DEAR MISS MANNERS: For years my husband and I entertained guests for holidays with gusto, pleasure and enjoyment. Now that we are in our 70s we decided to keep quiet and not send any written invitations nor to make calls, and to wait to see whether we get invited.
The telephone company assured us the phone was in working order, but it never rang.
We stayed home at Thanksgiving and had a convenient turkey frozen (but cooked) dinner and enjoyed the laughs about all the past nice times we had, and how thoughtless people have become.
It also seems that if we don’t send Christmas cards first we won’t get any in return. What is going on with these obvious social changes in America?
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GENTLE READER: The world is changing all the time, in many ways, and always has been. But whenever social change is mentioned to Miss Manners, it is with one of only two conclusions: that nobody has any manners anymore, or that nobody needs to have manners anymore.
Neither is true. Some things have changed for the better — society no longer tolerates open expressions of bigotry. Other things, such as the open expression of greed, have changed for the worse.
Similarly, adaptations because of changes in the way we live may be done well or badly.
Therefore, Miss Manners is not convinced that your strategy of waiting for people to seek you out has revealed that the world has turned callous. Here are some of the factors she thinks are at play:
Many people simply do not entertain, even those who used to do so. They plead that they can barely manage their work and family commitments, but Miss Manners suspects it also has to do with the unreliability and picky behavior of guests. What real (non-networking) social life survives is likely to be in organized groups, such as book clubs, or at meetings in restaurants.
When feeling overscheduled, people tend to react to social opportunities rather than to initiate them. There is an age factor in this out-of-sight, out-of-mind assumption: People who do not hear from you may think that for one reason or another you have retired from the social scene.
Technology has changed correspondence dramatically, in that the regular use of cards, written invitations and even the telephone can no longer be assumed.
Now where does the relentlessly optimistic Miss Manners find an upside to all this? You may safely assume that she shares your yearning for home entertaining, reciprocating invitations, staying in touch and handwritten correspondence.
But so do your socially delinquent friends. Those of us who provide such things now find ourselves all the more valued. Miss Manners hopes we will serve as models for a renaissance of satisfying and mutual social life once society has figured out how to lessen the work-family conflict.
So she urges you not to retreat now, but to advance. Think of yourselves as medieval monks who are preserving civilization until that time.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My oldest friend (since kindergarten) let me borrow a set of four books. Another friend was having a hard time finding two books in the set. I asked my friend whether I could let her borrow the books. She said it was fine.
Over the last couple of years I have asked for the books back so I could return them. She has just ignored me. I asked her again, sent her a map from her work to my house and on to her house. According to Mapquest, it would add 6 minutes to her commute to drop the books off at my house. She drives within a mile of my house daily.
I waited three more weeks and sent a friendly reminder. I received a text back swearing at me and saying I will get them when I get them. I dropped off the books to her at her work when she borrowed them. So I went out of my way twice to be sure she had them.
I am at my wits’ end. My friend who owns the books said not to worry, that it is not worth subjecting me to the abuse. What do you think?
GENTLE READER: That you have one good friend and one really bad one.
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.
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