February 15, 2010 in Features

Blandly wish them well

Judith Martin, United Feature Syndicate
 

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the appropriate form of congratulations for a couple who have lived together for many years and recently married?

When I congratulated two such couples, I was told in each case, “We only did it for the insurance.”

A third couple had publicly stated numerous times over 20 years that they did not “believe” in marriage, even going so far as to ask me why my then-fiance and I were bothering with marriage. However, after the man developed terminal cancer, they were married to avoid legal problems for the woman and their two children. After he died, about six weeks later, the widow sent us an e-mail, sarcastically thanking us for the congratulatory card we had not sent on their wedding.

I was dumbfounded, as they had made it quite clear that it was a marriage of legal convenience. Under the circumstance, we could hardly have wished them many more happy years together, and we did not want to offend them by suggesting that it was “about time.”

This will undoubtedly be coming up again. I am getting tired of being rebuffed on the one hand and chastised on the other. To make matters worse, the divorced sister of the widow has just announced her engagement. I fear that the widow will see any congratulations to her sister as a personal insult.

GENTLE READER: Ah, yes, romance! Miss Manners finds it amazing that those who do most to deny it still crave it.

Well, pooh on them. To disparage congratulations is nasty; the only polite response is to thank someone who offers them. When the response is negative, you may say sadly, “I was only trying to wish you well.”

And blandly wishing people well is about all you can do under such discouraging circumstances. In the case of the widow, it would be kind to ignore her rudeness and write her a letter of sympathy for her loss. The sister, who we hope is less of a cynic, should be sent your best wishes.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My partner and I have been having a disagreement recently about the etiquette of having sex when staying in other people’s homes. I feel that it is extremely rude and should be avoided at all costs, while she feels that it is expected and normal, particularly if we are staying with friends/family for more than a couple of nights.

I asked my sister and her husband what their views are, and my sister informed me that they plan to have regular sex when they stay with us in our new home. She also informed me that other visitors would expect to do the same.

As our new home has my first-ever guest bedroom, which up until now I had been looking forward to having occupied by friends and family, I would be grateful if you would help clarify whether guests should have sex in guest bedrooms, and if this is conditional upon the relationship and length of stay.

GENTLE READER: It is conditional on their not making it known to others in the house, before, during or after the event. Your sister has already violated this, but Miss Manners acknowledges that she can claim that you provoked her.


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