Questions about family estrangements

4 views
Skip to first unread message

Mike

unread,
May 21, 2004, 10:41:59 PM5/21/04
to
How is the proper way to deal with it when someone asks you about a
relative that you're estranged from and haven't seen in years?

Is anyone here estranged from a parent or sibling? Maybe this is
someone you simply don't want to be around and you have kicked them
out of your life. When people ask you how they are doing, what do you
say, and how do you say it?

If you come right out and say that you're "estranged" from the person,
is this rude since it would make the asker very uncomfortable?

On the other hand, if you have no contact with the estranged person,
you can't report how they are doing since you have no idea.

Ericka Kammerer

unread,
May 21, 2004, 11:41:18 PM5/21/04
to
Mike wrote:

> How is the proper way to deal with it when someone asks you about a
> relative that you're estranged from and haven't seen in years?

Just say you don't know, or you haven't spoken
recently, or whatever and leave it at that. If the
person who asks is so rude as to pursue the matter, you
can say it's private, or you're not close, or whatever
you wish. You don't have to explain or justify the
situation.

Best wishes,
Ericka

Userb3

unread,
May 21, 2004, 11:54:14 PM5/21/04
to
MrStr...@hotmail.com (Mike) wrote in news:7cfd37d2.0405211841.2397b830
@posting.google.com:

> How is the proper way to deal with it when someone asks you about a
> relative that you're estranged from and haven't seen in years?

"I haven't heard from them lately. Would you like another drink?"

meirman

unread,
May 22, 2004, 9:16:22 PM5/22/04
to
In alt.fan.miss-manners on Fri, 21 May 2004 23:41:18 -0400 Ericka
Kammerer <e...@comcast.net> posted:

I think the two second-replies you suggest are explanations, and if I
were in that situation, I wouldn't want to say them.

Although User's answer is even better, I think one way to deal with
the question is to assume it is on the order of "How are you.", and
just reply, "He's fine, [thanks]."

>Best wishes,
>Ericka


Meirman

If emailing, please let me know whether
or not you are posting the same letter.

Change domain to erols.com, if necessary.

Uncle Mandrake

unread,
May 22, 2004, 10:05:29 PM5/22/04
to

Uncle recommmends honesty: "I'm very sorry, but I don't know how
Bettina is doing these days."

Optionally add "I am afraid we are estranged." Note that the "I
am afraid" bit is just good manners, a very mild pseudo-apology
for being the bearer of bad news; it doesn't do to sing out
"We're estranged and I'm very happy I don't have to deal with her
and her insanities these days."

Uncle wouldn't waste one microsecond worrying about the other
person being made uncomfortable. If someone gets uncomfortable at
the news that two adults don't get along, they need to pull their
nose out of the fairy tale book they're reading and take a look
around the social landscape.

In-family estrangements sound like a big horrible deal to those
not involved in one, but when you're on the inside looking out,
you come to realize that ties of "blood" are a lot weaker than
the goody-two-shoes of the world admit.

Remember, your relatives are your relatives only by accident of
birth. You didn't choose them and they didn't choose you --
unless they adopted you. And in that case, remember that as
people grow up and age, they ~do~ change; a hairy-chested 21 y.o.
man is not the same person as the adorable gurgling infant in an
orphanage bassinet he once was.


--
Uncle Mandrake
Victoria, BC, Canada
[change "atlantic" to "pacific" and
"invalid" to "net" to reply by email]

kay w

unread,
May 22, 2004, 10:54:25 PM5/22/04
to
Previously, Mandrake said, in small part:

>Uncle recommmends honesty: "I'm very sorry, but I don't know how
>Bettina is doing these days."

I wouldn't.
Someone casually asks after Bet, and you say, "I'm very sorry, but I don't know


how Bettina is doing these days."

Where does the asker go from there?

>Optionally add "I am afraid we are estranged." Note that the "I

>am afraid" bit is just good manners, ....

Even worse, especially if it was a casual conversational question asking, in
passing, about a mutual acquaintence.

Either of those options leaves the asker dangling unnecessarily at the end of a
conversational limb, and the "estranged" is too much information.

I'd forgive a white lie, but easiest woould be, when asked about Bettina, say
something like, "I dunno. How is your mom doing? Still pole dancing?" or
whatever to lead the conversation elsewhere.

>Uncle wouldn't waste one microsecond worrying about the other
>person being made uncomfortable.

Yeah, well.


