DEAR MISS MANNERS: After decades of being an ungrateful, ill-mannered young woman, I've decided to make a permanent life change into a woman of grace and social skills. I am embarrassed to ask, but if family and friends no longer invite you to dinner parties or send you gifts for your birthday, how does one show the new change toward those she loves most?
I know my parents will still think responding to an RSVP or sending a thank-you is pompous, and my friends might wonder if I have ulterior motives. I am not even sure where to begin. Any advice would be most helpful.
GENTLE READER: If your friends and family disdain the proper responses to invitations and presents, why did they drop you?
Actually, Miss Manners can think of another reason. But she is not yet finished with these. She has trouble believing that they were ever content to go ahead and make dinner without knowing whether or not you planned to show up, and to send you presents without knowing that they succeeded in arriving, let alone pleasing you.
The other reason is that there is no mention of your inviting them or sending them presents. Non-reciprocation is also a dropping offense.
It could work as a start-up mechanism, as well, so that is the place to begin demonstrating your acquisition of grace and social skills. Give them dinners and presents. This may even serve the purpose of demonstrating to you why reactions to these gestures are necessary.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have never had a close relationship with my mother-in-law, but it is generally polite. We regularly get together for family and holiday dinners that my mother-in-law hosts (she insists on this), and I always ask her if she would like me to bring something.
Each time, she will ask me to bring a cake, for example. I make a nice cake, but when I bring it over, she sets it aside, makes disparaging comments about the cake I made, and then proceeds to serve a cake that she made. She will often call us when we are on the way over and tell us not to bother because she has already made a cake, but knowing that I prepared it well before we left.
I am pretty sure this is not a subtle comment on my cooking skills, since people often remark that I am a good cook, and because she does the same thing to my sister-in-law, who has stopped attending these family dinners altogether.
I am hesitant to stop attending these family dinners because they are important to my husband. But I find all this incredibly frustrating! What is a proper response to a situation such as this?
GENTLE READER: Why do you keep asking if you can bring anything? If it is clear to Miss Manners that the lady wants to serve her own food, surely it should be clear to you and to her daughter.
Should your mother-in-law set you up by initiating the request, you should protest that she cooks so much better than you that you and your husband always look forward to her meals. This leaves you free to bring flowers or chocolates to show your goodwill, while excusing you from entering the bake-off contest.