DEAR MISS MANNERS: Coming upon a stranger in the rain, I offered to share my large umbrella with her. She came underneath the umbrella and said, “I suppose that you say that to all pretty ladies.”
I was shocked to have a gesture of simple humanity framed as sexual predation. I said, “Yes, indeed, ma’am. And to all ugly ladies, as well. And also all pretty gentlemen, and ugly gentlemen, too, come to think of it.”
We walked on without another word until parting ways at the next intersection. Naturally, she never thanked me.
Miss Manners can hardly disapprove of affording shelter from the rain to any person, pretty or otherwise, who appears to be in need. Should I have withdrawn the umbrella after her comment, while adding, “Handsome is as handsome does”?
GENTLE READER: Romantic comedies -- and predatory men -- have all but ruined the chivalrous gesture. However, you need not interpret your umbrella companion’s remark as rude. Is it possible that she thought she had suddenly found herself in a “meet cute” and was attempting to be charming in a way that complimented herself, rather than denigrating you?
However, if your suspicions are correct, it is worth noting that we are currently in a climate in which male motivations have proven suspect, particularly when it comes to strangers approaching females unsolicited.
That does not justify retaliating as though your character had been attacked. A reasonable response might have been, “Oh! Well, I was really just trying to protect a fellow human being from the rain ...” letting it trail off, lest you travel down an unwinnable path toward rating her relative beauty.