I was at work the other morning when something dreadful happened. I should have seen it coming but did not. By the time I realized what was going on, it was too late.

I was in a roomful of people seated around a conference table. The meeting broke up and most of them left, but I dawdled. And suddenly I found myself alone with a woman.

This woman was not my wife.

I sensed the danger. A man of high morals doesn't let such a thing happen. This exact scenario last week crippled Gary Bauer's presidential campaign.

When Bauer 'fessed up to having met with a female campaign aide behind closed doors, Christian Coalition President Pat Robertson chided him for using bad judgment, saying he himself followed these rules for Christian leaders: "One, never be alone in a room with a woman not your wife. Two, never be alone in a room with a woman not your wife. Three, never be alone in a room with a woman not your wife."

I am neither a Christian nor a leader, but I consider myself a person of high morals, too. And although I am uncertain whether it is men or women whom Robertson and the Christian Coalition mistrust, it is clear they think someone is always poised to rip someone else's clothes off, and that the mere proximity of a member of the opposite sex is powerful enough to provoke this primitive urge, thereby consigning a person to Hell. I wanted no part of it.

The woman with whom I was suddenly alone was my boss, Mary. Instantly, I recognized the gravity of the situation, though Mary seemed unperturbed. Frankly, this did not surprise me. There are scheming harlots awaiting men in every empty conference room.

At that point, I had several options, none of them ideal:

1. Fake an epileptic seizure.

2. Yell "FREE SHRIMP!" so people would rush into the room and we would no longer be alone.

3. Do the right thing and marry her.

But then another alternative occurred to me. I could race for the door. But there were logistical difficulties.

Scanning the layout of the room (which is depicted on Page C1), I could see instantly that the counterclockwise arc A-C was the shortest path to the door. But this route was blocked by Mary (at position B). If I traveled clockwise along route A-C, she could head me off by executing arc B-C, which was approximately one-third the distance.

I calculated vectors, and reached a decision. I would follow secant A-C, leaping onto the top of the conference table and racing straight for the door; in this maneuver, I would gain the advantage of surprise. Mary could not recover in time to pursue me effectively.

But women are crafty. Mary must have realized the inevitability of my escape. With barely a flicker of coquettishness, she rose and exited the room, as if we had merely ended a business conference, and not strayed to the very edge of the abyss.

A potentially difficult situation was averted.

For the remainder of the day, however, I was upset. I felt a need to talk to a minister. I felt a need, in fact, to talk to Pat Robertson. I had questions:

Isn't an elevator really just a moving room? So, if a woman enters an elevator in which a man is already standing, and the woman is not the man's wife, does the man have to leave? And dare he risk brushing past her on his way out, or would he need to use that little trapdoor in the ceiling?

Alternatively, what if the woman is your cabdriver?

Or what if she is, like, 97 years old?

And what if the man is blind and cannot see whether the person with whom he is alone is a woman? Is ignorance a defense? Is he exempted from the rule?

And what about a gay man?

And is it okay if a gay man is alone in a room with another gay man? Is it okay if a gay man is alone in a room, period?

I went home confused and still tormented by what I had done that day. And so I spoke to my wife. I waited until we were alone. (Robertson says it is okay to be alone with one's wife.)

"I have a confession to make," I said.

She waited.

"I--I was alone in a room with Mary."

My wife knows Mary. Our families have socialized together. In a sense, I understood this made mine an even greater betrayal; there is less of an emotional commitment if one were to be alone in a room with some unknown trollop.

"I didn't mean it to happen," I said. "It just happened."

My wife was silent for what seemed like an eternity.

"It's okay," she said at last. "I forgive you."

The woman is a saint.