Dear Miss Manners: My husband recently passed away and my youngest child will be going off to college in the fall. What do I say to all the people (and there are many) who tell me, “Pretty soon you’ll be all alone”?

Would it be rude to say, “Thank you for reminding me,” or must I lie and say I’m looking forward to the empty nest, so as not to hurt their feelings?

Gentle Reader: Well, their feelings are not especially delicate, are they?

Still, Miss Manners does not care for either of the responses you suggest. The first is not only rude, but pathetic, and the second is insulting to your child. Many parents do crow about their children leaving, whether defensively or genuinely, but it speaks badly of their family bonds.

She offers you a better choice. If you can bring it off with a somewhat derisive laugh, you could say: “Why, I’m not being abandoned, you know. My child is just going to college. We’re both very excited about that.”

Or you could just say coldly: “How kind of you to worry about me. Fortunately, I do have friends.”


Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I were invited to a neighbor’s son’s graduation party. These folks have hosted numerous wonderful and generous get-togethers this past year, so I assumed when I RSVP’d saying that we would be attending, that this might be another occasion where each neighbor contributed some food or beverage item. I inquired what I might bring.

The response took me completely off guard, and I was, and am, at a loss for how to politely respond. I was told, “Oh, you needn’t bring a dessert. This is a graduation gift shower. As long as you show up with a gift, that will be sufficient.”

I am torn. Had I not just said we would be coming, I’d likely have found a graceful way to decline such an offer, but had already given my word. But somehow, being left with a “gimme” has left me not wanting to give.

I assume I need to go because I already RSVP’d that I would. Is it appropriate to show up without a gift and say something like, “Oh, I assumed you were joking!” when asked for it? Or should I just bite my tongue and obediently show up with said gift but make a note to be more cautious in the future?

Gentle Reader: This is clearly a pay-to-enter occasion. Evidently, your neighbors believe that all their parties are. They apparently counted those dishes, which you thought of as neighborly contributions, as being the price of admission, which they are now waiving as long as you contribute to their son.

Miss Manners agrees that having accepted the invitation, you are stuck. But the next time you invite them and they ask what to bring, say, “No, no, we don’t accept contributions; just come.”