"TELL ME--what is your secret vice?
The question was put by a new acquaintance, glowing with the satisfaction of delivering a clever and original line. He settled back confidently to await Miss Manners' confession of a criminal addiction to crystallized violets, or whatever it was that he imagined her shameful passion to be.
Such impertinence! What does the gentleman suppose that a secret is?
Miss Manners always has understood that a secret was something you didn't tell anyone. At worst, she supposed, it was something you confided in a weak moment to an intimate friend, whom you later could turn on, with blazing indignation, for having a similarly weak moment and passing it on.
But as far as she can tell, this society has no such secrets. A refusal to reveal one's fantasies or indiscretions to whomever asks--the highest honor being to be asked to do so for broadcast or publication--now is regarded with extreme suspicion.
We have other kinds of secrets, however. In this society, many people do not tell even their friends what names they use, how they prefer to be addressed or what their fixed social arrangements are.
They expect everyone to guess, and are furiously insulted when anybody guesses wrong.
It is true that when people change their names, through marriage, divorce or a conversion in religion or philosophy, they make quite a fuss at first and let people know. But after that, they go through life challenging people who mistake them with such statements as "I'm not my husband's chattel," or "I'm proud to use my husband's name."
There are people who are insulted when you address them by title and surname, and others, such as Miss Manners, who bristle when addressed by first name, or even an assumed nickname, without being given permission to do so. And what title do you use? Some people are angry to be called "Ms.," some angry when you do not call them "Dr.," and so on. Miss Manners hardly can think of a title, except possibly "Your Majesty," that doesn't offend someone.
Then there are the people who are insulted at invitations--didn't you know to invite the person they never can bear to be parted from? Do you really find individuals not worth having unless they come in couples?
Oh, dear. It is an untidy state of affairs, and Miss Manners, while wearily upholding the right to fashion one's name and social habits as one wishes, would be so happy if we could develop some standard forms for these elementary matters.
In the meantime, she forbids anyone to be insulted (except, of course, herself when people cheekily attempt to address her as anything but Miss Manners). Rather than let people guess these secrets, you must explain:
"Oh, no, I'm not actually Mrs. Derek Couchforth--he and I are separated. But I never did use his name. I use Bonewright, which was my first husband's name, and the title of professor. No, it's not too confusing, because even though he married again, he and his wife, whose maiden name was Blair, now call themselves Blair-Bone. Anyway, I would love to come to your party, but not with Derek. Oliver Meggs and I are a couple now; would you mind if I bring him?"
Now, that's not too hard, is it? Actually, though, Miss Manners is beginning to understand why people tell their secrets so willingly. It's easier than stating your name and who your partner is. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. When is the proper time to start the white shoe season, Easter or Memorial Day? Is the location the key--South at Easter and North on July Fourth? Is it all to do with the weather--a few 90-degree days in January or Christmas in California? Also, would one wear white shoes with a long pastel dress in winter? Is the whole white shoe problem passe' along with black suede pumps?
A. No, Madam, this issue is not passe'. There are few enough solid truths remaining in the world that do not depend on accidents of geography, climate, comfort or taste, but the white shoe matter certainly is one of them.
Please pay attention. You are to learn this for life, and never, ever to violate it, no matter how severely you are tempted.
White shoes NEVER may be worn between Labor Day and Memorial Day, except by brides (at the ceremony only--they must change when they put on their going-away outfits), by tourists in southern resorts (local residents properly maintaining the fiction of the season change) and tennis players (while on the court).
Easter has nothing to do with it. If you are wearing white shoes now, take them off this minute. The only sartorial significance of Easter is that it opens the season for wearing spring hats, and closes that of velvet until autumn.
Violators will be prosecuted.
Q. For some years now, sociologists and such have been bemoaning the demise of the nuclear family. I never have concerned myself with such matters, until recently, but now have come to understand the perils of moving from one's birthplace prior to marriage. My fiance' and I are trying very hard to get married, but, regrettably, the logistics seem to be only slightly less than those for the Normandy invasion.
The problems center around his and my demographics and our familial geographics. We live in city A, but met in city B, where he grew up. His siblings still are in city B, as are a few (but not many) of his+smy+sour friends.
His parents now live in city C, along with a couple of distant relatives and a few friends. My parents and siblings live in city D, where I grew up, but almost none of my friends still live there, although their parents do. Most of my relatives also live in city D, and, of course, that is where my parents' friends live.
His+smy+sour other friends live in cities E through H, including one of the noncontiguous states. For the most part, each of these cities is at least 800 miles (or $300 per person round trip by air) from each of the other cities. The exception is cities B and D, which are half that distance (and expense) from one another.
Now for the other half of the problem. One set of parents is elderly and retired, and traveling anywhere is a problem, both financially and physically. The other set of parents is divorced and not on speaking terms.
My fiance' and I are in our 30s and have been living together for several years, in part because every time the subject of marriage has come up, we have given up in the face of what it would take to get our families together for a wedding. I'm not kidding!
Since I've been self-supporting for 10 years, I don't think that my father expects to pay for the wedding, but my fiance' and I cannot afford to pay for even a relatively small wedding, what with the cost of flowers, a hall, catering, a band, a special gown or suit, invitations, announcements, postage, booze, etc. In addition, I work and really don't have the time to make all the arrangements, especially for a wedding in another city. Our living room is too small to accommodate all of the immediate family. What do you recommend?
We had thought about eloping and telling our parents afterward. It would save everyone the inconvenience that would surely result, no matter what city was chosen. It would mean that none of them would have to go trudging cross-country. We feel certain that no matter what the degree of hardship involved, all four parents would insist on attending if they knew in advance of the "elopement." On the other hand, some or all four might feel hurt if they are not invited to attend. As much as we might like to have some sort of small wedding, we are afraid it would turn out to be a horror, rather than a pleasant memory for all. Whatever we decide to do, our friends will understand, but our parents probably will not.
I realize that it would take the wisdom of Solomon to solve this one, but if you have any suggstions, they would be appreciated. In these days of divorce, mobility and marriage at a later age, is it any wonder that cohabitation is so appealing?
A. After listening to your woes, Miss Manners is tempted to agree that you had better forget the whole thing--if it were not for all those people, in cities A through H, murmuring "They seem so right for each other--why do you suppose they don't get married?"
Here are your choices:
1. Cite tradition, and be married from your parents' home (city D), imposing a hardship on his parents and the citizens of A, B, C, E, F, G and H.
2. Cite modern custom, and be married in your own home, city A, offending B through H.
3. Take the show on the road, and either repeat your vows everywhere, or be married secretly and hold a wedding reception in each city, offending no one except your own budget.
4. Elope with no advance notice. (Actually, that is redundant: There is no such thing, as you suggest, as inviting people to an elopment.)
It is up to you, but Miss Manners, in your position, would go for number 4. That way, you favor none of these sensitive people, but if they all are offended, well, at least you haven't wrecked your finances, so you will have enough to start a new life in city I.