--
Joan of Arc was burnt to a steak and was canonized by Bernard Shaw for reasons
I don't really understand. The English and French still have problems.

meirman

unread,
May 23, 2004, 12:43:51 AM5/23/04
to
In alt.fan.miss-manners on Sun, 23 May 2004 02:05:29 GMT
toto...@atlanticcoast.invalid (Uncle Mandrake) posted:

>On 21 May 2004 19:41:59 -0700, Mike wrote:
>
>> How is the proper way to deal with it when someone asks you about a
>> relative that you're estranged from and haven't seen in years?
>>
>> Is anyone here estranged from a parent or sibling? Maybe this is
>> someone you simply don't want to be around and you have kicked them
>> out of your life. When people ask you how they are doing, what do you
>> say, and how do you say it?
>>
>> If you come right out and say that you're "estranged" from the person,
>> is this rude since it would make the asker very uncomfortable?
>>
>> On the other hand, if you have no contact with the estranged person,
>> you can't report how they are doing since you have no idea.

I'm afraid I must disagree with much of what you say below.

>Uncle recommmends honesty: "I'm very sorry, but I don't know how
>Bettina is doing these days."
>
>Optionally add "I am afraid we are estranged." Note that the "I
>am afraid" bit is just good manners, a very mild pseudo-apology
>for being the bearer of bad news;

Why apologize for doing something one didn't have to do in the first
place? Don't do it in the first place and there is no need to
apologize.

What's wrong with doing it? It's gossip. It's a statement about the
person you are estranged from, R, and to the person you are talking
tom, B, it is going to look like a malicious statement. Because if B
has the slightest bit of respect for the person who says it, A, he
will think that if it were A who was at fault, A would have tried to
rectify things. That means that A thinks R was at fault, and he must
have done something bad for A to break off contact with him.

You may say that it could have as easily been A who did something
wrong, but if that were the case, A wouldn't want to be the one who
brings up the topic of estrangement. A would have to be convinced he
wouldn't look bad before he would bring it up. But A thinks R is
responsible, and B will know that, and that's what makes it a negative
remark about R. If B isn't going into business with R, or fixing
his sister up with him, and he's not because they rarely see each
other, B doesn't need to know bad things about R or A. So it's not
just for the sake of B one shouldn't say such things, but for one's
own sake as well.

>it doesn't do to sing out
>"We're estranged and I'm very happy I don't have to deal with her
>and her insanities these days."

But you seem to be saying the other person will know what is meant,
even if you don't sing it out.

>Uncle wouldn't waste one microsecond worrying about the other
>person being made uncomfortable. If someone gets uncomfortable at

I thought one of the major principles of etiquette, especially
according to MM, is not to make the other person uncomfortable.
(Unless he has done something wrong, perhaps, I don't remember, but
this person who asks about R hasn't done anything wrong.)

>the news that two adults don't get along, they need to pull their
>nose out of the fairy tale book they're reading and take a look
>around the social landscape.
>
>In-family estrangements sound like a big horrible deal to those
>not involved in one,

Which is likely to be the situation of the person asking.

>but when you're on the inside looking out,
>you come to realize that ties of "blood" are a lot weaker than
>the goody-two-shoes of the world admit.

That is unfortunately a problem for those you mention who are on the
inside looking out, but why you have to be the bearer of bad news to
others, I do not know. Do you also tell children there is no Santa
Claus?

>Remember, your relatives are your relatives only by accident of
>birth. You didn't choose them and they didn't choose you --

The OP Mike didn't seem to be worried about the estrangement, only
what to say. That he didn't choose his relations doesn't give him
license to badmouth them.

>unless they adopted you. And in that case, remember that as
>people grow up and age, they ~do~ change; a hairy-chested 21 y.o.
>man is not the same person as the adorable gurgling infant in an
>orphanage bassinet he once was.

Userb3

unread,
May 23, 2004, 10:02:27 AM5/23/04
to
scu...@aol.comatose (kay w) wrote in
news:20040522225425...@mb-m06.aol.com:

> Previously, Mandrake said, in small part:
>
>>Uncle recommmends honesty: "I'm very sorry, but I don't know how
>>Bettina is doing these days."
>
> I wouldn't.
> Someone casually asks after Bet, and you say, "I'm very sorry, but I
> don't know how Bettina is doing these days."
> Where does the asker go from there?

Some other topic, if they have even an inkling of common sense.

Mary Shafer

unread,
May 23, 2004, 4:48:53 PM5/23/04
to
On 21 May 2004 19:41:59 -0700, MrStr...@hotmail.com (Mike) wrote:

> How is the proper way to deal with it when someone asks you about a
> relative that you're estranged from and haven't seen in years?

Honestly, but not too detailed. "I really can't say. We don't keep
in touch very well."

To which you can add "How's your family doing? Or, "My [other
relative at about the same level] just got promoted|back from
vacation|married|whatever."

