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My wife and I are newlyweds. We went to breakfast, and I ordered coffee, and she said she wanted only water. The waitress kept refilling my coffee. A couple times, my wife took sips. The waitress asked if she wanted coffee, and she declined. The manager also asked politely, "Nothing to drink for the lady, just water?" Later, my wife took another sip. I told her it wasn't proper to keep drinking from my coffee, and she should've ordered her own. Now I'm the bad guy. Her comments before she refused to talk to me at all were that the rudeness was "all in (my) own mind," and, "What are they gonna do, throw us in jail?" and, "You're just criticizing me to put me down." Was I wrong? Doghoused

Why not take home the silverware and condiments, and maybe a chair or two? After all, they do say, "Let me show you to your seats." And why order food at all? After the guy at the next booth gets up without finishing his breaded veal chop, just reach over and grab it. When the waitress comes around, say, "Thanks, just water for me, and a nice empty plate. Oh, and would you mind heating this up?"

Does the corner diner really need to bring in a legal team to have you sign off on the terms of your breakfast? ("Initial here: Drink refills are per person purchasing a beverage.") Life is filled with unwritten rules, "social norms," that everybody just knows and follows which is why, even without signs all over the diner, when nature calls, you don't see some guy striding up to the pastry case, unzipping and doing his business down the side.

Is a little beverage grifting really such a big deal? You could argue that a $2 cup of coffee sets the restaurant back about 10 cents that is, if they give you the dry stuff and you brew it over a fire and drink it on a park bench from a cup you pulled out of the garbage. The restaurant owner's got a right to charge $65 a cup if he wants, and if you've got a problem with that, well, collect some cockroaches, hire a busboy and yell "eggseasytoastbacon!" at home.

Don't let the big, grown-up girlparts fool you; your wife, like all of us, is basically a large, easily wounded child. This means being right isn't enough: You have to communicate your rightness without putting her on the defensive. An emotional appeal is wisest, per 18th-century economist Adam Smith, who wrote that sympathy motivates people to put others' interests before their own. So, instead of telling her she's wrong, tell her you feel bad, like you look like a total cheapwad, and worry aloud that the waitress, who's tipped on the total of the bill, will feel ripped off.

Another emotional appeal might be in order to break your wife of her hit-and-run method of conflict resolution: You're dumb. You're wrong. You're mean. Conversation over. Oh, and could you pass the cream?

Since you're only now discovering how your wife takes her coffee without paying for it you might explore whether her ethics in general hinge on whether jail time would be involved. While mystery is essential to romance, that's not supposed to mean agonizing over whether your wife will end up in bed with the neighbor or just stand at the salad bar eating out of all the containers until she spots the SWAT team gathering at the supermarket doors.

Can you hear me dump you now?

I've been dating this guy for five months and dying to break up with him for two, but I just don't have the guts to hurt him. A friend e-mailed me a story about slydial.com, a service that allows you to break up with somebody without the awkward conversation by leaving a message that goes straight to voicemail. Is this okay? Chicken

Sorry, but with slydial, there's still the icky business of telling him it's over. A truly advanced service would dial his cell, and an electronic voice would come on: "Press one to be unceremoniously dumped. Press two to be dumped in Spanish. Press three to hear these options again."

So, two months ago, you knew it was over, but instead of ending it, you let him get two months more attached. Maybe you wanted to avoid hurting him, but, clearly, what you wanted even more was to avoid feeling "awkward" while hurting him. If you've dated somebody for any length of time, it's cruel to dismiss them with a phone message. You owe it to this guy to end it face to face. Then, you can at least leave him with a hug as a parting gift instead of "Well ... hugs!" and, as an afterthought, the number of the suicide hotline.

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail adviceamy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com).

  • You might explore whether her ethics hinge on jail time being involved.

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