Best of the Week
of Dec. 27, 1998


Here are the most intriguing cross-cultural exchanges either begun or advanced during the week of Dec. 27, 1998, as selected by Y? These postings, as well as "Best of the Week" entries from previous weeks, also can be found in their respective archives, which we invite you to browse. There, you will find questions that have received answers, as well as questions still awaiting responses. We encourage you to answer any questions relevant to your demographic background, as well as to ask any provocative question you desire. Answers posted are not necessarily meant to represent the views of an entire demographic group, but can provide a window into the insights of an individual from that group.

First-time users should first make a quick stop at our guidelines pages for asking and answering questions.

Question Code Key:

A=Age

GD=General Diversity

RE=Religion

C=Class

G=Geography

SE=Sensitive Matters

D=Disabilities

O=Occupation

SO=Sexual Orientation

GE=Gender

R=Race/Ethnicity

THE QUESTION:
R571: As a naive youngster, I wonder: How did the White Man achieve his supremacy in society? Greed? Avarice? Brilliance? A likely combination of these qualities?
POSTED DEC. 30, 1998
R. Wagner, 21, Mendoza, Argentina
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THE QUESTION:
D33: What is the best way to phrase a query to find out the nature of a person's disability? I find that since I don't believe in asking "What's wrong with...?" I am thwarted in situations where I would normally reach out.
POSTED DEC. 28, 1998
Roberto T., 27 <
bobbyboy5@aol.com>, Aurora, IL
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THE QUESTION:
SO112: This is specifically for people who oppose homosexuality: Why do you place so much weight on it being sinful, even though chapters in Leviticus in the Bible say shaving hair on the side of your face is wrong, planting two different kinds of seed in the same field is wrong and wearing cloth made of two different kinds of material is equally wrong? Also, it seems to me that adultery is quite a high moral wrong, since it is mentioned in one of the ten commandments, but adulterers attend church and get divorced and remarried even within the most accusatory groups, and no one seems to dwell on that fact.

POSTED DEC. 28, 1998
C.R., IA

ANSWER 1:
Adultery is morally wrong and deserves just as much criticism as homosexuality. Homosexuality may get more attention than these other wrongs because it disgusts people more in a moral and physical sense and not just a moral sense. The physical makeup of humans is not conducive to physical same-sex relationships. This is obvious. You can say it's not all about sex, but that is what everyone thinks about and gets disgusted by. I suggest in the future that you try not to find validation in the Bible for a homosexual lifestyle. Anyone can take a few lines out of context from the Bible and make them sound favorable to their cause, as you have shown. I think you know deep down, as well as many others, that the Bible does not endorse such a lifestyle. If you need validation for this lifestyle, you will have to look elsewhere. The Bible also does not endorse or validate adultery. Both of these sins should be treated with the same disdain. Whether you like it or not, homosexuality will remain a huge target for criticism. I feel the disgust, disease and unnatural physical acts that surround homosexuality will cause people to speak out and fight this sin with more vigor.
POSTED DEC. 30, 1998
B.G., Cincinnati, OH

FURTHER NOTICE:
To C.R.: Good point. Peter Gomes is pastor to Harvard University and has an excellent discussion about the Bible and homosexuality in his book The Good Book. He also discusses how the Bible has been similarly used to justify slavery and oppression of women. His consistent point is that you should focus on the broader themes in the Bible (love your neighbor, etc.) and not get hung up on the details (don't eat anything from a pig, etc.). Often the details are misunderstood as well - some verses commonly taken to condemn gays in general are actually referring to gay prostitutes. Gomes has a new book out now, an anthology of his sermons, and has been on the talk show circuit.
POSTED DEC. 30, 1998
B. Hale, straight <
halehart@aol.com>, Hartford CT

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
Do you also happen to notice how these same individuals will protest a film or television program for treating homosexuality in a realistic way, but they ignore all of the films with endless killing and other such violence, despite the fact that "Thou shalt not kill" is one of the more obvious commandments? The answer is, these people are hypocrites. Most of these fundamentalist types are spurred on by church leaders who have more political agendas than spiritual ones. I have also noticed that Christianity, in general, works better when "under siege." So what do these types do? They pick a few groups that can be easily targeted as sinners and act as though the Christian way of life is being threatened by those same "sinners."
POSTED DEC. 30, 1998
John K., 25 <
the-macs@geocities.com>, Cranford, NJ

