Busybodies always have the best of intentions. In their minds they are not invading your privacy when they are asking intrusive questions.
No, siree. They want to get closer to you. They want to be better friends. They suspect that you are hiding something from them, and they want to help.
If you call them out on their disrespect, they will take offense.
A young woman writes to Miss Manners complaining that all of her friends keep asking her whether there’s a new man in her life. They are all getting married and having families and they are concerned about her seemingly permanent state of singlehood.
Their intentions are surely the best. These friends are trying to express their surprise that someone as wonderful and attractive as she is still unattached. They know her best; they love her the most; they only want the best for her. They do not want to seem to leave her behind as they start out on a new phase of their lives.They are trying to keep up her spirits and offer a vote of confidence.
Yet, the question is rude. It assumes that their friend must be hiding something from them. If only they knew what the problem is—because how else can you explain her condition—they could help her.
The question is intrusive, but it also masks a negative judgment.
We do not know more than what the woman shares in a brief letter, so we do not know whether or not these women have been trying to introduce her to new men.
But, how do you answer a rude question without becoming impolite yourself? It’s one of the great challenges in etiquette, one that we all have to face, far more often than we would like.
The perfect reply is not histrionic, not emotional, and not rude. It does not show the person taking offense. Because taking offense is often offensive.
And the perfect reply does not invite further discussion of the issue. It does not invite an extended conversation about whether or not the woman has a problem with men.
It puts an end to the questioning by allowing the questioner to see that she has stepped over a line.
If ever you should find yourself in the awkward position that this woman faces, I recommend the comment that Miss Manners graciously offers us. She advises the woman to reply: “When I have something to tell you, you won’t need to ask.”