DEAR MISS MANNERS: My girlfriend has a close friend who strongly disapproves of me and of my relationship with my girlfriend. (I'm not real crazy about him, either.) My own view is that, under such circumstances, he and I both have an obligation to my girlfriend to try to get along with each other, for her sake.
In that regard, I have tried repeatedly to bury the hatchet and be at least coolly civil to him, although it is highly unlikely that he and I will ever actually get along. His response to this has been to refuse to speak to me.
My letters to him go unanswered, and whenever he has something he wants to say to me -- regardless of the nature of the communication -- he insists on relaying it through my girlfriend. To this day, he has never once spoken to me directly.
I have tried to explain to my girlfriend (and to him, through her) that refusing to speak to someone is an extremely grave insult -- perhaps the worst insult that one human being can give to another one -- but she doesn't understand what I mean, and she insists that I "must be lying" when I say that.
That being the case, would Miss Manners be so kind as to explain that his behavior is, indeed, a serious insult to me, and why the insult is so profound? Or, conversely, she may explain why I am wrong in feeling the way I do, in which case I will gladly apologize to him.
GENTLE READER: You are quite right that shunning is one of the worst insults one person can offer another. The premise is that the ignored person is scarcely human and that nothing he has to say is of any value.
But do you know what insult is right up there with it?
Calling someone a liar. You can say that someone might be mistaken, you can quarrel with interpretations, but when you say the other person is lying, it, too, means that his word is worthless.
As it is the lady in question who called you a liar, Miss Manners suggests that you air that issue before worrying about her friend.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: This has been broached by you, but never answered: When visiting a professional, e.g., a dentist or physician, the staff (without introductions!) calls me "Mary." The said professional comes in and says, "How are you, Mary? I am Dr. Smoot." This irritates me on several levels:
I am a professional PAYING this person for a service. If we are on first-name basis, why am I not told, "Hi, Mary, I am Joe -- the dentist"?
Since I despise inequity and I AM paying this dude -- shall I just return the first-name salutation or tell him and his staff that I prefer "Ms. Smith"?
When I AM called by my last name, I am often called Mrs., although I have preferred "Ms." for most of my 50 years. (Please note that I addressed this to MISS Manners, knowing your preference!) HELP! The older I get, the crankier I am about such things.
GENTLE READER: Never answered? Where have you been?
Miss Manners does not broach and run.
Familiarity that is uneven, unauthorized and unwelcome has been one of the perennial problems since Miss Manners took up this august calling. Most offenses are committed by people who claim they are "just being friendly" in a situation where friendship is clearly not in the offing.
You need only say pleasantly, "I prefer to be called Ms. Smith," and ask the receptionist to make a note of this on your record.