Adding the comment about another relative indicates that you're not
estranged from your entire family,

Mary

--
Mary Shafer Retired aerospace research engineer
mil...@qnet.com

Gene Wirchenko

unread,
May 23, 2004, 6:25:32 PM5/23/04
to
toto...@atlanticcoast.invalid (Uncle Mandrake) wrote:

[snip]

>Uncle wouldn't waste one microsecond worrying about the other
>person being made uncomfortable. If someone gets uncomfortable at
>the news that two adults don't get along, they need to pull their
>nose out of the fairy tale book they're reading and take a look
>around the social landscape.

One would have to be very careful with the fairy tale book one
selects, Uncle. While not all fairy tale families are dysfunctional,
I draw your attention to some examples:
Cinderella
Hansel and Gretel
Snow White

All is not bad though. Examples of the good side:
Little Red Riding Hood
The Three Little Pigs
(It would be pure speculation to assume these stories' wolves came
from broken homes.)

[snip]

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko

Computerese Irregular Verb Conjugation:
I have preferences.
You have biases.
He/She has prejudices.

Andrew J. Grgurich

unread,
May 23, 2004, 7:10:25 PM5/23/04
to

"meirman" <mei...@invalid.com> wrote in message
news:nnuva05t7abmvtd3d...@4ax.com...

> In alt.fan.miss-manners on Fri, 21 May 2004 23:41:18 -0400 Ericka
> Kammerer <e...@comcast.net> posted:
>
> >Mike wrote:
> >
> >> How is the proper way to deal with it when someone asks you about a
> >> relative that you're estranged from and haven't seen in years?
> >
> > Just say you don't know, or you haven't spoken
> >recently, or whatever and leave it at that. If the
> >person who asks is so rude as to pursue the matter, you
> >can say it's private, or you're not close, or whatever
> >you wish. You don't have to explain or justify the
> >situation.
>
> I think the two second-replies you suggest are explanations, and if I
> were in that situation, I wouldn't want to say them.
>
> Although User's answer is even better, I think one way to deal with
> the question is to assume it is on the order of "How are you.", and
> just reply, "He's fine, [thanks]."

Very dangerous answer. What if the reply is, "Really, I heard he was in the
hospital."

AJG

meirman

unread,
May 24, 2004, 12:03:22 AM5/24/04
to
In alt.fan.miss-manners on Sun, 23 May 2004 19:10:25 -0400 "Andrew J.
Grgurich" <agrg...@portup.com> posted:

>
>"meirman" <mei...@invalid.com> wrote in message
>news:nnuva05t7abmvtd3d...@4ax.com...
>> In alt.fan.miss-manners on Fri, 21 May 2004 23:41:18 -0400 Ericka
>> Kammerer <e...@comcast.net> posted:
>>
>> >Mike wrote:
>> >
>> >> How is the proper way to deal with it when someone asks you about a
>> >> relative that you're estranged from and haven't seen in years?
>> >
>> > Just say you don't know, or you haven't spoken
>> >recently, or whatever and leave it at that. If the
>> >person who asks is so rude as to pursue the matter, you
>> >can say it's private, or you're not close, or whatever
>> >you wish. You don't have to explain or justify the
>> >situation.
>>
>> I think the two second-replies you suggest are explanations, and if I
>> were in that situation, I wouldn't want to say them.
>>
>> Although User's answer is even better, I think one way to deal with
>> the question is to assume it is on the order of "How are you.", and
>> just reply, "He's fine, [thanks]."
>
>Very dangerous answer. What if the reply is, "Really, I heard he was in the
>hospital."

Don't know. I told you User's was better. :) The first post: "I


haven't heard from them lately. Would you like another drink?"

> AJG

Userb3

unread,
May 24, 2004, 8:12:49 AM5/24/04
to
meirman <mei...@invalid.com> wrote in
news:cus2b0t273cofq19i...@4ax.com:

> Don't know. I told you User's was better. :) The first post: "I
> haven't heard from them lately. Would you like another drink?"

Thanks. I've had some practice.

ZedBanty

unread,
May 24, 2004, 7:07:25 PM5/24/04
to
In article <Xns94F34960A29...@207.14.113.17>, Userb3 says...

Thanks from me, too. It's a very useful response.

ZedBanty

Mike

unread,
Jun 3, 2004, 9:00:58 PM6/3/04
to
MrStr...@hotmail.com (Mike) wrote in message news:<7cfd37d2.04052...@posting.google.com>...


Thanks for all the insights and contributions, everyone. I'm estranged
from a relative, and I don't want to lie about it if someone asks. But
at the same time, I do believe that a "gentleman" is someone who
doesn't make others uncomfortable.

I would never want to reveal this in a way that really made someone
uninvolved in it feel bad.

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages