DEAR MISS MANNERS: Two of my colleagues have divorced their spouses and are now dating one another. While speculation has circulated about them dating for the past year or so, one divorce just became finalized while the other one is still being completed.
While they have told a few people around the department, they have not told me personally, and while we've seen them together on our city's subway, they have not come out as an official couple.
I am very confused on how to act around them when it comes to social pleasantries.
Obviously, it's not polite to ask how their spouses are doing, but is it polite to ask how they are doing, or how the children are doing? Or simply leave it to how the weather is today? I do not wish to make a faux pas.
At what point do the divorces become common knowledge and I should be expected to know about it?
GENTLE READER: The number of conventional inquiries one can make without running into land mines lessens every day, Miss Manners has observed. "How are the children?" seems innocuous enough -- but what if the children are siding with the deserted spouses and have stopped speaking to these ones?
"How are you?" is quite enough. Fortunately, you are not required to comment on the situation unless they bring it up, in which case you can get by with, "I wish you both well."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: In the days of dance cards, how did the men keep track of whom to dance with next?
GENTLE READER: They had cards, too, even if they did not wear them suspended from ribbons on their wrists.
They tucked them away, where the cads pretended to have lost them if they met ladies they liked better than the ones they had previously engaged. Miss Manners suspects that this may be why the custom fell into disuse.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I have been invited to a formal wedding. The lovely invitation includes a reply card and a stamped return envelope. However, the reply card is basically blank, except for phrasing in the lower corner that asks for a reply by a certain date.
I have never seen a blank reply card before and am uncertain as to what information the bride hopes to receive in our response. Should we simply handwrite "Mr and Mrs. LastName will be delighted to attend"?
GENTLE READER: What the bride is hoping for is an answer. And she has kindly sent you a piece of paper on which to write it, which she was under no obligation to do.
Miss Manners has always considered it unfortunate that hosts, in their desperation to coax answers from their guests, began sending them so-called response cards. Thus, the notion began that if the hosts didn't do most of the work of replying, the guests wouldn't, either. And often, they don't, anyway; the ploy has not really worked.
You seem to be confused that this card is not a fill-in-the-blanks type. It is all blank. So please fill it all in. The conventional wording is "Mr. and Mrs. LastName accept with pleasure the kind invitation of..."
But Miss Manners is certain that the bride will be perfectly happy with your version, so she is not going to quarrel.