DEAR MISS MANNERS: The holidays mean that friends and family fill each other in on the year's happenings. For the last few Christmases, I have had the same boyfriend. It was getting very serious and my relatives really liked him.
We have since broken up, and it was not pleasant. Now all my family members ask about him, since they haven't yet heard the news of the split. It's still painful to discuss, and so, I'd rather not.
How does one politely deflect inquiries as to his whereabouts, or worse yet, relationship criticism and advice from well-meaning aunties and uncles?
GENTLE READER: Holiday gatherings are too long for hit-and-run conversations. Say "It's over, and I don't want to talk about it," and Miss Manners assures you that it will inspire questions about why you don't want to talk about it, and advice about resuming the romance or finding someone else.
Worse, explain why it's over and they will be at you for being "too picky" -- and this from people who think that you are so wonderful that no one is quite good enough for you.
Why? These are well-meaning relatives, so why would they hang on to a subject that annoys you?
Because they want a connection with you and feel it ought to take the benevolent form of giving you wisdom from your elders, even on subjects they know nothing about and that you do not want to discuss.
So provide another topic: "Everett? Oh, that's completely over. But tell me, Uncle Will -- you know about real estate. I'm trying to decide whether to rent or to buy." And "I've almost forgotten him, Aunt Barbara. Now I know you and I are not quite in the same field, but how important do you think it is to get a graduate degree now, or should I get some work experience first?"
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Someone gave me a gift and when I opened it, I saw that it was an item I already have. Just as I was starting to smile and say thank you, the giver asked me directly if I already owned the item.
I said that I did, because I didn't want to lie. Was my behavior improper? If this happens again, should I say I do not already have the item so that I do not deflate the joy of the giver?
GENTLE READER: You do not have to answer a question just because it was asked. Miss Manners keeps trying to teach that to those who nevertheless do and get themselves into social trouble.
You could drown this inquiry out with squeals about how much you love it. Then, again, there is always "Yes, and I've always wanted another."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When receiving a Christmas gift, either by mail or in person, what is the proper etiquette concerning "thank you" notes? Is a note of thanks a necessary response to a Christmas gift or is it just a polite gesture?
GENTLE READER: What do you mean "just" a polite gesture? Giving you the present was a polite gesture. Most of what makes life enjoyable are pleasant gestures and the sentiments that inspired them. Miss Manners is not going to assist you in rude-ing down life. Write those letters, please.