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Miss Manners: Sometimes coffee is just coffee

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin Andrews McMeel Syndication

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.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I will be my best friend’s maid of honor. She and her fiance are in their early 30s. This will be his third marriage, and he also has four kids from the two previous wives.

They have both served in the Marines, but neither fulfilled their terms and they were discharged for various reasons. Now, they do not work and are currently living with her parents.

My friend is now pregnant (her first) and has asked me to throw both her baby and bridal showers. All of her other friends have told her no. I love her dearly.

I am a mother, a wife, an entrepreneur and the CEO of my husband’s business. I am very busy. I am perplexed on how to go about these showers, since I don’t believe in showers for the third marriage and fifth child.

GENTLE READER: Then why are you hesitating? Nobody else did. And considering that she had to ask for such events, which are normally initiated by friends, you might have trouble scaring up guests.

Miss Manners will take your word for it that you love this person dearly, despite your dismal report about her life. But that does not require you to undertake festivities for which you are too busy and of which you disapprove. Being busy is the only explanation you need mention.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; to her email,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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