DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a friend who is always commenting on how I sound. During our phone conversations, she might say, "You sound good" (if I have enthusiasm in my voice), or "You sound tired" or "You sound down today."
My internal reaction is always to feel judged, evaluated, scrutinized, though I never convey this. I respond pleasantly, but wish I could communicate that her seeming expression of interest in me rather conveys some sort of distance, like she is sitting in judgment. What would feel far more respectful and gracious is to be asked a question. To me, it makes a world of difference if someone says, "Are you tired today?" versus "You sound tired."
What I tend to do when speaking with her is to be very self-conscious, and to force my voice tone to sound enthusiastic, regardless of how I might be really feeling. This tends to minimize further evaluative statements from her, though it leaves me feeling that the friendship is rather shallow and insincere.
Am I nitpicking here and ultra-sensitive? Or are reactions like this common? I should add that the reason I haven't expressed my true feelings is that I'm certain she would feel insulted, hurt and angry -- and that it would seriously compromise the friendship.
GENTLE READER: Yes, it is common to feel annoyed at this awkward gambit, and yes, you are being overly sensitive. Miss Manners observes that you have overanalyzed a merely ill-chosen manner of expression until you have turned it into something close to insult.
Your friend's intention is not to judge you, but to show you that she is sensitive to your moods. It is annoying when she guesses wrong because it demonstrates that she isn't. It is annoying when she guesses right, because it suggests that your demeanor gives everything away.
Most annoying of all is to tell people that they sound or look tired. However they seemed, they are worse after hearing that statement.
The phrase you need is "on the contrary." If told you look tired, it would be, "On the contrary, I feel marvelous." If told you sound good, it might be, "On the contrary, I'm rather preoccupied." After a barrage of such defeats, your friend may have the sense to give up and wait to be told how you feel by the only person who knows for sure.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Plain and simple: My fiance's mother is remarried to a man who has two adult daughters (both in their 20s). My fiance and I barely know them. Sometimes, we can't even remember which one is which!
My fiance's mother INSISTS that we invite both of them, along with their significant others that we REALLY don't know, to our wedding. We were not planning on inviting them, but now that his mother has said something, do we invite them because it's the "right" thing to do or do we stick to our guns about only inviting people that are special to us to our wedding?
GENTLE READER: Stick to guns that you are pointing at relatives to prevent them from trespassing on your private territory?
Miss Manners hopes not. Plain and simple, weddings are not about the bridal couples to the exclusion of the feelings of others. As proud as you may be of not being able to tell your fiance's stepsisters apart, they are in his mother's family. And she is in his, and about to be in yours.