DEAR MISS MANNERS: There is an old saying my mother-in-law seems to have embraced wholeheartedly: "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all."
But isn't the saying meant to spare hurt feelings, not cause them? These deafening silences tell me how my mother-in-law truly feels.
The most recent instance came when I redecorated our front porch. My mother-in-law visited and didn't even acknowledge the drastic changes. Instead of saying something like, "I see you have redecorated the front porch," there was this silence on her end, which told me she didn't care for it at all. On the way out of the house, she stood on our front porch and said she liked the neighbor's lawn.
My mother-in-law believes she has impeccable manners. Those manners feel more like weapons. Am I being too sensitive, and is she correct in not even acknowledging things she dislikes?
GENTLE READER: You have not left your mother-in-law any options. You consider her silence rude. Telling you she disapproves of your taste would be ruder. And Miss Manners finds it hard to believe that the flat statement you propose -- merely acknowledging the change -- would be satisfactory.
That leaves vocal approval, a choice your mother-in-law may find distasteful, particularly if she has reason to fear it will be met with accusations of insincerity.
So her policy is a sound one. Miss Manners suggests that you stop worrying about whether your mother-in-law approves of your front porch.