DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am 34 and getting married for the second time in about a month. The first marriage, at 20, was pretty dumb and short-lived -- I didn't have a clue about reality. Now, 14 years later, I found the right guy and I'm ready for a real commitment.
In chatting about our wedding plans with different people, I've been asked many times if it's my first marriage. I find myself stumbling over that one, not wanting to admit the stupidity of my immature decision years ago. I even lied about it a few times, which isn't in my nature.
Thinking that these questions would end after the wedding, I have been relieved that I have only a few more weeks. But a friend of mine and her husband married in their late 30s, and she told me that people still ask her if it's her first marriage, and she hates it -- she thinks it's terribly rude.
You're probably going to tell me to just say "no" and end it at that, but I feel like I need a stock answer that I can spit out that doesn't make me look shady and will make people feel warm and fuzzy and leave me alone. What do you think?
GENTLE READER: Some years ago, Miss Manners began to notice that brides writing questions to her were volunteering, "It's my first wedding." Before that, they used to say, "I'm getting married."
Its being the first is not said to justify an all-out wedding, such as used to be considered incorrect for second marriages. First and, for that matter, sixth weddings are pretty much indistinguishable these days. Nor does Miss Manners believe that couples generally regard their marriages as temporary, or are necessarily planning to take the ceremony on the road, as some do.
Sadly, she has come to the conclusion that multiple marriages are now simply considered the norm. Perhaps this explains, but does not excuse, those rude questions. Or perhaps it is that people just have less restraint now on their nosiness.
You are not obliged to tell them, which would only lead to further questions. Just smile and say, "I don't exactly make a habit of it."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the proper way to offer concern and condolences to someone who has experienced a tragedy as the result of their own poor choices (e.g. legal troubles, reckless motor accident, etc.)?
I realize this is no time for a lecture, and I do not want to give one -- simply to offer kindness and help -- but it seems trite to say, "I'm so sorry X happened" when X was obviously a result of the person's own lack of forethought or good judgment. However, it seems borderline delusional to just ignore it.
GENTLE READER: As there is no shortage of people who enjoy lecturing people in trouble, your unfortunate friends are fortunate to have you.
Miss Manners suggests that you keep reminding yourself to address their current plight, which you can do sympathetically, while carefully avoiding its cause. Thus you would say such things as, "It must be awful to have this case dragging on and on," and, "Can I help you with your groceries until you get your license back?" rather than the modern form of commiseration, "Well, what did you expect?"
(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.)