This society fully subscribes to the notion that the emotions of small children can be of great importance and serious intensity. It is also aware that pregnancies among the youngest teen-agers must be the result of approximately the same activity that produces pregnancy in adults.
What it cannot believe in is the existence of ordinary but painful lovelorn problems among the pubescent. The idea of their suffering from tender feelings about one another is too funny to contemplate. So junior high schools are full of pupils who have been duly warned about the dire consequences of everything except the one danger they realistically fear most, which is dying of embarrassment.
If no one else is brave enough to tell small teen-agers how to behave when they are in love, Miss Manners will have to call it all etiquette and do it herself.
The rules are very strict, and the social consequences of disobeying them are severe, so pay attention.
In an adult population, it can safely be assumed that everyone is or has been susceptible to falling in love, and therefore a sort of Geneva Convention exists about which atrocities are acceptable and which are not. It is not always respected, of course. But in the very young community, it doesn't exist.
Therefore the object of unrequited love may well have no sympathy at all for the emotional state of the lover and will use the knowledge of those feelings to gain something he or she does want--a quick laugh, material for bragging, information for annoying someone else or any other such unpleasant goal.
Hence the rigid rules for the lovelorn for whom not being loved in return is the least offensive possibility and being held up to public ridicule by the one you adore only too likely.
Rule one is that you never engage in discussions, even among sworn friends who offer like revelations, about whom you "like." It is not easy for a child to steadfastly maintain that he or she believes that the word "like" is being used to designate very ordinary sociability. ("Do you like Kristin?" "Well, sure, I guess so, don't you?" "No, I mean do you like her?" "I like her all right; I like a lot of people," and so on.) There's no use saying you hate the person--that is rightly interpreted as being identical to a declaration of love.
Rough handling and dirty teasing is also rightly understood as a declaration of love, but the object of it should relentlessly treat it as hostile behavior. Teaching people that nasty wooing is unacceptable is a skill that cannot be learned too soon.
It is also useful later in life to learn the habit of resisting impulses to telephone, write and give presents to someone you love. But while this is practical for keeping such impulses under reasonable control in adulthood, Miss Manners hopes you will then be able to relax it and produce charming attentions to grateful recipients.
In adolescence, especially early adolescence, it is an essential survival skill. Do you want your love notes passed around the class? Your presents scorned? The frequency and duration of your calls exaggerated for comic effect by the household of the receiver until that person can hardly bear to hear your name?
All you have to do then is to follow your warm impulses unstintingly, without calculating what you are getting in return. It's a rough ordeal, and Miss Manners can only promise you that if you get through it with disciplined dignity, things will ease up. If not, the consolation is that you will have a good fund of pathetically comic anecdotes with which to attract adult admirers later.
Q.My husband, two preschoolers and I live in central Kansas, where flies in the summer are atrocious. We enjoy cooking out on our patio and occasionally inviting friends over to join us for supper.
However, there are certain people, born and raised with the Kansas flies, who never close the door when they come in from the patio. I am inclined to think they were "born in a barn." (You see, when I was a child growing up in Kansas, my mother used to say to me, "Shut the door. What's the matter, were you born in a barn?") Even my preschoolers close the door when coming in from outside. Of course, I have repeated my mother's famous words to them many times.
What should I do? Follow these guests around with a fly swatter? Follow them around closing the door behind them? Repeat my mother's famous saying? What is the matter with these people, anyway?
A.Funny, Miss Manners thought the expression was "Where were you brought up--in a barn?" In either case, the humorous irony is derived from its being uttered by the person who performed the birth-giving and the upbringing, and it loses its delightful colorfulness if directed at anyone but one's own children.
(Related expressions, charmingly reminiscent of our rural past but retained in the rearing of children who have never seen a farm, include, "You must feel right at home in this pigsty," "Do you like having your room smell like a stable?" and "Why bother with the fork at all--why don't you just put your face directly in the trough?")
None of this is suitable for guests. The most you can say is a politely offhand, "Do you mind shutting that door while you're up--the flies, you know." It's safer just to get a screen door with a tight spring that makes it self-slamming.
Q.I was puzzled what to do about the porch light on the departure of some guests Sunday, and wonder how you would have handled this situation.
My guests included a young woman whom I have known since she was a young child and for whom I have much affection. The occasion, in part, was to effect my first introduction to a young man with whom she is evidently in love, as he is with her.
We had a very pleasant evening, and I approved of and liked the young man. I was touched that, from time to time, he reached over and squeezed my young friend's hand as an expression of affection, and grateful that evidences of their mutual affection were contained within proper bounds on this occasion.
The two young people came and left in separate cars, as he lives in town and she in the country, not far from my house, with her father. They were the last to leave, and of course I turned on the porch light. As I cleared glasses and emptied ashtrays afterward, I became aware that I had not heard their cars start up and realized they were having some long good night kisses in my driveway, which was rather well lighted by the porch light.
I felt that turning out the light, while it would give them more privacy, might appear unfriendly or even disapproving, which I was not. Would it have been more or less polite to turn out the light?
A.Miss Manners is hardly the one ever to say, "What does it matter?" but she does have the feeling that your young friends would probably have remained cheerfully oblivious to your electrical activities, whatever they were.
By your account, they behaved well in your house and officially departed. They are then out of your jurisdiction, and you can take no official notice of them. That is to say that any peeping must be done from a darkened room, and you are not allowed to tease them later about what you saw.
Miss Manners' instinct would be to leave the light on, presumably as usual, to disguise the fact that you did not go to bed before this late show began. If, however, you believe that the lack of privacy--which does not seem to have bothered them--will attract an audience of neighbors, you might turn the light off. They are not likely to know whether this is your habit when guests have gone and you have finished cleaning up, and Miss Manners is of the opinion that they are not likely to transfer their emotions of the moment to worrying about that.