Dear Prudence

The Year in Prudie

Letters that most incensed and provoked you.

The letters you wrote to “Dear Prudence” this year covered the breadth of the human dilemma, from how to cope with revolting sexual partners (hairy backs, dented breasts, spouses who have blown up like Macy’s parade balloons), to how to manage repellent co-workers (chewers, hummers, snoopers, stinkers), to how to handle reprehensible parents, siblings, children, and other loved ones. But sometimes readers found my responses more noxious than the original problem, resulting in torrents of condemnation and calls for apologies and retractions.

Nothing provoked as much mail—both pro and con—as my suggestion that it’s a good thing for stable, happy couples to have children. The deluge of letters spurred me to write this follow-up article. But the runner-up was my response to the 22-year-old woman who found herself unexpectedly pregnant by her boyfriend of two years, who was worried about how to break the news to her parents. I suggested that she stop fretting about her parents and instead concentrate more on her impending parenthood—and that marrying her boyfriend would be a good first step. The vehemence with which readers denounced my coupling marriage and children made it easy to understand the recent government statistics, which show that nearly 40 percent of children in this country are born to unwed mothers.

A disclaimer: I don’t recommend marriage to all the unexpectedly pregnant women who write, such as those who say that they’re pregnant by the mentally ill drug addict they dated for a month (although if you decide to date such a fellow, I advise abstinence or excellent birth control). But readers let me know that my notion that a young woman in a committed relationship should marry the father of her child-to-be is as passé as serving aspic at the wedding—if there were a wedding.

I was a throwback, they cried. I needed to “come into the 21st century” because “in this day and age the nuclear family is the minority.” “Marriage and motherhood are two of the biggest steps a woman will ever take, and to take one just because you’re taking the other is ludicrous.” “You’re implying that she should marry him without even knowing if he’s the one.” I even heard from a minister who said he refuses to preside over the weddings of couples who are expecting if they weren’t engaged prior to the pregnancy, because “the child will think he or she is the only reason the parents got married.”

In response, I maintain that children themselves are little throwbacks, since they have a strong aversion to watching their parents search for “the one.” And when a child is eventually old enough to do the math and figures out that mom was pregnant when she married dad, is that really so terrible? Is it worse than knowing that while mom and dad were willing to have sex with each other, they didn’t even love each other enough to commit to being a family?

I also got a big response to the letter from the pregnant woman who said she “can’t stand people, especially mere acquaintances, touching my stomach without invitation,” and responds by recoiling and removing the offender’s hand. When I said there is something sweetly communal about a pat to a pregnant belly, and that the problem is self-limiting, readers asked, “Are you nuts?”

One correspondent wrote, “It’s one thing for your Aunt Millie to pat your tummy, and quite another for some pervert at the bus stop to use pregnancy as an excuse to cop a feel.  I know at least two men who admit they are sexually aroused by pregnant women. Both fondle every pregnant woman they see, even complete strangers.” Most of the correspondents sounded as if they would be none too happy about Aunt Millie’s desiccated little claws on their belly—as one observed, “Unwelcome or uninvited physical contact is battery, which is a crime in all states.” Let me affirm that I am opposed to perverts, at bus stops or elsewhere, pawing any part of anybody’s anatomy, pregnant or not.

A minority of readers—okay, one—came to my defense. This writer described how the pregnant woman in her office “treated us to endless sonogram updates and detailed reports of every doctor visit. She did everything but bring in an exam table. But then she yelled at someone for touching her stomach and launched into a diatribe.” The reader went on to say that when she was pregnant about 20 year ago, “before pregnancy became such a big deal, everyone celebrated with me when I felt the first kick, etc. I’m not a touchy-feely person by nature, but it’s a brand new life. How awesome is that?”

Readers also thought my advice to the young woman who discovered a CD of child pornography on her boyfriend’s computer was inadequate. I said she should move out and give her boyfriend the phone number of an organization that treats sexual offenders. But readers thought I dropped the ball when I didn’t say the woman should have dropped a dime on her boyfriend. I’m still not sure finding a single, albeit illegal, CD should send him into the criminal justice system. But for those who find themselves in situations in which they are sure, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a tip line to report possession of child pornography: or 1-800-843-5678.

Sometimes a letter itself spoke to readers’ experiences, and prompted them to offer their own advice. I got a lot of mail in response to the woman whose two consecutive husbands refused to wear wedding rings because each claimed they had a (different) shop teacher in high school who lost a finger to a wedding ring caught in machinery. She wondered if this was just a useful urban myth for men with wandering eyes. “No!” wrote in dozens of readers who work with equipment.

“My husband and I own a machine shop, and this is totally true! We have seen men lose their entire arm because their wedding ring got caught in the machinery,” wrote one. “For my 20 years in the Air Force wearing any rings while working on or flying in aircraft was a big no-no. They would show the gory photos of those that had worn a ring and found out the hard way that the human body does not have the tensile strength of metal,” wrote another. Wives of ringless men wrote to say a ring won’t keep a bad man from cheating, nor will the absence of one prompt a good man to stray. Several people said they got around this problem with ring tattoos (which say “forever” far more seriously than a diamond). And I admired the devotion of the man who lets his wife draw a henna ring around his finger monthly.

Then there was the letter from the wife whose husband’s breath could knock down a moose. It takes guts to acknowledge your breath stinks, but many people wrote in to describe how they (or their spouse) had conquered the same problem. One young man found a solution through surgery, “After insisting on the removal of my tonsils at age 27, my life changed. Suddenly, I was no longer a pariah, folks ceased recoiling from me. Life, love, and companionship followed.” Others were able to share the marital bed again after employing tongue scraping, rigorous flossing, rinsing with a solution of hydrogen peroxide, or eating yogurt. Several more readers said the husband in question may suffer from tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths. As someone with a fascination for distasteful maladies, I was gratified to discover this new one.

So, thank you readers, for tonsilloliths, and for your illuminating, provocative, and even your infuriated letters.