DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is there some time-linked protocol for asking a widow out for a date? There is an attractive woman who has been a widow for about eight months, and our paths cross via mutual friends about once a week. Lately I sense that she’s paying a slight bit of attention to me.

But she still wears her wedding ring. If widows keep wearing their wedding rings, is that a signal they’re unavailable?

I don’t want to ask any of our mutual friends because that would be unseemly. Also, I’d guess the woman is at least five years older than me, maybe more. I don’t want to make her uncomfortable by asking her out.

GENTLE READER: Reading rings is not an exact science in such cases. Miss Manners can imagine that a widow might not want to part with the symbols of her marriage unless it is to spare the feelings of another suitor.

However, the current courtship confusion, which leaves so many people uncertain about whether their ties are romantic, often even after intimacies have occurred, operates in your favor.

Rather than push the question of whether the lady is “dating,” which would require her to make a decision that might be painful, you should suggest simple outings that arise from your conversations with her. Mention a movie or an exhibit, and if she seems interested, tell her that you are planning to go and ask if she would like to come along.

She may or may not accept, and this will help you to gauge her interest in you without addressing the question of dating, as for all she knows, others may be going, too.

If this works, Miss Manners expects you to take it from there.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My phone went directly to voice mail when a good friend called. Without her knowledge -- I’m sure! -- my voice mail picked up hurtful personal comments that she made about me. She did not realize that the voice mail was on. How do I go about resolving the hurt without letting her know I heard the comments? Or, should these comments be addressed?

GENTLE READER: How bad were they?

If your good friend merely voiced ordinary irritation, such as complaining that it is hard to reach you, you should let it go. It was merely a passing reaction, unfortunately recorded, that anyone could have had without real malice.

However, if she said something truly mean that seemed to reveal a long-standing grudge, Miss Manners agrees that you have a problem. Presuming it was not so vicious as to put an end to the friendship, you are right not to confront her with what was, after all, an accident.

But you should let her know just enough to worry her a bit. Not only will you feel better, but she will want to compensate by proving her friendship.

You therefore have to be able to say, with not a trace of hurt in your tone, “I’m sorry I missed your call. Apparently the answering machine kicked in after you thought you’d hung up.”

This will produce a look of panic on your friend’s face, which you should find satisfying. Do not dispel it, but observe the sight of her frantically trying to remember what she said so that she can defuse it. When she asks, as she may have to do, you can say calmly, “Oh, I don’t remember exactly, but you sounded annoyed with me. Did I do something wrong?”

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site,, where you can send her your questions.

2011, by Judith Martin

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