DEAR MISS MANNERS: I met with an old friend, a lady I had not seen for many years. I knew that her former spouse had dumped her for a younger woman a few years ago, after about 50 years of marriage.
His name came up in our conversation, and I learned that he died last winter. I automatically expressed my regret and said that I was sorry.
She looked as though her wish was that he was in some particular corner of hell. I apologized for saying anything, and let it go at that.
How should one respond in such a situation? Having never met her ex, I could not really express an opinion about him or his treatment of her.
GENTLE READER: Your behavior having been correct, Miss Manners only hopes that your friend will read this answer, as your exchange will not be the last time your friend hears condolences for a man whom she is evidently now happy to have seen go.
Because ex-spouses often have trouble gauging their own feelings about the death of a former partner, even close friends may be at a loss for what to say. The answer is a neutral expression of regret. The proper answer is “thank you,” with a sad look if the regret is shared, or a tight lip and change of subject if it is not.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My aunt texted me and said her company was looking to hire new people, and that she had me in mind for a position. She told me to submit a resume directly to her, and she would put in a good word.
While I appreciate it, I am simply not interested. My current job doesn’t have great benefits, but I love it, and as of right now, I am definitely not looking for a new one.
I don’t know how to tell her this; I am afraid she will be offended or won’t want to reach out in the future. Or worse yet, she won’t take no for an answer (she can be a bit harsh). How do I handle this in an appropriate way?
GENTLE READER: Anticipating -- and avoiding -- unwanted consequences is an admirable trait, but as etiquette most often deals in the here-and-now, it is sometimes a bit nearsighted.
Before dealing with the distant problem of turning down a job offer your aunt’s company has not made -- or the middle-ground problem of a rude rejoinder your aunt has not made -- we must first solve the immediate problem. That is accomplished by saying that you are flattered she thought you would be a good fit, and that you would be happy to hear about such things in the future -- but at the moment, you are more than content with your present job.
No reasonable person would find this offensive. How to answer the unreasonable person who does object is not something Miss Manners can provide without knowing the form the offense takes. The aunt who pouts at you from across the room at the next family birthday party should be gently ignored, while the more vociferous one will require more active measures.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)