Dear Miss Manners: I had a miserable childhood, suffering violent abuse and constant ridicule and rejection within my family, from the kids in the neighborhood and also at school. The adults who should have stepped in to help either ignored what was happening or occasionally joined in. It was a time when people saw bullying as a fact of life for some kids.
I had a hopeless and lonely existence, without a friend or anyone I could look to for protection or advice. When I was old enough, I got as far away from that place as possible, and I have worked hard since to learn the social skills I need to function in this world.
I have obvious scars, both physical and emotional, from the mistreatment, but I have been able to turn my experiences into a strong sense of empathy. I am a gentle person; young kids and the elderly are drawn to me, and I have a family of my own creation who love me. But anxiety (particularly social anxiety) and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms are also a part of me, and they probably always will be.
I recognize that the kids who tortured me when I was young were just kids in need of civilizing, and no doubt they have grown up to be lovely human beings. I do forgive them, and I wish them well. I have expressed as much to those whose consciences have pricked them enough to search me out. This does not mean I wish to be around them, though.
I am being pestered about next year’s class reunion already. It is a milestone year. They want me to see how wonderful everyone has become. They want the chance to apologize and make things right. Apparently, they feel I owe them that.
I respectfully disagree. My polite responses that I would not be available have been met with exclamations that I am being given so much notice, so certainly I can rearrange my schedule to be with them, at least for one of the days.
I really do not wish to tell them that scheduling is not the issue, and I suspect that telling the whole truth would only increase their resolve to clear their consciences at all costs. Could Miss Manners offer advice about a good way to make this problem disappear?
Unfortunately, Miss Manners is sorry to say, your childhood bullies have not, in fact, reformed their ways. Badgering you to attend an event that you have politely and repeatedly declined is a form of social bullying, and you do not have to tolerate it. Neither do you owe them anything more by way of explanation.
Having satisfactorily and politely answered the invitation, your silence — or perhaps one last firm, “I am sorry, but I can’t” — should serve to make the problem go away. If it does not, “It seems that you still have trouble taking no for an answer” might alarm them just enough to be a threat — if they truly are repentant of their unsavory past.
New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.
©2022, by Judith Martin
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