DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband of 32 years is a true gentleman whose speech is as gentle as his mannerisms. He is helpful and pays full attention to everyone he encounters. He treats men at his workplace with understanding and respect, and he treats the women as gently as one would respond to a delicate child.
Is it proper for the women to hug him, telephone him, write him, invite him to their rooms and request constant assistance from him?
At first, these women disturbed me by these actions. I confronted him, but he didn't understand my reason for being upset. I've never called a married man for help, nor called him at his office just to chat. I'm not sure they would treat him that chummily in front of their husbands.
I'd like to slap them or run over them with my car, but I don't feel that would be proper. At the moment, I treat them civilly. I have to consider my husband's place at work. Do you have any advice for me?
GENTLE READER: Why yes, Miss Manners has three pieces of advice.
1. Do not -- repeat, not -- go around slapping your husband's business associates. You will only demonstrate that such a nice gentleman is in desperate need of being rescued from a wife who is, to say the least, no lady.
2. Do not run them over with your car. They will feel obliged to comfort your husband in his loneliness while you serve your sentence.
3. Do not be disturbed by the actions of these ladies. They may be merely appreciatively astonished at his gentle manners, and responding with the only well-intentioned manners they know, the manners of chumminess.
You know, and Miss Manners knows, that these are not proper business manners, which should distinguish between the personal and the professional relationship. Your husband knows, too, which is why he does not seem to have succumbed to using them himself.
But he must also know that since workplace manners were reduced to the point where the only choices are Mean and Nice, such chumminess can exist without the least element of romantic intention. Presuming he is the true gentleman you say he is, you should not insult him by questioning his judgment.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I are frequently asked out by people with whom we'd rather not socialize, for example, the parents of our children's friends. They may say, "We should get together; how about drinks?" or "Come on over and we can chat while the kids play."
We have made excuses or have begrudgingly gone, but the truth is we would rather stay home or socialize with old friends. What I really want to say is, "We won't ever be able to come over, because we just don't want to." Do you have a tactful way of telling people that you'd rather not spend your time with them?
GENTLE READER: Generalized busyness, over-used as it is, is the way to make a blanket refusal: "Thank you, but we're so ridiculously behind just now, we just can't take the time. You're so nice to ask us."
Miss Manners urges you, nevertheless, to consider occasionally finding small social moments with your children's friends' parents -- going by early to pick up your children, for example, or lingering with them at an event. This softens your refusal. More importantly to you, perhaps, it establishes some rapport. When the children are older and out together later than they were supposed to be, you may find you have more in common with these people than you thought.