I was surprised to meet him at a social event. He seems to have no sense of shame for the damage he has done to his wife, children and community, and he welcomed me as if nothing had changed.
I find the man repulsive, but I didn’t want to make the other people present uncomfortable. I declined a hug over pandemic concerns and offered a faint smile before retreating.
What are my obligations in such a situation? Should I pretend to be warm towards him in a social setting?
The weak smile and a hasty retreat are the correct response to such a person – no pandemic apology required.
The art of politely bypassing (or “cutting off”) objectionable people in social situations requires nothing more than minimal acknowledgment of their presence. If done correctly, Miss Manners assures you, it’s the perfect tag crime: sharp and somewhat devastating, but with the victim unable to identify exactly what just happened.
Dear Miss Manners: I have an older brother who thinks he can behave disrespectfully towards my family under the pretext that it is “just a joke”. Although he could be very caring, he saw fit to spit on my children and insult me in front of them, always laughing and saying he was joking.
During a family reunion, my son (who had just returned from Afghanistan) and I took a minute to talk, as the reunion was stressful for him. As we sat my brother came out with a golf club and hit pine cones above our heads shouting “Fore!” When he hit me with one, his response was, “Just kidding.”
I don’t know how to take care of him anymore. He’s my only brother, but I find it hard to find humor in his jokes.
Humor is measured in the ear of his audience. And when attempts to produce it don’t have the desired effect, the public – or the victims – can’t be ashamed or say they just don’t own it.
Don’t fall for this tactic. Miss Manners suggests you say to your brother, “If it was humorous, we’d be laughing.” But you seem to be the only one doing it. Please stop spitting on my children, insulting me and hitting me with pine cones. The fact that you find it funny is far more disturbing than we don’t.
Dear Miss Manners: My friend has been a widow for three years. This year would have been their 50th anniversary. What gift is appropriate?
The pleasure of your company, if it is up for it. Otherwise, respecting his desire for solitude.
New Miss Manners columns are published Monday to Saturday at washingtonpost.com/board. You can send questions to Miss Manners on her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.