DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a 43-year-old woman who has been dating a 61-year-old man for about 18 months. At a gathering of his family, his 96-year-old mother introduced me to the attendees, all of whom I was meeting for the first time, as her son’s “friend.”

I objected (privately) to her son, who then mentioned it to his mother. She said that since we were not engaged, referring to me as his “friend” was appropriate.

Given that we are adults in a serious, committed relationship and had, in fact, discussed marriage, I felt that his mother was being gratuitously unkind, and that the term “friend” has pretty loose and often casual connotations.

Your thoughts? Boyfriend sided with his mother, by the way.

GENTLE READER: Then let it go. Actually, Miss Manners would have advised you to let it go, anyway.

Do you really want to force a 96-year-old lady, who might become your mother-in-law, to announce that your relationship is “serious,” whatever that means?

Indeed, the traditional stages of courtship are friendship, engagement and marriage. To that, modern society has added “partnership” to indicate that a household has been established. We do not yet have a term for having “in fact, discussed marriage.”

Nothing unkind was intended. Furthermore, you need not worry that the relatives remained in ignorance of your attachment. The minute you left, every one of them asked her.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have 10 bridesmaids but only five groomsmen! What do I do?

GENTLE READER: You calm down, that’s what you do.

Wedding attendants are not a parade of little temporary couples. They are there for you, not for one another, at least until the party has been going for a while. Get them down the aisle as threesomes, a bridesmaid on either side of a groomsman. Miss Manners promises that they will not be charged with bigamy.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was very close to my father, as everyone I know is aware. He passed away, and I have received a number of nice text messages, Facebook messages and e-mails of condolence, but very few sympathy letters.

I am feeling saddened that digital expressions of sympathy seem to have replaced handwritten and mailed expressions. When my mother died many years ago (pre-digital era), I treasured each and every written expression of sympathy and still have them.

My parents were extremely conscientious about sending personalized notes, and this is something I also do routinely, because I think it is still highly valued by the person who has suffered a deep loss. Do you have thoughts about expressing sympathy in the digital era?

GENTLE READER: It is not entirely a digital era. It is an era in which we are fortunate enough to have various means of sending informal messages quickly, but we have not been deprived of the means of sending thoughtful, personal ones on important occasions. Miss Manners agrees that for your friends to choose the quickest, most casual way to issue condolences was unfortunate.

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

, by Judith Martin

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