hat are three things that you can safely say about people who habitually make the following statements?

"You never pay any attention to me."

"You've always got your head stuck in some old book, instead of talking to me."

"You treat me like a piece of furniture."

"The minute you get me a drink at a party, you always disappear."

"Why is everything and everyone else so much more interesting than being with me?"

"You never talk to me anymore."

"I guess I bore you."

Well, let's see:

1. They're married.

2. They're right.

3. They are, nevertheless, too dreary to capture anyone's attention, so these pathetic pleas will never be satisfactorily answered.

Miss Manners realizes how harshly she is judging unhappy people whose only wish is the legitimate one of capturing the interest of their spouses. But she promises that once she gets their attention, she will endeavor to help.

It is popularly believed, in these simplistic times, that the best way to get something one wants is to ask for it, or, as it is put, to communicate one's feelings. Therefore, the more frankly and clearly one states one's desires, the better chance one has of achieving them.

The fact that this has never worked in the domain of emotions, not once since the world began, does not seem to discourage people from trying. By a perversity of nature, it just so happens that accusations such as "You don't love me" or "You don't love me enough" do not inspire great rushes of passion; they inspire a distaste only slightly tinged, in the case of well-meaning people, with regret.

What happens to those marital complaints of not being given attention?

The spouse sighs, reluctantly stops whatever he or she was doing, denies the charge, and then, with visible effort, tries to fix attention on the person who asked for it. Good will and self-control stave off fidgeting for a while, but an air of being cornered is impossible to disguise. At the first decent excuse, the spouse's attention is off again in a rush.

It is a second humiliation for the original complainer.

Miss Manners hears about all this in the form of etiquette problems. Indeed, there is no greater believer than she in observing pleasant forms, at least to disguise, and perhaps even to influence, unacceptable feelings.

But in the particular circumstances of marriage, excessive demands are often made for the forms of attention, without even minimum corresponding efforts being made to attract attention, as it were.

For example, it is not actually a required politeness that one "pay attention" to one's spouse at a social gathering, beyond the mechanics of disposing of coats and acquiring first drinks and introductions. It can even be a rudeness. While we acknowledge that couples often wish to concentrate on each other, we assume that that is why they have a home together, and that when they emerge to go to parties it is for the purpose of socializing with others.

Even in the home, however, certain social conditions prevail. One does not attempt to get someone's attention by depriving that person of other legitimate interests. Not only is it often rude, but it usually doesn't work.

At the risk of dealing in substance rather than form, Miss Manners must reveal that satisfactory attention is the result of true interest, rather than the demand for its semblance. And while exclusive interest in one other human being, which is what we call courtship, is all very exciting in the stages of discovery, there is not enough substance in it for a lifetime, no matter how fascinating the people or passionate the romance.

The world, on the other hand, is just chock-full of interesting and curious things. The point of the courtship -- marriage -- is to secure someone with whom you wish to go hand in hand through this source of entertainment, each making discoveries and then sharing some and merely reporting others.

Anyone who tries to compete with MISS MANNERS Attention, All Couples! By Judith Martin

hat are three things that you can safely say about people who habitually make the following statements?

"You never pay any attention to me."

"You've always got your head stuck in some old book, instead of talking to me."

"You treat me like a piece of furniture."

"The minute you get me a drink at a party, you always disappear."

"Why is everything and everyone else so much more interesting than being with me?"

"You never talk to me anymore."

"I guess I bore you."

Well, let's see:

1. They're married.

2. They're right.

3. They are, nevertheless, too dreary to capture anyone's attention, so these pathetic pleas will never be satisfactorily answered.

Miss Manners realizes how harshly she is judging unhappy people whose only wish is the legitimate one of capturing the interest of their spouses. But she promises that once she gets their attention, she will endeavor to help.

It is popularly believed, in these simplistic times, that the best way to get something one wants is to ask for it, or, as it is put, to communicate one's feelings. Therefore, the more frankly and clearly one states one's desires, the better chance one has of achieving them.

