Miss Manners: Facebook friendships are not everybody’s cup of tea

August 9, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been invited to be a “friend” on Facebook by two people whom I have known for years, but time and distance have limited our contact to an occasional greeting card or e-mail. Maybe I am old-fashioned (at the age of 50, I think I am entitled), but I do not want this kind of superficial relationship, especially when I see that these Facebook “friends” are sharing personal information with hundreds of people.

When the first “friend” request came, I replied that I was pleased that he was thinking of me, but that I was not interested in participating in Facebook and would be glad to continue communicating via letters or e-mail. I never heard back from him, so I’m afraid he was offended. My response to the most recent request was merely to send an e-mail saying, “Thank you for thinking of me -- hope you are well.”

This, I hope, acknowledged her message politely without committing myself to a Facebook “friendship.” Was I behaving incorrectly?

GENTLE READER: Only in that you mistook the requests to be a friend for requests to behave like friends. Facebook has done a lot of damage in messing with that definition. (But then, Miss Manners remembers when banks used to declare the intention of being everyone’s friend.)

What your correspondents were doing was seeking to add to their contact list of people with whom they could exchange mini-announcements, passing thoughts and photographs that might turn out to be regrettable.

Such requests are usually sent to everyone whose address is available (and sometimes without the knowledge of the person whose address book is being used). Your gracious response is no more likely to cause offense than your silence would have been.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I received a wedding invitation from my first cousin. Though we are not very close, as she is much younger than me, I was excited to attend her wedding. I promptly filled in the guest card and accepted the invitation for six guests: myself, my husband and our four small children.

Just days before the wedding, I received a phone call from my aunt who explained that though she had the response card for some time, she simply forgot to call. She wanted to let me know that children were NOT welcome at this event. She explained that the catering cost was too expensive to include children.

I’m well aware that this is a growing trend to have adult-only events. I was shocked and a bit embarrassed, thinking that perhaps I missed the fine print saying “adults only.”

I looked back over the invitation, and it said no such thing. Of course it is entirely her prerogative to invite whomever she chooses, but because we were not made aware of this until the last minute, we were not able to attend the wedding. I heard through some family member that my aunt and cousin were upset that we did not show up. What is the proper etiquette?

GENTLE READER: You have a peculiar idea of what an invitation is. It tells you who is invited, not who is not invited. Never mind looking for fine print; what you should have read was the envelope. If the children’s names were not on it, they were not invited.

What worries Miss Manners more is your reference to not having shown up. Does this mean that you failed to tell your aunt that you were therefore unable to attend? Worse than the misunderstanding would have been the deliberate snub of allowing your acceptance to stand and then failing to show up.

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

2011, by Judith Martin

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