"If you can't bring enough treats for everyone, then don't bring any" is an etiquette lesson that, being learned the first day of school, is learned for life.

This accounts for the vast number of people who keep secret stashes of food in their pockets, workstations and back behind the cartons in the household refrigerator.

Miss Manners approves of the hospitable principle of sharing and, for that matter, of the subsequent, self-taught concept of discretion. She always hoped they would be more widely applied. Discretion didn't make it at all, as you may have noticed. Sharing got a little turned around, but it has succeeded wildly in different forms.

Hosts interpret it as, "If you can't bring me enough treats for everyone to have a share, then don't come to my party." Or if they don't, holding on to the notion that hospitality means providing amply for their guests, some of those guests will interpret sharing as, "If you have more than enough treats for everyone, then I'll grab some extra and bring it home."

Parents and teachers began to expand the lesson of sharing to rewards, as well as to candy. It didn't seem fair to them to allow trophies and prizes to be awarded unless there were enough for everyone.

Even more creative was the application of the idea to all the rewards life has to offer, and the feeling that it wasn't fair for anyone to have a share if everyone couldn't. Reference here is not to the necessities, such as food, health care and athletic shoes, but to life's great pleasures, which seem to be whimsically distributed.

Such as love. "I don't date, and seeing couples holding hands makes me feel bad because I don't have anyone to hold hands with," a Gentle Reader complains.

And marriage. "How do I tell my friends I don't want to go to their weddings?" asks another. "Some of them are already having second weddings, expecting everybody to get excited and give them presents and everything, and I've never even had a relationship that lasted six months."

And children. "My wife finds it painful to hear about other women getting pregnant, and I don't think she should have to pretend to be happy," says another. "Is it acceptable to say, 'I'm sure you must be very happy, but it is difficult news for me to hear'?"

And possessions. A Gentle Reader reports that "when visiting our new house, an old friend said to her husband and me, 'We make much more money than you do! How come you have a home and we don't?' "

And skills. "I like to bake bread, sew, garden, make homemade baby food," reports another, "and for some reason, friends and acquaintances say things about me like, 'Don't you just hate people like that?' or even, to my face, 'I hate you!' I know these people are trying to make a joke, but I don't do these things to impress the neighbors, I do them because I enjoy it and my family does, too."

And even longevity. "In my church, they announce the anniversaries of couples who have been married for many years," says another Gentle Reader. "But many of the people are seniors who are widowed or divorced or single, and I don't think there should be such a big fuss over how long these marriages have lasted."

Miss Manners, who wishes people could take heart from the happiness of others without constant comparison to themselves, also wishes that the blessings of life were universal. If they have to be limited, however, she would rather not decide it would be better if no one had any.

Dear Miss Manners:

It seems that every time my family has a get-together, another family member will drag one of his friends along, as though they are joined at the hip. Some of these friends are very nice, but others have been very obnoxious and aggravating to the other family members.

Should people bringing these friends take into consideration that this is a family get-together and not bring everybody under the sun? Also, what about those relatives that you never see at anything unless there is eating involved; and after they get their bellies full they leave? What does etiquette say about this disturbing practice?

The disturbing practice of turning family get-togethers into opportunities to criticize the family? That it is not a lot of fun and never changes anything.

Miss Manners suggests that you take the tolerant attitude that it is flattering that your relatives consider it a treat for their friends to meet the family, and that those who leave after meals have other pressing obligations. Might as well.