Our vast cadre of social scientists is focusing its attention on marriage now, with the intention of rescuing that institution from a wayward predilection for extra-legal cohabitation and divorce. This strikes Miss Manners as only fair, considering what these folks accomplished with their last generation of techniques for improving marriage.
True, today's experts are mostly not responsible for the previous go-around. It is just that Miss Manners has witnessed so many cycles in which solutions to social problems were trumpeted, tried and then trounced that she pictures all experts as members of the same guild, taking turns keeping their profession going and the public entertained by alternately issuing alarming warnings and counter-warnings.
Appreciating their dedication and concern for public welfare, she hopes they take comfort from knowing that when they are not able to help, at least they are not unduly upsetting the public. Millions of people drift into a good night's sleep when they hear the soothing tones of a favorite announcer proclaiming, "New studies show...."
One cannot be told often enough to be careful not to ingest household cleaning solutions and to be nice to one's spouse. Miss Manners only objected to these study-based findings when they turned out not to suggest being nice to one's spouse, stressing, instead, the need for total, frank, open communication.
Whatever else that is, it is not nice.
Loyal, loving spouses sometimes think, "I'm so lucky I married you" and "You get cuter all the time," both of which should be stated, although preferably not while the person in question is trying to recover accidentally deleted work that is due the following morning.
But those loyal, loving spouses may also have such thoughts as, "I suppose you can't help it, but how can any human being be that clumsy?" and "If you died, nobody would mind my leaving my stuff where I want it."
These thoughts and feelings should not be shared.
Miss Manners does not share the experts' confidence that there are teachable "marriage skills" that can be applied to all couples. She once heard one such expert ask in despair, "Why is it that we teach high-school kids how to drive, and yet we don't even try to teach them how to have a happy marriage?" Her timid reply was, "Maybe it's because we know what makes cars work?"
Yet she does know something that always helps domestic life, although she would hardly classify it as a skill. It is (surprise!): ordinary politeness.
A myth exists that one of the pleasures of private life is the ability to drop manners and, as people always put it when they assert the desire to be repulsive, be themselves. On the contrary, that rapidly becomes one of its drawbacks.
True, family manners are less formal than those that are supposed to be applied outside the home. In family privacy, it is not improper to gnaw the chicken bones and walk around in bunny slippers. But when no manners are practiced -- when people start licking their plates or living in their underwear -- things usually go bad. And when the manners of personal respect disappear, and couples feel free to insult each other when they happen to harbor unflattering feelings, they get rapidly worse.
So if the new skill that experts are vaunting is politeness, Miss Manners would be willing to forget that it is the very one that their predecessors advised jettisoning.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Which side of your body is the proper place to wear nametags and/or jewelry?
We have heard that it is "proper" to wear them on the right side, and yet any time we see anyone of importance, i.e., the queen, Laura Bush and others that should know, they always have their jewelry on the left side. Can you clarify this for us?
Also, can you instruct us on when executives should and should not wear nametags?
GENTLE READER: Nametags on the right, jewelry on the left. Miss Manners is disappointed that you neglected to take up the question of whether the queen and Mrs. Bush should wear nametags, and if so, what they should say.
"HELLO! I'M/Your Majesty"?
"MY NAME IS/Laura (not Barbara)"?