DEAR MISS MANNERS: I came of age in the early 1980s, and I have never heard of anyone in my generation, or the previous one, asking a lady’s father for permission to propose marriage. And yet nowadays, the question of whether to do so comes up with surprising regularity in advice columns and online.
Has the custom undergone a revival in recent years, or was I mistaken to think that it had died out back then?
GENTLE READER: This was never a very useful custom, as Miss Manners recalls. Any self-respecting Victorian girl would have known how to make her father’s life a burden to him if he tried to drive away a favored suitor.
But now that its uselessness is blatant, it has acquired a certain charm — like the surprise proposal in a couple who have long since established a household and debated making it legal. Or, for that matter, a father “giving away” a bride who is obviously independent of his jurisdiction.
Miss Manners would consider these quaint trappings harmless, but only up to the point when they are used as a serious requirement.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a problem that was once unique, but more people these days are unfortunately facing it.
I’m a retired teacher who spent my whole career at a school that is internationally famous for a mass shooting that happened before I retired. It is a horribly painful part of my life.
At a wedding last night, I went through something that has happened more times than I can count: The hostess introduced me to a guest by saying, “This is (my name). She used to teach at (school’s name).”
The new acquaintance said, “Where were you when the shooting happened?”
I said, “In the building, but that’s not a pleasant conversation for a wedding,” and tried to change the subject. He followed up by asking about how I felt about another shooting involving elementary students.
Trust me: Nobody wants to know how I feel about that.
I said, “Oh, that’s not really a good conversation for a wedding, either.”
He got huffy and said, “You knew I had to ask.”
This has happened at holiday parties, showers, all kinds of places. It’s like all of my friends and acquaintances think this is a great way to start conversations between me and their other friends. It’s not.
Do I talk to everyone whose invitations I accept and ask not to be introduced this way? How do I get people not to ask, and certainly not to keep pushing? It has ruined entire occasions for me that should have been happy.
GENTLE READER: Your problem is indeed those tasteless hosts. When introducing guests, it is helpful to provide a conversation starter — but only if the guest wants to have that conversation.
Aside from choosing more sensitive friends, you must stop such announcements by saying firmly, “That is not something I care to discuss.” Or, in today’s parlance, Miss Manners might resort to “I don’t think you want to trigger that memory.”
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.