The fact that this has never worked in the domain of emotions, not once since the world began, does not seem to discourage people from trying. By a perversity of nature, it just so happens that accusations such as "You don't love me" or "You don't love me enough" do not inspire great rushes of passion; they inspire a distaste only slightly tinged, in the case of well-meaning people, with regret.

What happens to those marital complaints of not being given attention?

The spouse sighs, reluctantly stops whatever he or she was doing, denies the charge, and then, with visible effort, tries to fix attention on the person who asked for it. Good will and self-control stave off fidgeting for a while, but an air of being cornered is impossible to disguise. At the first decent excuse, the spouse's attention is off again in a rush.

It is a second humiliation for the original complainer.

Miss Manners hears about all this in the form of etiquette problems. Indeed, there is no greater believer than she in observing pleasant forms, at least to disguise, and perhaps even to influence, unacceptable feelings.

But in the particular circumstances of marriage, excessive demands are often made for the forms of attention, without even minimum corresponding efforts being made to attract attention, as it were.

For example, it is not actually a required politeness that one "pay attention" to one's spouse at a social gathering, beyond the mechanics of disposing of coats and acquiring first drinks and introductions. It can even be a rudeness. While we acknowledge that couples often wish to concentrate on each other, we assume that that is why they have a home together, and that when they emerge to go to parties it is for the purpose of socializing with others.

Even in the home, however, certain social conditions prevail. One does not attempt to get someone's attention by depriving that person of other legitimate interests. Not only is it often rude, but it usually doesn't work.

At the risk of dealing in substance rather than form, Miss Manners must reveal that satisfactory attention is the result of true interest, rather than the demand for its semblance. And while exclusive interest in one other human being, which is what we call courtship, is all very exciting in the stages of discovery, there is not enough substance in it for a lifetime, no matter how fascinating the people or passionate the romance.

The world, on the other hand, is just chock-full of interesting and curious things. The point of the courtship -- marriage -- is to secure someone with whom you wish to go hand in hand through this source of entertainment, each making discoveries and then sharing some and merely reporting others.

Anyone who tries to compete with the entire world, demanding to be someone's sole source of interest and attention, is asking to be classified a bore.

"Why don't you ever want to talk to me?" will probably never start a satisfactory marital conversation.

But "Guess what?" will probably never fail.

Q: I am a member of an old and distinguished club that has a tradition of a fixed number of members. We would like to increase the number of members actually participating, without increasing the total membership.

It has been proposed that those members still able to attend meetings who have not done so in four years be asked to relinquish their membership. How would you politely phrase such a letter?

A: Send everyone a long and boring letter, at the end of which you announce a meeting for the purpose of renewing memberships.

Several old and distinguished members will respond with indignant letters, and show up, purple in the face, demanding to know what you think you are doing. Tell them that this was a mere formality, and that of course their memberships are inviolable.

However, some members who have not been there in four years will throw out the letter without reading it to the end, and skip the meeting. Consider that they have been dropped from membership, the letter and meeting having served as notice. With any luck, they will never even realize what has happened. the entire world, demanding to be someone's sole source of interest and attention, is asking to be classified a bore.

"Why don't you ever want to talk to me?" will probably never start a satisfactory marital conversation.

But "Guess what?" will probably never fail.

Q: I am a member of an old and distinguished club that has a tradition of a fixed number of members. We would like to increase the number of members actually participating, without increasing the total membership.

It has been proposed that those members still able to attend meetings who have not done so in four years be asked to relinquish their membership. How would you politely phrase such a letter?

A: Send everyone a long and boring letter, at the end of which you announce a meeting for the purpose of renewing memberships.

Several old and distinguished members will respond with indignant letters, and show up, purple in the face, demanding to know what you think you are doing. Tell them that this was a mere formality, and that of course their memberships are inviolable.

However, some members who have not been there in four years will throw out the letter without reading it to the end, and skip the meeting. Consider that they have been dropped from membership, the letter and meeting having served as notice. With any luck, they will never even realize what has happened.