DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was widowed after a successful 30-plus-year marriage. I took time to mourn and heal before I began to date and sincerely believe I'm ready to pursue other relationships. I've met several genuinely nice, caring men whose company I enjoy.
My concern is that, without exception, the men I've dated (in the 60- to 70-year-old range) seem far more entrenched in traditional gender roles than I am. My husband and I were equals -- personally, professionally and financially. The gentlemen I'm dating seem extremely uncomfortable at the mere suggestion that we split the cost or I pay for them, regardless of how expensive our outing is.
I've attempted to discuss with each of these men that I'm not comfortable being a perpetual recipient of their hospitality and prefer a more equal allocation of expenses.
All of them tell me not to worry about it, that they enjoy "spoiling me." I don't want to be rude, but I don't aspire to be spoiled or a stereotypical "dependent woman."
Because I'm uncomfortable with the inequality of the gentleman assuming all financial obligation I've taken to reciprocating their hospitality by inviting them to my home for meals. I'm an excellent cook and hostess, and all of them seem accepting of this traditional male-female arrangement. But frankly, I'd much rather pay my share of the expenses when we go out and invite guests to my home because I want to enjoy their company rather than to satisfy a social obligation I didn't want to incur.
I'm a feminist. I believe that men and women are and should be equal, and I've lived my life based on that belief. But I don't believe that one's ideology or ego is an excuse for poor manners.
Should I simply accept that I live in a time when gender roles are in flux and my life experiences may have positioned me outside the norm? Or should I be more assertive about satisfying my concept of fairness?
And, if so, how do I do it without making some lovely, generous men feel that I'm judging their life experiences and preferences as "wrong" or demeaning?
GENTLE READER: Did we learn nothing from the way opening doors and yielding seats for ladies were stamped out?
Yes -- judging from the way Ladies First was replaced by Me First So Get Out of My Way, we learned nothing.
What we should have learned is: Do not reject courtesies; return them. And yes, Miss Manners appreciates the fact that you are trying.
But when you accept a dinner invitation and attempt to hijack the bill, you are rejecting the gentleman's hospitality. In contrast, when you invite them to your house, you are returning that hospitality.
We will let pass the crack about doing this only to satisfy a social obligation and not because you want to enjoy their company, although it does make Miss Manners wonder why you go out with them. But you could also initiate hospitality by inviting them to something for which you bought tickets or gave instructions that you should be given the bill. Self-respecting ladies have been doing that for generations.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it proper to ask parents of newborn babies, "May I hold the baby"?
GENTLE READER: If you know the parents and are engaged in admiring the baby, yes; this is the proper alternative to grabbing. Miss Manners trusts that if you do not know the parents, you will neither ask nor grab, which would constitute kidnapping.