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Three Strikes 

He's a guy, you're a cute lesbian; how to turn down a date offer, nicely

Wednesday, Sep 14 2005
Dear Social Grace,

I'm a "femmy" lesbian living in a liberal but very white-bread suburb where gays are pretty invisible. Several times, I've been asked out by guys who obviously don't know I'm gay, and who I'll have to see again, such as a friend of a friend or a fellow student. I don't want to give a half-true excuse like "Sorry, but I'm busy that night," because 1) he's going to ask again, and 2) I just can't think on my feet for even social white lies like that.

In the past, I've said, "Oh, thank you, that's sweet, but I'm gay." And the reaction: You'd think I'd pulled off a rubber mask and said, "I'm sorry, but I'm from the planet Xorax!" I don't like making these guys uncomfortable, but I can't think of any lies that won't make the guy feel unduly rejected. And any other "it's not you it's me" lie I can think of will eventually be found out, since I'm going to see this guy again.

And while I feel badly for shocking these guys, if I asked out a woman who said, "I'm sorry, but I'm straight," I would take it in stride. So any social gymnastics I can think of feels like I'm making up for my "social faux pas" of being gay.

Tempest Toss'd in the Seas of Social Interaction

Dear Tempest-Toss'd Madam,

Explaining that you are gay to romance-minded bachelors isn't rude. The unpleasant reactions of some fellows -- those are rude. But you mustn't blame yourself. You're right; these guys should at least pretend to take it in stride. If they don't, the gracious thing for you to do would be to pretend you hadn't noticed their bad behavior.

But another polite alternative would be to say simply, "No, thank you; I'm afraid I can't." The fellow may ask you out once or twice again, but your "No thanks" is your only real obligation. You don't have to give him a reason. (In some cases, the real reason for a "No thanks" is unnecessarily hurtful and therefore better left unsaid.) And for the benefit of the world's single folks, I'll add that if someone declines your invitation to go on a date three times -- and doesn't beg you to ask again -- you should almost certainly stop asking (for at least several months).

Finally, a white lie can be very useful when you need to spare someone's feelings. You're right that "I'm busy that night" is too encouraging to be effective in this situation, but I can imagine a few evasions you might use if you wanted to keep your private life to yourself -- for instance, "I'm sorry, but I'm not eligible to date new guys right now, for personal reasons, as much as I enjoy our collegial relationship."

Dear Social Grace,

I became single a little over a year ago, and I have gone on numerous "first dates" since then. In several instances, various well-intentioned gentlemen have picked up the tab for dinner and drinks, sometimes at considerable expense. I think it's tacky to argue about who will pay the bill, so I graciously accept their generosity.

I might offer to pick up the tab on a third or fourth date, but not the first date. To my thinking, a first date is merely an introductory meeting, and either party paying the entire expense of the meal introduces an imbalance that isn't appropriate to the situation, at least for a same-sex date. It might seem obvious to suggest that I reciprocate the next time, but often there isn't a "next time."

What are your thoughts?

Dear Richard,

For you, I would suggest that when you and your date are making your first-date dinner plans, you make it clear that you prefer that the date be a split-the-check affair. Making this arrangement understood beforehand should prevent many misunderstandings. (I'll note that in some dating situations, the person who asks someone to dinner is understood to be the one who will pay for dinner. If you, as an askee, prefer to pay your own way, you should definitely say so before you are at the restaurant.)

However, among friends or between a couple on a dinner date, a little back-and-forth about check-paying isn't all that unusual. Indeed, some of your dates may expect a polite tussle: He makes his grand gesture; you demur; he offers again, a bit less assertively; you insist, a bit more resolutely; and, finally, he graciously assents.

Usually, this sort of bout shouldn't go further than the third round -- after that, it stops being a polite tussle and becomes an exasperating argument. When someone offers to pay a third time, you may want to let him or her win. And if someone refuses your offer a third time, you should probably stop persisting.

Anyway, any supposed "imbalance" would exist only in your imagination, as long as we can assume that your date is a gentleman who knows that buying someone dinner purchases a meal -- nothing more. Your only obligation is to say, "Thank you."

Dear Social Grace,

Situation: Three guys (my partner, myself, and a colleague of mine) are having lunch in a nice Mexican restaurant. Our three meals come, but mine is slightly wrong. The waitress takes my order back. I ask the other two guys to please start eating, as I don't want their food to get cold. They both insist that they will wait, to be polite. My question: I gave them permission to begin, isn't that good enough?


Dear Steve,

Beginning a restaurant meal before everyone at the table is served has become a major social taboo (I can only dream of a world in which using a cell phone during dinner were as abhorrent). But in many cases, it is more of a good-manners hobgoblin than a true requirement of courtesy. For instance, if meals are arriving slowly at a large restaurant table (more than six people), it's perfectly correct for a host (or someone who doesn't have his or her meal yet) to invite others to begin eating, and for them to do so -- if at a leisurely pace, until everyone is served.

Most of our table-manners rules serve to make meals more pleasant for as many people as possible. In the situation you describe, your friends' not beginning their meals had no beneficent effect: They were put out, you were made uncomfortable, and their meals got cold. Instead, they could have taken you at your word, picked up their utensils, and ate a couple of small bites. Since you were gracious enough to invite them to, this would have been just fine.

But here, too, insisting more than three times would probably be out of line. After they've declined your offer twice, you should smile graciously and say thank you. Some people are just more frightened of etiquette hobgoblins than of tepid enchiladas. It's nothing to argue about.

About The Author

Social Grace


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