DEAR MISS MANNERS: How exactly does one respond politely to a couple (usually the wife) who earnestly inform you that they're trying to start a family?
Normally, I assume that intimate activities should not be featured as a topic of conversation in party settings, particularly if one's acquaintance with the couple is fairly recent. I'd like to discourage further comments on the issue.
A disinterested and vague "hmmm!" seems appropriate, but perhaps not supportive enough. However, coming right out and stating, "Why are you encouraging me to consider you and your husband naked?!" seems a bit much, although more suitable to my frame of mind.
Should I call attention to the fact that this is not an appropriate or comfortable topic? Should I pleasantly encourage this enthusiastic and slightly desperate wishful future parent? Should I simply and delicately change the subject?
GENTLE READER: Or you could say, "Well, then, I will ask to excuse myself. You will want to be alone."
Well, no, Miss Manners supposes not. Offering a quick good wish and changing the subject is indeed the better solution. The only decent support she knows that an acquaintance can offer in such a situation is to get out of the way -- not just of the action, but of such confidences, which come back to haunt those who made them. Should the couple be successful, they will surely want attention to be focused on the baby, not on the difficulty of acquiring one, and should they be unfortunate, they will not relish being asked for progress reports.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: A year ago on Christmas, my stepbrother became engaged to his long-time girlfriend. Meeting her for the first time two days later, I was happy for them. When she asked if my young children could be in the ceremony, I tentatively agreed, depending on my husband's schedule. (He is in the Army and often deploys for long periods of time.)
I also warned her that they'd performed a similar function at my mother's commitment ceremony, and it hadn't gone too well, so perhaps she'd like to consider a little more carefully before committing to something like that.
Last summer, I received a "save the date" card, informing us of when the wedding would be, and I was quite surprised -- it's on a day that will also be my husband's and my seventh wedding anniversary. I called my family (I currently live far away), and no one had any idea that was our anniversary and therefore it had not been considered a bit.
After an initial flare of hurt that no one knew when my anniversary was, I accepted the fact that it is a symmetrical date and that probably held sway over any other considerations. My husband, however, is still highly angry, choosing to come to my defense and see this as another way I'm being slighted in favor of my stepbrother. He also says the Army sends him away from home on our special dates so often that when he has a choice he's staying home. He says he will not attend under any circumstances.
What do I do? Especially should my future sister-in-law ever bring up again using my kids in her ceremony?
GENTLE READER: You will have to issue another warning about the immaturity of your family. No one in it seems capable of subduing selfish impulses and behavior on behalf of anyone else.
Many couples would even consider that the happiest way to celebrate their own anniversary would be to witness others entering that happy state.
But do make a point of recording that event in your calendars. Surely you will want to keep these relatives' anniversary forever sacred, as you expect them to keep yours.