DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have two issues -- my man friend staring at other women, when with me, and should he walk up stairs behind me? If so, is he checking out the rear? Help.
GENTLE READER: Help with what? Deflecting the gentleman's interest? Madam, please!
A gentleman should indeed, go up the stairs after you, and down stairs in front of you. The purpose is to give you something comfy to fall on, should you mis-step. And you surely will if you keep trying to check the height of his gaze.
However, when your friend is staring at other ladies, Miss Manners suggests a barrage of questions, none of which is "What are you staring at?" Or "Why are you checking out other women?"
Rather, these should be "Who's that? Do you know her? You must. No, wait a minute, do I know her? Help me -- have we met her?" With any day dreams thus blasted out of his head, he will come to consider that his habit is more trouble than it is worth.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: For several years, I have given an annual Christmas party. It has grown more lavish every year.
It has been my custom to have a gift for everyone who showed up, invited or not. Most of the "regulars" have reciprocated, some of them lavishly. This has led to a ruinous escalation of generosity. While, in the early years, I might have given a pair of socks or a box of chocolates, lately I've been giving jewelry and crystal.
Last year, I hit my limit. I can't do it again this year; I have neither the time nor the money to shop for "perfect gifts" for people I only see once a year. I guess I could trim my guest list, and have only my closest friends over, but I also like most of my acquaintances. The ones I dislike, I will certainly trim from my list.
I can't give gifts to some of my guests, and not to others. What shall I do? Should I have one big, open house for everybody, no gifts allowed, and a small dinner for my intimates? Do you have a better idea?
GENTLE READER- Yes: taking an occasional sabbatical from giving an annual party. And not just in your case, where you have priced yourself out of your own market.
Annual parties can be charming for guests and hosts alike. "We love to have our friends in for Christmas Eve" or "We always go to the Montmorencys' for New Year's" is a cosy concept.
But then one year, the Montmorencys notice that they haven't heard from most of their guests from the time they left the last party until nearly a year later, when they didn't wait to be invited again this year before announcing that they would be there. It has become an entitlement for the guests and a chore for the hosts.
Miss Manners is by no means suggesting that you stop entertaining your friends -- only that you jolt them out of the habit you have established by giving a different party at a somewhat different time. You can, in all honesty, say, "We're not having our usual party this year," and then turn around and invite people for brunch, or for the last day after New Year's before everyone disperses -- or for Ground Hog's Day. If you later go back to giving Christmas parties, you will be more easily able to adjust the form.