Q: My boyfriend and I separated a few months ago, and I am now dating someone else. Recently my ex sent me a present with a note saying that he was surprised and sad that I began dating again so quickly and that he wanted to remain friends.
Is there a required period of mourning for exes? Please understand that he is not trying to get back together with me; we now live in different countries, and he has told me many times that he does not want a long-distance relationship. He and I have been writing e-mails about once a month to keep in touch, which is how he found out that I had a new boyfriend.
Should I not have told him? How should I respond to his letter?
A: By thanking him for the present and chatting to him about your classes, your job, your garden, your dog - anything but your new romance.
Your former beau is mistaken about there being a convention of observing a period of mourning for a dead romance.
But Miss Manners is afraid that you are mistaken about there being no gestation period for a post-romantic friendship.
Did you really believe this was just another old pal to whom you could exalt about your new love? Did you imagine that he would take delight in hearing that he had been so easily replaced?
However mutual your decision to part, the effect of this is to trivialize the past and call into question the genuineness of your emotions at the time. It is, at best, thoughtless to tell someone to whom you recently professed love that you are doing the same with someone else. Not as damaging as doing so to someone to whom you are still pledged, which has been known to happen, but hurtful all the same.
Miss Manners presumes that you did not mean to insult the gentleman's retrospective feelings. But mere thoughtless disregard of the feelings of someone you once loved is callously wounding.
The way to square that knowledge with Miss Manners' assurance that you need not actually curtail your social life is by practicing a useful but much-forgotten virtue called discretion.
Worst foot forward
Q: I was eating at a cafe with a friend of mine when she took off her shoes and put her feet up on the chair at the empty table next to ours. There were not that many people in the restaurant, but I was still mortified. What, if anything, should I have said or done?
A: Well, you could have spread out, too, putting your coffee on the adjacent table - even if you had to order a cup for that purpose and mistake the table on your return - and, oops, spilled it. That would have made the lady sit up in a hurry.
No, wait. Miss Manners does not actually advise hurting people, even when they seem to be asking for it. It would be better to warn her, after setting this up, that you are afraid you might spill your coffee and wouldn't want to take the risk of hurting her.
Address your etiquette questions to Miss Manners, c/o the St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.