DEAR MISS MANNERS: Twice now, I have met potential dates over the Internet, and after some e-mailing we met in person over coffee or lunch. I would expect a gracious person who had decided, at the end of this event, that he wanted to see me again to say something like, "I enjoyed myself very much. May I see you again?"
Instead, on two occasions, I have received the very blunt question, "Well, what did you think?"
I was not prepared for a pop quiz, particularly with no indication as to whether I was of interest or not!
In one case, I thought that his self-image was about 50 pounds lighter than reality, and in another that his teeth were much worse than in his picture. My training kept these words in my head rather than my mouth, while I fumbled and said that I'd enjoyed myself, which was not true.
However, I think that in each case, I was feeling rather favorably disposed toward possibly meeting again until that horrid question came up. Please, what is the correct way to handle this delicate situation?
GENTLE READER: These gentlemen are being not only brusque, but rash. There are a great many mannerless people around who would be only too ready to consider this an invitation to give them an earful. Miss Manners congratulates you for refraining.
Still, you are stuck with that unanswerable question. The way not to answer it is to say, "I hardly know what to think."
If you have some interest in pursing the acquaintance, this can be said with a coy smile as if his presence has thrown you into pleasant confusion. If you don't, then say it straight.
Miss Manners can see why the question itself, more than the bad teeth, would kill your interest. While it is evident that he would not ask what you thought unless he favored you, it is cowardice for a gentleman to ask about a lady's feelings before divulging his own.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: On formal mail, such as wedding invitations, a married woman who is a doctor is addressed as Mrs., correct? For example, the invitation would say "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith, not Mr. John Smith and Dr. Susan Smith," right? If so, what is the reason behind this rule?
GENTLE READER: Well, you know Susan Smith and Miss Manners does not. So you should know if she is likely to consider the invitation an insult and give you an indignant talk about how hard she worked to become a doctor and how she does not consider herself a mere appendage of her husband.
Sigh. Things were easier -- or at least it was easier to address wedding invitations -- when people accepted standard conventions without subjecting them to analysis. And it is more likely to be a harsh analysis than the notion -- so foreign to today's thinking -- that a lady might want to use the old forms.
But everyone does analyze and hardly anyone knows what a private identity of any kind is. You risk less offence by using two lines to address such couples: "Dr. Susan Smith/Mr. John Smith."