DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have never been married. I someday soon will propose to my lady friend. She was previously married and has a 4-year-old daughter.
Should a man still purchase an engagement ring for his lady? I am not opposed to the idea whatsoever, rather willing actually. Or should I propose with the wedding ring itself? What is customary in this un-customary situation?
GENTLE READER: Custom has varied in this matter, in accordance with the, ah, customs generally being observed before the proposal. So although the gentleman now usually (but by no means necessarily) proposes with a ring in hand, it is for different reasons than existed long ago.
A century or so ago, as Miss Manners recalls, the presumption was that a husband and an engagement ring from his family were being offered as a package deal. Thus developed the picture we have of the proffered hopeful on bended knee, brandishing a velvet box.
Whether the supply of suitors with extra rings lying around the vault ran out, or modern ladies had stricter taste requirements about what they were going to wear, this began to change. Until recent decades, it was more common for the couple to choose the engagement ring together (after prudent gentlemen warned their jewelers to show only rings in their price range).
The package deal approach reappeared when premarital cohabitation became commonplace. The element of surprise that once enabled ladies to exclaim, "Why, Mr. Farnsworth! I had no idea you cared!" is seriously lacking in today's courtships.
To replace this, suitors have been taxed with making the long-suspected and perhaps long-overdue marriage proposal a surprise. Elaborate schemes to ambush the lady when she least suspects now include producing a ring the gentleman has selected on his own. She is still allowed to have some say about the wedding ring, which, in any case, it would be premature to produce before sealing the engagement with or without its own ring.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: It has come to our attention that a brother who disowned the family years ago has a Web site, on which he has recounted his memories of our mother's long illness and many of our past family problems.
There are many untruths in this "novella." Our family names are all clearly there with many false claims to having cheated this brother from our mother's will, etc. Lots of defamation of character for all of us, including, but not limited to, accusations of beatings, drug use, sexual deviation and theft. We have pointed out these inaccuracies to him via e-mail. There is no legal recourse to stopping this "novella." If we were to have our own Web site, how could we, in the least offensive way, state the facts?
GENTLE READER: Sympathetically, if at all. Frankly, Miss Manners thinks dealing with this at all is a bad idea. People who did not read your brother's Web site will find out about the charges through yours, and will take the approach, as people always do, that there must be truth on both sides.
If you must say something, it should be to express the hope that your estranged brother will overcome his problems and return to the fold. Anything more provocative would be sure to send people scurrying to his Web site to find out more.