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Social Graces 

Blind Dates From Hell

Wednesday, Feb 21 2001
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Dear Social Grace,
I am writing to you for correction and guidance; I believe I handled a bad situation badly, and I want to know what I should've done. A friend, "Brenda," recently set me up on a blind date. With great misgivings, I accepted the date with "Buster." Buster picked me up on the appointed evening, and I was pleasantly surprised: He was handsome, clean, and on time. As we walked to a restaurant near my house, he showed himself to be interesting and even intelligent. Or so I thought.

After we ordered our meals, he sat back and casually said something horribly racist about a certain group of people. I was so shocked, I said nothing, and Buster then proceeded to rail against this group of people, saying terrible things, in a voice loud enough that people at neighboring tables could hear. I sat, disgusted and embarrassed, through his diatribe, until finally he noticed the look of horror on my face. Buster asked if he'd offended me. I mumbled that I thought we should change the subject. He asked if perhaps I were a member of the group he had been speaking of and said that if I were, "it [didn't] show."

At this point, I excused myself and went to the ladies' room, where I washed my hands and reapplied my lipstick. I then buttoned my coat, exited the ladies' room, and walked right out the restaurant's front door and went home.

I've said nothing about the details of the date to Brenda (who, by the way, is a member of the group Buster was speaking about) -- or to anyone, really (I did tell my mom, who lives far away), and I haven't heard a peep from Buster. What should I say when Brenda asks me about the date? And what would have been a better way to handle the situation I described? I feel that I was a big coward, and I wonder if it would've been appropriate to tell him off (which I've been doing in my head ever since).

Sincerely,
Misery Date

Dear Miserable Madam,
In fact, you made your point quite eloquently. Although I have a couple of suggestions for similar situations, I don't think you performed too badly at all in this one -- the horror of which certainly earns you a place in the Top 10 Worst Blind Dates Hall of Fame. Although etiquette tends to shy away from "telling people off," it does not require us to smilingly accept behavior such as Buster's or other sorts of unforgivable maleficence.

When a person demonstrates that he does not care to be a part of human society -- by showing himself to be a racist, for example -- we are quite right to cut him off from its pleasures (in your case, the pleasure of a civilized conversation over a nice meal). The rules of etiquette have always included powerful ways to deal with scoundrels, and you've applied one of them: refusal to engage. When faced with someone as detestable as Buster, you are right (and perfectly well mannered) to decline to have anything whatsoever to do with him.

As a rule, when someone makes a racist comment, you might at first temper your outrage with graciousness and assume that he has misspoken. For example, you could have given Buster a chance to correct himself by saying something like, "I don't think you realize how horrendous that sounded; surely you couldn't mean ...." Given this chance, most people will backpedal like mad (and you'll have the satisfaction of watching them struggle). The socially graceful thing to do thereafter would be to accept the comment as a misunderstanding (or pretend to do so) -- and then to treat the person warily until he proves himself worthy of your trust and goodwill. Social Grace wants you always to assume the best if you can, but that doesn't mean you have to ignore serious personality problems.

If your attempt at correction fails, you may take more drastic measures. A speedy departure works fine for me -- it's called "applied rudeness," and in small doses it's just the thing. You've been imagining giving Buster a piece of your mind, but there was nothing further to discuss: He was wrong, and your departure demonstrated your unwillingness even to entertain arguments on the subject. If you had felt up to it, you could have said, "I will not listen to this kind of talk, and I think it would be best if we called it an evening." Such a statement is direct and to the point -- and perhaps a better way to handle situations like these than merely walking away.

If you are asked about this date, by Brenda or by anyone, you are wise to say as little as possible -- certainly nothing beyond the fact that you don't care to see Buster again. I live by the maxim "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." That means there's nothing to be said about Buster.

Dear Social Grace,
It's been a while since I've been in the "dating pool," and I have a couple of questions about proper "date" behavior. I should mention that I am a woman who dates women. So, on a first date, should we split the tab? Or how do we figure out who pays for dinner? Is a kiss at the end of a first date too forward? I want to be proper and impress my date.

Shy Girl

Dear Shy Madam,
After reading this week's first letter, you might want to wait at least an hour before re-entering the dating pool -- I know I'm going to sit right here in my deck chair for a bit and watch the other people swim. When you're ready, you might put the following advice to use.

Regardless of the genders of those involved, and unless you make other arrangements beforehand, the financial obligations of a date are traditionally the responsibility of the asker (though it's nice -- and not incorrect -- for the askee to pop for a drink after dinner, say, or the popcorn at the movie). It's fine to ask someone out on a date while making it clear that you want to split costs; however, you might agree with me that such behavior is not exactly guaranteed to impress and should perhaps be saved until a relationship is floating along nicely.

As for that first kiss, well, 100 Victorian poets agree that unconsummated desire is much more intense than the immediately satisfied kind. Ultimately, though, the decision of when to kiss is yours and your date's to make together. Etiquette pointedly pays no attention whatsoever to the tender, private goings-on at your doorstep. (And the official Social Grace biographers remind me that I would be at best a hypocrite to suggest that a first-date kiss is improper.) When it's time, you'll know. If you're not sure that the time is right, it probably isn't ... but it's always polite to ask.

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Social Grace

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