DEAR MISS MANNERS: To my chagrin, I learned that the erstwhile object of my affections has given me a lovely memento, also known as a social disease. Additional tests are pending to ensure that there is no true cause for alarm. It is an unwelcome but extremely effective cure for a broken heart.
What is the proper way to alert him to this fact, as he will also need treatment? Must I do this in person? He is abroad for another week. My disgust is such that without your guidance, I have awful visions of denouncing his infidelity or blurting out bad puns.
GENTLE READER: Do not do that. Repeat: not.
It is not only that you want to remain a lady, even when dealing with someone who is not a gentleman. This is especially true when dealing with someone who is not a gentleman and who knows a great deal of personal information about you.
Miss Manners recommends that you inform him in writing, so you are not tempted to say more than you should. E-mail will not do, because it so easily goes astray -- and can be forwarded. Also, you need to be able to tear up your first 10 drafts so that the one you send is simple, factual and decently worded.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I need an effective reply to a person (usually a potential suitor in whom I'm not wildly interested) who asks for my time by saying, "How does your calendar look?" or the closely related, "What are you doing next Saturday?" Obviously, I can't say that my calendar is booked until the end of time, nor do I want to give away the fact that my Saturday is free, only to discover that the invitation is to help sharpen lawnmower blades all day. And because neither question is a true invitation, I can't say, "I'm sorry, I'm not interested" without sounding a little strange.
I've tried sighing and saying, "Oh, whew, I'm just so busy lately!" but it doesn't work. My most persistent friend is patient and keeps pressing until I finally say, "Well, I'm free the first Saturday in December," and then I throw the phone across the room after we hang up.
Would you please remind people of the polite way to ask for someone's time, and provide me with a way out of this all-too-frequent dilemma?
GENTLE READER: Indeed, even people you might like to see have no business asking what you are doing before issuing an invitation. This is the social equivalent of asking for a signature on a blank check. In a person who must suspect that you are avoiding him, it is all the more reprehensible.
So you need a polite equivalent of "Not if I see you first."
That would be to say that your schedule is "crowded," and, if pressed, to say, or rather whine, "I just can't make any new engagements now."
Should someone whom you might want to see pose the question, Miss Manners recommends saying, "There is too much I should be doing -- but what were you thinking?" If the specific invitation is to help paint his barn, you can appear to think for a minute before saying, "No, I'd love to, but I really shouldn't."