Democracy Dies in Darkness

Style | Perspective

Miss Manners: Sulking over birthday slights

September 11, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Dear Miss Manners: I write to you in a moment of sadness. My birthday was yesterday, and I'm 31 years old. Of an admittedly small number of friends on social media, the same number as my birthday, only six wished me any sort of birthday sentiment.

I keep my friends list small because they are people I currently interact with or the special few I cherish. The appeal of large swaths of friends, both in life and on social media, has always been lost on me.

The number is not what stung; it was the idea that so many didn't notice or care about the birthday reminder that popped up. I always write a birthday message when someone else's pops up, or call to offer well wishes. My best friend and her husband didn't even text or call, though I think they forgot due to a recent house move.

How can I get over the general bite of how easy it is to be reminded of someone else's birthday online, while the specific sting of close friends forgetting is still lingering?

I feel very pitiable and old and am writing this for one reason alone: Your care for the nuance of consideration and the subtlety of social grace has always meant a lot to me in a world of careless inattention and progressively inward-focused urges. I've always agreed with your idea that manners and etiquette, when practiced and understood, are for the purpose of social ease and enjoyment, that all may feel welcome and pardoned when necessary. It's a facet of communication that goes beyond rote statements. It's a standard of respect.

Yes, but it is not a checklist by which you conduct an annual test of your friendships.

It saddens Miss Manners that adult birthdays seem to bring out the worst in people. It is now common to declare how one wants to celebrate — at the expense of guests, who are also expected to bring presents.

In comparison, your wish is very modest. But while you believe that the ease of responding to an electronic prompting should make it a requirement, Miss Manners sees this as so minimal as to be unimportant. People who are genuinely fond of you, and who exhibit their friendship in other ways, may not dream that you are counting up and brooding over some clicks.

Miss Manners urges you to stop. For your own sake, she urges you to cease thinking of your birthday as a reckoning day. If you want to give yourself a treat, go ahead; if you want to see your friends, invite them as your guests.

Dear Miss Manners: Which word, "gift" or "present," is correct?

For fastidious pedants like Miss Manners and probably no one else, “present” is the preferred word. The rationale is that “gift,” as in “gift with purchase,” is too much associated with the commercial world, where it really isn’t one.

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.

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