Miss Manners: Victim of insensitive people is not alone

MONDAY, MAY 10, 2010

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a 30-year-old single woman without children. Two days ago, I received a “Happy Mother’s Day” e-card from an older couple who attend my church. I am the prayer coordinator at my church, so this couple frequently e-mails me with their prayer requests, but I have never met them in person.

The fact that I am 30, unmarried and childless is a very sensitive issue for me because I do not foresee myself getting married anytime soon, and I couldn’t have children if I wanted to.

How can people whom I’ve never even met just assume that I am married with children when this isn’t the case? Although I am highly offended, I would like to respond in a way that doesn’t offend these insensitive people. How should I proceed?

GENTLE READER: When a chummy salesman once had the cheek to address Miss Manners’ own dear mamma as “Mother” (“Now, Mother, wouldn’t you like this?”) she gave him a sweet smile.

“I’m afraid you have made a ghastly mistake,” she said kindly. “If I were your mother, I am quite sure I would remember you.”

You are welcome to use a version of this, returning the card to the senders with a note saying that you hope that their mother was not disappointed when this was misdirected to you.

But Miss Manners has observed that over the last decade or so, Mother’s Day has been transformed into a sort of general Ladies’ Day. The original idea was to honor one’s own mother – as if one shouldn’t properly do that every day of the year – but now the obligation seems also to fall on husbands, grandparents – anyone with a mother in the family.

Or not. These were strangers, making a blind guess and then faking intimacy and sentiment. No doubt they felt virtuous in doing so, as if it would make your day to be “remembered” by those you have never met.

Nevertheless, you should not take this intrusiveness personally. People who do not respect personal boundaries are not likely to be targeting you alone. With their scattershot approach, they could well hit not only non-mothers but mothers who are bereaved or estranged from their children.

Visit Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

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