My wife and I invited our golfing partners to have a drink in the 19th Hole after a round of golf at our club. The setting was very casual, and our partners were our social peers, although the lady was somewhat younger than my wife.

The ladies arrived at the lounge together, before the other gentleman. I selected a table and held a chair for the other lady. While I was seating her, my wife seated herself. Later she criticized me, saying I should have seated her first.

Could you provide some guidelines for a gentleman having to deal with two ladies, when one is his wife and the other is (a) the hostess, (b) a guest, (c) a mutual friend, (d) a "sweet young thing," (e) a client, (f) a client's wife?

Some people hold the bizarre notion that the order in which a gentleman offers courtesies to ladies should correspond to the amount of affection in which he holds them. Oddly enough, the people who hold this mistaken belief are all wives of gentlemen whose behavior is in question.

Rather, one puts one's own family last. If the gentleman were serving drinks or dinner at home, he would serve ladies who were guests before the hostess. In this example, all other ladies (a) through (f) -- unless (d) is so young as to be classified as a child -- should be seated before you charmingly seat your own wife.

Help! My in-laws have done it again. The latest is a typed business letter from my husband's father, telling us he's decided to buy my mother-in-law a four-door car with automatic transmission and asking how we would like to pay 15 percent of it.

The reply card has the following options:

"Count me in."

"I will participate -- -- -- -- "

"Sorry, can't cut it."

Charming? Also, we're supposed to answer pronto (his wording).

I find it galling, particularly as we are in compromising financial conditions, as his father well knows.

What is the tactful way to handle this? He's also asked his other two children to help, and it looks as if we'll be the only ones who can't afford it. We'd have to borrow money.

The truly charming thing to do would be to write across the reply card, "Congratulations on the new car! Come give us a spin in it some time."

1987, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.