BEING IN the wrong is not a geographical position in which Miss Manners has much firsthand experience to offer. She has heard the statement, "Everyone makes mistakes," but has always assumed that, as in the case of "Everyone does it," not necessarily everyone is meant.
Nevertheless, the ability to be in the wrong so gracefully that you will be graciously assisted on the journey back to the righteousness in which we are all so much happier to dwell, is a useful social skill.
Neither of the most popular methods of dealing with being in the wrong seems to Miss Manners to be any good at all. Both are attempts to deny being there, when one plainly is, and to counterattack that it is the other person who is in the wrong.
One of these is for the person who is in the wrong to redefine wrong as right, and to establish the recognition of wrongdoing by the other person as being the true transgression. In its crudest form, it begins with a version of "I have a right to if I want," and ends with "Why are you always picking on me?"
The second method is based on the idea that only motivated wrongdoings can be validly counted against one. Thus the original accusation is countered with a balligerent "Well, I forgot!" or "Oh, for heaven's sake, I didn't mean to."
The trouble with these methods is that they positively enrage the person who has a legitimate cause of complaint. This may be of some use, in that it eventually transfers the conflict onto an emotional plane where the facts of the situation are irrelevant, thus putting the committer of the wrong on an equal level with his opponent.
But it does not clear the air. And since Miss Manners considers peace to be the only acceptable state of affairs, between relatives and friends as well as among nations, this has to be counted as failure.
Let us say, for example, a friend has asked you to mail a letter, and you have cheerfully and thoughtlessly used the letter instead as a bookmark.Upon asking your commiseration on the fact that someone else got the job for which he had applied and been ignored, your friend spots his own return address peeking out of the top of your reading matter.
Typically, you try method No. 1 and say, "You shouldn't have asked to to mail the letter when you knew I was busy and could perfectly well have done it yourself," and then go on to method No. 2 by saying, "How was I to know it was important -- I just forgot, that's all." End of friendship.
The alternative Miss Manners suggests is abject cravenness of the nonstop babbling variety. Suppose for example in the case of the letter, you say, "Oh, no!Oh, no! How could I have done such a thing? I must be losing my mind. I'll never be able to look you in the eye again. I'll never be able to live with myself! I'll never forgive myself. I probably ruined your life. I wouldn't blame you for dropping me forever. What a terrible thing to do. I can't believe this happened . . . " and so on.
What does your friend reply? Well, there is only so much of this incoherent self-flagellation that a body can stand. After a sufficient dose, your friend concedes, "Oh, I probably wouldn't have gotten that job anyway. Deep down I don't even think I wanted it. Never mind. Let's just forget it."
And you can. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. For personal and professional reasons, I am not changing my name after I marry. My question is this: Is it socially acceptable to use both my name and my future husband's name on our joint stationery which will be used for short thank-you notes and to answer invitations issued to us both?
If it is not an acceptable practice, may I use my husband's last name only for social instances, and must we put our names on our stationery at all?
A. By joint stationery, Miss Manners hopes you are not referring to full-sized writing paper. Two people cannot write one letter, no matter how much in love they are, so do not begin that coy habit or you will end up pretending that you are representing your children and pets, as well, and probably putting them down for sentiments to which they do not subscribe.
Thank-you notes must come from either you or your husband, although you may close by a graceful indication that "Barnaby joins me in saying how much..." etc. The paper may have the name of the letter-writer on it, or may be plain.
You can, however, have a joint card, either of the small visiting size, or the larger, more useful size known as an "informal," (even though that is not a noun). In that case, your names, being entirely different, will occupy two lines, with yours on the top line and his centered beneath.If you were to use the "Mr. and Mrs." form, only one line would be necessary.
Personally, Miss Manners does not mind which you choose, but will tell you that secretly she thinks it rather an amusing idea to have two names: one for business and one for social purposes. You never know what life might bring, and when you might want to escape from one identity into the other.
Q. My husband and I would like to reaffirm our marriage vows on our 10th anniversary. I want to wear an off-white wedding gown, but I don't know if it would be acceptable. Whenever I tell anyone of my plans, they laugh and tell me I'm crazy.
Everyone was against the marriage from the beginning, and we are the only ones still married. Well, that's not the point. I didn't listen to anyone the first time, but the wedding was from the etiquette book.
This time, I want to know if it's proper to send out formal wedding invitations and have a reception. Oh, and could I have a matron of honor? Please tell me all the do's and don'ts of reaffirming our marriage vows.
A. Of course, people laugh at you and tell you that you are crazy. But, since they did that when you planned your marriage 10 years ago, you may consider that part of the reenactment.
Traditionally, the reaffirmation of a wedding was considered rather declasse, as the original vows were considered to be permanent, and no re-affirmation necessary.
You must, however, do it with something of a sense of its unabashed sentimentality. Done entirely solemnly, it will look show-offy to your friends who are the veterans of multiple marriages; but done modestly, it will exercise an enormous charm on them (some of which they will express by laughter).
There are no traditional, by-the-book rules, the custom having been to pass this off merely as a mid-marriage blessing, looking as little like a wedding as possible. By conservative standards, you should not wear a wedding dress, issue engraved third-person invitations, or have attendants. But, then, the object would be to get through this with as little fuss as possible, and that is not your object, as Miss Manners understands it and sympathizes with it.
If you wear a traditional wedding dress, you must keep explaining to everyone, humorously and apologetically, that: 1. It is your original dress, and you know you're being silly, but you're so proud to be able to fit into it, or 2. You know it's ridiculous at your age, but you had always dreamed of a formal wedding and never had one. Otherwise, wear the sort of pastel dress or smart suit you would for a second wedding.
If your original attendants can attend, let them stand about in the positions they occupied at your original wedding, but do not, at this point, search among your recent acquaintance for bridesmaids, groomsmen and such. If you have children, let them stand there, smiling foolishly, but do not put them into roles, such as the pseudo-parental or flower girl and ring bearer.
If you must send engraved invitations because your guest list is so large, keep them as simple as possible. ("Mr. and Mrs. Ever After request the honour of your presence at the reaffirmation of their wedding vows...") and not cute ("Come share our joy and happiness . . . "). Everyone knows that you have consummated the marriage and probably intend to keep on doing so.
By all means have a reception, with champagne and a wedding cake if you want one. Receptions are always in good taste for celebrations.
The most important thing is to keep reminding yourself and your husband not to look smug. That is only tolerated at original wedding ceremonies, where the guests enjoy it as a bittersweet indication of ignorance about the realities of marriage.