DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am 15 and have recently learned of my pregnancy. Is it proper for me to tell my relatives (such as aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) this news, even if I am planning to put my future child up for adoption? If so, what is the protocol for breaking this news?
GENTLE READER: Things have changed since the days when someone in your position would disappear for months into a shrouded "home for unwed mothers" and come back alone with a fictitious story. Your chances of being told that you have disgraced the family forever and that no decent man will ever marry you have diminished.
But the openness that is now feasible comes with its own problem. Families have always been free with advice, but many people now consider it a sacred calling to tell others how to run their lives.
You know your relatives and Miss Manners does not, but she is guessing that there is no small likelihood of your being urged to have an abortion, or to rear the child yourself, or to turn the child over to other family members.
Your best hope of avoiding such barrages (on top of those about food, weight, birthing and what can go wrong that every pregnancy seems to inspire) is to tell family members who can be trusted to respect your decisions, and authorize them to tell the others.
And now Miss Manners is bracing to receive barrages of her own. There will be those who demand to know why you should not be advised to make a proud and joyous announcement (thus exciting the interest of relatives about a child who will not enter their family). And, she is sorry to say, there will be others who denounce you in vulgar terms. She is hoping to spare you both.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Two years ago, at a function that my co-workers and families attended, I introduced my colleague and his wife to my children as Mr. and Mrs. Smith (not real name), wanting them to address adults by their last name.
His wife lunged in front of my colleague and said brusquely "No! My name is Jones! Remember that!" (not real name). I apologized and excused myself as quickly as possible.
Next year, at the same function, I told my children to say hello to Mr. Smith and Mrs. Jones. This time she approached me and said "No! It's 'Ms.' Jones." Again I apologized and retreated.
Miss Manners, is not "Mrs." the proper title for a married woman? Is there an exception if the lady has kept her maiden name? Please advise, as I feel I may find myself avoiding the couple in question entirely this year in fear of committing a third offense.
GENTLE READER: That sounds like the best plan. Not because you might commit another offense, but it is prudent to avoid offensive people.
Mind you, Miss Manners has no objection to letting people know one's correct name, and she concurs that the inclusive title, Ms., is more fitting here than Mrs., which properly goes with the full married name.
Our system of names and titles is no longer standardized, and it is best to go with individuals' choices, if they are known.
But someone who is known to lunge at those who happen to guess wrong is looking for a fight.