DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a very picky eater. I don't like onions, tomatoes, many green vegetables, coconut, and the list could go on and on.
My problem is that my boyfriend would like for me to eat at his mother's house. However, I'm afraid that I will not like what she cooks. I am very open-minded to try anything, but many times I don't like things. And I do eat things with onions and tomatoes in it, but I push them aside and leave them on the plate. If I go eat at his mother's house, I'm afraid it will be rude to pick out the things I don't like.
So what am I supposed to do? I can't force myself to eat these things I don't like! Help!
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners appreciates your admitting to being a picky eater instead of bolstering your choices with philosophical or medical polemics. But you are right to assume that no one else is likely to feel the same, least of all your hostess who is also your beau's mother.
No one should be monitoring what her guests do or do not eat, but nearly everyone does. And picky eating should not be considered symptomatic of being spoiled, but it often is.
As the gentleman already knows your habits and nature, Miss Manners suggests you enlist his help. Ask him to think of a dish that his mother makes that would appeal to you, and -- without mentioning your pickiness -- have him ask her flatteringly if she would treat you to that.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I ran into an old friend whom I had not seen in a long time, I casually asked, "How are you?" His only response was "clean and sober for over three months."
This left me searching for a proper follow-up response, and I was wondering if you had any suggestions. I was unaware that my friend had been having troubles with substance abuse (I still don't know if it was drugs or alcohol, or both), but I felt that a response such as "That is such good news!" or "I am so proud of you!" would indicate that I previously felt he did have a problem. Nor did it feel right to say, "Wow, I didn't know you were struggling with substance abuse."
I simply responded: "Well, you look great!" (which was true) and proceeded to find a new topic to discuss. But somehow that felt insufficient considering how significant this news was to him.
Can you think of anything else I might say should this situation arise again?
GENTLE READER: It depends on what you want to hear. And how much.
Your friend is obviously disposed to talk about his past and present situation, either because you are a valued confidante or because he tells everyone in sight. If it is the former case, you could indicate a willingness to listen by saying, "Really? I didn't know that you had problems, but I'm glad to hear you are doing well." But Miss Manners assures you that what you did say is just as polite, and the right way to keep the conversation on the casual level of exchanged greetings that you seem to have intended.