DEAR MISS MANNERS: My 16-year-old cousin recently had a baby. Although I think she is still too young to have children, I keep my opinions to myself, and am genuinely happy for her and her healthy baby.
The problem is, whenever I visit her, her aunts and other people I hardly talk to start telling me that I should have children by now and that my younger cousin "beat me" to parenthood, as if it were some sort of competition.
They also inquire as to why I am still single. It has become so uncomfortable for me that I haven't been to her house in months.
How do I answer these questions without sounding snobbish and condescending? I turned 18 a few months ago and resent being pressured into a relationship and parenthood by people I do not particularly care about.
GENTLE READER: Frankly, Miss Manners doesn't much care for them, either, even though, not being her relatives, they have not gotten around to goading her.
But why don't you visit when they are absent? Is that impossible because the aunts are living with her and taking care of the baby? If so, try asking them cheerfully if they will promise to rear all of yours when you have decided that the proper time has come for you to have them.
And you can always exclaim, "I know! Eighteen and still single and childless! My life is a failure. But you should be grateful that little Jayden has a doting spinster cousin."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My mother and I recently concluded a lawsuit over the wrongful death of my father, who passed away a year ago from a disease caused by asbestos exposure.
We were able to settle, before going to trial, for a sum larger than our attorney had anticipated (hundreds of thousands of dollars) because, in large part, of the deposition given by one of my father's former coworkers. He gave of his time and had planned to take a day off work to testify at the trial.
My mother and I don't know him well, but we would like to express our gratitude for his concern for our family and what we consider to be a tribute to my father's memory. We have already sent him a gift basket of baked goods with a short note. What else is in order to express our thanks? Should we take him and his wife out to dinner? Give a financial gift to compensate him for his time?
GENTLE READER: What many people do not realize in this rather greedy age is that giving money is not always welcome. Should you offer to do so, Miss Manners would hope that the gentleman would say stiffly that he was only doing his duty and that he has no wish to be a paid witness.
You have sent a modest present and a note, which, although short, presumably expressed your appreciation. A dinner invitation would be suitable if you want to continue the relationship with this worthy gentleman.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it or is it not appropriate to send a thank you note written on stationery with the words "thank you" preprinted on it? I was always taught that because the point of the note is for one to express her own thanks, only plain or personal stationery may be used -- nothing that already says "thank you."
But these cards are pervasive, so I wonder if the advice I received was incorrect. I know, I know, in this day and age one should be pleased with any handwritten thank you.
GENTLE READER: So why would anyone take the trouble to handwrite one's thanks and then herald it with a canned, mass-produced version of those words? Do people think that a letter needs to announce its subject, like an e-mail?
Oh, well. Miss Manners is among those who choose to be grateful for letters of thanks without scrutinizing them too carefully.