DEAR MISS MANNERS: This is a slightly touchy subject, but are there any circumstances under which it is appropriate to inquire as to a person's sexual orientation?
I have a friend who does this on occasion (with people she knows who are generally close friends, not strangers), and I can't help but raise at least one eyebrow at it.
Presumably there is some convention as to what questions are appropriate socially -- after all, one can generally get away with inquiry as to someone's marital status -- but it is still considered an impertinence to query someone's sexuality, is it not? Not because of any implied insult (there is none, in my book), but because of the intrusion on privacy.
On the other hand, if close friends can inquire about one's dates and prospective crushes, then why shouldn't this be fair game?
My friend didn't offend me, and most people seem to take it well, but is she being rude? Guidelines would be greatly appreciated!
GENTLE READER: You are mistaken in your assumption that friends, even close friends, are always pleased to be quizzed about their love lives:
"So -- are you seeing anyone?"
"Well, what happened on your date?"
"When are you going to dump him?"
"When are you going to realize that she's no good for you?"
Miss Manners hears differently. People who might have been glad to disclose such information to friends nevertheless resent being probed for it.
As you acknowledge, even queries about such public information as marital status are only "generally" acceptable. Those who may bristle at being asked if they are married include the unattached, the attached-but-not-yet-at-that-stage and the attached-but-never-planning-to-be-at-that-stage.
That is a lot of people. And Miss Manners forgot to add those who are pregnant. If they are married, they are insulted at the suggestion that they are not; if they are not, they are insulted at the suggestion that they should be.
And yet your friend thinks it is all right to inquire about others' sexual orientation.
But here is the guideline you requested: You may ask if you have a legitimate reason for wanting to know, and no, curiosity doesn't count. Falling in love, wanting to fix someone up, or recruiting for an organization where this is relevant could be sufficient reasons.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: As retirees, my lady friend and I eat out often. Frequently, we are faced with large portions of unfinished dinner. While others ask for a "doggie bag" to take home these leftovers, we have, to the smiling face of our waitress, waiter, or even maitre d', asked for a container for our "encore dinners."
I suggest replacing one request with the other. It seems to please the staff and is more honest (after all, pets are not allowed in our condo). When others dine with us, this always ends the session with smiles.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners concurs. It is not that she thinks anyone takes the "doggie bag" euphemism for the literal truth; it is that it we are all tired of it and in need of a smile.