DEAR MISS MANNERS: Politics aside, how do I respond to people who go on about their fears for the troops in Iraq? My husband is in active military duty in Iraq with a communications group.
It's not that I don't care, or that I am not willing to discuss the policies under the right circumstances; it's just that this is a very personal subject for me and I don't know what I should say.
Sometimes the subject comes up when talking to people I only know casually. For example, I was speaking about something else with a lady whose husband is in the same line of work as mine, and she proceeded to go off on a tangent, saying things like, "Oh, God, I would be so scared! I would be so worried that my husband was going to be killed! I don't think I could stand it if my husband had to go!" and so on.
It's bad enough when people that are not in the military say this, but I had thought that other military spouses, sharing the uniqueness of this situation, would not.
What should I say when it happens? I certainly don't feel comfortable with the option of bursting into tears and pouring out my fears to a virtual stranger (though I do have fears). Nor do I feel comfortable with the option of saying "So what? It's his job," implying that I don't care if he comes home or not (it is his job, and while I understand this, I care very much about his welfare).
I feel like the only other option is to act like I don't think there is a risk and I have no idea what they are talking about, with the implication being that I am a total idiot who has no clue as to what is going on in the world.
I can handle the people who don't agree with the U.S. being in Iraq and take it out on the military by simply telling them that the wonderful thing about our country is we are all entitled to our own opinion, and that it's that right, among others, that my husband fights to defend. I just don't know how to handle the expressions of sympathy, fear or whatever it is that seem to be happening more and more often. Oh, and to add another wrinkle, these conversations often occur in front of our children (the speaker's as well as mine).
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners suspects something worse here than nosy insensitivity.
You may be encountering followers of the You'll Feel Better If You Talk About It school, who believe that probing people to express their troubles is an act of mercy. But as professional counselors discovered after the large-scale experience of dealing with those bereaved by the Sept. 11 tragedy, expressing grief and fear, especially in passing to a stranger, may aggravate rather than cure those reactions.
The way to cut off this line of inquiry is to say, "I'm proud of his bravery. Please don't question mine."