DEAR MISS MANNERS: How does one go about eliciting sympathy? I have had a fairly rough life — abusive parents, substandard income, an abusive spouse who turned into a stalking, abusive ex-husband who avoids jail but manages to wreck much of my personal life.

I’m currently alone in the world. I have a few friends, mostly at work. I am active in my church, am a member of a club and attend community events as my income dictates. My efforts at charity work have not gone well, as most in my area require a more reliable car than I possess.

People will ask me next week what I did over the holidays. The fact is that, although I tried very hard to hook up with some charity to work at a food pantry or soup kitchen, I was not able to find anyone who needed a volunteer for a day. Instead I stayed home, ate leftovers and cried.

Now, I know and practice good etiquette, and when people ask me about my holiday, I plan to say, “It was all right — how about yours?” But what I really wish is to say something that evokes some sympathy from listeners. When I told people before the holidays that I’m all alone, they tended to say cheerful things about what a strong person I am and change the subject.

I am a strong person, but I’m also lonely. Any advice?

GENTLE READER: Advice on how to make well-wishers feel bad for having had a pleasant Christmas while you stayed home and cried?

Why? Do you want to prove to yourself that you are friendless by creeping out everyone who says a kind word to you?

Miss Manners would rather see you get to work on next Christmas — not by spreading word of your plight, but by making friends who will include you for pleasure, not for pity.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: After our holiday dinner, most of our family enjoys gathering around the piano where we sing carols and hymns. No one is forced to sing; some will listen to the songs, while others watch TV or play games.

In the middle of such singing, my teenage niece and her teen boyfriend arrived at our house. I overheard him say, under his breath, “These are the most boring people in the world.” How does one respond to such a statement?

GENTLE READER: “We won’t keep you. It was kind of you to drop by.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Do you think that writing on a Christmas card is good or bad?

I have had some that were sent to me with a note/letter written all over the card. I have also received birthday cards the same way.

If I write notes or letters, I use stationery that has holiday decorations on it.

GENTLE READER: That is a charming thing to do. But so is writing a personal note on a Christmas card. Miss Manners trusts that you are not saying that those who do not send letters should confine themselves to bare signatures, which convey little more than that the recipient was on a Christmas list.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site,, where you can send her your questions.

2011, by Judith Martin

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