DEAR MISS MANNERS: My girlfriend and I live 1,000 miles apart and have been friends for 37 years. When the two of us are on the phone, is it OK to say I am going to the restroom and then proceed to go to the restroom? Again, Miss Manners, please take into consideration the longevity and closeness of the relationship.
GENTLE READER: The lady didn't care for it, did she? That is why you are appealing to Miss Manners. (If the lady had been the one who did it and with you objecting, you would not have bolstered the case by citing the length of the relationship.)
That objection should be sufficient reason for using the very simple alternative: "Sorry, but could I call you back in a few minutes?" This is the telephone equivalent of saying "Excuse me" without an explanation when you are with someone. Nobody doubts where you are going, so further explanation is unnecessary and unwelcome.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: A few months ago, my former college roommate and good friend committed suicide at the age of 25 after suffering from bipolar disorder for several years. I had stayed at her family's house on school breaks a few times and became somewhat friendly with her parents, but I don't know them intimately. They live in another state, and I haven't had any contact with them since their daughter's memorial service.
When her birthday comes around, I would like to send them something, maybe just a postcard, because I know it will be a difficult day for them. I wouldn't make any direct reference to either her birthday or her death, but I'd like them to know that I'm thinking of them.
Do you think this is a good idea, or would it just be one more painful reminder? And if this is acceptable, do you have any suggestions on how I should approach it?
GENTLE READER: The fear of "reminding" the bereaved of a loss, which many cite as a reason for their silence, is a bogus one. Life itself supplies constant reminders, as you acknowledge by understanding that your friend's birthday will be an especially difficult day.
But there is one pain you can help relieve: that of thinking that their daughter has been forgotten by everyone except themselves. Miss Manners urges you to follow your kind urge to write them -- a letter, not a post card -- and assures you that you need not avoid referring to the birthday when you say that you miss your friend and are thinking of them.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When my 26-year-old daughter visits, she and her boyfriend take their bath or shower together. She knows I do not approve but insists on doing it regardless. I guess she thinks I am a prude. Could you please tell me how to handle this situation?
GENTLE READER: And what, pray, is wrong with being thought a prude? Miss Manners herself has found such a reputation extremely useful in discouraging people from boring her with tales of their unappetizing thoughts and adventures.
It is especially useful for a parent in providing a standard with which the child may not agree but must respect. The properly prudish thing to say to your daughter is, "I can't control what you do elsewhere, but I won't have you doing that in my house."