DEAR MISS MANNERS: I'm a 30-year-old female, and normally only date one person at a time. However, since I want to get married and have children before I'm too old, I felt that I should.
I've been seeing Steve for the past year, but I keep breaking up with him because, although he is a wonderful guy, I'm not falling in love and he is. Still, Steve manages to talk me back into spending time with him, which leads back to dating.
I also have recently been on a few dates with another gentleman I will call Ray. I told Steve about this, but I haven't told Ray about the situation with Steve.
When is the appropriate time to tell Ray he's not the only person I'm dating? I'm under the impression that he thinks I'm only seeing him. Also, he seems to really like me, and I'm feeling a little pressure because he wants to spend more time with me than I'm ready for, since I don't want to jump into another exclusive relationship.
GENTLE READER: As you are not eager to spend more time with either of these gentlemen, Miss Manners assumes you are not involving them in any activity likely to lead immediately to your stated goal.
Was that a "No, of course not"? (Or did Miss Manners state this too euphemistically for you to see what on Earth she means?) In that case, no gentleman should assume that he has an exclusive arrangement with you unless you have explicitly agreed to one.
Kindness is another matter. As a hedge against dashing his ill-founded hopes, you should let drop that you have many friends, of whom he is one of the most valued.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is a polite yet honest way to decline an invitation disguised as a party?
Generally, this party is held by a hostess who is displaying and selling products such as plastic-ware, kitchen gadgets, home decorating supplies or similar items. Not only do I find these parties boring, but equate them to a live "infomercial" that I can't turn off. I have many other ways I would prefer to spend my free time than to waste an evening away listening to a sales pitch.
I also consider it rude for a friend or acquaintance to entertain in exchange for the purchase of something, which I feel obligated to buy. It's difficult to continually make excuses for not attending and I am often invited again at a later date from the same person or an acquaintance of theirs. Although it is rude on my part to not respond to the hostess's R.S.V.P., I have resorted to that method.
GENTLE READER: Fortunately, you can be polite in this situation without being honest. Or -- before Miss Manners is accused of missing all her morals -- dishonest.
An invitation to purchase does not require an answer, or we would all be spending our lives responding to advertisements. However, the people you know may believe that they have fooled you into thinking they want your company rather than your money, and so it is politer to respond, anyway.
Nevertheless, no excuse is needed in declining an invitation, even a well-meant one. All politeness requires is responding that you cannot attend and -- admittedly stretching the truth -- to express regret.