DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a woman who, as comedienne Margaret Cho once put it, ovulates sand. I am not an evil witch who eats children; I just do not possess the enthusiasm for children, and the stories that accompany them, that others do -- especially, to be honest, other women.
The issue is that my femininity seems to make other people assume that I am baby-crazy. With friends, even those with children, this is mostly not a problem -- I go to movies with the adults, but don't receive invitations to their kids' birthday parties, which is fine with me.
But with others, I often find myself with a smartphone suddenly shoved under my nose, a picture of an unknown newborn on it, while the holder of said phone stares expectantly at me, waiting for the appropriate cooing.
I am a horrible actress. I can't perform, least of all under that pressure, and unfortunately saying, "Oh, good for her!" in a pleasant tone doesn't seem to be good enough, judging by the silent wait that follows.
If I do manage to squeak out a "Cute!" it comes off as obviously forced. The air may look clear when the mother finally scuttles off, but the condemnation hangs heavily.
I have had a baby plopped into my lap at a gathering without even being aware that it was being passed around -- and again the hopeful stares came. I have been introduced to small, barely verbal children at parties, and then found myself purposefully left semi-alone with them to talk/entertain them while the parent or grandma watches me stumble through, awkwardly pretending to converse, her smile gradually morphing into a frown as I fail to deliver. I am trying to work on my ability to fake interest, but frankly it's not going well. My talent for insincerity has sadly never been great.
I personally find it rude to expect others to stock the pond when one is fishing for compliments. Am I rude or are they?
GENTLE READER: Neither. Unless, of course, one or both of your reactions creeps into the extreme (for example, shrieking in horror and dropping the baby in your case, or leaving it on your doorstep, never to return, on theirs).
Much as it pains you, you are doing the right thing. There are times, Miss Manners assures you, when the parents themselves are faking enthusiasm for their own children. It is a talent worth cultivating.
Muster what you can and allow for others' indulgence. There is no doubt that someday something -- if not a child, then a pet, a hobby, a car -- will consume your affection and be met with similarly tepid enthusiasm. Remember that while you are grimacing.