DEAR MISS MANNERS: Three years ago, upon my return home from a year away, I happened upon a tall, handsome man at an afternoon picnic who looked very pleased that I had arrived and smiled at me. I did not encourage him.

After two sordid attempts to reconcile with my ex-husband, I realize that I would like to get to know the tall, handsome man a little better. As it would turn out, he’s an acquaintance of my ex-husband. Does this mean he’s off-limits forever?

Friends have suggested I ask him out. My philosophy has been that a woman should never ask out a man — I believe that doing so may set a disappointing precedence for future dynamics. I’ve put my efforts the past year into becoming as healthy, fit and happy as I possibly can, as I am hoping to simply become irresistible.

Well, five men except he have pursued me. He still hasn’t asked me out — but he flashed me that smile again two weeks ago.

Now what? I believe I must keep focusing on my educational goals and health commitments, but really — do I just keep hoping? I simply refuse to ask him out.

GENTLE READER: Refusing to initiate a date is not a philosophy, Miss Manners feels obliged to tell you. Stoicism, existentialism and sophistry are philosophies. Dating strategies are not.

Fortunately, mere tactics can be altered without the necessity of re-examining the meaning of life. As you seem to encounter this gentleman socially, see if you can turn those smiles into some sort of conversation. If you can get to an impersonal topic, you can then say, “I’d love to hear more about what you think, but I suppose this isn’t the place for a prolonged conversation.”

If he wants to pursue you, as you put it, he will make a suggestion. If not, it may be that he considers the former wife of a friend to be off-limits.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Can anyone say “Happy Valentine’s Day” to anyone else? Is this equivalent to “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year”? A man said it to my wife and me. To me? Gross?

GENTLE READER: It seems doubtful that he meant it as a declaration of love. Still, Miss Manners has been made aware that spreading holiday cheer to strangers does not always have the charming effect that is intended.

It is not just those who are saluted on religious holidays they do not observe. More than one childless Gentle Reader has reported feeling tearful when strangers wished a Happy Mother’s Day that these ladies would have liked to have. And the brokenhearted would probably join you in resenting being urged to enjoy Valentine’s Day.

Mind you, Miss Manners does not endorse suppressing holiday joy because it is not universally shared. She merely cautions that it is always risky to presume that one knows the circumstances of strangers. Holidays aside, people who go around calling out “Smile!” to others are a public menace.

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

, by Judith Martin

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