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
Please don't tell me the religious aspect is the basis for this argument. First, not everyone who attends church is a good person. Second, and what really bothers me about this question, is the fact that everything you stated in your question has no context. You can put those statements anywhere and they don't mean anything without something before and after. I can not quote the Bible to you by book, chapter and verse. I do not go to church every Sunday. The important thing is that I am a good person. I do not steal, kill, commit adultery or pass judgement. I choose how to lead my life, just as you choose to lead your life. My lifestyle is not one of a homosexual nature, and I do not believe that it gives me the right to judge how anyone else leads theirs. That includes homosexual, straight, Catholic, rich, poor, etc.
POSTED DEC. 30, 1998
Kristinna, female, 29 <
Babs127@aol.com>, Buffalo , NY

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
The Old Testament has a number of directives more commonly known as the Mosaic Laws. Scholars debate their application on a daily basis. However, a common mistake I find that homosexuals make is that they tend to point to other "sins" as if that somehow negates their own. Your question mentions "adulterers." If a man murders but does not steal, he has nonetheless killed and therefore sinned. He has but committed a different sin. While he is not a thief, he is a murderer. Homosexuals should not point to other sins as vindication. God is very clear on the issue of homosexuality:; please see Lev 18:22, I Kings 14:24, Lev 20:13, Romans 1:24,26,27, Gen 13-19.
POSTED DEC. 30, 1998
Pastor M.B., 30, Clearwater , FL

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THE QUESTION:
R568: A friend recently discovered his Hispanic heritage. He was adopted as an infant. Unfortunately, his adoptive parents were prejudiced against Hispanic people, so now my friend, who thought he was French, has an inner turmoil. I want to help, but don't know how. Any ideas?
POSTED DEC. 28, 1998
Honey Bee <
penn-tex@swbell.net>
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THE QUESTION:
R564: Why does it seem that so many people of the black race are so engulfed with their history? Don't get me wrong, I think it is cool, but couldn't some of that energy be used to make a more positive impression on the rest of society?

POSTED DEC. 22, 1998
Duane <
rc10t@flash.net>, Belleville , MI

ANSWER 1:
I think blacks/African Americans are interested in their history because for so many years it has been distorted or denied. We are in a constant pursuit to find and understand our history, thus discovering ourselves. When I look in the printed media, and at a lot of TV shows, I'm constantly reminded of some of the negative images that are used to portray us. I have three sons. I have to teach them and nurture them to let them know they can achieve and be something other than a sports star. We have the capacity to be engineers and architects, just like the ones who built the pyramids in Egypt. We are smart, just like the the people of Timbuktu in Africa,where higher-learning was pursued. That is my reason for being interested in the history of blacks/African Americans.
POSTED DEC. 27, 1998
Charles, black male <
clprice1@earthlink.net>, VA
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THE QUESTION:
D32: I work in a nursing rehab facility but am not a nurse. I have close contact with most of the residents. One resident with MS asked me to buy something for him recently, when I went in a couple days later with it, he didn't remember me at all. I was so sad after I left his room. What happened in such a short space of time? Is this an indication his condition is deteriorating? I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about this devastating desease.
POSTED DEC. 28, 1998
Nancy H., female <
sheltien@cruzio.com>, Santa Cruz, CA
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THE QUESTION:
R374: Does it hurt that much to be an African American?
POSTED JULY 16, 1998
Rev. J. O'Daily, 38, European American, Tallahassee, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 13:
Tell you what, Rev. O'Daily: Go to your local performing arts theater. Tell them you want to perform an experiment, and you would like them to transform you into a black man. They can probably help you with makeup and hair. (If your eyes are blue, you might have to go with sunglasses.) Once you are transformed, go about your business as normal. Go to the places you always go, and behave the same way you've always behaved. Drive the same way you always drive. Shop the same places you always shop. After a day of this, write back and tell us what happened. Maybe you'll be able to answer your own question.
POSTED DEC. 28, 1998
E. Daniel, black woman, 42, Kansas City, MO
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THE QUESTION:
O42: I've often encountered adults who have graduated high school yet cannot read. To teachers: How is it that a person can go through 12 years of schooling, yet not be capable of performing the most basic math or reading skills? I understand many people have genuine learning disabilities, but there are such a large number of people who are functionally illiterate that this can't be the only explanation. Why aren't the basics of reading (and math) taught throughout a childs' school life? With so many hours spent in school, don't teachers feel this is the major failing of our school sytem? Any child should at least be able to read the newspaper by the time he or she graduates.
POSTED DEC. 27, 1998
C.J.,35, female, Cincinnati, OH
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THE QUESTION:
R566: To white people: What do you think is the difference between "racism," "prejudice" and "bigotry"? Or, do you not think there is a difference?
POSTED DEC. 27, 1998
R.G., black female, 26, Richmond, VA

