DEAR MISS MANNERS: I'm a woman in her 50s who never married. I've begun dating again after a long hiatus, and usually a man will ask me on the first or second date, "So how come you never married?"
I understand their curiosity, and at our age there's no time to waste, so perhaps they want to get right to the point. But I'm flummoxed when this question comes up with men I hardly know.
I realize that if a relationship develops I would need to explain my past, but I'm uncomfortable doing it so soon. The answer is complicated and might not put me in a flattering light. How can I answer these men without either giving them an embarrassing emotional answer or being rude?
GENTLE READER: What makes you think you have to answer questions, especially when it is ever so much more flattering to ask them?
Miss Manners presumes that you are not dating other people's husbands. So these also-unattached gentlemen may be asked (after you demure that you don't really know in your own case), "How come you never married?" or, in the case of the divorced or widowed, "How come you never remarried?"
If there is anyone whom you happened to meet on his way back from divorce court, it could be, "Do you remember why you married?"
DEAR MISS MANNERS: We are a group of divorced or widowed women in our early 60s who belong to a number of singles clubs. We often give open potluck suppers.
There is one man, never married, in his early 70s, who always attends. The problem is he brings almost inedible food. For example, once he brought a "salad" that was cut-up iceberg lettuce with three sliced tomatoes on top.
I tried to suggest precooked, inexpensive food for him to bring, but it's hopeless. After the event is over, he takes home as much food as possible, declaring that he rarely gets homemade food. On holidays, we get, one by one, calls in which he invites himself to our family dinners.
We are running out of patience. In general, he's a nice person, but sad to say, a classic moocher. We've tried gently to make him understand, but he gets upset. What should we do?
GENTLE READER: Give up on trying to make a cook out of him. Or even a carry-out food shopper. It is not going to work.
But you find redeeming qualities in him, and you might also find that he has redeeming skills. Can he fix things? Do errands? Offer any sort of professional advice? Clean up after the suppers? Drive people to and from the meetings?
Miss Manners understands that the time in which domestic work was assigned by gender is past. But so is the time right afterward, when both genders were supposed to take turns doing all the exact same tasks.
Sensible people have, Miss Manners hopes, come around to realizing that everyone is happier if allowed to contribute what he or she does best.