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Dear Etiquetteer: I'm visiting friends overseas, a male couple I've known and loved for almost 20 years. Let's call them B and D. They have another friend, S.M., whom I've known almost as long, a vinegary, old-maidish man who can sometimes be a lot of fun. Unfortunately S.M. is also an extremely needy, hypochondriacal complainer who takes umbrage at any slight, and goes into a towering sulk whenever he feels he's being neglected, which is most of the time. At the beginning of any conversation he sails into a litany of his health problems that lasts for at least five minutes, but one can live with that. He's also hopelessly in love with D, and a couple of years ago they had a falling-out, to D's everlasting relief. I come over to visit every couple of years, and always stay with B and D. I always call S.M., too, and did so the other night. S.M. agreed to meet me away from the house, since he dreads, or affects to dread, meeting D. A few minutes later he called back and said that it would be best, since "I am not welcome at B and D's house," that we not meet. I insisted that I wanted to see him, but he went into his wounded dowager mode and refused to see me. At the end of the conversation I said, "Well, then I'll write to you, since I do want to stay in touch." But he sniffily said, "You can write if you like, but don't expect me to answer," at which point I hung up, absolutely stunned and quite hurt. B, when told about this, was incandescent with rage, and immediately called S.M. to give him a blistering dressing-down. It wasn't until later that I stopped feeling hurt and began to feel angry. I wrote S.M. a long and devastatingly frank letter which made me feel TERRIFIC, and which I knew I could not send. So I didn't. Have I exhausted my obligations to try to reconnect with this man? Dear Rebuffed: The late Coco Chanel, referring to her friend and fellow drug addict Misia Sert, famously said, "We only love our friends for their faults. Misia gave me ample reason to love her." While that dictum might generally apply to mild personal idiosyncrasies (such as consistently arriving late, never sending Lovely Notes, or rubbing a wedge of lime behind each ear when served a gin and tonic), Etiquetteer would find it a masochistic stretch to apply it to personal abuse such as you describe.You, sir, have been snubbed. Based on your description of S.M., Etiquetteer would not find his occasional bouts of fun overbalance his 24/7 impersonation of Anne Elliott’s married sister from Jane Austen’s Persuasion. In other words, you’re better off without this character.This only leaves Etiquetteer the opportunity to thank you for following the example of the late President Abraham Lincoln, by writing that angry letter and not sending it. President Lincoln was wise in many things, and this was one of the wisest.
Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at email@example.com!
Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.