Q. I am a 22-year-old gay man and I live with my lover, Tom, who is 26. We have been together for more than a year and consider ourselves a married couple.
Tom's family knows about our relationship, and we attend many family dinners, birthday parties, barbecues and other social occasions together. Tom's family is not totally comfortable with our relationship, but they include me in invitations, knowing Tom will not attend if I am not invited. They are polite to me.
I feel it is no longer appropriate to call his parents Mr. and Mrs., but they have not told me to call them Bob and Jan. Should I take the initiative myself, or should I ask my lover to do so?
A. Miss Manners finds it interesting that you accept the graciousness of Tom's parents toward you although you know they are not totally comfortable with the relationship, and yet you are unwilling to sustain your own discomfort in order to allow them to choose how they want to be addressed.
Why should all the comfort be on your side? Having made the substantiative point, cannot you allow them to decide a stylistic one?
The relevant factor for this etiquette rule is not any of the circumstances you have set out. Tom's parents are a generation older than you; they therefore get the choice about forms of address.
Do not brood that their formality indicates disapproval. Among legally married couples, the question of what in-laws should be called is far from settled, and there are as many young people professing themselves uncomfortable with being asked to say Mom and Dad to a spouse's parents as there are ones who squirm at Mr. and Mrs.
Miss Manners suggests that all of them, and you, too, learn a lesson in graciously sustained discomfort.
Q. The only topic of conversation my elderly parents and relatives enjoy is their medical problems -- not just a summary, but all the intimate details (e.g., toilet problems, ear cleaning, polyp removal), which can be disgusting, particularly at the dinner table.
I am sympathetic to these concerns, but if I try to change the subject, my parents and relatives become visibly annoyed with me.
They have had their share of problems, but are not hospitalized. They still want to live on their own and are healthy enough to do it.
Medical problems are scary and talking about them can reduce the anxiety, but a summary should be sufficient. What do you suggest?
A. That you come up with some topics of equal interest.
Miss Manners warns that it isn't going to be easy to compete with the fascination of documenting one's own deterioration. But since you can't bark at your elders "That's not dinner table conversation!" the way they used to at you, and since you don't want to seem unsympathetic, this is your only hope.
The unfortunate preoccupation you describe is, in people who are not actively suffering from medical problems, a sign of slackening interest in the future. While everybody else is curious about what is happening in the world and anxious about his or her own progress, these people feel they have no stake in it.
By bringing up events in the news so as to suggest that you would like opinions on it from their accumulated wisdom, and by mentioning events in your own life as if you were interested in receiving their guidance (the latter to be done carefully, with an unspoken lack of commitment to abide by advice and an avoidance of topics on which you are sensitive), you may be able to turn their attention outward. Miss Manners wishes you luck for their sake, even more than for yours.
Feeling incorrect? Address your questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.