Q. Are there any occasions that justify breaking a social date?
Several years ago, I believed that a college romance had faded away after graduation. During that summer, I met another young man, and planned a theater date for some weeks away. The week before the date, my college boyfriend resumed dating me. He brought up the subject of marriage, and asked me to visit his parents with him the next weekend, when the theater date was planned.
I accepted the proposal, and told him I would have to stay and explain this to my new friend. I could not call my new friend because he had an unlisted number and was away on a business trip, so he wouldn't receive any letter or phone message I sent to his home or office. He was to come to my parents' home at the end of the trip, and I did not believe I should stand him up.
My college boyfriend suggested he be there, too, and buy the theater tickets from the other fellow, and that the two of us would gently and tactfully inform him of our engagement. Then we could visit the parents the next weekend.
I felt the fiance''s suggestion was rude and that informing the other man was my responsibility. He got so upset and jealous that he withdrew his proposal.
The new boyfriend, one year later, turned out to be the worst cad I have ever known, and not deserving of the courtesy I had wished to extend. The better man had got away.
Who was correct in this case?
A. A true tragedy of manners! Please forgive Miss Manners for enjoying this story so much. She is terribly sorry that it turned out so badly all around, but she does relish narratives in which the crucial plot factor is etiquette.
In life, however, as opposed to literature, it is not quite fair to judge the manners issue retrospectively, in light of later character development. And who knows, really, whether the jealously and upset that led to his breaking your engagement might have made your fiance' a generally intolerant husband? Besides, whether the other man "deserved" courtesy is not a legitimate question; one is courteous because of what one is oneself, not in response to the deserts of others.
As for the issue, Miss Manners does not like your fiance''s suggestion, which would be rather overwhelming to a third person who had innocently contracted a date with an unattached lady. But she doesn't quite feel that yours contained the enthusiasm appropriate to a newly engaged person.
The weakness in your plot is that it must surely have been possible to find the young man on his trip--in an emergency, the business for which he was traveling could surely have done so. Your announcement then would have been excused with, "Please forgive me--this was so completely unexpected--you know how much I like you--please wish me happiness." In your absence, your parents could have delivered this message--and offered to buy the theater tickets.
Q. One lady I baby-sit for always underpays me. I'm sick and tired of being cheated by this woman. Baby-sitting is a hard job and demands a lot of patience. People are always cheating me out of hard-earned money. I think I speak for a lot of baby sitters who are just fed up! Please tell me the polite way of asking $2 an hour.
A. Allow Miss Manners to teach you a principle that will stand you in good stead throughout your life.
It is that good business manners are different from social manners. It is not by definition rude to insist on being paid properly for one's work.
What you must say is, "I'm sorry, but the rate is $2 an hour, and so you owe me $10, not $8." If there is any further question, you may say, "Well, then, I won't be able to sit for you, because that is my fee." The politeness is in the way you say it--firmly but pleasantly, as if you are conveying information, not making accusations.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.