DEAR MISS MANNERS: The young lady I'm dating is upset with me because I won't give her a title. I'm 34, she's 27. We've been seeing each other for two weeks, and we are nowhere near engaged or married. Is there anything I could introduce her as that would pacify her?
GENTLE READER: My New Acquaintance? The Woman of My Dreams as of Last Week?
Miss Manners doesn't know about you, but the lady's request scares her.
You might try the flattering argument that there is no need for a title because even though your relationship has only just begun, you have already taken the trouble to memorize her name.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am often invited to dinner with a host who is most congenial and proper. At the end of the dinner, he takes his napkin, rolls it up and places it back in the napkin ring. Other guests follow his example.
Somewhere in my training, I was taught to fold the napkin, lay it to the left side and place the napkin ring on top of the napkin so there would be no mistake that it had been used. Would you please tell me what is the proper method?
GENTLE READER: Your host may be congenial, but Miss Manners is afraid that he is proper in this matter only if he has invited the same set of guests to the next day's meals.
Napkin rings are not mere decorations, but a means of identifying who used which napkin to avoid anyone's being stuck at the next meal with someone else's stains. Thus they are associated with family meals -- in families that are fastidious, because they disdain paper napkins, but nevertheless do not employ a full-time laundress -- and intimate houseguests. Those invited for a meal should leave ringless napkins folded by the plate, demonstrating their faith that their host will not pass off their used napkins on the next set of guests.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I will soon be married 49 years but never had an engagement ring, just as I did not have a class ring or any other sort until my wedding day. This was a choice of economy.
I really do not know what to say when a newly engaged lady displays her ring to me. I sincerely hope it is a symbol of a great marriage two people will soon begin and continue as they each vow, "'til death do us part." But I doubt that is what the young woman is hoping to hear.
GENTLE READER: No, she is hoping to hear something more like "What a beautiful ring!" (And it is, Miss Manners can assert without having seen it: All engagement rings, like all brides, are by definition beautiful.)
You can certainly say something about the symbolism, although you know, from your own experience, that a ring is not necessary to form an engagement or sustain a happy marriage. Far too many people regard it for its intrinsic value alone, and it is, alas, not uncommon, for a newly engaged lady to be asked "Is it real?" and "How much did it cost?"
But the way you put it sounds a bit doubtful. "What a lovely symbol of your coming marriage" will do, instead of the hope that they consider it such.