DEAR MISS MANNERS: I'm distressed about the proper usage of the words "mistress" and "affairs."
I was raised to believe that an affair is between a married person and an unmarried person. If the unmarried person is a woman, she is referred to as the man's mistress.
Lately, I've read newspaper articles describing a relationship between two unmarried people as an affair. The woman in that affair is referred to as a mistress. Which then raised the question of whether a person who is married, not living with his spouse and dating a woman is having an affair with his mistress or just dating someone.
Clearly an affair and a mistress are disparaging terms while "dating someone" is much more benign. I would hate for a woman to be wrongfully accused of being a mistress when she is merely a girlfriend.
GENTLE READER: This is the wrong subject on which to appeal to dear old-fashioned usage, Miss Manners is afraid. There was nothing nice said then about dating that included sleepovers. You are thinking of the distinction between two different terms: adultery, which involves a married person, and fornication, which is between single people. And neither of them was used kindly.
You might get some comfort from digging even more deeply into tradition, way back to the part that no one but Miss Manners remembers. Then you would find that until the 19th century, "mistress" was a benign word, the female equivalent of "mister." It had nothing to do with the activities to which you refer, but was merely an honorific that could refer equally to a respectable wife and a respectable single lady.
However, you would be better off objecting to the present usage of the term as sexist. The suggestion is that there is a master in charge, although no pejorative term is used for him, and a subservient mistress. It would be more reasonable to call both lovers, to use the impossibly coy terms boyfriend and girlfriend or to speak of them as Very Good Friends.
That last is Miss Manners' choice. Distinguishing between dating and having an affair nowadays gives her more information about any individuals in question than she cares to have.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My vanity has put me in a frustrating situation. I had an appointment with an excellent hair stylist. The appointment was mixed up. It was the stylist's fault. I was so mad I went to another stylist. My haircut does not even compare to my previous haircuts.
Since then, my stylist called and apologized and offered another appointment. I cannot show up with a haircut from another stylist. I don't know if I should call and make an appointment for a few weeks from now and hope for the best or avoid the stylist.
GENTLE READER: How about conquering your vanity?
Not your vanity about your hair, but the kind that prevents you from admitting to the stylist that you made a mistake in going to someone else. Miss Manners promises you that the stylist will not be sorry to see whatever mess needs his or her artistic touch.