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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Beneficial to behave well on surface

Judith Martinjudith Martin United Feature Syndicate

Dear Miss Manners: I broke up with my serious, long-distance boyfriend of two years about 11/2 years ago. Our relationship was a good one, no cheating or massive fights, but it just fizzled out in the end.

He was a bit mad about the breakup, but I figured that we could still be cordial. We made all the noises about staying friends, but contact has been sporadic at best, although I mail postcards to his parents when I vacation, and on birthdays, Christmas, etc.

I recently had a bad dream that his father died, and erring on the side of caution, I wrote my ex a text message inquiring as to his dad’s health. He responded that his father is (thankfully) fine. The point of his response was, however, that he is now dating an acquaintance of mine, and I should therefore cease and desist all contact with him.

Having been asked so directly, I will (happily) oblige and stop all contact in the future, but that is not my question. My etiquette question is whether my response was up to your standards. I didn’t go with my first impulse, which was to write an insulting message back. I felt that you would not approve.

What I wrote was this: “OH! Congratulations to both of you! I hope that you will always be happy. Please say hello to her for me!”

Was my response appropriate, or does my unladylike disdain for his callousness show through? Should I have not written anything at all? I am sorry to say that I could not resist a (hopefully small) jab at him.

Gentle Reader: Jab? What jab? All you did was to congratulate them, wish them happiness and greet an old friend.

Well, Miss Manners knows that is not all you did. You know that’s not all you did. And they know that’s not all you did.

But that is the beauty of behaving well on the surface; you cannot be charged with rudeness. This loophole enabled you to send the message that however bitter, jealous or frightened they are about your effect on the gentleman, you have nothing but the blandest feelings of good will toward them.

Now – aren’t you glad you didn’t send that insulting message?

Dear Miss Manners: What is the proper procedure of a couple entering a movie? Should the man go first and the woman follow, or vice versa? What about if they are entering a church?

Gentle Reader: Chivalry, with its ladies-first system, nevertheless kindly assigns the gentleman the role of canary in the coal mine. He is required to go first if there is a possibility of danger ahead.

Thus if the movie theater is dark, it is he who should risk slipping on drinks spilled in the aisle and bear the consequences of attempting to sit in a seat that was not as empty as he had supposed. If the lights are on, however, the lady goes first.

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