Dear Miss Manners:

I am a divorced, non-custodial father of a 6-year-old boy. My ex-wife (who is my son's mother) and I get along very well, and often the three of us will attend community events together.

Frequently, we will engage in conversation with another couple who has children around our son's age. At some point in the conversation, we will be asked how long we have been married and other questions that couples have a tendency to ask one another.

Usually we respond that we are divorced but are still good friends, and then try to steer the conversation away from us and toward the children. This does not always seem to be enough to prevent the other couple from feeling uncomfortable.

Do you have any suggestions about how we could respond to these types of questions in a way that does not create an awkward moment for the couple we are talking with?

No doubt these people would feel relieved to see you at each other's throats, the way they expect normal, divorced couples to behave, but Miss Manners sees no reason to oblige.

Dear Miss Manners:

While I have relatively good table manners, I seemed to miss the lesson about how not to let food eaten from a fork drip sauce onto my clothes.

When eating pasta at a restaurant, I managed to get not one, not two, but four tiny drops of olive oil on my brand-new silk shirt. After spearing a couple of pieces of penne, I tried brushing them on the side of the bowl, then holding them above the bowl for a little while to let the excess oil (and there was much excess) drip off. I then sort of pushed my neck forward, but this didn't do the trick.

Is it okay to just tuck a napkin in my neckline? Bring a plate quite close when I'm eating? What are my options?

Not wearing silk when you are going to eat greasy food. Picking restaurants that go easy on the olive oil.

If you are unwilling to make these sacrifices, Miss Manners suggests putting a bit of bread on the side of your plate and parking the dripping morsel on that until it is fit to be lifted. And keeping handy a scarf that you can fling over the damage to your wardrobe.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.(c)2003, Judith Martin