DEAR MISS MANNERS: After a phone call with a longtime friend, she neglected to hang up her phone. As I went to end the call, I heard her start ranting about me to someone else in the room.
In hindsight, I do regret listening on, but my reaction in the moment was, “I need to hear this.”
I am devastated. This was a friend who helped me through a terrible tragedy in my family, and we have known each other for many years. I’ve helped her through some difficult times, too, and just assumed we’d be friends forever.
I try not to dominate our chats, and always ask what is going on in her world because I honestly want to know. This time, she had called me to check in.
My family members want me to clear the air. I’m really struggling with this, because I don’t think our friendship will ever be one of trust again.
I’ve noticed that she has become forgetful recently, so I’m not sure if she would even remember this event, though I did hear her gasp when she realized her phone was still connected. If there is a health issue at the root of this outburst, adding to her distress feels cruel.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who has encountered this issue. I did ask a family member who specializes in conflict resolution, and his response was that I was partly responsible because I listened to a private conversation, and I should have ended the call on my end quickly.
I accept this, but it doesn’t lessen the pain of losing a best friend. And had I not heard the hate she is harboring, I would have continued our friendship believing in a trust that is not truly there.
Can you offer some guidance on what is most appropriate for all involved?
GENTLE READER: It is just as well that most of us never hear what our friends have to say about us out of our hearing. Even really fond friends may sometimes be exasperated — yet tolerant enough not to criticize us directly.
So Miss Manners is sorry you had to hear this, but not convinced that it means that your friend is harboring hidden hatred. She also understands that you need to find out. One way would be to say, in a neutral voice, “You should be careful to hang up your phone after we talk.”
Your friend will blanch; give her time to realize what you might have heard. If she says she was just letting off steam and didn’t mean it, accept that.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My wife was recently invited to a “Display Wedding Shower” where the attendees are specifically requested not to wrap the gifts they bring. Your thoughts?
GENTLE READER: Here is proof that not all old customs are charming.
Time was when people put wedding presents on display, thus creating an unpleasant rivalry among their well-wishers. It was vulgar then, and it would be vulgar now.
But showers are supposed to be lighthearted occasions where trivial presents are brought, mostly for amusement, and are opened at the party. So if that is the case, and the items are not equivalent to serious wedding presents, Miss Manners will give it a pass.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, [email protected]; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)
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