Leap Year is not quite the etiquette giggle it used to be. It is some time now since Miss Manners has heard anyone die laughing over the idea that a lady could ask a gentleman for a dance, a date or his life.
But while the right of the lady to pursue the gentleman openly has been established and exercised, the manners involved in doing this decorously, and receiving such attentions, both when they are welcome and when they are not, could use some work.
Invitations and replies alike are often characterized by a perhaps related harshness. Miss Manners always considers it a danger signal when people speak of having "just as much right" to make a social move. When last she checked, the Constitution did not deal with the delicacies of courtship, and society prefers to treat such matters as privileges.
One depends on others' sufferance when pressing attentions, and the rule for the object of such attentions is to cause as little suffering as possible. (This does not preclude the fact that one must make clear rejections when necessary. False hope can be a cause of severe suffering, and never saying no to anyone leads to a life of sin.)
The difficulty people seem to have in finding the right tone for making or replying to ladies' romantic initiatives probably shows that the participants themselves are not as thoroughly indifferent to the customs of their past as they would like to be. They may believe with all their minds that it doesn't make any difference who begins -- and why should it? -- but they harbor secret prejudices. The lady who claims to be confident enough may harbor the hope that she will not have to, and the gentleman who claims to be flattered may also wonder why the lady is resorting to this.
Such ambivalence leads to the attempt to engage in displays of admiration and interest while sounding as if one doesn't in the least care whether they succeed. This is neither polite nor attractive.
Miss Manners is perfectly willing to accept the idea that every year should be Leap Year, and that the increasing ease in seeking one another's society that young ladies and gentlemen show in their nonromantic attachments will eventually extend to the potentially romantic ones.
For the moment, she only begs both ladies and gentlemen to recognize the weight of tradition that has them both secretly feeling that there is something not quite right about such egalitarianism. Understanding that ought to eliminate the need to sabotage the charm that ought to characterize all such encounters.
They should then recognize that the proper forms for issuing and replying to overtures of courtship are the same, whichever side one finds oneself practicing.
A lady, as well as a gentleman, can say: "I enjoyed meeting you, and I'd love to see more of you. If you're free next Saturday, may I take you out to dinner?"
Having been the receiver of invitations, she should know not to make one so subtly that one doesn't know it has been made at all ("If you ever decide you want to hear more about the tax law, you can reach me at my office") or with such an open end ("Let's get together some time") that it is impossible to refuse.
Ladies may know about polite refusals, but gentlemen often don't. One can refuse the specific date with or without refusing the idea. "I'm so sorry -- I can't on Saturday, but I would love to some other time" is entirely different from "I'm terribly sorry, I won't be able to make it -- my schedule is really overcrowded these days -- but thank you for asking me."
And a lady ought to be able to understand them as being different, and to be able to take no for an answer. Miss Manners hears tell of inquiries, coaxing and repeated invitations that, if a gentleman made them, would be called harassment.
But manners being in the state they are, Miss Manners can't even be sure that a gentleman knows how to make a proper acceptance. The words are "Thank you, I'd love to," not "Okay" or "Well, I don't know; sure, let me see, what was the date?" or "Hey, why don't you come over to my place?"
I have a situation that I am sure many newlyweds find themselves in. At our wedding, a few people who attended did not give us gifts. We did not think these people were the kind who would not give something.
When I wrote thank-you notes, I thanked them for coming to the wedding and wrote that we didn't get their card and thought it might have been lost or stolen. We haven't heard anything from them yet.
How are you supposed to handle a situation like that? You don't want to be ignorant and not thank them if they did give something and it was lost, but then they may be mad that it was misplaced.
Miss Manners imagines that there are those among your dear friends, that chosen circle whom you wanted to have close to you on such an important occasion, from whom you will never hear again. And she would hardly blame them.
She dares say that you have not fooled these people, any more than you have her, with that talk about lost or stolen presents. What you have done is to send them overdue bills for the privilege of admission to your wedding. Miss Manners hopes that there are no other newlyweds in your situation of counting up the receipts after the event and opening a collection agency.