Miss Manners: My chronic back pain makes me rude to strangers

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Dear Miss Manners: I’ve become that grumpy old woman that many call a “Karen.” I’m 73. I live with chronic lower back pain, which took hold about 12 years ago. I’m doing my best to manage it with the help of excellent doctors and therapists.

My husband of 30 years resents my change in circumstances from a vibrant, “go anywhere, do anything” personality to what he terms a “cranky, useless old lady.”

His insults and lack of respect have taken a toll on me, admittedly. I only divulge this to explain that my sadness, anger and resentment toward this situation are causing me to be rude to others in public.

Understanding that my personal situation is in flux, how can I arm myself to be kinder and more gracious when clerks and salespeople are less friendly, helpful and understanding than I was coached to be when I worked in retail? I know times have changed. Things are tough everywhere, and I try to allow for that. But it seems more and more, I’m in the wrong, and I can’t seem to find my easier, gentler self.

Miss Manners, where did my good manners go and how can I navigate this period of my life with grace?

As you realize, if Miss Manners gave out passes for people with tough circumstances to be rude and short-tempered, society — so close to the brink already — would completely fall apart.

You have taken the first step by recognizing your transgressions and showing some willingness to change. You do not want to practice the rudeness you deplore.

If we can all try to remember that the rest of the world does not exist solely to make our lives harder and assume good intent — even when it seems unlikely — it would go a long way toward general improvement.

Besides, there is nothing quite so satisfying as disarming another person’s rudeness by being relentlessly polite. Miss Manners suggests you try it.

Dear Miss Manners: Should the man or the woman have the view of the dining room?

Why? What are we looking at?

There are all sorts of gender-based and sexist rules about where one should sit in a restaurant. (Miss Manners assumes that that is what we are talking about, but confesses that it took her a moment to get there.)

For example, there is a rule that requires the (presumably male) person facing the room at large to survey it in case of danger. There is another that suggests the (presumably male) date only face his (presumably female) date, and the wall, in order not to be distracted by better prospects. Yet another suggests that the woman survey the room so that she can better enjoy and comment on the view — undoubtedly rooted in her not having anything else about which to talk.

Rather than defer to any of these outdated stereotypes, Miss Manners suggests that restaurant guests choose their seat based on preferences and practicalities, politely duking it out among themselves when they get their table.

Miss Manners’s own preference is to sit at her dining table at home — for the very practical reason of being better able to hear her guests’ conversation unfettered by din.

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

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