DEAR MISS MANNERS: In the last couple of weeks, my boyfriend has been outright rude to me! He always makes smart comments, mocks my voice because I sound like a little kid, or tells me I’m in the wrong if I repeat something he doesn’t like.

Sometimes the things he says even make me cry. No matter what, he tends to call me immature when I speak calmly and everything. What do I do?

GENTLE READER: Although Miss Manners hates to be the one to tell you, your boyfriend wants to break up. Furthermore, he has chosen a particularly nasty way to do it.

A sudden turn for the rude, on the part of someone who has hitherto been well-behaved, generally signals the expectation that the target will take offense enough to initiate a fatal quarrel.

You may find yourself hoping, instead, that he is upset about something unrelated to you, and wanting to offer sympathy. In that case, Miss Manners would call your attention to the fact that someone who seeks relief for himself by making the person closest to him suffer is not a good choice of companion.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When preparing a meal for guests, I find it best to serve meat in pieces that require the least amount of cutting.

I say, leave the cutting in the kitchen; it’s time to eat. Perhaps a slice or two with a knife so as not to present my guests with a child’s plate, but properly presented as a token of wanting to feed and entertain them.

I do this because many of my guests have to travel hours to get to my dining room, and I don’t want to waste a moment of their time. I want their attendance and their stories to be the most important things. I don’t want the separation of meat from bone to prevail.

I started doing this after so many formal dinners, tuxedoes and all, where discussions were put on hold whilst surgery ensued.

I almost wrote, “Perhaps dinner conversation is not the best manner; but to have people not speak because it’s eating time seems to be the worst” — until I remembered a guest who preferred one of the vegetables I was serving burnt right to carbon, as his family has done for generations, and not lightly heated as I had done. Before I could respond, he got up and put it back on the flame until it was black as coal.

GENTLE READER: Is it true that formal dinners are now populated by people who haven’t figured out how to cut meat and talk at the same time? And who have the nerve to hop up from the table and re-cook the food?

Miss Manners is sadly aware that the demise of the nightly family dinner has resulted in widespread ignorance of the basic skills and courtesies of eating. She often hears from people seeking quick instruction before a meal they consider important.

Others simply don’t care, and don’t believe that anyone else does. Miss Manners hears about them from their disgusted spouses.

But she had not suspected that people who care enough about the social and ceremonial aspects of eating to give or attend formal dinners are oblivious of the elementary requirements.

As dinner is over, and everyone has left the table, she puts her head down and weeps.

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, by Judith Martin