Q. I trust that Miss Manners will not find this inquiry too indelicate to comment on, but rather realistic and noteworthy for its recognition of its possible interest to you.
I am a successful young bureaucrat who, half a year ago, was fortunate enough to be able to hire an exceptionally well-qualified personal secretarial assistant. She has performed beautifully and contributed greatly to my ability to achieve great recognition in serving the people of our nation. Fortunately or unfortunately, my feelings of appreciation and respect of her now, I detect, taking on romantic characteristics. As I have not expressed these feelings in any way, I have no idea if she shares them -- and would probably be unable to "read" any subtle indications on her part due to my natural shyness.
What, if anything, should I do, and from Miss Manners' particular perspective, how should it be done? The options I see are business-as-usual, frank revelation and discussion, or gradual encouragement of her to indicate her feelings and take action. I am not a seducer.
At present, I have a barely satisfying marriage. I do not want to lose my assistant as a result of some foolish action on my part. But I am unable to choose a course of action between my normal tendency to suppress such feelings or taking a chance on something which could be very fulfilling.
Would Miss/Ms. Manners please suggest what and how she thinks I ought to do?
A. Thank you for your consideration in assuring Miss Manners that you are not a seducer, but actually that wasnot her worry. Who seduces whom seems rather a moot point these days.
Who hires, fires and promotes whom is somewhat clearer. The reassurance Miss Manners would like, for herself and for your assistant, is that you are not a harasser.
You realize, of course, that no matter what happens, you will only hurt the one you love. If she returns your sentiments and the romance progresses happily, she will be subject to criticism of colleagues who will refuse to believe that you admired her performance before noticing anything else about her. If she rejects you, or you come to want to end a romance with her, she will have difficulty separating her personal problems from her personnel problems.
Miss Manners does believe that the best thing to do would be nothing. However, she does not believe for a minute that this is the sort of advice anyone ever takes.
Presumably, your assitant understands the hazards she will face if she accepts your suit. So what Miss Manners is most anxious about is that you should present that suit in such a way that it is clear that she is free to reject it, if she chooses, without fearing that it will affect your professional relationship.
Paradoxically, "frank discussion" will not achieve this. The franker your protestations, the more threatening they will sound.
What you must do, as you would know if you were in the diplomatic branch of government service, is to provide her excuse for her, and then wait to see if she takes it or not. Your marriage is an excellent excuse, as you may have noticed on other occasions. If you declare your interest and then add, "But I understand perfectly if you feel you can't get involved because I'm married," you will give her the chance to look at you regretfully and say, "No, I wish I could, but I don't feel it's right."
But if she says, "So what" So am I," you're in business.