DEAR MISS MANNERS: My high school did not, as I recall, limit its senior prom to couples, and when I've heard of schools that do, I've always assumed that it was because of mistaken notions of what is traditional at formal dances.
But now I'm wondering if perhaps the high school prom, as opposed to dance parties in general, really did originate as a couples-only event. Could it be true?
GENTLE READER: The traditional formal dance required more gentlemen than ladies, so that there would be a stag line. But then, that was in polite society, which is hardly the way we define high school.
Presumably, schools had more insight than the planners of debutante dances did into how a herd of unfettered stags generally behaves. The couples policy was widespread, although Miss Manners is not aware that it was universal.
But this followed a pattern of socializing -- the date -- that is no longer the general standard. Today's young are more used to going around in groups, which is how many now approach their proms.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: This is one man's opinion about selecting the engagement ring:
An engagement ring is a gift. By the time one asks someone to be his wife, he should know if she likes gold or white gold. He should also have a good idea if she will say yes. At that point the ring is a gift from him to her.
While I would like her to enjoy it, she will be selecting her own treasures for the rest of her life. This one is from me. If it is not loved because of the stone size or the style, I may have selected the right ring and the wrong wife. The chance of it being ugly are small. (By the way, I have been married more than 40 years.)
GENTLE READER: That couples should know a great deal about each other before they decide to marry, Miss Manners agrees.
But whether the lady prefers yellow or white gold? Really? She knows couples who have been happily married longer than you, of which the husbands would be totally flummoxed if asked such a question about their wives.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it considered tacky to place coordinating place mats over a plain tablecloth?
GENTLE READER: These are either/or table coverings, the cloth being the more formal choice. Using both strikes Miss Manners as showing a remarkable lack of faith in the table manners of one's guests.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: How do I respond to compliments such as, "You are so much better than me at (this)" or "I'm so jealous of your talent"? Saying "thank you" would address the compliment aspect, but neglect the part in which the speaker insults him/herself.
GENTLE READER: Ah, yes, the What About Me? compliment. Miss Manners is not fond of it, but the gracious answer it requires is, "Oh, no, you are better at it than I," if that is halfway plausible, or "But you're so good at ..." something else.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)