DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a beautiful baby boy by donor insemination. I am not married, and it was by choice.

Because a new baby is such a conversation starter (grocery store, library, day care, work), often-asked questions are, “Does his dad have such blue eyes?” “Is your husband tall?” and the like. Since many of the people who ask are not simply strangers — like the day-care mom I am not friends with but will see regularly — how do I answer this without telling my whole story or curtly correcting them?

I’m having a hard time finding a middle ground. I want to be friendly, and I don’t want to lie. I have no issue telling people there is no dad — but I don’t want to stand there having a conversation with the inevitable questions (happens quite a bit) when I have to get on with my day!

GENTLE READER: As you say, these questions are conversation starters, not the Civil Service exam. Furthermore, these people are not burning with curiosity to know where your baby got his blue eyes. Any answer will do.

But not the one that actually addresses the question, because that would stimulate their curiosity, and you would be standing there forever, being peppered with nosy questions.

You want a conversation ender, and Miss Manners can think of several: “There are blue eyes in my family”; “Don’t most babies have blue eyes for the first few months?”; “People say he looks like me.”

And for the other question, something like, “At his one-month checkup, he was in the 78th percentile for height.” When new parents start talking about percentiles, everyone else flees.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Over the last 11 years, I have had a friend, now almost 50, who seems to get engaged every year and a half or so.

Now she is talking about getting engaged to a man who is still married, and I honestly don’t know what to say to her. He has been “separated” from his wife for many years and to date has not served his wife with divorce papers.

For the first couple of engagements, I was very happy for her, then less so, and now I’ve literally run out of things to say. In this situation I actually want to ask her, “Are you nuts?!” but I know it’s not polite, even though it might be more than appropriate, and I’m restraining myself.

Please, if you could help me come up with a polite, noncommittal answer when she throws things like this at me it would be greatly appreciated. My beliefs are such that I consider a man (or woman) not completely divorced as adulterous, especially when children are involved.

GENTLE READER: Please continue to restrain yourself, however strong the temptation. It wouldn’t help, anyway. As you have noticed, the lady does not have a sharp learning curve.

But as she is a friend, you ought to be able to say, with some sincerity, “I hope you’ll be happy.” You only have to leave out the rest of your thought, which is, “... however stupidly and immorally you are trying to achieve it.”

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

2012, by Judith Martin

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