DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am 27 and have recently stepped back into the dating game. I have noticed an alarming trend: men commenting on women's bodies on the first date.
Now, I do not mind a well-placed compliment to a stranger (you look beautiful/handsome, a comment on a clothing item), but I am deeply offended when men who obviously do not know me feel they can comment on my curves or derriere upon first meeting me.
It is not just the jerks who are wishing to rush the physical ... even the nice guys do it! I would never dream of making such comments to, say, someone I just met at a dinner party, so why do people feel the dynamic changes on a date?
We are still strangers. I am casually dating (bowling, matinee movies, lunch dates ... nothing terribly forward), and so it disheartens me that inevitably the conversation turns to physical things. Is this really inappropriate, or am I just being overly sensitive?
GENTLE READER: Your choice is between being considered "overly sensitive" by many others to the point where you even question yourself, or appearing to welcome vulgarity as a form of courtship.
That ladies should have to set the boundaries is a nuisance, Miss Manners admits. But not doing so long kept alive the idea that they were so pathetically eager to be judged attractive that they accepted as compliments catcalls on the street and other forms of what we now recognize as sexual harassment.
Furthermore, you want to declare otherwise without alienating those whom you call "nice guys." So you will not want to walk away with your nose in the air or say "How dare you!"
Instead, practice a look of Shocked Disbelief. This is a wide-eyed stare, mouth slightly open, followed by a quick shake of the head as if to dislodge a mistaken impression. No words are necessary to make it clear to one of those nice guys that you did not accept his remark as a compliment. Anyone it encourages to continue should be swiftly removed from the nice guy category.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Last year, I asked my husband's sister, who was having the family Thanksgiving dinner at her house, what I could bring. She insisted that it was easier for her to do it all herself and that we should just give her money.
I offered two more times to bring something, but she only wanted money. My husband did not agree and did not pay her when we ate at her house. When we arrived home, my husband's other sister called, screaming at him for not paying up.
This year, we would like to avoid being treated like deadbeat customers, but I'm not sure how we could best do so. Should we politely decline without a reason, should we go along with paying for our dinner for the sake of family harmony, or should we say we will come if we can participate as family members?
GENTLE READER: It can't be easy to achieve harmony in a family where screaming and charging for dinner pass for acceptable behavior.
Miss Manners doubts that your relatives are able to see the crucial difference between helping to cook for a family gathering and paying admission to attend it. In the future, it would be good to give the dinner yourself, setting an example of hospitality.
This year, she suggests that you offer to do the grocery shopping, asking your sister-in-law for a list, and refusing even partial payment on the grounds that you wouldn't feel right charging family or friends.
(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.)