DEAR MISS MANNERS: Can I have your reaction to the following? Twice this year, co-workers in long-standing, cohabitation arrangements have gotten engaged to their partners. Don't get me wrong: I approve of their getting married. It's the right thing to do. The thing that irks me is the attendant hoopla.
These girls are flashing gaudy diamonds, giggling like schoolgirls and planning lavish weddings, complete with white dresses. (Either I misunderstand the symbolism of the white dress or their children are all future messiahs, but I digress.) And the response of the girls in the office? "Oh, we must throw a shower!"
We must? I was under the impression a shower was to help the new bride set up her household. After living together for nearly a decade, having children and buying a home together, I think those households are pretty well set up. Besides which, a moral issue exists: If you stole a car off the lot, drove it around for five years and then brought it back and announced you were ready to pay for it, would you expect a ticker-tape parade in your honor? These couples have stolen the privileges of marriage for themselves. Isn't it incumbent on them to set matters right discreetly and humbly? I would like to offer congratulations and sincere well-wishes, but I don't care to be a party to the party, if you get my drift. Nor do I wish to put these girls on the spot by explaining what I think. I've got a faint suspicion that no matter how I word it, it's going to seem rude. On the afternoon of the first shower, I discovered some suddenly urgent "personal business" to attend to, and, unless you have an alternative, I will do the same this time.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners shares your reluctance to insult people and spoil their fun concerning an activity she finds morally distasteful. Only in her case, it isn't focused on wedding hoopla, as you put it: Over-due marriages need to be celebrated, too, and she can't be bothered to keep track of couples' tardiness for the unpleasant purpose of deducting carats and discouraging giggles.
Miss Manners' distaste is for pseudo-social life at the office, because it is occasioned by proximity rather than affection. She believes we should all just work through, go home earlier, and give showers for our own friends.
So here is a gracious way of getting around both your scruples and hers: Go early and say to the honoree, "I'm so sorry I can't stay because I have work to do, but I want to wish you happiness."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: How should one respond when a well-intentioned person provides someone, or a group of people, with inaccurate information?
I receive a regular stream of "urban legend" e-mail and often hear incorrect advice passed along in person. I have researched many of these stories and know the damage that can be done by those who believe them.
I am distressed by the lack of critical thinking skills that these otherwise sensible people display, and sometimes I am concerned that they could hurt themselves. I feel a strong urge to set the record straight, but I do not want to be rude or hurtful.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners is going to take your word for it that you know of actual harm that will result from people believing that there are alligators in the sewerage system. In return, she wants you to promise that you will not go around pointing out to people that they need to learn critical thinking skills. The tactful opening for questioning a story without implying this is, "Oh, really? But I heard something different."