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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Stop the rude comments dead

Judith Martin, United Feature Syndicate

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is there a polite way to stop prying, rude comments from acquaintances regarding a recent, painful divorce? I need a comment that I can memorize that will immediately stop the painful prying and extricate me from further conversation on the subject, during any occasion, as these seem to occur and take me by painful surprise every time.

GENTLE READER: A gentleman of Miss Manners’ acquaintance does a little dialogue when he suspects that his infant daughter might be in serious need of a diaper change.

“Is there something you should tell me?” he asks her.

Then, because she is not yet talking, he answers for her in a sweet little voice: “I’d rather not say.”

Considering the variety of nosy questions people feel free to ask these days, the phrase will no doubt be of use to her in future years, and Miss Manners recommends it to you now.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I love doing most everything with my wife, but there are times I want to do things by myself. I can’t even go fishing with my dad because she has to be always there. It gets so bad that I am unable to do anything without her there, which leads to not being able to do things with family members, hence my dad, friends, etc.

I know she loves doing the same things that I do, and that’s great, but come on! How do I confront her to say enough is enough: I’m going to do this without you?

GENTLE READER: The essential thing that Miss Manners cannot do for you is to convince your wife that you love her and value her company even though you do not always want to act in tandem. “Enough is enough” is definitely not the proper approach.

The early stages of love, where the couple cannot bear to be apart for a minute, are so exciting that there is a temptation to extend this beyond its natural course. In the mid-20th century, this was known as “togetherness,” a concept that led to a lot of marital strife. Shutting out the world and expecting to derive all satisfactions from one other person is not, in the long run, as charming as it sounds. Long-established couples who hang onto each other when out socially, complaining when they are separated even at the dinner table, appear more distrustful than doting.

Miss Manners is reminded of the foreshadowing of marital disaster in the version of “Ondine” by Jean Giraudoux: The besotted water-sprite Ondine rhapsodizes about inseparability, while Hans, the equally besotted but all-too-human knight-errant, pleads that sometimes he would just like to visit his horse. (True, he also admits that the horse is the most important – and the most sensitive – party of the knight-errant.)

It should be relatively easy for you to begin by pleading that your father occasionally wants one-on-one time with you. You would be well-advised to avoid making these be expeditions that are of particular appeal to your wife. You should also be encouraging her to see her family and friends on her own, while you, now and then, do the same.

Meanwhile, Miss Manners trusts that you will be showing your wife that she has your love and your loyalty, even if sometimes you do want to visit your horse.

If you would like a copy of Miss Manners’ newsletters, “On Cellular Phone Courtesy,” “The Etiquette of Proper Eating” or “Proper Wedding Planning,” please send a self-addressed, stamped No. 10 envelope and $2 (per newsletter) to Newsletter, PO Box 167, Wickliffe, OH 44092-0167. Please state which newsletter(s) you wish to receive.
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