Bring Back The Fine Art Of Flirtation

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dear Miss Manners:

Is there a polite way for a single, middle-aged lady to let a single, middle-aged gentleman know that she would like to be more than a dear family friend? (There are no impediments save some geographic distance.)

How can she let this be known without putting the gentleman into a potentially embarrassing position, and possibly ruining a close and wonderful friendship should he not harbor like feelings?

The lady occasionally has to travel on business to the gentleman's home city, where she has no other acquaintance. Should she continue to suggest getting together on those occasions? And how may she properly invite him for a visit to her home town? What cues or clues should she be alert for either that he is or is not interested?

Is Miss Manners safe in assuming that you are not of the generation that demands outright, "I don't want to waste my time, so are you interested or not?"

Besides being romantically chilling, this horrid technique precludes the deniability you need to keep from forfeiting the friendship (or your dignity). More subtle means are required. Besides, those are more exciting.

You can certainly visit and invite the gentleman at a friendly pace, but his availability will only tell you whether he wishes to continue that friendship. To progress, you need to send a few ambiguous signals. Whether he responds in kind will give you your answer, while still allowing you deniability should he not do so.

For example, you stare at him too long and soulfully, and then look away as if you had hardly known what you were doing. You sit too close to him, and then idly get up and sit somewhere else. You brush up against him as if you had not noticed that you did.

Oh, stop pretending to be shocked at Miss Manners' knowing such things. Before the world turned as crude as it is now, flirting was a common and innocent practice.

Dear Miss Manners:

I have been dating my boyfriend for four months and it came up this week that he still does not know my name. I do not know what to do about this because he has heard my name so many times, both my English name and my Italian name. I also write it on everything I have given to him, yet he still calls me by the wrong name.

He will blame it on his disabilities, yet he knows all of his co-workers first and last names, even the most recent workers. He tells me he has all of these feelings for me and really cares about me but I feel, "You can give the world to someone, but if you don't know who you are giving it to, it's just not worth it."

As much sympathy as Miss Manners has for bad memories and disabilities, she has to break it to you that a gentleman's inability to learn the name of a lady he has been courting for four months is not a good sign. You might consider impressing it upon him with a letter of farewell.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) atMissManners@unitedmedia.comor mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

2006Judith Martin

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