Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Miss Manners Does Not Recommend Therapy

I am sharing this Miss Manners column, not because I find the situation she addresses especially compelling or of surpassing interest, but for a different reason. 

Yesterday, Miss Manners outdid herself. She opened her response with the slightly sardonic claim that she is perhaps the only columnist, by which she means, advice columnist, who does not outsource her job to a therapist. 

Has it ever crossed your mind that when columnists pass the buck to the neighborhood therapist, they are openly confessing their diminished acumen. Besides, if you tell someone to see a therapist you are implying that the person has mental health issues. We would make a great leap forward if we recognized that many of what look like mental health issues involve etiquette and ethics.

So implies Miss Manners. Yet another reason why she is a national treasure.

For your edification, here is the letter, sent by a woman whose close friend has become an insufferably vulgar snob and social climber. Without further ado I will present it in its entirety:

I have a dear friend with whom I enjoy socializing at luncheons and dinners, and we sometimes travel together. She is blessed with a handsome income and enjoys shopping.

I spent 20-plus years as a single mother, with a decent income but rarely money to burn. My child is now on his own with a good career. I continue to be frugal, but never "cheap."

My friend insists I join her in shopping at high-end stores where I feel extremely uncomfortable. She has the means and desire to buy $5,000 purses (she has several) and $700 shoes, but even though I've enjoyed a healthy six-figure income the last several years, I still see no sense in spending that kind of money on a functional item.

So while she shops to impress, I sit with my $29.99 sale purse and $80 shoes, feeling like the proverbial fish out of water. I feel very embarrassed. If I opt out of any store, she is visibly upset.

How do I politely tell her I am not interested in what the new "It" spring bag looks like? (I frankly think they're ugly, and really don't get why anyone would spend $3,500 on a bag made of coated fabric and not leather.)

This issue has escalated. Whereas she used to enjoy a bargain as I did, now she wants to steer us into the stores of the rich and famous. And, yes, I do think she's showing off, but her actions are making me sour on the friendship.

I trust you noticed that the letter writer designated her son with a male pronoun. Beyond our admiration at her having brought up the boy as a single mother, we are happy that she has not yet succumbed to social pressure and does not use the aberrant grammatical form called the singular “they.”

Anyway, she does not just have limited financial means. She is frugal. Truth be told, frugality is a virtue, one that has long since gone completely out of fashion. Obviously, in some social circles, wasting money on useful baubles and trinkets counts as a sign of status-- as in the ancient custom of potlatch-- but one expects that people of good character would have long since overcome this vulgar habit.

Spending obscene amounts of money on useless objects in order to embarrass your friend is a character flaw. It is a hostile act. For the record, we do not know whether said friend is married or unmarried, whether she has or does not have children. So we do not know what is motivating her. 

We do want to know. The letter writer can solve her problem without prying into her friends motivation.

Anyway, without further ado, here is Miss Manners' response:

As possibly the only columnist who doesn’t pass the buck by telling everyone to see a good therapist, Miss Manners is nevertheless curious. Why do you feel embarrassed? Why are you uncomfortable in fancy stores that usually have soft chairs?

And most of all, why can’t you say, “I’d be delighted to have lunch with you, but I’ll skip the shopping. You and I have different tastes”?

At any rate, that is what you must say. If anyone should feel embarrassed, it should be the person who exposes her indulgence in overpriced goods.

That is, why does she indulge her friend’s profligate spending, by being a silent witness?

Miss Manners offers a few speculations, but we do not need to know why the letter writer allowed herself to be drawn into this ugly game. We should know that she ought rightfully to say No to the shopping sprees. She should not underwrite her friend's self-indulgence.

I recognize that it would have been more diplomatic if she had begged off by saying that she was otherwise engaged. Under the circumstances, however, Miss Manners recommends that she simply shame her friend.

I know that you have been told that you should never shame anyone for any reason. Those who told you so are fools. If your friend persists in making a spectacle of her indulgences, if she is too obtuse to see that she is rendering you uncomfortable, she deserves to see how she looks to other people. It’s the least a friend can do.

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