(EDITORS While it contains no profanity, some readers may find the theme of the first letter in this column offensive.)
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I'm a 20-year-old college student who recently had the pleasure of meeting a very nice young lady via the Internet. We talked a lot and finally met for a "date" of sorts. After returning to her place and talking, she asked me if I would sleep with her.
The problem arises in that I'm not the kind of guy who will hop right into bed with someone, regardless of what I think of her (and let me make it clear that I certainly did think a lot of this one).
I did accept the invitation to sleep beside her, each of us enjoying the other's company (in a non-perverted way, mind you), but I later learned that she was actually hurt because I turned her down. Despite my attempts to set right her presumptions, the damage had been done.
While I don't at all think that I'm lucky enough to have similar situations arise often, I don't want to lose another potentially wonderful relationship. How can I say "no" without hurting the girl or giving her the wrong impression? Would my response need to be different if I meant "not yet"?
GENTLE READER: It strikes Miss Manners that the problem here is not with your manners, but with your morals. While you decline to mate with strangers -- behavior that currently passes for high morality -- you describe someone who does as "a potentially wonderful relationship."
The manners of the young lady in question are no better than your morals, either, as she has taken insult at your offering her only your company. You would be better off deciding, as many ladies do, not to pin any hopes on someone who won't bother with you if all you offer them is your company.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Please correct me if I am wrong, but, when you are seating 10 couples at a table at a party, does the gentleman's lady sit at his right or left? As I was already seated with my wife on my right, I was asked to move to her right. There were no assigned seats. Please help.
GENTLE READER: You are wrong, your hostess is wrong for not having assigned seating, the person who asked you to move is wrong. Yet it is Miss Manners who will be the target of incorrect corrections.
A gentleman's lady should be seated on the far side of the table, out of ear range of her husband. This reduces the temptation for them to correct each other's versions of family stories or to abandon the other guests to discuss topics of more interest to them, such as whether it is time to replace the hot water heater.
Those who will protest that their devotion makes it impossible for them to bear to be separated for a single meal should stay home and have a good time. They only get in the way of people who enjoy socializing, besides creating the impression that they don't trust each other as far as the length of a table.