DEAR MISS MANNERS: When my husband is reading (e-mail, news on the computer, newspaper, etc.) he will make comments out loud such as “Wow!” or “Oh,” with an intonation such that it sounds like the beginning of him telling me something.

Often he does follow up with information for me, or an anecdote to share. Other times, the original sound is followed by silence. I’ll ask “What?” and he will respond with “Nothing.”

When my husband makes these sounds, I stop what I am doing and give him my attention; consequently, I find it intrusive and inconsiderate for him to do so when he doesn’t actually intend to communicate. He feels I’m in the wrong to be annoyed by this and that he “has a right to talk to (him)self.”

While I don’t mind talking to oneself, I don’t feel it should be done with others present, and particularly not in such a tone that suggests one is starting a conversation. Am I being overly critical?

GENTLE READER: The term “pet peeve” has always bothered Miss Manners. Yes, life is full of trivial annoyances, but generally one learns to put up with them to avoid living in a state of exaggerated rage. In the case of one’s intimates, one depends on the desire to please to negotiate a cease-doing-that.

But you have destroyed her Olympian detachment to hit upon a trivial annoyance that would drive her wild. Suddenly she understands people who are moved to say to those they love, “You do that one more time and I’ll strangle you.”

Understands, but does not condone. As you enjoy conversing with your husband, he must have redeemable qualities.

Miss Manners suggests saying, “I’d be interested to know what surprises or amuses you, dear,” and handing him a pencil with the request that he mark the newspaper for you or print out the item. Of course he will not do that — it would be a nuisance, and besides, he will have misplaced the pencil or the link. But if you say, “Mark it, please,” in response to his exclamations, he will find it easier just to tell you.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I once found a glamour in reclusive and misanthropic people. I let three become intimate with me and I desired no other close friends. Now, I realize what a negative influence they have been on my life.

Last week, I cut contact with each, and each accused me of callousness. I told them straightforwardly (the first in person, another through e-mail, the last by text) that I do not want to be their friend anymore for reasons 1, 2 and 3 — I wanted them to know I was serious. I am happy with my decision, but they were devastated.

How do you politely end an intimate relationship — I don’t want to be rightly accused of rudeness — with someone who still desires it?

GENTLE READER: Evidently you do not consider your scorched-earth method of firing intimate friends to be rude. Miss Manners thinks it shockingly so.

What exactly was your purpose in devastating these people, who were, after all, your friends? Do you expect to change them by denouncing them? Or was it to justify your behavior to yourself?

It is true that the drifting-away method takes more time and trouble. You have to keep saying that you are busy until challenged, when you mumble about having moved on. It’s also true that no one really believes any version of the it’s-not-you-it’s-me approach, but it is still kinder than the reverse.

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

@ 2011, by Judith Martin

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