DEAR MISS MANNERS: I received an email from a male acquaintance I haven’t seen in years. We were in the same prayer group more than a decade ago, and our families have always been friendly, but we are not that close and had not been in touch.
His wife has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and from all counts, may only have a few years to live. He has his own friends, children, grandchildren and church, but has asked me, specifically, for my prayers. (His wife and I were never friends.) I was sympathetic, and assured him that my husband, our children and I would be praying for them.
He responded immediately and appreciatively, but made some comments that sounded very clingy to me. I backed off and wrote a very general, short response, at which point he begged me to “persevere with (him) until the end.”
I wrote less after the second letter, just an assurance that they were in our prayers and that he should look for a spiritual adviser. He continued to send me long updates on his wife’s condition and personal details about their marriage and family.
I am extremely uncomfortable with this behavior. Deep down, I feel that he is betraying his wife and trying to line me up as a future spouse, even though I am married. That’s just how it feels.
I stopped writing back altogether, but he still sends regular emails with a lot of information, as if I were his closest confidante. He is also suddenly being supportive on social media with daily “likes” on my posts.
I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt -- that he is in crisis, maybe in shock or grief -- but I am really appalled. He talks as if his wife was on her deathbed. Granted, her time may be short, but there are possible medical breakthroughs around the corner and still years before she actually shows any decline.
I am occupied with my own life, family and problems like everyone else, but if I try to point that out, I believe this fellow would try to create an intimate attachment, over and above what he has already tried. It feels terribly rude to not respond anymore, but it seems that any response is way too encouraging.
What would Miss Manners say?
GENTLE READER: Nothing. You are correct not to encourage him, and tapering off your responses is the only polite way to do it.
One last, “My husband and I grieve for your family. As I mentioned, we will be thinking of you” can serve as an indicator that you are ceasing the correspondence. And then do, until the unfortunately inevitable funeral, where -- if you choose to attend -- Miss Manners suggests you keep a firm grip on your husband’s hand.