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.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a lady who met a guy on one of the dating sites. Just after two days, he proposed to me. We have never spoken verbally. He claims he works for the military and is based in one of the African countries, and he claims he can’t have verbal communication for security reasons. He claims he will resign soon and come to my country to meet me.
How do I know if this person is real and not a human trafficking person? Please help.
GENTLE READER: The frequency with which Miss Manners reads about ladies who believe in love to the extent of bankrolling strangers prevents her from treating your question with the skepticism she recommends to you.
(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, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)