DEAR MISS MANNERS: My problem may be of interest to other childless women who date divorced fathers.
We'd all agree, I suppose, that children should not have to meet and greet their dad's Flavor of the Week. The couple should wait until the relationship stabilizes. My problem is trying to keep a distance from these kids during the nonserious era, without being rude.
Situations often arise where the kids and I will be thrown together unless someone moves away. My dad-dates appear offended by my doing so, as if I am rejecting their kids, or perhaps them by extension.
And I certainly get offended by orders to back off, as if given half a chance I'd sneak in and audition for the role of stepmother. Whether I say, "I don't think I should be meeting them yet," or he says it, someone will feel hurt. Should I just try to flee the situation without saying why?
Frankly, I think it is kinder for me to offer to absent myself than for him to tell me to get lost, but I am trying to focus on people other than the grown-ups and their self-protective measures.
GENTLE READER: Somewhere around here, Miss Manners must still have the manners for meeting the parents of one's, ah, honey. If she changes "honey" to "flavor," will those do?
She supposes not. The circumstances are too different. People actually give some weight to the opinions their children form about their romantic prospects.
Miss Manners is glad that you do, too, and urges you to assume that so do the fathers -- who are in a better position to know what is best for these particular children at this particular time than a lady who has never met them.
If they are in the stage of fearing that every lady their father meets is going to take him away from them, his reluctance would be understandable and you should not take it personally. Nor should you over-interpret a suggestion that you should meet. Perhaps the children are more afraid of a mystery lady and would feel reassured to meet her.
Miss Manners agrees that children should not be involved in a parent's romance until it is likely to affect their daily lives, but she believes they should get to know their parents' friends. And a friend is what you are (Miss Manners prefers to skip the ice cream category) and should insist on appearing to be in front of the children. True, children are no fools, but you need not provide evidence to the contrary.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I sometimes need to telephone a "support staff" for assistance on the operation of my computer and other technologically advanced pieces of equipment in my home. The person taking my call invariably requires, before serving me, that I give my first name, which is then used in an apparent attempt to create a sense of intimacy between us.
Although put off by such a request from an individual utterly unknown to me, as well as often two generations younger than I, I feel pressured to acquiesce for fear that I will be denied the information which only that company can provide me. I would appreciate advice on handling this situation.
GENTLE READER: Let us imagine that the young person who helps you has been doing so for years, carefully addressing you as Mister and Sir. Implausible, Miss Manners knows, but bear with her for the sake of argument.
One day, overcome by the bond that has grown, you might say impulsively, "I'd be very pleased if you would call me Horace." Your tone of voice would show that you meant it as a compliment.
Okay, now use that tone to say, "I would be very pleased if you would call me Mr. Sleeks."