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Parties offer chance to mix with others

Judith Martin United Feature Syndicate

What could prompt apparently well-intentioned gentlemen to treat two ladies who are guests at the same formal party as if they were sexual predators?

“My wife and I and another couple attended a black-tie function that involved drinks and dancing,” reports a Gentle Reader. “At one point, my friend and I found ourselves momentarily alone, as our wives were having a personal chat. In their momentary absence, we were approached by two women who asked us if we would like to dance.

“We were tongue-tied, flummoxed and a bit flattered. My friend strangled out an abrupt ‘NO!’ and I made some idiotic comment about ‘dancing with those who brought us’ and showed off my wedding band.

“The two seemed offended at our response and beat a hasty, grumbling retreat. It wasn’t our intention to offend these ladies, but it seemed disingenuous to not point out the fact that we are married. We were left to wonder what is the correct response to such a request? What does etiquette dictate?”

Etiquette (as personified by Miss Manners) is astounded at the rudeness to which panic prompted the Gentle Reader and his friend. Nothing he says about the ladies’ actions or demeanor suggests that they were attacking the gentlemen’s marriages, prompting them to such a brutal defense.

Can the gentleman not tell the difference between conventional socializing and home-wrecking or (as they were flattered) philandering?

Many people no longer can, Miss Manners gathers. The rule against seating couples side by side at dinner parties makes some ladies and gentlemen bristle; when left to find their own seats at a large gathering, they choose adjacent seats. If leaving a spouse’s side at a party to mix with other guests seems disloyal, dancing with another person must be considered little better than adultery.

The purpose of parties is not to showcase one’s devotion, but to mix with other people. Married couples should already know one another’s stories and opinions, and talking to others gives them the marital pleasure of doubling what they can talk over afterwards.

Yet even those who are not married or in equivalent arrangements – who in fact want to meet new people and complain how hard it is to do so – seem afraid to take their chances. Some refuse to go to parties or weddings unless they can bring along someone they already know so they don’t have to talk to strangers. Other singles stay home knowing that if they are not wallflowers, they will be seen as predators. And then they complain that they never meet anyone new.

What could this gentleman have said? Either that he would love to dance or that he would rather chat. And if the lady turned out to be interesting, he could have told her that his wife would enjoy meeting her.

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