Dear Miss Manners:
My sister's invitation for the big family Thanksgiving included my partner, whom she has met and welcomed into her home before without incident or condition. My relationship has not been an issue when staying with my sister before, despite the fact she has two boys, ages 8 and 12.
Apparently, all this changed after she spoke with my brother, who has recently begun seeing someone new who has a 5-year-old son. Though this woman has never expressed distaste with my lifestyle and my brother made no such request, my sister called me back to impose the condition that my partner and I would be welcome as long as we eliminated displays of affection toward one another.
This seemed absurd to me, as we have never been outwardly demonstrative beyond the norms acceptable in public for gay or straight people.
My sister explained that since we were unsure of this woman's stand on the issue of homosexuality, especially where her child was concerned, we should do everything in our power to make sure the guest is comfortable and hide what she may consider offensive. I tried to counter by suggesting that in trying to pretend it doesn't exist, my sister was saying that it was unacceptable and that her role should be to show that her family at the holidays is united and accepted. I feel it falls to my brother to explain to his friend ahead of time and she should make the decision herself as to whether she chooses to attend a family affair where we are just that, a family.
What is the proper way to handle invitations to guests with (presumed) opposing lifestyles?
Lifestyles don't attend dinners; people do. Miss Manners fails to see why the presence of your or your brother's partner needs to turn Thanksgiving into a children's seminar on human sexuality.
Of course she is presuming that everyone will be behaving decently. If there is any doubt of that, perhaps your sister should warn your brother not to demonstrate affection for his new friend, lest the other children wonder why the mother of a 5-year-old is paired with someone other than the 5-year-old's father.
Dear Miss Manners:
I have a friend who tells quite interesting stories. Some are so crazy that I have a feeling that she is lying. I want to tell her that I think she is lying, but I believe it would be rude. Whenever she tells me a story, I just pretend to be interested and say, "That's neat." That isn't how I really feel. How could I tell her I think she is lying without her getting really angry? I want the fake stories to stop. Please help me.
There is no way that you can call a friend a liar and hope to salvage the friendship, Miss Manners is afraid. So isn't it fortunate that the way to stop all this is the same way to show polite interest?
That is to ask questions and request details: "Really? When and where was that?" . . . "But where were your parents when that happened?" . . . "Why wasn't that on the news?" and so on. You will wear her out making up details. That is, if you don't inspire her to new heights of lying.
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) 2004, Judith Martin