Miss Manners: One’s confidante may have confidantes of her own

February 19, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: How strict is the rule that a gentleman never tells, and how categorically does it apply?

Naturally, it’s gauche to discuss your sex life with strangers and casual acquaintances. But can one have a (sexual) confidante?

Here’s my situation: I’m a newly single 30-year-old man after a six-year slog. I’m enjoying dating around, and I’m doing my best to approach my new relationships with respect and maturity.

My friend M— and I were never close when we lived in the same city, but we’ve developed a stronger friendship over Facebook. We chat, we flirt, we joke about how it would be fun if we lived in the same city. (We’re 600 miles apart, in different countries.)

She’s also my sexual confidante. We talk — graphically — about our sex lives, encourage each other when we’re feeling low, help each other avoid people who don’t make us happy, and also talk a lot about our desires and how they may or may not be fulfilled by our current sexual partners. It’s generally graphic and unfiltered, and also with sufficient personal identifying information that we don’t protect the anonymity of our partners between us.

I don’t really discuss my sex life explicitly with my close male friends, except perhaps to occasionally gloat that I’m happy with how it’s going.

Am I violating a rule of etiquette by talking in detail with M—? If so, please elaborate. She’s the sole person with whom I really run my mouth.

In general, how does etiquette apply differently to keeping a confidante?

GENTLE READER: In general, etiquette has an absolute rule against gossiping. Absolutely no one obeys it.

Therefore, the idea is not to get caught, especially on matters that violate the privacy or dignity of others, and most especially in intimate situations that presuppose mutual trust.

So how likely is it that your confidences will be revealed and hurt others?

Miss Manners supposes that you feel reassured that your friend lives 600 miles away in a different country, so she is not likely to see the same people you do, and that she confides in you, so it is in her interest to keep your trust.

But does she have other confidantes? And is she under the common delusion that nobody in public crowds is listening or would recognize names? How much of this did you put on Facebook, under the delusion that it will be kept private?

Miss Manners can’t answer these questions, and neither can you. She can only tell you that if nothing leaks out, you can congratulate yourself on having a loyal confidante. If it does get out, you can consider yourself a cad.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: How do I address a letter to The Honorable James Smith and Mrs. James Smith? Do I address the letter as The Honorable and Mrs. James Smith?

GENTLE READER: Not quite. Honorable he may be, but Miss Manners reminds you that he still needs a name. And you need three lines:

The Honorable

John Smith

and Mrs. Smith.

So you don’t need “Mr.” and you don’t need to repeat “James.” The form easily accommodates a lady who uses a different name. If she were the one who is, or was, a high government official, it would be:

The Honorable

Bettina Smith

and Mr. James Smith.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

Distributed by Universal Uclick for UFS

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