DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m a single professional woman in my early 30s, in an industry where networks and relationships are extremely important. How should I respond when male professional contacts express an interest in meeting up, and I can’t tell if they mean professionally or as a date?
Although sometimes it’s clear (drinks after work, on the weekend, etc.), sometimes it’s for coffee or breakfast during the week, which could be either.
I have no problem firmly and clearly turning men down if they are aggressive or inappropriate, but sometimes they are nice people I respect, and would like to continue being friendly with -- but not more than that.
How can I ascertain what their intentions are? And what is a kind and polite way to turn somebody down if I suspect that they are interested in a date? Usually it’s a general invitation for coffee, and they ask me when is convenient for my schedule, not a specific date that I can be unavailable for. I don’t want to risk saying I’m not interested in dating, when they could mean just a meeting!
GENTLE READER: There is so much pseudo-socializing in the workplace that Miss Manners worries that people don’t seem to know how to be pleasant in a businesslike way.
A polite response, when a colleague suggests meeting, is, “What would you like to discuss?” And if the gentleman looks blank, you can add, “I like to be prepared.”
But if he says, “I’d just like to get to know you better,” you know it is not really about business. And you can say cheerfully, “I don’t really stay around here socializing, but you can always stop by my desk.”