Q. Could you please expound a bit on the proprieties and rules of conduct of Platonic Friendship? It is sticky enough between two single persons; but when one is married and the other is not, it is important not only to preserve domestic tranquility, but also to avoid misplaced suspicions on the part of inventive lookers-on. So: Ground rules are needed.
In particular, if Mr. Honorable and his friend, Ms. Chaste, share an interest in geological expeditions not of interest to Mrs. Honorable, may the two friends go to lectures or exhibits without violating the rules of propriety, decency and matrimony? Being recently divorced, I am a bit out of touch.
A. Inventive onlookers would be deeply shocked if they knew who, among the extra-legally assorted couples they observe together in public, is not actually having a love affair with whom.
Only by the most rigid of social systems is it possible to get ladies and gentlemen so aquiver from deprivation that anything at all from the opposite gender looks good to them. We are now, Miss Manners dearly hopes, coming out of such a period. Only since the Victorian times, and even then only among the middle and lower clases, was it assumed that all ladies would go at it with all gentlemen if given the chance, and that therefore, society must have powerful restraints against providing any such chance.
In the 18th century, which is not that long ago by Miss Manners' calendar (perhaps Miss Manners should change her calendar one of these decades), husbands and wives habitually conducted their own social lives.
As people were assumed to have more than one interest in life, they were allowed to find more than one person interesting.
Naturally, this occasionally led to ladies and gentlemen falling in love, one thing having always contained the possibility of leading to another. But the strange part is that all of society's policing efforts did not seem to have had the effect of stamping out that phenomenon. When times became stricter, non-romantic attachments having been considered impossible, just as many love affairs took place. Perhaps more, from the added excitement of the danger, and the fact that getting to know someone better does occasionally discourage, rather than encourage, blind passion.
Miss Manners would very much like to assist the return of decency and good sense to relationships between ladies and gentlemen. She thinks that anyone who assumes a mutual interest in geology can mean Only One Thing must have a dreadfully dirty mind. Let us please attempt to be a bit less lewd about our social presumptions.
Indeed, she will set an excellent example herself by stating to you that she, when observing Ms. Chaste and Mr. Honorable at a geological lecture, assumes that:
1. They are both interested in the lecture, and enjoy it more together than they would separately, as intelligent people always enjoy talking over their interests.
2. Mrs. Honorable is not only bored by these lectures, and therefore delighted that Mr. Honorable has someone else with whom to enjoy them, but has her own interests, and can perhaps be found this very minute having a wonderful time at the Planetarium with Mr. Straightlaced.
3. If Mr. Honorable and Ms. Chaste were in fact madly in love, not with geology but with each other, they could certainly find more suitable settings than lecture halls in which to indulge their desires.