"Daddy's being horrid," the bride-to-be would say in simpler times.
"He wants to know all about the money -- as if I cared about money! All I care about is you. His stupid solicitors are even asking about dowager rights. That's disgusting. Why, if anything happened to you -- or if I thought you didn't love me anymore -- I wouldn't need any money, because I'd just kill myself."
Her fiance would take her hand in his, glancing around to make sure no one was looking. "My parents are just as bad," he would confide. "Money, property -- my mother wanted to know what would happen to the family pearls if I predeceased you and you married again. You wouldn't marry again, would you? Of course not. Me, either. I'm beginning to think they can't ever have been in love themselves. No one who understood how I feel about you could think of material things."
And thus the happy couple could snuggleup in perfect understanding and love, while her family lawyers and his family lawyers hammered out an agreement that represented each of their interests should the unthinkable occur.
Miss Manners does not recount this tale to suggest that all does not always turn out as the affianced imagine, or even to warn that they should prepare themselves in case it doesn't. She believes in true love.
She is merely pointing out that concern about the eventual disposition of money and property when a marriage begins is not a new phenomenon. And that the Victorians knew how to handle it a lot better than modern couples who are looking out for their own interests.
The modern approach is that the bridegroom (or whichever of the couple is richer) shoves a document into the bride's face the day, or perhaps only hours, before the wedding and says, "Here, you have to sign this." At any sign of reluctance, he threatens to call off the marriage.
By this time, she would be only too glad to be rid of him, but she feels a sense of responsibility to the caterer. So she signs.
It is true that in the antique version, it was entirely possible that the gentleman would eventually run off with the governess, and that the lady not only would not kill herself but, as he was able to show, had long since been consoling herself with the curate.
But in the modern version, disillusion and bitterness have set in before the wedding has taken place. The thought of coercion may appear during the ceremony itself.
Whereas, in the olden days, the financial arrangement had been kept entirely separate from the courtship. And the agreement by which she had to give back the pearls, and he was unable to touch her family property, had been cheerfully made between two parties, either the parents or their representatives, whose business sense was unclouded by emotions.
Miss Manners suggests anyone interested in a prenuptial agreement about finances return to the ancestral wisdom. Perhaps there are no parents willing to involve themselves in the transaction, but one may still blame others for being unromantic, even if one has hired them for the purpose.
Miss Manners recommends a version of the following dialogue:
"Oh darling, I wish we were married already. There's so much to do, and I just want to be alone with you."
"Ummmmm. Me too."
"Did you call about the cake?"
"I thought you were going to do that."
"That's right -- I will. I'm sorry. Oh, and then there's another thing. My lawyer has done some property agreement -- what happens if I die, or whatever."
"Oh? What's in it? Where is it?"
"Darling, I don't even know. I find the whole thing degrading. I'm just going to have my lawyer send it over to your lawyer. Now come here."
Q: I attended a large baby shower at a church and was puzzled to see a blank thank-you note at each place, along with the dessert service. To begin the evening, guests were asked to self-address the envelopes and list their gifts on the inside flap.
I begrudgingly complied with these requests, not knowing how to refuse. At what point could I have politely stopped cooperating, and how could I have fought off the stigma of being a poor sport?
A: Poor sport? Not to thank yourself?
Miss Manners suggests you carry the point further by writing a letter to yourself, thanking yourself for all the trouble you went to, leaving for the guest of honor only the heavy tasks of reading, sealing and mailing it.
Q: When at a restaurant with your husband, who should order first?
A: Miss Manners's husband. He's very good at conveying the lady's order to the waiter. And would you mind asking him to pick up some oranges on the way home?