Got a burning question for Prudie? She’ll be online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers each Monday at 1 p.m. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
I’m a new teacher at a private tutoring firm. We give one-on-one lessons to kids ages 13 to 18. I’ve twice had the experience of sitting at a table with a male student and seeing the student “adjust” himself. Both times, the student actually put his hand down his pants. The first time, I was so shocked I couldn’t hide the expression on my face, and the 17-year-old asked what was wrong. I told him firmly but kindly that it was not appropriate to do that in public and that if he was ever uncomfortable, he should use the bathroom. The second time was with a 14-year-old student. I tried not to say anything, but then he started typing on my computer, so I had to say, “It’s not appropriate to put your hands down your pants in public.” He protested, “Well, it itches!” I replied that scratching there in public, especially going inside the pants, was still inappropriate. When he left, I broke out the Lysol and germ wipes. Did I handle this in an acceptable manner? What should I do if it happens again? And shouldn’t teenage boys already know not to do this?
—Desperate for a Public Service Announcement to Teenage Boys
For insight into “adjustments,” I talked to my resident expert on the intricacies of teenage-male behavior, my 14-year-old daughter. She observed: “If boys don’t understand something in class, or if during P.E. they need an extra boost of confidence, you can see them putting their hand in their pants. Some of the boys, every time they’re going to throw a ball, they put their hand in their pants first! It’s so funny. But it’s not like they’re 26 years old and perverts; they’re just boys. None of the teachers say anything. Sometimes if the girls see them and they’re being really gross, we’ll say, ‘Get your hand out of your pants!’ ” (My daughter also explained that females have a more socially acceptable outlet: “If you’re a girl and you’re nervous, you flip your hair.”) One-on-one tutoring with an adult woman puts a boy in a high-stress situation, and I’m surprised so few of them have grabbed for some comfort. If you have a student who spends the entire session holding on for dear life, you should have a male co-worker pull him aside for a little chat. But some teenage boys, in need of a brief shot of reassurance, are occasionally going to seek out something handy. Eventually, the taunts from their peers should wean them off this habit—after all, you aren’t complaining that your male colleagues are drifting pantsward when they need a lift. Ignore the occasional adjustment, and if supporting the disinfectant industry makes you feel more secure, wipe away.
My father is a severe alcoholic in his late 70s. Most of my life, he has been emotionally absent due to the drinking, and I never had much connection with him, even though we lived in the same house. He has recently been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer (probably due to his years of chain-smoking and heavy drinking), and he doesn’t have much longer to live. My mom wants me to prepare a eulogy for his funeral since I am their only child. The problem is that I have nothing good to say about my father! He wasn’t a bad or mean person, but I remember him mostly as some guy passed out on our couch. I’m not sure what to do—my mom will be heartbroken if I can’t come up with something nice to say. What should I do about this?
—A Dutiful Daughter?
It sounds as if your mother is pressuring you in part to justify her decision to spend her life with a passed-out alcoholic. I understand this is a very difficult time for all of you, and you want to make your mother happy, but you also have to do what’s right for you, and if that means telling her you simply don’t have enough to say about your father to compose a eulogy, then she’s going to have to accept that. If you’re willing to go ahead, then look at the scene of the memorial service for Livia Soprano, matriarch on The Sopranos, which pretty much defines the genre of what to say when there’s nothing good to say. Of course, you probably don’t want to borrow any of their lines (“We suffered for years under the yoke of that woman”). So I suggest going another way: confronting your father’s alcoholism head-on. It will be no secret to anyone attending that your father was tragically drunk for most of his life. So you can open with something like, “My father died of cancer. But he had another terrible disease that was just as deadly: alcoholism.” Talk about how he struggled, and lost, his fight with this illness. Then try to think of something positive. Did he manage to stay gainfully employed? Did he have any interests (besides booze) that engaged him? Can you think of an anecdote or two from your childhood in which he was actually there for you? You don’t have to speak for long, and you don’t have to present a false portrait. By compassionately telling the truth, you will honor your mother’s wishes and even help clarify to yourself what your father meant to you.
For years, I have taken piano lessons from an instructor, with whom I’ve become very close friends. We frequently go out to dinner together and chat outside of my scheduled lessons. But while our friendship has blossomed, my piano skills have suffered. Out of curiosity, I took a lesson with another instructor and found that I learned more from him in half an hour than I have from my friend in three years! In addition, this new instructor charges much less. Lately I have been taking lessons from both of them in order to save my friendship but also learn how to become a better piano player. I know my friend would be heartbroken if she found out, so I’ve been sneaking around like I’m having an affair! My sanity (and my wallet) can’t keep this up for much longer. What do I do?
You may have a beautiful friendship, but you are not making beautiful music together. Sometimes relationships with even the best teachers run their course (although your friend sounds as if she may be among the worst). No matter how much you care about her, if after three years she’s still got you trying to master “Chopsticks” while the new instructor has you playing “Moonlight Sonata,” you’ve got to get out. So tell your instructor that you hope your friendship will continue indefinitely, but you feel it’s time to move on musically, and you appreciate the tremendous grounding she’s given you. If she tries to persuade you to continue, or wants to know exactly what’s wrong, don’t get defensive, just say that you know it’s perfectly normal for people to feel they’ve gotten as much as possible out of a student-teacher relationship, and that’s where you are. Then make plans for dinner. If she can’t carry on your friendship, that’s too bad, but you don’t owe lifetime fealty to someone who has you sounding like a broken record.
I am a 28-year-old single woman, and I am tired of being asked out on dates via text message. My last relationship went on for several years and ended nine months ago. I was never once asked out via text message the last time I was single and dating. Now, however, I find that the text-message request for a date is not only common, but it has become the norm. I think that a guy asking me out via text message either isn’t terribly interested and can’t be bothered to pick up the phone, or is too scared to call and talk to me in person. I am looking for a serious relationship with a man who has confidence in himself, so I don’t want to date a man who asks me out via text message, whatever his motivation. Am I being too hard on these guys? How do I indicate that I find this practice inappropriate without making the man on the other end of the text think I dislikehim?
—Tired of Texting
Perhaps they’d meet your standards of confidence and interest if they wrote a missive with a quill pen and had it delivered by carrier pigeon. Technology changes expectations. Once it was telephones that were rude, impersonal devices. Imagine the temerity of just phoning someone for a date and not coming by the house with a calling card! Since you were last single, texting has clearly become the preferred method of arranging face-to-face encounters. You’re a single woman who has the pleasure of deciding among many suitors. You can make this fewer suitors by demanding they contact you only by talking on the phone—although, what’s keeping you from responding to the text by making a call? But if you’re looking for a serious relationship, it’s probably not a good idea to blow off candidates who take the time to ask you out by tapping the request with their thumbs.