Miss Manners: Accusation deserves a response but not an answer

June 24

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My fiancee knows a woman who, virtues aside, is somewhat on the egocentric side, and at times can be overbearing and stressful to interact with. They tend to spend time together about once every week or two, and my fiancee considers this woman a friend, but not a really intimate one.

On a recent weekend, this woman called and left my fiancee voice messages on both Friday and Saturday nights. Then, on Sunday night, she called again and, getting through this time, her opening to the conversation was, “Have you been avoiding me?”

My fiancee asked me for advice on how she should’ve responded to that, and I was stuck scratching my head and saying, “That’s such a rude thing to say in the first place that it’s hard to imagine there can be a proper response to it.”

But if there is a proper response, I’m sure Miss Manners knows it. What would it be?

GENTLE READER: There are always proper responses, even to rude questions, Miss Manners assures you.

In this case what your fiancee needs is a response, but not an answer — as the question is both rude and leading: “I’m glad you caught me, and sorry I have not had a chance to get back to you yet. What’s on your mind? Was it urgent?”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I are longtime friends with another couple, with whom we frequently go out and travel. They are wonderful people and share many of our interests. The wife is a very social, active person and seems to have plans for every night of the week.

This couple will often invite us along to their many (usually expensive) activities, some of which we must, of course, decline. The problem is that they seem to consider every “no” a “yes” waiting to happen, to the point that they have accused us of canceling at the last minute, when we have simply reiterated our regrets.

If they do actually hear “no,” it becomes a constant interrogation up until the last minute. If we are honest, our reasons are criticized, and if we are vague, they will not stop questioning until we give an answer.

This problem is compounded by my husband, who considers it rude to decline an invitation at all, but particularly without giving a specific reason why we cannot attend.

GENTLE READER: Let us start with your husband. Miss Manners has frequently expounded on the rudeness of canceling invitations, once accepted. But there is no parallel ban on refusing an invitation in the first place.

And since no rudeness is being committed, there is no requirement to defend the refusal by citing reasons. It is, in fact, a bad idea, as the real reasons will, as you have discovered, initiate arguments about their validity.

Refuse politely, but firmly and without embarrassment. If the invitation is repeated, apologize and say you thought you were clear the first time in saying that you are definitely unable to attend. And when accused of canceling — which would indeed be rude — she suggests that you react with the shock that such an accusation deserves.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on www.washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com.

2014, by Judith Martin

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