DEAR MISS MANNERS: I attend a very liberal college, and many of my classmates are passionate about decreasing the taboo surrounding mental illness. While I support this cause in spirit, I’m bothered by some of its symptoms.
Specifically, many of my peers apologize preemptively for future slights. Typically, a classmate will say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry if I’m rude to you today; I’m dealing with a depressive episode.”
I recognize that nobody is perfect, and would certainly forgive someone who apologized after being gruff. But a preemptive apology often leaves me uncertain that my peer is even planning to try to regulate his or her behavior. I also feel that any regret is insincere: Because the apologizer has yet to hurt me, I don’t think he or she can possibly acknowledge the pain I (might) feel.
Am I right to be put off, or should I catch up to the times? Is there an appropriate way to express my displeasure with such an apology without seeming to judge a friend’s struggles with mental health?
GENTLE READER: “I am so sorry. How lucky, at least, that you know in advance when you’re going to offend. I’m not sure that I am able to do that, so please forgive me if I accidentally take offense.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have dedicated myself to getting back into the habit of sending regular birthday cards to members of both my family and my husband’s family. This is a habit I was committed to years ago and slowly let dwindle away.
In my planning, I’m making a list, by month, of all birthdays to include. This list has the obvious mothers, fathers and all siblings. Who else is it appropriate to include, or inappropriate not to, beyond immediate family?
We have one niece who is still quite young, so she is going on the list. We also have grown nieces and nephews on both sides and, with the exception of one, we hardly see any of them or know what is going on in their lives. And, to add more confusion, my sister-in-law married a man who has two grown sons whom we’ve met once, maybe twice, and they also fall into the nephew category.
I truly want to get back into the habit of sending birthday wishes on a regular basis, but the last thing I want to do is offend family members by leaving someone out who should be included.
GENTLE READER: Host a family reunion. It seems the most efficient means of getting to know one’s family members — so that a card has some actual significance when it is sent.
If that is not practical, Miss Manners suggests that you create a letter or email chain where everyone can send their own and extended family’s birth dates. If you are truly dedicated to the project, the number of cards may be extensive. But it may soon drop off as interest and reciprocation begin to wane. At which point, you may save your postage and sensibly start editing the list.