DEAR MISS MANNERS: Over the past few years I've made a concerted effort to improve myself in many ways. One goal has been to examine my life up to this point, recognize mistakes and affronts I've made, and set them right.
In some cases, I'm not sure how to go about the last step. Let's say, hypothetically of course, that in high school I was jealous of a particular friend of mine and from time to time I was rude to her in a non-obvious way, in order to feel better about myself. Say, for instance, that one night I arranged for her to be uninvited to a party. Then let's say that over the past 20 years or so I've grown up and don't do that type of thing anymore, but I still feel bad about mistreating this friend.
Imagine that I don't know how much this friend realized that I was being rude to her, and how much of my rudeness went unnoticed. Imagine also that she and I have kept in touch over the years through Christmas cards and have warm conversations every five to 10 years at reunions, etc.
So, in this purely hypothetical situation, should I make a formal apology for my behavior or not? I fear that if she never realized the mean things I did to her in the first place, then it might be best to not tell her now and make her feel bad. However, if she knows darn well that I was the culprit in some painful experiences for her, she might be expecting an apology, which I am willing to give.
I have considered a generic spoken or written apology such as: "I have realized over the years that I was sometimes very immature in high school. I remember feeling jealous of you at times because you were a poised person who was fun to be around. I'm sorry for the times that I may have acted rudely or hurt your feelings. By the way ... how is your darling baby daughter?" What do you think would be the best route?
GENTLE READER: That is, and Miss Manners is enormously relieved that you thought of it. Would-be confessors have a tendency to enjoy repeating their sins, slapping on an apology to deflect the consequences, and she was afraid of something like this:
"Remember when you got dis-invited to Gwendolyn's party? Well, I was the one who pointed out to her that you wouldn't fit in because you didn't have good clothes like the rest of us and your mother drove an old car -- and now I'm really sorry. I hope I didn't cause you too much pain."
In contrast, your version compliments the target, refrains from painting her as a victim by presuming she may not have noticed the slight and excuses her from having to protest by changing the subject. Miss Manners commends you. Hypothetically, of course.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I entertain, most often I serve dinner family-style. What is the proper way to ask your guests if they would like additional helpings, whether it be main course or dessert?
I feel awkward asking if they "would like more." That sounds as though I have watched what they have already eaten. My friends and I have discussed this many times and have yet to come up with an acceptable answer.
GENTLE READER: The word "more" has no place at the dinner table. Miss Manners assures you that omitting it from both offers and requests ("May I please have some creamed potatoes?" or "Would you like some creamed potatoes?" rather than "some more creamed potatoes" or, for that matter, "even more creamed potatoes") improves the atmosphere without affecting the food delivery system.