Miss Manners: Friendship out of balance requires backing away

September 1, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a friend who doesn’t listen very well, yet thinks she is an excellent conversationalist. When I talk to her, my words are just there to let her find an opening to talk about herself, which she does with gusto. Sometimes both conversations go on at the same time. (She doesn’t care if she talks over me.) She can’t wait -- it’s too important because it’s about HER.

The original conversation is just in her way, I guess. If I wait a minute, she realizes that I was talking. I can hear her change gears and retrace her steps to the original conversation. She’ll stammer something about what I had been talking about.

It’s demoralizing, because I know she’s just remembering her manners, but is really interested in talking only about herself. If I say a strong opinion in a conversation, instead of responding to it, she’ll yelp out a different side of the thought and never comment on my opinion. It’s like I’m talking to myself.

And if I talk of something that she can’t plug into her own life, there is dead silence for a minute, then she overreaches for something farfetched, just so she can talk about herself. Anything is better than just responding to what I am saying.

As might be expected, I don’t dare complain to her about this. She is not keen on getting complaints. I would be screamed at.

GENTLE READER: Your friend has no interest in you whatsoever and screams at you if you dare to question her.

Miss Manners recommends changing your telephone number. She hopes you do not harbor the illusion that the failure to exhibit respect and -- in the case of a friend — genuine interest and affection is a mere oversight that can be corrected by calling it to the offender’s attention.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I work in a facility where I often need to address and gain the attention of children, to remind them of rules such as no climbing, no roughhousing, etc.

For groups of children, I can address them as “boys and girls” or even “kids,” and for single girls I can use the term “Miss,” but I struggle in knowing how to address a single boy.

It seems strange to call a boy of 7 years old “Mister” or “Sir,” but calling him “boy” doesn’t sound right either. (”Little boy” can be downright demeaning for a young man who happens to be short for his age.)

I tend to default on some term of endearment such as “sweetie,” although I dislike using that term for someone I don’t know (and who isn’t behaving well either!) How should one politely and kindly address children?

GENTLE READER: There are indeed polite conventional terms of address to use when correcting young people individually, but Miss Manners is wary of telling you what they are.

Oh, all right: They are “Young lady!” (exclamation point necessary to get the attention of someone who is misbehaving) and “Young man!”

You see the problem. They are not parallel. They should be “young lady” and “young gentleman” or “young woman” and “young man.” Miss Manners herself is annoyed when she sees adjacent rest rooms marked “Ladies” and “Men.”

Yet those are the terms that are used. Perhaps your charges are too young to take offense.

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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