I DON'T DATE married men," announced a lady of Miss Manners' acquaintance. "I don't have any problem with that. My question is: What about men who are living with someone? When a man like that asks me out, is it wrong to accept?"
Miss Manners was not sure she wanted to get involved. Strictly speaking, Miss Manners is not in the morals business. At least, Miss Manners is not strict. Anyway, you know what she means. Miss Manners knows that it is quite possible to have charming manners and no morals, an unfortunate paradox that has the delightful side effect of keeping society supplied with excitement and conversation.
Therefore, Miss Manners had to decide whether dating another lady's gentleman friend is an etiquette problem comparable, say, to using the neighbor's lawn mower without asking. In pursuit of the answer, Miss. Manners asked the single lady how she made her decision in regard to married gentlemen.
Did she not date them because she felt there was no future in it for her? Or was it because she felt it created an ethical problem in regard to the wife? (Gentlemen are usually at pains to nullify the latter qualms on the grounds that their wives are so dreadful as to put them beyond ordinary humane consideration, but all this succeeds in establishing is the fact that they are no gentlemen.)
The single lady said that she was not tempted because she found married men who made advances to others unattractive. No doubt those who find immorality innately unattractive have an easier time of life than their weaker sisters or brothers, but Miss Manners did not accept this as a complete answer, and the lady admitted that the legal tie suggested an unpromising future for both the wife and for herself.
Aha! said Miss Manners. If we now eliminate the factor of marriage, going back to the original question with a social rather than a moral approach, we have isolated the problem as being: What now constitutes an attachment in which a third party is improperly intruding if invited by only one of the original pair?
Miss Manners suggested a practical look at the make-up of the society. Who is completely unattached, and therefore presents no problem to the single adult interested in a new attachment?
(1) Teen-agers. This is, of course, why teen-agers have trouble-free love-lives among themselves. However, there are legal difficulties for adults who get involved with teen-agers, quite aside from the depressing effect their idea of conversation has even on consenting adults.
(2) The recently bereft. Actually, teen-aged conversation about "trying to find out who I really am" is fascinating, compared to the conversation of those who have just terminated a life relationship. It is the duty of relatives and close friends of the recently divorced or broken-up to listen to them so that no one else has to, until they are ready to talk normally again.
(3) In the social field, those left are the moderately attached, ranging from the regular company-keepers to the joint housekeepers. In the interests of perpetuating the society, Miss Manners has decided that those people are individually responsible for deciding whether or not their attachment is an exclusive one. Others, such as the lady who questioned Miss Manners, are free to take them or leave them.
MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: A friend of mine always corrects me when I say the word "drapes." She says that is vulgar, and that the right word is "draperies." Which of us is correct?
A: You are both hopeless. The word for material that hangs on the sides of windows is "curtains."
Q: What are the proper gifts for different anniversaries? I mean like the paper anniversary, wood, silver and so on. I've seen various lists, but they often disagree.
A: A couple married for 25 years (to each other) may celebrate a silver anniversary and give or be given silver presents. At 50 years, they may celebrate a golden anniversary. A woman who has occupied the same throne for 60 years may celebrate a diamond jubilee and sell souvenirs, such as china plates with her profile painted on them. Miss Manners regards any such designations for lesser milestones as being silly. If you wish to accept the dictums (or dicta) of various self-serving industries and believe that the 18-month anniversary means new back tires for the car while rotating the others, go right ahead.
Q: When the elevator stops at your floor but you don't know whether it's going up or down, do you ask the people inside which direction it is going by saying the one you want, or the one you assume? Let me try again: Do you say "Up" if you want to go up, or if the elevator seems to be going up, even if you want to go down? You only get a second to ask the question, of course, because the doors shut right away, but I've had it happen that I say "Down" and the people inside say "No, up," and close the doors when I really want to go up; and I've also had it happen the other way around.
A: You should pronounce the direction that is your goal. In a confusing world, we must all be able to state our own intentions, without taking on unbidden tasks such as second-guessing mechanical contrivances about their wayward intentions.
Q: A friend of mine likes to go jogging with me, but he can't keep up with me. Do I have to slow down to his pace?
A: Either that, or tell him before you start where you intend to finish and then go at your own pace, meeting him there. That hardly qualifies as going jogging with someone, but see if you can pass it off on him for that. If there are vegetable-juice toddies at the end of the journey, it might work.