Miss Manners: Online angst isn’t embraced in the real world

August 23, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: It is common for my Facebook contacts to make online announcements about health issues, job losses, ending of relationships and other unhappy news. Yet, whenever I see any of these people in person and I try to quietly, discreetly express my condolences, some of them are clearly annoyed that I am actually acknowledging their troubles.

This reaction confuses me since they did, after all, write a “status” message for many people to see. Is there some rule about online communication — should condolences and kind words be offered online only, because that is how the news was received?

GENTLE READER: What an interesting phenomenon. It would appear that these people seek posted sympathetic understanding from their entire acquaintance, perhaps including people they have never met, yet reject its being delivered personally by someone they do know.

It could be another example of topsy-turvy thinking, where the real world is less real than the virtual one. That seems so apt that Miss Manners is reluctant to advance somewhat more reasonable explanations, but feels that she must.

This would be about the timing of your commiseration. Apparently you deliver it whenever you happen to run into one of these people, not when the misfortune occurred or you have read the communication. By then, the illness may have been cured, or a new job or romance have started.

Or you may have brought this up on a festive occasion, when someone who has been trying to forget his troubles has to snap back into seriousness, or on a solemn occasion, such as a funeral, when it might call undue attention to lesser misfortune.

If a reaction is warranted — and Miss Manners does not expect you to post one every time a “contact” has weltschmerz — it should be done when the news is received. And yes, a less public way than a posting — a letter, a telephone call, or even an e-mail — is more dignified, although the recipient might not care.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My best friend from first grade got married for the second time. We are both 43.

She says I abandoned her on her wedding day when I ran errands for 90 minutes before the hair and makeup lady came to her home. She said a bridesmaid is supposed to stay with the bride all day.

She was shaking and crying when I returned because her fiance had left 40 minutes before I returned, and she was completely alone. I had gone to get flowers and cards for her.

Was I wrong? Is it stated somewhere that I was to stay with her 24/7? I flew in from out of town and was staying at her home.

GENTLE READER: What grade are you folks in now?

Your friend apparently still goes by the buddy rule, where children are told to stay in pairs on excursions so they don’t get lost. And she has you worried that doing wedding errands for her may have been an act of disloyalty.

Miss Manners would be happy to put this down to bridal jitters and tell you both to laugh about it now. But she can’t help thinking that an adult would have said, “Must you go now? I’d rather you waited — I just don’t feel like being alone.”

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

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