Miss Manners: What should I do when I see my friend’s ex in public?

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Dear Miss Manners: For many years, I have been close with a childhood friend and her family. Recently, it came to light that her husband is not the man he purported to be, and that he has a long history of secret, abominable behavior.

They are now going through a bitter divorce, during which he has been financially and emotionally abusive to my friend.

I was surprised to encounter him at a social event. He seems to have no sense of shame for the damage he’s caused to his wife, children and community, and he greeted me as though nothing has changed.

I find the man repulsive, but didn’t want to make others in attendance uncomfortable. I demurred a hug on pandemic concerns and offered a weak smile before retreating.

What are my obligations in such a situation? Must I pretend to be warm toward him in a social setting?

The weak smile and hasty retreat are the correct response to such a person — no pandemic excuse required.

The art of politely circumventing (or “cutting”) objectionable people in social situations requires nothing more than minimal acknowledgment of their presence. If done correctly, Miss Manners assures you, it is the perfect etiquette crime: pointed and somewhat devastating, but with the victim left unable to identify what exactly just happened.

Dear Miss Manners: I have an older brother who feels he may behave disrespectfully to my family with the excuse that it’s “just a joke.” While he can be very thoughtful, he has seen fit to spit on my children and call me names in front of them, always laughing and saying he is kidding.

At a family gathering, my son (who had recently returned from Afghanistan) and I took a minute to go off and talk, as the gathering was stressful for him. While we were sitting, my brother came out with a golf club and hit pine cones over our heads, yelling “Fore!” When he hit me with one, his response was, “Just kidding.”

I am at a loss for how to deal with him anymore. He is my only sibling, but I am finding it hard to find humor in his jokes.

Humor is measured at its audience’s ear. And when attempts to produce it do not have the desired effect, the audience — or victims — cannot be shamed or told that they simply do not possess it.

Do not fall for this tactic. Miss Manners suggests that you tell your brother, “If it was humorous, we would be laughing. But you seem to be the only one doing that. Please stop spitting on my children, calling me names and hitting me with pine cones. The fact that you find that funny is far more disturbing than that we do not.”

Dear Miss Manners: My friend is a widow of three years. This year would have been their 50th anniversary. What present is appropriate?

The pleasure of your company, if she is up for it. Otherwise, respecting her desire for solitude.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

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