ANSWER 1:
As far as I can tell, there really is not much of a difference among racism, bigotry and prejudice. It is a distinction without a difference; they all carry negative connotations. To call one a bigot or a racist is a derogatory comment, and it is directed at a person to show that he/she is biased and is partial in his/her thinking. If you really want to go into the semantics about each definition, I am sure you can thumb through ol' Websters. I would rather be prejudiced than a racist or bigot.
POSTED DEC. 28, 1998
Jonk, 33, white male, West Palm Beach, FL

FURTHER NOTICE:
In my experience, racism is like Hitler. It means that I think someone is less human than me, less capable than me because they are not white. If I were a racist, I would know it because I would consciously believe racist ideas. Racism has a particular history in the United States. In my experience, it mostly means white-on-black oppression. To me, racial prejudice is having stereotypes about people because of their race and believing the stereotype is true, even when you don't have any proof to back it up or even if you have an experience that shows it's not true. I think bigotry is a really strong racial prejudice, one that I insist on having regardless of what I see or experience around me. It is hatred that has attached itself to race, or religion, or some other difference. It is a very scary and violent thing.
POSTED DEC. 29, 1998
Sarah R., 34, female <
sross@pond.net>, Eugene, OR

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
I've always assumed the words meant pretty much the same, and have used them, and heard them used, interchangeably. Lately I've been told there is a difference (i.e. minorities can be bigots, but not racists.) Is it really worthwhile to quibble over what we call it? Maybe it's just a matter of the old cliche about Eskimos having more than 100 words for snow: To us in the warmer areas, snow is just snow. To those who live with it on a day-by-day basis, there are obvious, visible differences between different kinds. (But it melts down to the same thing in the end, in any case.)
POSTED DEC. 29, 1998
Colette, white female <
inkwolf@earthlink.net>, Seymour, WI

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I have recently been re-educated about these terms, racism being that inequity built into the often Caucasian-biased infrastructure of society, prejudice being how one is predisposed to a person dependent upon the stereotypes of one's demographics, and bigotry being an individual's predisposition to wield his prejudices. The second two will always exist, as they are individual characteristics. Working toward a lessening of the first will in the long term reduce the latter two.
POSTED DEC. 29, 1998
Brian, 31, German Caucasian male <
riversol@yahoo.com>, Horsham, PA

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
There is no difference. Ignorance has many names, but still comes down to the same thing.
POSTED DEC. 29, 1998
M.B., white, 28, Detroit , MI

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
I don't know the precise Webster's definitions, but I use the words to mean the following: A racist is one who allows his racial stereotypes to affect his judgment about a specific person or situation. By that definition, in a society as racially polarized as ours, everyone has been a racist at some point. As a hypothetical example, if we both turned on the TV news to see a white cop hitting a black suspect with a billy club, we might have widely different initial reactions. To me, it might appear an appropriate use of force to secure a dangerous suspect. To you, it might be just another example of police brutality. I don't think it is possible or even desirable to attempt to reconcile these disparate initial emotional reactions, but the significance of our varying perspectives should be negligible by the time the second blow is applied. I guess what I'm saying is that, in this example, the racism (for the white observer) is giving the benefit of the doubt to the cop. Continuing to defend the cop even if he continues to beat the suspect long after he is helpless (a la Rodney King) is a sin far worse than racism - and that brings us to bigotry. A bigot is one who allows his racial stereotypes as a justification for a blanket judgment. Whereas a racist might say "Obviously only a small portion of blacks are criminals, but if I saw a cop chasing a black man, I'd probably assume he was guilty," a bigot would say "Obviously not all blacks are criminals, but enough are that I don't like them." Bigots are a dangerous breed, and can usually be identified by a tendency to use racial epithets in the plural sense.

