In a world torn apart by incivility, polite behavior may be the sole separation between man and animal. As the only advice columnist with an advanced degree in etiquette, Dr. Manners stands at the ready to elucidate, clarify, and educate.
Dearest Genteel Readers: Dr. Manners has completed his sabbatical. In the interest of promoting good behavior and polite dignity, he would advise you all to take to heart the following three considerations:
Suffice to say, Dr. Manners will not entertain the notion of further questions on this matter. Into the mailbag, shall we?
Dear Dr. Manners: New year, new me! I’m trying to be more polite as a new year’s resolution, and that got me thinking: how long can I go wishing someone Happy New Year! If I haven’t seen them since November and then see them in February, it’s the new year but that’s kind of awkward?
Genteel Reader: Please do not mistake the social greeting of “Happy New Year” for a genuine wish for good tidings on the 1st of January for the upcoming annum. The phrase “Happy New Year” is a social convention to give us a reason to drink heavily and engage in midnight kissery, papered over with an excuse given by the turning of a calendar page to a new number. Would that we celebrated other such turning points with such glitz and glamour!
Nevertheless, the answer to your question is roughly one week. Inasmuch as the New Year is a holiday, this timespan is the approximate lifespan of most New Year’s Resolutions and serves as a fitting gauge for the holiday duration. Dr. Manners would also caution about the impropriety of inappropriately delivered greetings: a person whom one calls upon but once every four months is clearly a business acquaintance with whom one should not be sharing casual greetings. If this is not the case, then one is clearly in grave danger of committing social murder upon one’s closest friends and should endeavor to see them more often.
Dear Dr. Manners: My job sucks and I want out. Do I really have to give two weeks’ notice?
Genteel Reader: The professional workplace is a sphere of human consciousness with a dearth of etiquette. To be fair, one should remember that etiquette was, by and large, developed by a series of rich folks who wanted to make sure that they could continually impress and entertain their peers while simultaneously giving a way of standing far apart from the uncouth masses. These forebears of high standing never worked a day in their lives—to suggest you are bringing considerations of etiquette into the workplace strikes Dr. Manners as either misplaced naïveté or pompous arrogance. Though the one is delightfully succulent and the other is brashly thrilling, you have not provided Dr. Manners with enough detail to ascertain your particular bent.
In the end, it matters not. The concept of a two weeks’ notice is a courtesy, and courtesies are naught more than a way for the party offering the courtesy to emphasize the superior position over the party receiving it. Given that you are seeking counsel in the matter, Dr. Manners feels justified in concluding you are uncomfortable wielding this temporarily superior position and therefore has but one note for you. Do what you think is best for your situation and those of your coworkers who will be inconvenience by your leaving, but do keep in mind that “work” as a whole is generally only useful for men (and they are generally always men) to personally profit from your stress without sharing in much of the same effort.
One should always wield one’s power with conviction, comrade, especially when such power comes infrequently.
Dear Dr. Manners: Things have been strained between me and my boyfriend for a while. I don’t think our relationship is good for either of us anymore but I think we’re hanging on because we don’t want to be alone. His birthday is coming up in a couple months, he always does a big celebration, and I don’t think I can stand trying to put on an okay face through it. There’s the problem, if I break up with him before, I’ll ruin his birthday. If I break up with him after, he’ll probably be angry that I lied to him during his birthday. When is it safe to break up with him?
Genteel Reader: Dr. Manners is of the opinion that it is far better to lead a life of solitude. Relationships are not so dissimilar to bank vaults: it takes two people’s coordinated effort to enter into one but too easy for one person to get trapped inside; all the while, people on the outside plot and covet the riches within. Far better to simply eschew all the madness and live a quiet life of contemplation and education—with the caveat that one’s well-meaning but oppressive mother may write one constantly, with missives filled with statements that the estate garden would be the perfect setting for afternoon tea with a grandchild, or that the butler’s niece is wonderfully suited for being a nanny should one get married and move back to the family grounds.
To address your concern, however, the etiquette about relationships is astonishingly one-sided. There are so very many rules about courting the object of your desire, but not many for leaving your former beloved. (Dr. Manners presumes this is because the true objective of etiquette is to say one thing while meaning entirely another. Therefore what could be more polite than to devote yourself to a series of false “I love you”s?)
Without clear social guidance, Dr. Manners suggests one find comfort in the coldly efficient realm of mathematics. Take the number of weeks you have been together and divide by two. This is the number of days’ buffer before or after any major holiday or life event that one must respect when delivering bad news. A natural and neat corollary to this equation is that a relationship can only go on casually for about two-and-one-half years. Past that point, and one will always be within range of the next holiday or too close to the previous one, and there is nothing to do at that point but to get married. (A note to The Editor: please retain this response for those asking how long a relationship can be before broaching the topic of marriage, how long an engagement should last, or when one can still reheat the leftovers.)