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Miss Manners: Compliments shouldn’t be overanalyzed

Dear Miss Manners: My friends and I were talking about how to give a compliment. One of them said that you should say, “That shirt looks good on you,” and the other said that this was wrong – that the correct way is “You look good in that shirt.” I’m glad to get a compliment, so I don’t care. But now our curiosities are piqued. Which friend is correct and, even better, why?

Gentle Reader: The correct thing is not to quibble about compliments, and Miss Manners is pleased that you are affable enough to take either sort of statement as such.

Those looking to collect insults are not so generous, and it is for them that the following explanation is geared: “That shirt is becoming on you” implies that its wearer would look good regardless – the shirt is simply being enhanced by the person’s good looks. This is more flattering than “You look good in that shirt,” which – if one goes digging – implies that you are becoming only in that particular shirt. The inference, which is not as complimentary, is that the shirt would be just fine on its own.

Refusing a lot of invitations

Dear Miss Manners: Does etiquette dictate that anyone, or particularly mothers of young children, accept some portion of the invitations they receive?

I understand that invitations must be answered promptly, but since I prefer not to leave my young daughter at night, my answer is always “No.” (I do encourage my husband to attend whatever of these events he would like, without me, and he sometimes does so.)

One friend criticized me severely when I declined what was considered one too many evening invitations. The criticism devolved into an attack on my parenting philosophy, which cannot be the subject of an etiquette question, but I’m wondering if there are guidelines I ought to be following to make my repeated negative replies more palatable.

For example, is it unfair if I continue to invite others to brunch in my home, on hikes (which include my child), or to casual dinners or movie nights held in my home after my child goes to bed, given that I repeatedly decline their invitations? I extend these invitations at various times, not in reply to the invitations of others. I don’t expect anyone to attend my events if they don’t wish to, but they are all that I have to offer.

Gentle Reader: On the contrary, inviting friends – not as a reciprocal obligation, but because you enjoy their company – is the very definition of hospitality. That you want to do it at your convenience and on your own terms is how any hosted event works.

Don’t let your friends bully you or engage in criticism of your parenting techniques. They may find your declining of invitations tedious, but Miss Manners assures you that this is their problem, not one of etiquette.