DEAR MISS MANNERS: I'm desperate. Please help.
My aunt (at 70 years old) dated a married man and my mother scolded me for being polite but distant towards him. Now my sister, just recently divorced herself, is dating a man who is separated but not divorced. I told her that in my view, being separated is not the same as being divorced and he is not free to date, though I only want the best for her.
Family history being what it is, I feel like I'm going to be viewed as a major spoilsport at Thanksgiving when this man attends the family gathering with my sister. I don't think that asking him how his children and wife are doing would be appropriate but how do I deal with this situation? What do I tell my children (ages 10, 12, 14)?
GENTLE READER: Are the children pressing you about this, or did you cite them as a rhetorical device?
Because if they are not clamoring to know, Miss Manners not would recommend exciting them. Being left out of adult affairs, as it were, teaches children to pay attention. You can hone their skills by blandly insisting that all you know is that this is auntie's friend.
Meanwhile, Miss Manners is afraid that you should hone your own skills at being polite but distant. If your mother noticed, it sounds as if you were doing this too pointedly. That is rude because it embarrasses innocent onlookers, among whom you may or may not want to count your mother. Ideally, only the target should realize that you get distracted every time he tries to talk to you and fail to initiate any conversation with him.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I had a sporadic but mutually beneficial professional relationship with someone who was, 25 years ago, a dear college friend (She is a feminist academic; I am in publishing). I forwarded a non-academic job listing in her specialty to her, thinking it possible she might be tempted but certain that she would know qualified people (students or former co-workers) who would be interested.
Her immediate response was one line: "I'm too busy to recruit for you or anybody."
I was astonished -- that she would not support the "old girl" network, and that she would take the time to be rude when she could easily have not replied at all.
We're both busy working parents. I don't clutter up her mailbox with trivia. I decided not to respond, in case explaining any of this might have been rude. Maybe she was just having a bad day, but this incident has cooled my feelings towards her. Was I "recruiting"? And was this bad?
GENTLE READER: The issue here is not whether she acceded to your reasonable request. As you pointed out, she could have politely ignored it, on the grounds that it was a widespread feeler to which only those with something to suggest need respond.
But even less is the issue whether she was having a bad day. Feeling surly is no excuse for acting surly, Miss Manners reminds you. Neither is feeling aggrieved, so, as you realize, you cannot snap back with an accusation of rudeness.
But you can snap back with a cold apology: "I'm so sorry to have imposed on you. I promise you it won't happen again."