DEAR MISS MANNERS: A good friend is getting divorced. A select few of us are very close to her, but she has decided not to tell us she's getting divorced. She has been married only a year and a half, and this divorce we heard about from her soon-to-be-ex-husband was a total shock to all of us.
Several weeks have passed, she has moved in with her parents, and we have all been together with her -- and she still acts like nothing is going on.
It's making us all uncomfortable, and it's like an elephant in the room. Do we ask if everything is OK, or try to talk to her, or just let her tell us when it works for her?
GENTLE READER: Please bear in mind that it is not your elephant. It is your friend's, and she may be hoping that it will galumph out of the room before anyone notices it. So her friends' task is to pretend they haven't noticed it.
Miss Manners realizes that the chance of a reconciliation is not good when the husband is announcing a divorce. Still, it is possible, and if that happens, friends who have commiserated with one spouse will find that marital loyalty then kicks in, as well as the desire to classify the separation as a mere blip in the marriage. In that case, your pre-emptive sympathy would be held against you.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My daughter has a boyfriend who works in a tire shop. He handles and works with tires daily, so he gets very dirty and his hands are black from work. They stopped by the other day, and he came in the house and touched my cabinets, and then apologized for leaving smudges on the counter.
Before I could stop myself, I asked him, "Don't they have a sink at work?" He indicated they did, and that was the end of the discussion.
I don't want him or my daughter to feel unwelcome, but I want to take care of my things. Any suggestions on how I can approach this?
GENTLE READER: As a hostess, not a nanny. Therefore offer to help, not to teach, and certainly not to scold.
That means welcoming him and saying hospitably: "I suppose you'd like to wash up after working so hard. There are fresh towels for you in the bathroom."
Miss Manners recommends that you be on the alert to do this before the gentleman has had a chance to touch anything, and lay in a supply of dark towels.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a male friend whose family I don't know and have never met. My male friend has just been hospitalized, and I don't know why. Is it appropriate to ask the family member whom he is in contact with what happened?
GENTLE READER: No, but you can get them to tell you.
Not everyone wants his or her medical history to be spread around, as that has a tendency to attract unsolicited advice. To indicate concern, rather than curiosity, Miss Manners advises that you not ask what happened, but instead confess that you have been worried about your friend and hope to hear that he will be all right.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)