WIDOWS AND widowers seem to have different social problems. Miss Manners, in the meantime, would like to offer some less exciting, but perhaps more useful, advice to bereaved ladies who are prepared to take up social life a9ain. Divorce'es are welcome to pay attention, too, but Miss Manners has noticed that many of them, perhaps because they had some say in arranging their new status, tend to show more spunk than those who have been emotionally felled by the sudden termination of a happy marriage.
A lady who has led a pleasant social life in connection with her husband will find that she has many offers of sympathy and assistance upon his death, and that some of them are sincere.
They come, however, at a time when she is not feeling much of an inclination to participate in the normal festivities of life. Proper mourning customs require that her friends adapt themselves to this fact by calling on her, and supplying, in her house and on her terms, such items of hospitality -- food, drink, reassuring and loving words -- as are normally dispensed by the lady of the house.
Unfortunately, by the time the grief has eased enough for the lady to contemplate a return to normal social life, she has, in many instances, accustomed herself to this special, if doleful, treatment.
Feeling free to pour out your own sorrows without concern for the lesser problems of others, and expecting others to manage all of the mechanics of social life without your assistance are the privileges of the new widow. In a person making the conventional social rounds, or expecting to do so, they are selfish, dreary and unbearable.
Miss Manners does not wish to seem callous. But life must go on, as many a shallow philosopher has observed, and when it does, people are expected to carry their own social weight.
A widow who dines out with friends may not have noticed that when she did so as part of a married couple, her husband made sure to pick up their fair share of the bill. She may have forgotten that she herself kept loose social accounts of who had invited them out, and made sure that they kept up with their reciprocal obligations.
Like it or not, those rules still apply, but she must carry them out alone. Pity, as an excuse for free-loading, is remarkably unattractive.
Miss Manners does not accuse these ladies of wishing to get away with anything. She is aware that this behavior is often a result of low self-esteem at having been such a victim of tragic fate, and also from a deep-seated belief that single ladies are not as desirable socially as they were when their husbands accompanied them.
Nonsense. It is a cruel world for people of all ages and genders, and a kind and generous woman, with a motherly aspect and long experience at daily loving and caring, has all the ingredients to be a smashing social success if only she will pull herself together and make the effort.MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: On many occasions, down town workers are approached by a variety of panhandlers, bag people and assorted and sundry beggars and vagrants. The requests range from "Have you got a quarter?" to "Do you have some money to spare so I may get a meal?" to "Would you give me some money, I'm saving to buy a boat."
What is the proper response, if any, to such requests? And what if the vagrants are persistent?
A: One response is to give the supplicant a quarter, the price of a meal, or a boat. That is the proper response in the view of those making the requests.
For those of us who prefer to give some thought to our charitable contributions, rather than to do impulse philanthropy on the street, it is useful to know that the request not only need not be fulfilled, but the premise of the question need not be accepted.
It is a difficult concept for people of logical and orderly minds to accept, but an answer does not have to be relevant to a question. Many college students are familiar with the premise of "Answer the question you know, not the one that is asked," and some of them even get away with it.
A gentleman of Miss Manners' acquaintance responds to the supplications of street beggars by replying politely, "No, no, thank you very much." This dumbfounds the beggar for a moment, and as he tries to figure out what misunderstanding could have caused the gentleman to believe that he was, in fact, being offered something, the gentleman has proceeded at an orderly pace down the street out of the beggar's reach.
Q: I have two grandsons, ages 11 and 5, and one granddaughter, age 4. At what age should I stop addressing their mail as "Master" and "Little Miss"?
A: You do not state what age you are, but the time to cut out that "Little Miss" business is right this minute, before you find yourself with a granddaughter who tap dances uncontrollably, mouths the words to old Shirley Temple records and develops tinselly fantasies. Female children are addressed simply as "Miss." Male children are addressed as "Master" (by sweet, old-fashioned people such as yourself and Miss Manners) until they are old enough to object, which may be as much as 10 if they are not too socially alert.
Q: Please educate me in the proper way to handle the following situations:
An invitation is issued, verbally, to an informal gathering to view a classic movie. Refreshments are to be served, and a statement of intention is requested. When the invitee responds late in the afternoon on the day of the event, with "Oh# I forgot all about it# I guess we won't be there, we made other plans," must I respond with understanding and continue to include them in other invitations? What about the case of no response at all? Must I continue to invite them? In these cases, we have mutual acquaintances who would be aware of coming events. Is it simply that I have only myself to blame since written invitations were not issued? If given these same responses to a written invitation, how may I respond?
Also, what attitude may I take with a person who requests an invitation, and declines on the morning of the event because she wishes to catch up on her sleep?
A response to which I was left speechless was made by another invitee to the same event. The invitee said, "Oh# I promised to watch that with another friend. Who all is going to be at your house? Maybe I can cancel."
What is the proper response to this? This person called later to confirm my address, but then did not arrive.
Miss Manners, these people are not ignorant adolescents. They are academically educated people in their mid- to late-20s.
A: If you were running a public accommodation, such as a restaurant, hotel or resort, Miss Manners could understand your problem. While she could sympathize with the inconvenience to which you are put by the indecisiveness of others, she would have to remind you that part of dealing with the general public is putting up with its vagueness and lack of consideration about notifying others of its whims.
What she cannot understand is why you would classify as friends people who have no thought for your convenience and are obviously only disposed to favor you when there is nothing better to do. Why you would care to entertain such people on the rare times that they consent to allow you to do so is utterly beyond her.
You may argue that there are no other people, and that if one wishes to have any social life at all, one must put up with the insult of having a sacred invitation to one's home treated as a last-ditch option of somewhere to go when all else fails.
Miss Manners refuses to believe this (in spite of mounting evidence). It is shocking to her that people should have to be reminded to answer all personal invitations by the notation of "R.S.V.P.," much less to be prodded more blatantly with such vulgar devices as "regrets only" or "response cards."
It is too bad, isn't it, that Miss Manners will never let you respond to rudeness in kind? A less fastidious adviser would take the approach commonly used among parents who wish to demonstrate to small children why they should not beat up their even smaller siblings -- "See how it feels?"
Unfortunately, Miss Manners does not go in for that sort of thing. Her first choice here is to tell you to drop these horrid people and get yourself a real set of friends who value your company and your hospitality. She will reluctantly agree to your retaining some sort of ties with these people, provided you stop issuing them invitations. If they hear of others enjoying your festivities, you may say sweetly, "Oh, dear, I had to 9lve up on you. Your life is just so complicated that I knew I could never count on you to accept my humble offerings."