DEAR MISS MANNERS: On my commute this morning, I ran into a co-worker on public transit. She is perhaps 25 years older than I am. She said that she didn’t realize I lived near her, and I clarified that I don’t, but that I was coming from my boyfriend’s home in the neighborhood.
My co-worker seemed very taken aback, as if I had revealed something scandalous, and said, “You shouldn’t tell people that!” I was wrong-footed.
Is it true that etiquette dictates I should not allude to sleeping at my boyfriend’s home? It feels rather Victorian to avoid even the mention of a premarital sleepover; I certainly didn’t mention any private details!
My co-worker’s attitude seems out of step with the norms of the day, but I am now nervous that I have been ignorant and embarrassing myself. If Miss Manners corrects me, I will certainly abide by her wisdom in the future and maintain the polite fiction that I was simply having an overnight visit with a friend in the neighborhood.
GENTLE READER: Your co-worker’s attitude was more Victorian than you realize.
The popular notion that Victorians did not widely practice sex would open the question of how we got here. But they also practiced something else: discretion. They had the sense to realize that life is easier when activities are kept secret -- not only from spouses and other interested parties, but from society in general, so as not to violate its expectations.
It is true that social expectations change. With the apparent exception of your co-worker, no one is actually shocked by nonmarital overnight visits. People may disapprove, which makes it sensible to refrain from flaunting it, but Miss Manners imagines that a mere mention of where you were would not provoke alarm.