Q.I have recently become involved with a wonderful, but somewhat commitment-phobic, young man in his late thirties. About two weeks ago,he said, "Let's go steady." Feeling that half a loaf was better than nothing, I said okay. Now I wonder what I have actually agreed to.

In your estimation, what are adult parameters for "going steady"?A.Miss Manners is sorry to tell you that going steady is strictly a teen-age category. The stages of teen-age relationships are:

Liking someone. This means that the two people have no direct relationship whatsoever, but at least one of them confides the state of his or her heart to all mutual acquaintances, who then use the information to make life miserable for the object of this affection.

Going together. This can consist of merely one date, or even as little as one evening spent paying attention to each other. The participants must "break up" in order to have a date with someone else.

Going steadily. This means that one party is hedging because he or she likes the status of going steady but not the other person, and hopes to do better -- or that one person's parents have forbidden going steady.

Going steady. This is a standing date with certain privileges. A token of some kind is exchanged.

Being engaged to be engaged. Same thing, except more privileges and a better token.

Secret engagement. There is a secret to a secret engagement only if one of the partners declares it without the other one's knowledge. Secret engagements are announced to inform society that the privileges have gotten out of hand, or to justify that psychologically for one of the participants. It can also be declared for the purpose of annoying parents.

The adult stages are much simpler:

Friendship. Although this term is used to describe opposite relationships -- an asexual one, or one of high passion -- it always means that the couple has nothing romantic that it wants known.

Courtship. In its serious manifestations, this is a theoretically nonexclusive arrangement -- one or both may have no emotional interest in going out with anyone else, but neither can demand it of the other -- which is understood to lead either to a lot of heartbreak, accusations and other depressing late-night conversation, or to one or more of the following states.

Engagement. This is a public announcement and usually means that the couple plans to marry, sooner or later. The leeway of "later" allows fastidious people to use it instead of the alternative announcement of the following.

Living together. Formerly known as trial marriage and only announced by people who were hoping to give their parents heart attacks, this is now a common arrangement between one person who believes it to be an unbinding temporary state and another person who believes that it is a preliminary to marriage.

Marriage.

To find out exactly what the gentleman means, say coyly, "Oh, I don't know -- do you really think we're ready yet to be practically engaged?" If the reply is "Engaged? Who ever said anything about being engaged?" you might want to look elsewhere. 1985, United Feature Syndicate Inc.