Q. Nearly one year ago, conflicting educational plans forced a young woman and me to transform our close relationship into one of a more long-distance nature. We had no delusions about the inherent difficulties and agreed to remain friends and to spend a portion of our vacations together whenever possible.
Since that time, we have had two vacations, during each of which we made general plans for her to visit, yet both times she failed to follow through--or even to inform me of her change of plans. The last such incident was in January, and now I have received a form letter, one of those nauseatingly newsy notices one sends to the general public in lieu of more personal communication.
Although this particular missive contains considerable detail as to the progress of a benign cyst that has taken residence in her armpit, it mentions no sudden attack of amnesia or calamitous misfortune that could have both detained her and prevented her from telephoning. Neither does it include even the slightest personal message beyond my name hastily scribbled at the top.
Torn between acting hypocritically and expressing my true feelings, I am considering responding with a form letter of a similar type, perhaps even including appropriately filled-in blanks referring to past experiences that we shared. My intent is to half-humorously express my attitude towards this sort of impersonal communication while avoiding a bitterly contentious letter full of recrimination. A friend tells me that only a cad would consider such a thing, and that if one has nothing positive to say, that one ought to remain completely silent.
Does Miss Manners subscribe to this particular school of thought as well? Surely, even she, upon rare occasion, has answered a blatant insult with an uncomplimentary, if measured and grammatically correct, response. Or do good manners include enduring the slings and arrows and responding with a hypocritically lighthearted charm?
A. First, Miss Manners offers her congratulations on your escape from a woman who writes form letters about recent developments in her armpit. That was a close one.
Next, she must dissociate herself from any idea that good manners means eschewing revenge. Did your friend never hear of the duel? There were certain aspects of the duel that were unfortunate, so that Miss Manners cannot regret its demise (for example, an injured gentleman could not challenge a lady), but it was carried out with, and often over, strict etiquette.
What is truly wrong with your proposal of the half-humorous letter is that it will not work. Attempts at humor by the jilted are inevitably pathetic, no matter how witty those people may be in their healthy state. Upon receiving such a letter, your young lady will not be cowed, ashamed, angry or stung. She will say, "Oh, poor thing, he's really suffering." It is one of the injustices of nature that people who jilt others feel smug.
Do ignore it, then.