As unfortunate as racism is and as volatile as bigotry is, they are only modes of thought and receive the same Constitutional protection as any other set of opinions. Prejudice, however, is a different matter. Prejudice I would describe as the tendency to act based on racist or bigoted impulses. Or, more specifically, to treat people differently based upon judgments of them as members of a group rather than individuals. It is in all occasions impolite; in most occasions, immoral; and in many occasions, illegal. Prejudice you would think of as being the most hurtful because it sometimes involves a financial element (e.g. not getting a job or college admission because of your race) but bigotry and racism especially are far more pervasive, and it wouldn't surprise me if they are a greater weight on the psyche. I hope this viewpoint has been helpful to you, and I would be interested in seeing your definitions.
POSTED DEC. 29, 1998
Mark, white male, 31, Alexandria, VA
(Director's Note: Y? would also be interested in receiving minorities' views on this subject.)

FURTHER NOTICE 6:
To me, racism is the belief that one race is inherently superior to another for the sole reason of race. Prejudice is the generalization of a group by the attributes of a few, or even the majority. The difference is that one may be prejudiced against fast food restaurants because of what they see in one, but that obviously doesn't make the person a racist. A racist may say that blacks/whites/Hispanics are inferior to their group as a whole, but admit there are a "few" exceptions to the rule. A bigot is someone who puts the prejudice into practice by enforcing, or believing, in a stereotype. This goes both ways for all races. Those who think that all whites are wealthy and spoiled forget about the "trailer trash." Those who think all blacks are inferior or dumb forget about Clarence Thomas or Thomas Sowell.
POSTED DEC. 29, 1998
B, 23, white male, Kokomo, IN

FURTHER NOTICE 7:
These words are similar. Racism is specific to race; bigotry could apply to race and ethnicity; prejudice could apply to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientatio and age. To me, racism and prejudice deal with beliefs people have, which they may or may not act upon. Bigotry implies action. Many white people are racists without realizing it. Members of the KKK are bigots.
POSTED DEC. 29, 1998
B. Hale, white <
halehart@aol.com>, Hartford, CT

FURTHER NOTICE 8:
I've always thought that racism was a particular form of prejudice (that is: pre-judging a person based on their race) and that racism and bigotry are synonymous. Racism is also a term that defines you as a person (as a racist), but you can be prejudiced and yet it only describes your opinions. Therefore, I would have to agree with the first comment - that I would rather be thought of as prejudiced than as a racist or a bigot because at least then people would think I was somewhat redeemable.
POSTED DEC. 29, 1998
M, 22, white male

FURTHER NOTICE 9:
Without resorting to the dictionary, here are the definitions I would give to each term. "Prejudice" is when you prefer one thing over another based on prior information. Note that the word is in part based on "prejudge." So if you prefer a Ford over a Chevy, for instance, you are showing a prejudice for Ford. Prejudice is essentially neutral. "Racism" is the specific prejudice concerning "racial" groups. This would be preferring white people to black people, for instance. Now, consider that both terms are internal in nature, meaning that they do not require action to exist. "Bigotry" would be a blanket term for actions taken based on hateful prejudices, such as racism or homophobia. Just as all people practice discrimination based on their internal prejudices, racists practice bigotry. One set of terms is neutral without context, and the other set of terms is specific.
POSTED DEC. 29, 1998
John K., 25, white male <
the-macs@geocities.com>, Cranford , NJ
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THE QUESTION:
C8: Why do poorer regions of a state get less money for education (i.e. colleges and universities), highways, etc.? This seems to be the case in South Texas, where I live.
POSTED JULY 16, 1998
John T. <
watchman98@hotmail.com>, San Antonio, Texas

