Dear Miss Manners:
Is there a polite way to dispatch items left in my home by an ex-girlfriend who lives in another city?
My girlfriend and I had a long-distance relationship for about six months, and after her first visit, she left some clothes--including dirty laundry--in my already-tight bachelor apartment, without asking whether I would mind.
I recently called her to end our relationship, and despite my being as polite as is possible in breaking up over the telephone, I was dressed down with language that (I prefer to think) degraded the lady more than me. I had recently given her jewelry as birthday and Christmas gifts since she specifically requested jewelry, but apparently she received the gifts as symbols of a deeper relationship than I had intended.
"Well!" she said. "I'll just have to return the jewelry to you."
The lady hasn't yet delivered on her promise to return the jewelry, nor do I care if she does. At the time I didn't know that a gentleman doesn't give jewelry to his companion; I've learned my lesson, and henceforth will only give perfume until I'm properly engaged.
My problem now is what to do with her clothes and laundry. Should I package it (mostly T-shirts) and send it to her by mail, perhaps after first washing it? Should I simply discard it? This has become embarrassing, as my new girlfriend recently wore a shirt from my closet that belongs to you-know-who.
Miss Manners is grateful you didn't ask her to look into your own dirty laundry. She doesn't want to discover how you arranged things so that although you only recently informed the first lady that the romance was over, another lady was already so much at home as to make free with the contents of your closets.
Of course you have to send the belongings back. Aside from the fact that they do not belong to you, you probably do not want her using them as an excuse to make a surprise appearance, especially with her replacement on the premises. (Or if you do, Miss Manners wants no part of it.) Don't even wash them, as it raises questions about who tampered with what.
You haven't yet mastered that lesson you said you learned in connection with the jewelry. It is not just that valuable things should not be exchanged in an impermanent situation. The point is that objects have symbolic significance.
Jewelry especially does, because of its value and because it is supposedly selected with much attention to the individual who receives it, although anything will do if one is looking for symbolism. Even a T-shirt can be interpreted as meaningful, and the offended lady is even now working herself up to believing that you are symbolically holding on to her.
Dear Miss Manners:
Among close friends, it is common knowledge that my husband owns a fair amount of stock in the company he works for. Recently the stock went up exponentially. This was discussed in various newspapers and on television programs, and surrounded by much fanfare.
Now some friends, acquaintances and even those we have just met ask pointed questions, such as "Are you millionaires?" "How rich are you now?" and the like.
Some friends have phoned or written to congratulate us, and we thank them. But how do we respond to awkward questions regarding our finances?
Smoothly, rather than awkwardly. You don't get flustered, you don't seem to be avoiding the question (although you are)--you simply reply, "Well, it certainly was a nice little surprise."
The important part, Miss Manners cautions you, is the delivery. You need an amused smile that says, "I can understand that that would seem like a lot of money to you." Whether this implies that you received much less than is assumed, or that you already had enough to make this amount less important to you than they imagine, doesn't matter.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.