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Miss Conduct

A date, sort of

How to respond to a plausible-deniability pass, plus wedding-party requests.

By Robin Abrahams
December 6, 2009

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I always wear a wedding ring at the gym, but I have been repeatedly approached by men. I have no problem saying, “I’m married,” when their intentions are clear (“You are beautiful -- can I take you out?”). What is harder is when they say hello in a friendly way for a few months, then try to engage in small talk, and finally say, “We should go out for coffee sometime -- as friends.” No one has ever made me feel threatened, and I know I will continue to see these men at the gym in the future. I’d like to keep things light and friendly. K.K. / Waltham Thank you for telling me you don’t feel threatened. That’s the kind of information that is very helpful for an advice columnist! (And if any of my female readers have K.K.’s problem and do feel threatened, let me recommend joining a women’s health club.) It sounds as though you are the recipient of a classic plausible-deniability pass: the pass people make when they’re not quite certain enough of the situation -- or perhaps their own intentions -- to go the full distance and ask another person out.

And the recipient of a plausible-deniability pass can respond however he or she likes. From the tone of your letter, I’m assuming you don’t want to go for coffee with these gentlemen, in which case a simple “That’s a lovely idea, but frankly, I’m lucky I have time even to make it to the gym!” will do. Repeat as necessary until they get the message; if they never do get the message, it’s time to stop being breezy and start being extremely direct. (Keeping things “light and friendly” is a two-way street, so don’t assume all the responsibility yourself.) If there ever is someone you would like to get to know, tell him you’d be delighted to take him up on the offer -- some time when your husband can join both of you for a post-workout refreshment.

My boyfriend and I have been together almost six years. Every time the subject of when I’ll get married comes up, an aunt with whom I am close asks me if her 15-year-old daughter is going to be included in my wedding party. Without being rude, I say, “I don’t know,” “I may only have a maid of honor,” etc. If I should decide not to include her in my wedding party, what is the best way of presenting this case to my aunt? Her daughter has even started asking other family members the same question, and I am beginning to feel backed into a corner. M.T. / Boston You don’t need to present a case to your aunt. She isn’t a prosecuting attorney. She is, in fact, someone with whom you are allegedly close, who therefore ought to be happy to celebrate your wedding with you rather than play matrimonial stage mother. Tell your aunt that you haven’t made up your mind yet how you will conduct your wedding -- you aren’t even engaged, as far as your letter indicates. Tell her that you’ll let her know when you’ve gotten engaged and made some decisions. Point out that no one in the family has an inside scoop, and that you’d appreciate it, therefore, if her daughter would stop bothering other relatives about your as-yet-purely-hypothetical nuptials.

If you already know that you’re not including your cousin in the wedding, you might want to break it to your aunt after you’ve had this conversation and her enthusiasm has banked a bit. Give her a heads-up, however, only if you think that will cause her to stop campaigning for her daughter’s inclusion from now until the wedding. If she’s going to cause problems -- for you or, worse, for other family members -- then hold off saying anything until you’re ready for an official all-family announcement.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology. She is the author of Miss Conduct’s Mind Over Manners. Got a question or comment? Write to missconduct@globe.com. BLOG Read more of Miss Conduct’s wit and wisdom at boston.com/missconduct. CHAT Get advice live every first and third Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at boston.com.

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