DEAR MISS MANNERS: It is common for my Facebook contacts to make online announcements about health issues, job losses, ending of relationships and other unhappy news. Yet, whenever I see any of these people in person and I try to quietly, discreetly express my condolences, some of them are clearly annoyed that I am actually acknowledging their troubles.
This reaction confuses me since they did, after all, write a “status” message for many people to see. Is there some rule about online communication – should condolences and kind words be offered online only, because that is how the news was received?
GENTLE READER: What an interesting phenomenon. It would appear that these people seek posted sympathetic understanding from their entire acquaintance, perhaps including people they have never met, yet reject its being delivered personally by someone they do know.
It could be another example of topsy-turvy thinking, where the real world is less real than the virtual one. That seems so apt that Miss Manners is reluctant to advance somewhat more reasonable explanations, but feels that she must.
This would be about the timing of your commiseration. Apparently you deliver it whenever you happen to run into one of these people, not when the misfortune occurred or you have read the communication. By then, the illness may have been cured, or a new job or romance have started.
Or you may have brought this up on a festive occasion, when someone who has been trying to forget his troubles has to snap back into seriousness, or on a solemn occasion, such as a funeral, when it might call undue attention to lesser misfortune.
If a reaction is warranted, it should be done when the news is received. And yes, a less public way than a posting – a letter, a telephone call, or even an email – is more dignified, although the recipient might not care.