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
I'm originally from the Rio Grande Valley, so I understand where you're coming from. I'll give you my best guestimate: As the saying goes, "It takes money to make money." In the poorer regions of the country (at one point Hidalgo County was rated the poorest in the nation), there is no strong economic base, i.e. industry, which helps generate taxes and jobs, which sustains the population, which sustains the votes. So our elected representatives do not have much to bargain with in bringing in more federal money to the region, and neither do they get much political clout from the constituency. Case in point: Newt Gingrich is from Georgia and has Martin Marietta Industries. Kika de la Garza is from the Rio Grande Valley and has agriculture to support him.
POSTED DEC. 28, 1998
David R. male, Smithfield, VA
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THE QUESTION:
SO111: Why do gay men in the United States or United Kingdom look as if they are straight? I mean, in the Philippines we have drag queens everywhere...
POSTED DEC. 22, 1998
Vic, 19, Asian male, Puerto Princes, Palawan, The Philippines

ANSWER 1:
Men's desire for sex with other men shows up in every culture, but how that is expressed seems to be influenced strongly by culture. Nearly everywhere, gay men have at least some association with feminine characteristics (we've got drag queens, too). But some cultures seem to imagine that the two are actually the same; that is, if you're gay, then you automatically look/act/feel like a woman. Two things happen in those cultures: 1) Gay men learn to fit the stereotype. They learn to act - and often to think of themselves - like women. 2) Straight people - and some gays - never notice the gays who don't fit the stereotype. I don't know, since I've never been there, but maybe there are straight-acting gay men in the Phillipines, but they blend in and don't draw attention to themselves. In the United States, the less-flamboyant gays are making a lot of noise and being very visible. As gays become more self-defining, and as women push for closer examination of sex roles, cultures get more sophisticated about the difference between sexual orientation and sex-role stereotype.
POSTED DEC. 27, 1998
Will H., gay male, 48 <
tccwill@flash.net>, Dallas, TX
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THE QUESTION:
RE128: I am Catholic and have always wondered why so many Jewish men have thick, unkempt beards. I assume it is part of their faith. Can someone tell me why?
POSTED DEC. 27, 1998
Xavier P., Catholic <
perezxavier@hotmail.com>, Miami, FL

ANSWER 1:
All Jewish men do not have long unkempt beards; you are talking about a specific sect of the Jewish faith. Similar to Christianity, which has Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, Southern Baptists, Methodists, etc., the Jewish faith has many different sects - there are Conservative Jews, Reform Jews, Orthodox Jews, and then each group has its own breakdown. Most Orthodox Jews do not shave; the other sects do not practice this tradition.
POSTED DEC. 28, 1998
Jonk, white Jewish male, 33, West Palm Beach, FL

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THE QUESTION:
R345: I'm an astronomer and give planetarium shows with star legends from around the world that I've learned from books and other white astronomers. I've read that some Native American cultures view stories as I do physical property - telling them without permission would be stealing. Would I steal by using the stories? It feels worse to exclude the stories and, thus, First Nation cultures.
POSTED JUNE 17, 1998
Joann B., 45 <
jballbach@sprintmail.com>, Canton, OH

ANSWER 1:
I'm an astronomer myself. Concerning the use of mythology in your presentations: I have done the same thing at Lawrence Berkeley Labs science center. I incorporated all the mythos into the discussion. It is easily done and makes for a very interesting discussion. I believe it sheds insight on how different peoples see themselves and their place in the universe. I enjoy the Arabic and Egyptian sky mythos. They both have a very deep spiritual "sexiness" to them. Just incorporate a little of all of them into your discussion and you will astound and amaze your audience.
POSTED JUNE 24, 1998
Jonathan D., 31, black <
blackfu2@aol.com>, San Francisco, CA

