DEAR MISS MANNERS: My 23-year-old nephew, after very long consideration, decided to break his engagement to his girlfriend of seven years. The engagement was only a few months old and no date was ever set for the wedding.
Both families have been friends for years, but we live in a small town and this is all sure to result in some awkwardness. He did not fall out of love, he had an accident that resulted in about four months of convalescing and thinking about his future.
We as a family need some guidance as to how go on with things. Do we act as if nothing happened? Do we apologize to her and her family for the breakup? If she and her family break relations with the rest of us, it will be a great loss for all of us. We love her and her family and we want to do the right thing.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners gathers that your nephew cruelly jilted the young lady and broke her heart. This may not be the case, but it is the impression you give when you feel you should offer an apology. And it is not the impression you should give, even if it does happen to be the case.
All engagements are broken by mutual consent, if only because no sensible person would consent to marry someone who purposely failed to show up at the altar. Therefore, everyone, from the former couple to bystanders, is supposed to assume that it is all for the best that the unsuitability of the marriage was found out in time. You could add that your family loves her and were eager to have her as a relative, but realizing that they are young, concedes that they should take no such step until they know their hearts.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was having coffee at a restaurant with a friend, and in the middle of our conversation another woman came up and introduced herself to us and, from how she was talking and what she was saying, it became clear that the two of them were involved in a group program of psychotherapy together.
While I find nothing wrong with taking a proactive approach to mental health, I realize that there are privacy issues at hand. Just as I would not want my medical history to be broadcast indiscriminately to the world, so, too, would someone seeking the services of a mental health professional want to be in control of who is privy to that information.
After the third party left, I quickly changed the subject although, in retrospect, I felt awkward in doing so. However, since that incident, my friend has not brought up that subject to me and I, of course, have no reason to bring it up to her.
Out of this experience, I have three questions for you. First, would you have recommended a different approach for me? Admittedly, according to adage, hindsight has 20/20 vision, but I wonder how to approach this issue if I find myself in that situation again.
Second, would your recommendations carry over to general incidents where one receives unsolicited personal information?
Finally, how could I have handled the matter differently if the information had been disclosed to me out of spite? The women who disclosed this information did not appear to do so out of malice -- only carelessness. I am curious to know, however, if my response to learning that information would have been different otherwise.
GENTLE READER: Your response was impeccable. The etiquette angle is probably not the only thing you are curious about, and Miss Manners congratulates you on your restraint.
Your friend's being the inadvertent victim of an indiscretion would in no way justify your being indiscreet to her as well. Personal information should be considered under the control of the person whose information it is, even when the whole town knows. Had your friend wanted to take advantage of the opening to discuss her psychotherapy with you, she would have done so.