DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is there a polite way to respond to comments such as, "You're so pretty. I hate you"? This type of comment seems to have become a distressingly common way to "compliment" another woman, but I find it exceedingly uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of such a statement. I understand that it is rude to lecture someone on their rudeness, and so I would appreciate your help on this matter.
GENTLE READER: The polite way to ruin an unpleasant pleasantry is to take it literally. Assuming an expression of shock and dismay, you could reply, "My looks offend you? That's terrible. I don't mean to offend you. Really, I don't. I had no idea..." and so on.
Miss Manners assures you that after awhile, the actual offender will protest sourly, "I meant it as a compliment." At that point, you can look confused and say, "Oh. Well, in that case, thank you." You might even be able to get to that sooner by answering the initial remark with, "You're so kind."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I had been unaware that the practice of "save the date" cards for weddings existed, but in recent years have begun receiving such cards six to seven months in advance of a wedding. The cards have come with refrigerator magnets printed with the wedding date.
My daughter and I disagree about the custom. She finds it charming and helpful in planning her rather busy social schedule. I think the traditional notice time given for wedding invitations should be sufficient.
I am also concerned that the practice removes a convenient excuse for not attending a wedding one does not wish to attend -- a conflict in schedule -- causing hurt to a bride whose wedding could otherwise be diplomatically avoided.
Most recently we received a "save the date" card from a close relative seven months in advance of a fifth wedding. Having attended all of the prior weddings at great cost in both time and expense, we planned to avoid this wedding claiming a conflict in schedule. Now we suppose we will have to lie and claim a last-minute emergency in order to avoid the wedding without hurting the family member's feelings.
Are these "save the date" cards a new courtesy, or another example of Bridezilla syndrome?
GENTLE READER: A courtesy, if properly given and taken. Miss Manners keeps making the point that a save-the-date notice is merely an advance warning that carries none of the obligations of an actual invitation. When that is received, at the proper time, it may be declined with regret without offering an excuse.
However, your point is well taken -- a close relative might well be in a position to introduce into conversation the question of your inability to attend. So you should probably line something up real that you can offer should that come to pass. It need only be contracted before the actual invitation, and you have had advance warning about that.
You will, of course, plead muddle-headedness and express regret. Something along the lines of, "But you know I always love going to your weddings."