FURTHER NOTICE:
There are many Native American astronomy stories that have been released for general use. However, if using the stories of a particular Native American Nation (i.e. a Seneca or other Iroquois story), it's a good idea to contact the tribal leaders to at least secure informal permission. Most tribes are flattered that other races (especially whites) are interested in hearing their stories. For a real treat, invite a tribal storyteller to come and tell the story himself. (It's advisable to pay for transportation and lodging, of course, as with any special guest.) Your patrons will never forget the event.
POSTED DEC. 28, 1998
John, 30, white (with some Cherokee ancestry), amateur astronomer, <
kb2izy@netsync.net>, Jamestown, NY
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THE QUESTION:
O33: Why do we lower physical standards for women in police and fire occupations? Are we not risking the lives of people in the interest of equality? I for one would not want a woman half my size attempting to carry me out of a burning building. I would much rather it be a man who I know has the physical capability.
POSTED NOV. 12, 1998
Pete, male, Toledo, OH

FURTHER NOTICE 6:
One of the things about physical tests for firefighters - they test you when you go in, but never again. What does that tell you? That the test is to weed out people, particularly people who "they" don't want. Otherwise, the tests would be given every year or two. People who were out of shape would lose their jobs. (And where I live, that would be most cops and firefighters.) Another point: We tend to test for one set of skills (pulling a 250-lb. man across the floor) and ignore others (crawl through this 16- inch opening across this caving-in floor, to the baby). Why not test for both? Then, of course, the big guys would be screaming, wouldn't they?
POSTED DEC. 27, 1998
Barbara, female <
newagent99@hotmail.com>, FL
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THE QUESTION:
R563: Why do blacks, especially women, tend to talk so much and so loudly at the movies? I've noticed that predominantly white audiences keep quiet.
POSTED DEC. 21, 1998
Emily, white female, 14 <
Darrow25@aol.com>, Memphis , TN

FURTHER NOTICE:
There is no question that black audiences are inclined to make noise at movie theaters. I don't say this as a complaint or criticism. When I was a teenager in New York, I often found it a lot of fun to watch an action or (especially) horror film with a predominantly black audience. They'd hoot, holle and yell wisecracks at the screen, and sometimes, the audience was more entertaining than the movies themselves! Now, this sort of activity would be very annoying if I were trying to watch a serious drama, but at a horror or action movie, it was not inappropriate. Why do many black people feel free to yell back at the screen, while most whites are inclined to sit still and listen quietly? I'm not sure, but the same styles are evident in churches, too. Whites in church tend to sit quietly in the pews, and listen intently to the preacher, while black churchgoers are much more vocal, and inclined to shout out agreement/disagreement with what they hear in a sermon.
POSTED DEC. 27, 1998
Astorian, 37, white male <
Astorian@aol.com>, Austin, TX
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THE QUESTION:
GE80: Why is it that sometimes it seems that the worse a man treats a woman, the more she will stick with that man, but if a man treats a women like a queen, she will lose interest in that person? I know that sometimes it may be for financial reasons, and I know people like this, but I cannot understand why anyone would stay in a relationship if they are always fighting and they talk bad about each other.
POSTED SEPT. 29, 1998
Jay, 28, single white straight male, Houston, TX

ANSWER 1:
Here's the quick version:1) Some people are drawn to jerks and losers. You can say it came from a bad family life, or maybe being drawn to those who would hurt, but it does go on. 2) People like the excitement in relationships that comes with someone who always creates a challenge. Yea , it's pretty silly when you view it objectively, but it still is common. 3) There are many who think a decent woman can turn any man around, and also that she should support her man. 4) Many folks don't know they have the right to say "no thanks" to those guys. They think they have to make do with whoever comes their way. 5) Few people ever draw up a list of qualities they want and then compare that to the person they are seeing or use that list when looking for a date. Have you drawn up your list so you can immediately recognize a woman who doesn't appreciate how considerate you are so that you can dump her and scream "next"? If not, do so and you'll be shocked at the gals who will be lining up to meet you. You could also look for a woman at the kind of places where appreciative gals are found. Bars, clubs, taverns and street corners are usually not ideal. Church, temple, civic clubs, hobby clubs and sporting events might bring you to a more appreciative group.
POSTED DEC. 27, 1998
Anne, female, North, FL
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