Share this article

print logo

4-year-old, as e-mail pen pal

Dear Miss Manners: A friend let me know that she created an e-mail account for her 4-year-old son, who is beginning to read and write, and that I should expect to receive e-mails from him soon.

Although she did not specifically state it, she implied that I am expected to respond. I am very busy, and I use my e-mail mainly for business and would prefer not to be bombarded with correspondence from a 4-year-old.

Is there a polite way to tell her that I would prefer her child not have my e-mail?

Gentle Reader: And have her tell you that you have thwarted her child's development, dealt him an emotional blow, and will have no one but yourself to blame if the future of the country is doomed by the next generation's illiteracy?

It would be worth it -- if not to avoid the correspondence, at least to discourage parental blackmail. And while Miss Manners imagines that the chances are small of the child's bombarding you with correspondence before his attention wanders, she would put at zero the chances of his guarding your e-mail address from others.

The polite way to put it is in terms of not wanting to disappoint the child: "Oh, no, I would make a terrible pen pal for little Oliver. He would be so disappointed when I couldn't answer. I wouldn't want to do that to a child. It would be cruel."


So awkward

Dear Miss Manners: I'm a divorced woman who is open to dating, but find myself at odds with a common tendency among men to preface an invitation with a question like, "What are you doing this weekend?"

It has taken me years to finally realize that I am missing out on invitations by responding to the question, "Oh, I plan to X, Y and Z." (I have even made the mistake of detailing my crochet and rock-climbing hobbies in response to, "What kinds of things do you like to do after work?" only to realize it was meant as a way to fish for potential dating activities.)

I am embarrassed when I catch myself in this too literal interpretation of small talk. But now that I realize my mistake, I still find myself fighting the urge to be miffed at the convoluted preamble and to think that I don't want to waste my time dating men who lack the social courage to extend an invitation.

Maybe that's me cutting off my own nose to spite my face, though?

What is your guidance? And, provided I can stop myself before I detail my personal calendar, what might be a reasonable response?

Gentle Reader: Not dating high school boys?

But as you surmise, gentlemen who still have not learned how to issue an invitation may have other redeeming qualities. So Miss Manners recommends treating such questions with the noncommittal answers they deserve.

For "What are you doing this weekend?" you could say "Did you have a suggestion?" This leaves you room, if he invites you to a bungee-jumping party, to reply, "That sounds like fun, but I'm so sorry; I can't."

For the one about what you like to do, "Spend time with friends." Whether it would be with this particular friend would depend on what he said next.


Personalize a thank-you

Dear Miss Manners: As a result of graduating from high school, I have been receiving money. After I get this money from family and friends, I promptly hand-write a thank-you note.

Our family has also sent money to other kids my age for their graduation, but I have noticed that several of them have sent typed notes back with their signature at the bottom. If someone is kind enough to send you money, shouldn't you take the time to properly say thank you? Or have I just been wasting my time?

Gentle Reader: Only if you consider it a waste of time to make a personal effort to please people who have been -- and may be again -- generous to you. Miss Manners congratulates you on both your graduation and your maturity.