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Loathing of Son’s Girlfriend Must Give Way to Acceptance

Dear Miss Manners: Our son has brought home his girlfriend twice, each for a week-long stay. On both occasions, within an hour, she sat his father and me down to have a discussion about our son by stating, “This is what I need you to do to get Jackson to marry me,” and “This is the conversation you need to have with him.”

On both occasions, we explained that our son will make that decision on his own.

During the second visit, she also let us know how “cool a girlfriend” she is because she was taking our son to a strip club that night. I was dumbfounded. I told her we didn’t need to know those details.

The rest of the second visit had her traipsing about my home in her underwear and a T-shirt; talking about her sexy look to my husband while I wasn’t in the room; standing at the top of our stairs in said underwear trying to get my husband to engage in conversation (requiring him to look up at her). I was infuriated, ceased communication with her and left for the grocery store, praying they would be gone when I returned.

To my horror, she is now (not surprisingly) pregnant. I’m not sure how I can get past the seething anger I feel every time I think of her, let alone having to be tied to her for the rest of my life. I am filled with rage every time her name is mentioned.

Please give me guidance on how to handle this rage and still support our son. Loving the child is without question, and we have also found ourselves quite taken with her child from a previous relationship.

Gentle Reader: Where was your son when all this was going on? And where is he now? Are they to be married?

In any case, you now are, as you are chagrined to admit, tied to your unwelcome visitor for life. Your access to your grandchild will depend on her good will.

This will be as severe an etiquette test as Miss Manners can imagine. You will have to keep reminding yourself that you are doing it for the sake of your grandchild — not just for your own satisfaction, but to provide an alternative household and way of behaving, which it seems likely that the child will need.

Dear Miss Manners: How did we arrive at the etiquette rules regarding men wearing hats inside buildings? What was the original rationale? I have been unable to find an explanation that makes sense.

Gentle Reader: When it comes to tracing back the origin of folk customs, the choice is often between making sense and being factual. Sometimes we do things a certain way just because that is the way we do things.

It is widely believed that the custom evolved from knights’ lifting or removing their headgear out of politeness, to show their adversaries who was about to hack them to pieces, or to make eyes at married ladies whom they idolized.

Miss Manners doesn’t know. She wasn’t there.

Dear Miss Manners: Is there a way to politely drop the hint that a baby shower at work is unwanted?

I began my new job and my pregnancy at the same time (not that it was quite planned that way), and as time goes on, I find that I am less and less comfortable with my co-workers socially (in the modern patois, “I find we are a poor fit”). There are many whom I do not want to mix with socially, much less be the object (or the mother of the object) of one of those forced in-office celebrations.

Also, my family will be showering me, as well as a group of friends. Is there any way I may use the “embarrassment of riches” excuse? Or is the only correct thing to do to allow my co-workers to express their (willing or unwilling) delight at my pregnancy as a social duty I must perform?

Gentle Reader: Has anyone actually mentioned throwing you a shower, or are you just afraid of the possibility?

If someone asks you directly, you may politely demure, not by citing your popularity outside of the office, but by insisting you wouldn’t want to burden people in the workplace. If they’re planning a surprise, however, you must endure. With all of the thank-you letters you’ll have to write, surely you’ll find something socially redeemable in your co-workers.

Dear Miss Manners: I was wondering if there were any clear-cut rules for encountering, working with or confronting a person with disabilities?

Gentle Reader: You deal only with the person. Unless you have been hired to deal with the disabilities, Miss Manners assures you that they are none of your concern.

Dear Miss Manners: When my nephew was married, the soon-to-be mother-in-law insisted that the invitation read, “Dress to impress.” Most guests were a bit put off by this, but she was very serious.

On the wedding day, most of the guests were dressed nicely, but some were much more casual. This is when the bride’s mom went to a few of those and chastised them for being underdressed and reminded them of the invitation.

Many of the other guests, including myself, felt this was very wrong, and since then, our families have fallen at odds, with many not even talking.

If this is acceptable on a day when these guests are at her daughter’s and new son-in-law’s wedding to wish them happiness, I would be very grateful to know. And if my feelings are wrong, I would apologize to this person!

Gentle Reader: As you undoubtedly know, you are not taking much of a risk. How likely is it that Miss Manners would approve of running around scolding one’s guests, especially about something that they can no longer do anything about?

Besides, the lady accused these people falsely. Her wording did not specify whom the guests were supposed to aim to impress. Some may have wanted to impress people whose tastes differ from the conventional.

Dear Miss Manners: A friend and I attended a pre-recorded broadcast of a live opera performance, and during the applause segment, we began quietly discussing aspects of the performance. At the time, there were no titles being shown on the movie screen, just the bows by the cast from the audience perspective.

Shortly after our conversation began, an audience member in front of us turned around and inquired if we realized we were the only people in the theater who were talking. When I asked if our conversation was distracting her from listening to what was merely the sound of applause, she responded that it was.

Were we honestly being rude to discuss the performance during the applause (a camera shot of the audience in the Royal Opera House in London where the performance was recorded showed people standing while applauding and engaging in verbal conversations with each other), or was the individual in front of us simply being overly critical?

Gentle Reader: As admirers of a 400-year-old art form, opera lovers (among whose number Miss Manners counts herself) are not always vociferous advocates for novelty or change. They are also a passionate bunch. While they have forgotten that pre-19th-century audiences countenanced talk during the singing, the relatively recent advent of theater broadcasts into suburban movie theaters has left many disoriented.

This is the only explanation Miss Manners can give for a constituency whom she would otherwise expect to insist that opera house manners be maintained in spite of the change of venue. In either location, once the performance ends and the applause begins, you are free to talk, whether about the details of the performance or where you parked the car.

Dear Miss Manners: Is it OK to ask someone how many carats are in her diamond ring?

Gentle Reader: If you are the owner’s insurer or pawn broker, certainly.

Dear Miss Manners: As part of my job, I am sometimes required to attend lunches and/or awards events. If I am seated at a round table with my back to the speaker, is it rude to turn my chair around to see/hear better, or should I continue to face (and converse with) the other guests at my table?

I am instructed to network, listen to speeches, note key names, describe my own organization’s work if asked, and broaden my understanding of how the featured guests fit into the landscape of my field.

Gentle Reader: You are concerned because turning one’s back on a dinner partner is rude. But so is conversing during a speech, both to the speaker and to any other people who happen to be listening to the speech.

That both you and your dinner partner are listening to a speech not just excuses, but requires, your attention. Rather than move the furniture, however, you might simply turn your neck and cock your head to show that you are listening to the speaker. No one will worry about your actual sight lines if you don’t, and it will save you the trouble of turning the chair back around for dessert.

Miss Manners is written by Judith Martin, her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. You are invited to email your etiquette questions from www.missmanners.com, if you promise to use the black or blue-black ink you’ll save by writing those thank you, condolence and congratulations letters you owe.