During my senior year in college, I began an intimate relationship with a young man who soon cut it off short, saying, "I think we should be friends." We did occasionally see each other and talk casually after that.
A year after graduation, he asked me for my phone number at a party. A couple of months ago he called and invited me to dinner.Well, I thought, sure. Why not? At the party he had been pleasant and friendly, so it might be fun. We decided that he would call me the next day to arrange the exact time and place where we would meet.
He did not call again. I thought he would surely call the day after that to say why his promised call never came. Nope. So I decided that he'd been very rude, that I wouldn't call him about standing me up, and that I should just forget him and any possible friendship (I certainly was not considering rekindling any flames).
This is not the end.
Yesterday he called my apartment, and my roommate called me at work to say that he seemed very anxious to talk to me. I figured that he wanted to grovel, so I returned his call, only to find that he had completely forgotten the incident and only wanted us to get together for a game of squash.
I reminded him of his standing me up, to which he replied with mildly sheepish and weak apologies: I didn't have your number the next day; I couldn't spell your surname properly; I forgot.
I'm afraid I did not take a stern tone with him to express seriously how offensive his behavior was, and I actually consented to get together with him. I did make him feel he had been rude, but I did so in a mocking way and then topped it off with, essentially, forgiving him, which I did not want to do. I'm afraid I forgave too easily.
How could I have handled this better, and how can I rectify the situation now? I played with the idea of doing the same rude thing to him, but although it would give me great satisfaction, I do feel two wrongs do not make a right.
GENTLE READER - Right you are, at least about the two wrongs. Miss Manners is not quite so confident that she can trust you to do the right thing in regard to someone who does not treat you with respect and decency. As staunchly as she represents politeness and forgiveness, she recognizes that one cannot carry on friendships with such people.
The polite way to break an engagement when one has no intention of making another one is to say curtly, "I'm terribly sorry, but I won't be able to make it," without benefit of explanation or offer of another time. Somehow Miss Manners would feel better if you did this with a note.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - When I worked in a greeting-card shop near several retirement communities, customers would say to me: "A neighbor of mine is in the hospital. I'd like to send her a card, but not a get-well card. She isn't going to get well."
At first I thought (but did not say) that wishing a speedy recovery in writing is not the same as a promise of same. I suggested that these people send "Thinking of you" or "Friendship" cards.
Then a close friend of my own developed a terminal illness. Because we were closer than greeting-card friends, I did not experience this what-to-say awkwardness myself, but I began to see the problem. It insults the dignity of the dying person to pretend that their experience is trifling. On the other hand, one does not want to appear to gloat. And without clues from the invalid, it's impossible to know how to proceed. Or so it seems to me.
GENTLE READER - Gloat? Miss Manners appreciates the delicacy of your question, but she hardly imagines that any response to terminal illness could be considered gloating, unless it is: "See? I told you you'd get cancer if you didn't stop smoking!"
Your personal exemption from the problem shows a sensitivity beyond that of your former customers. The fact is that dying is never a situation that calls for a greeting card. It always requires a letter.
As you divined when you improvised an answer within the greeting-card industry, the sentiment to be stated is that one cares about the person and is thinking of him. Discussing the illness at all, whether or not you try to wish it away, is out of place.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of the Deseret News. The quill shortage prevents Miss Manners from answering questions other than through this column.