GENTLE READERS: Now that sexual harassment has been more clearly identified, it would be well to define legitimate courtship.
The very term seems old-fashioned, although there is plenty of evidence that the old pattern is firmly fixed in the imagination. Just look at the stories couples present in their accounts and videos about getting together, now a routine fixture of weddings.
These stories often begin with love at first sight, although the actual first sight may have been while flipping through staged photographs of multiple strangers, probably before reading their other attributes. There is the surprise proposal, with the gentleman down on his knees proffering a diamond ring while the lady is beside herself with astonishment, although the question of marriage has likely been long debated in their mutual household. And there is the declaration of how eager they are to begin their new lives together -- although not before they have spent months, if not years, planning a showy festival while they go on with their joint lives, possibly even to the extent of having children.
Miss Manners has no wish to strip away such romantic notions. On the contrary: She is hoping to encourage romance at the earlier stages.
This is not a subtle or a patient age. But the idea that courtship begins with a frank show of desire, when no personal preliminaries have been mutually established, is the harasser’s excuse. And that has been unfortunately bolstered by the belief that love can be handled efficiently.
At the same time that social manners invaded the workplace, businesslike methods were introduced into courtship: classified advertisements, resumes, short interviews, quick decisions.
This speed eliminates the delightfully inefficient and noncommittal stage known as flirting -- the charged glances, the ambiguous overtures, the budding sense of compatibility -- from which love can grow, but also, because it is ambiguous, from which either party can retreat at any point with honor.
Is this a waste of time? Perhaps, but those who have tried it will tell you that there is hardly a more pleasant way to waste time. And most of all, it provides a clear signal, without the awkwardness of asking outright, about whether or not further intimacy will be welcome.
Lunging is no more a courtship technique than hugging is a businesslike one.