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Miss Manners: Let an insincere ‘Let’s get lunch!’ pass

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am divorcing my husband due to his emotional abuse. Members of his large family have all immediately ceased contact with me. I understand this is typical, but we were close for over a decade, and their complete ostracism of me has been painful.

I wonder how best to react, should we run into one another accidentally in the future. Knowing them, I would anticipate they would be friendly and will pretend goodwill, and will say things like, “We should have lunch!” – when, of course, they don’t mean it for a second. I, of course, will be polite and smile, but the thought of such a scenario sickens me.

What are good manners for dealing with people who pretend to be positive toward you, but have actually hurt you deeply? They will expect a smile from me, and pleasure to see them, but it will truly be a painful moment for me.

GENTLE READER: Would you feel better if they said something cutting to you? Or cut you dead?

Sincerity is not always the most bearable approach in an emotionally difficult situation. Miss Manners agrees that it would be preferable to omit the luncheon suggestion if there is no such intention, even though that expression has become a conventional way of conveying goodwill without commitment.

But although the manners you describe may be insincere, surely they are preferable to the possible sincere manners between estranged people who may harbor thoughts that are best not aired.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a teenage girl belonging to a large family. Often, at social events or brief meetings, acquaintances and friends will compliment me or one of my siblings, but address the comment to my parents.

Sometimes, I will be with one of my parents, and someone will approach and comment: “Your eldest daughter is so beautiful” (or some such kind compliment). They are speaking to my parents, but they are speaking of me, and are aware of my presence.

I do not know how I ought to reply. On one hand, they are addressing my parents, and interrupting is impolite; yet on the other hand, they are complimenting me, and it is polite to receive compliments graciously.

This has happened several times, and I wish to meet such kindness properly. Sometimes I offer a demure smile, blushing, and dip my head. Other times I murmur thanks such as, “Oh, how kind of you,” warmly, and then retreat so they can converse with my parent. I don’t think either is quite rude, but please tell me the most polite response.

GENTLE READER: Not only are you handling this gracefully, but you are preparing yourself for a lifetime of recognition for any success you may achieve.

Whether you go on to win an Oscar, a Medal of Honor or a Nobel Prize, Miss Manners assures you that such modest dipping of your head, along with murmured thanks and, if you can achieve it, a blush, will further charm those who admire you.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com.


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