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A little alone time, please

Dear Miss Manners: I love doing most everything with my wife, but there are times I want to do things by myself. I can't even go fishing with my dad because she has to be always there. It gets so bad that I am unable to do anything without her there, which leads to not being able to do things with family members, hence my dad, friends, etc.

I know she loves doing the same things that I do, and that's great, but come on! How do I confront her to say enough is enough: I'm going to do this without you?

Gentle Reader: The essential thing that Miss Manners cannot do for you is to convince your wife that you love her and value her company even though you do not always want to act in tandem. "Enough is enough" is definitely not the proper approach.

The early stages of love, where the couple cannot bear to be apart for a minute, are so exciting that there is a temptation to extend this beyond its natural course. In the mid-20th century, this was known as "togetherness," a concept that led to a lot of marital strife. Shutting out the world and expecting to derive all satisfactions from one other person is not, in the long run, as charming as it sounds. Long-established couples who hang onto each other when out socially, complaining when they are separated even at the dinner table, appear more distrustful than doting.

Miss Manners is reminded of the foreshadowing of marital disaster in the version of "Ondine" by Jean Giraudoux: The besotted water-sprite Ondine rhapsodizes about inseparability, while Hans, the equally besotted but all-too-human knight-errant, pleads that sometimes he would just like to visit his horse. (True, he also admits that the horse is the most important -- and the most sensitive -- party of the knight-errant.)

It should be relatively easy for you to begin by pleading that your father occasionally wants one-on-one time with you. You would be well-advised to avoid making these be expeditions that are of particular appeal to your wife. You should also be encouraging her to see her family and friends on her own, while you, now and then, do the same.

Meanwhile, Miss Manners trusts that you will be showing your wife that she has your love and your loyalty, even if sometimes you do want to visit your horse.


In-law makes overture

Dear Miss Manners: I was recently contacted by my former sister-in-law via a social network. I met and married her brother in college (over 35 years ago) when she was just a little girl.

I've been divorced for years, but heard (through the grapevine) that her brother passed away several years back. They never tried to contact my son with this info.

Is it appropriate for me to ask what happened to my ex-husband, my son's father? What if he had some type of illness that my son could inherit?

Gentle Reader: Yes, but it is something of a rebuff to make that your only concern to someone who has indicated that you still matter to her. Miss Manners presumes that the family was under instructions not to be in touch, even to the extreme extent of not letting your son know of his father's death. Expressions of appreciation for her approach and condolences for her loss should create an opening for you and your son to make the many other inquiries that he, at least, must have.


Response to apology gift

Dear Miss Manners: Does one have to acknowledge apology gifts if one has no plans to accept the apology?

An ex-employee who burnt some bridges on the way out sent me a gift to apologize for his actions. His peace offering was not due to any newfound contrition, but because he wants to use me as a reference.

Gentle Reader: You cannot have it both ways -- accepting the peace offering and not thanking him -- not going further, in fact, and making peace.

If you do not wish to do this, Miss Manners insists that you send back the present with a stiff note saying that you cannot accept it. He is not likely to ask you for a reference after that.


The RSVP for an Evite

Dear Miss Manners: I would like your advice on the proper RSVP for a very good friend for a 50th birthday! We have not kept in touch these past few years. However, we were very good friends for the past 20 years.

I don't want to be too personal, as the invitation is via Evite. Therefore the response will be public to all the hosts and guests.

Gentle Reader: Aren't you grateful, then, for blandly conventional wording, to which no one can take exception? Miss Manners advises "Warmest congratulations on your birthday" followed by "I will be delighted to attend" or, if you are open to a stretch, "I wish I could be with you to celebrate."

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