dad. Your thoughtful advice would really come in handy.

—Puzzled Daughter

Dear Puzz,

Prudie will relate a similar situation she was told about while in New Zealand. The couple is now married, and the wife told this story: She had known her father’s dear friend (and contemporary) as a little girl when he was married to his first wife. When she grew up to be a working woman in her 20s, that couple divorced, and she and the family friend went out for lunch, during which the man made a joke that he was looking for a “floozy” to install in his apartment. When the romance blossomed and they decided to marry, the man, a very solid citizen, by the way, went to his chum (and future father-in-law!) and said, in essence, “Look, you know me, you know what I’m made of. Your beloved daughter might have brought home a biker or someone equally unsuitable. At least with me you know what she’ll be getting.” They did marry, all are doing fine, and the reason Prudie is passing on this true story is because it’s as good an approach as any she could offer. And it worked!

—Prudie, encouragingly

Dear Prudence,

What are your thoughts about responding to feel-good e-mails, e-cards, and other Internet kindnesses? I receive quite a few of these from friends in addition to my professional e-mail, and while I am anxious to focus on my work, I do not wish to offend the senders. What is your advice?


Drowning in E-Kindness

Dear Drown,

Can you say “delete,” boys and girls? If you are simply too busy to look at nonessential mail, don’t bother reading it. Responding isn’t necessary unless you feel like it. (And a short reply sometimes does it … such as, “Love it!” in response to an especially good forward.) Just one caveat: If someone on your server sends something, at least click on it, as opposed to deleting it without bringing it up … the reason being that when/if the person checks to see if you’ve looked at it, it will show “Deleted” if you trashed it, sight unseen … and it is jarring, if not insulting, to see that a friend wouldn’t even open your mail.

—Prudie, politely

Dear Prudence,

I have a friend who has come to rely on my husband and me for everything! I can scarcely leave my house without her joining me in whatever activity I am doing. If she finds out I have something planned, she is there. If she finds out my children are out for the evening, she wants to spend the whole night with me. When I go out with friends, say, to a sporting event, she invites herself along.

When she has her kids (when they’re not with her ex), she always wants to bring them to our house. Our two boys are close in age—but her kids are truly out of control and generally turn our house into chaos. I have started not answering the phone when I know it’s her calling, and she has gotten wise to that and now just drops in—and will not leave, no matter what I am doing! We have even resorted to running from our own house if her name is on the caller ID. I don’t like to hurt others’ feelings, but this is seriously stressing us out.

—Seeking Privacy

Dear Seek,

This woman sounds like she left her mind in third grade. People who can’t take a hint are people who can’t take a hint—so Prudie advises you to lay it on the line. You will lose a friend but gain a life. The woman has no sense of boundaries, so in the name of normalcy, tell her you do not choose to live your life with a friend who is trying to become an honorary family member. To have to hide from someone, and even flee your own home, makes it mandatory that you cause “hurt feelings.” This person sounds insensitive, pushy, and so dense that light must bend around her. And do not let this woman be the travel agent for guilt trips. You need have no second thoughts about freeing yourself from this human version of Krazy Glue.

—Prudie, determinedly

Dear Prudence,

Am I becoming a curmudgeon or are manners going to hell in a hand basket? Throughout my childhood I was taught to close my mouth when eating or chewing gum, and to cover it when I yawn or sneeze. Lest you think I was raised by overly strict Norwegian Lutherans, I frankly don’t remember many other people—children or adults—who acted otherwise at the time.

After spending 20 years living abroad, however, I’ve returned to the states to find at least half the children and a substantial portion of adults incapable of keeping their mouths closed when eating or chewing gum, and it seems a majority of them aren’t aware that some people don’t want to see the insides of their mouths during a yawn. Neither do some of us relish watching the mastication process as it is in progress. Have you noticed a similar decline in manners, or am I just idealizing the past? And what does one do when confronted with a table companion who makes more noise and is more unsightly than my black Lab when eating?

—Closed Mouth

Dear Closed,

Toss that person a dog goodie? Only kidding. Prudie shares your discomfort with the lapses you mention, and she is not sure if the level of politesse is declining or just that, as children, we were not attuned to the outliers when it came to manners. As for what to do, avert thine eyes. There really is no way to say to tell people that their eating habits are inferior to those of your dog. If, as you say, there is an actual differential between the United States and foreign countries when it comes to table manners (and yawning) all it can mean is that we Americans have become looser about teaching manners and etiquette. And what a pity.

—Prudie, regretfully