Q. My grandmother taught me that you address correspondence to a widow using her husband’s name, as in Mrs. John Doe. Is that still correct? How do you address a divorcé?
A. It is still correct and traditional to address a widow as Mrs. John Doe, particularly if you don’t know her preference. If she prefers to be Ms. Jane Doe, it is equally correct. You do not address a divorcé by her husband’s name but as either Mrs. Jane Doe, if she prefers it, or more usually, Ms. Jane Doe.
Q. My son will be graduating from college this spring. We would like to share this happy news with graduation announcements, but don’t want to look like we are expecting a gift. Should we just mention it in a note or email, or is it okay to send official graduation announcements?
A. It’s definitely okay to send announcements. Announcements are not the same thing as invitations, and the recipients are not obligated to send a gift in return. They may send a gift if they would like to, but it is not an expectation. It’s nice if they send a note or card of congratulations, however.
Q. My daughter’s boyfriend broke up with her by text! They’d been dating for two years and I find this incomprehensible. She is devastated. What can I say to her as her father?
A. In addition to giving her lots of hugs and telling her she is wonderful, it is okay to have a talk about the right and the wrong way to sever a relationship with someone, for she may be in the position of breaking up with someone herself, someday. It’s also okay to tell her that what he did was wrong. The first unbreakable rule is that she meets him personally and does not use a go-between to deliver the news, or leave a voice mail or send a text. Face to face is required when a relationship is ending. Second, this should be done privately, not in front of others. Third she should avoid casting blame by listing all her boyfriend’s faults. She should simply say she is sad and sorry, but that the relationship has to end. And she should not then trash talk him to her friends, in her own defense. She should always say it was great, but now it’s over, and leave it at that. These are all acts of kindness and sensitivity, and you appreciate that she is both kind and sensitive. Then another hug is in order.
Q. Can I ask that something be left off a dish when ordering in a restaurant?
A. Sure! If you are ordering a salmon salad that comes with embellishments and all you want is the salmon and lettuce, and you want the dressing on the side, it’s fine to say so. Presumably, the restaurant custom-makes each dish and can accommodate your preferences. If they can’t, it’s their obligation to tell you.
Have a question about how to handle a situation politely? Please email your dilemma to Catherine Michaels in care of [email protected]