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MISS CONDUCT

Witness to Crimes of Passion

When friends kiss and grope in front of you, plus saying "this is not a date" and secret loans.

Miss Conduct
(Illustration / Nathalie Dion)

How can I best handle a couple who insist on public displays of heavy affection? I’m not referring to strangers with whom you can just turn a blind eye and ignore, but close friends who often launch into this type of behavior in front of me in both public and nonpublic places.

S.M. in Cambridge

With humor. Nothing withers the romantic impulse quite like a well-timed quip. Convey the message that their behavior is silly (rather than transgressive or refreshingly open), and they might well stop. I’m sure you have your own comic style, but I’d be tempted myself to drop into sportscaster mode and narrate the action: “And they kiss! His hand is creeping up into her hair – was that a little tug there? It was! He’s going for the Stanley Kowalski he-man approach this time, and it looks like she’s responding to it. Whoops, her right hand’s going below the table. Can’t see the action now, but it looks like they both brought their A game today, folks!” Yes, they’ll think you’re obnoxious and immature, but you already think that of them, so what’s the harm?

Is there a polite way to make it clear that an outing is a friendly get-together, not a date? There have been times when I’m speaking with a man from work or church about a movie or an art exhibit that I’d like to see, and he would also like to go. It seems natural to suggest going together, but can it be done without sounding like a pickup line? Or when he makes the offer, is there a way to make it clear you’d enjoy spending the time together as friends without sounding presumptuous?

S.D. in Somerville

Sadly, there isn’t any unmistakable yet ego-sparing way of making your intentions clear. If you, as a single woman, don’t already know the universal method of saying “Just friends, OK?” then that implies that said method doesn’t, in fact, exist. So it’s not just you; no one else knows what’s going on, either. There can be a certain liberation in that understanding.

That said, there are things you can do to lessen the chance of a miscommunication. Keep invitations limited to daytime activities that don’t seem too datelike (no midnight salsa lessons). Some of my single friends and I initially thought that a good solution might be to say, “Oh, I was thinking about going to the Hopper exhibit with some friends. Would you like to join us?” But we realized that if you can’t corral any friends for the Hopper exhibit, then it looks as if you were asking him on a date after all, just in a stupidly coy way (“Whoops. Looks like it’s just us! Tee-hee.”). So don’t do that if you’re asking. If it’s the man doing the asking, though, you could send the “not a date” message by saying, “Oh, I’d love to see the Hopper exhibit – my roommate and I were just talking about it. Shall I invite her along?”

I think your best chance is to follow your instincts, and ask or accept if that’s what you feel like doing. Let your behavior on the outing make it clear whether or not it’s a date. It’s a tricky situation for everyone these days. Men and women both need to realize that sometimes their expectations will be disappointed, and it’s no one’s fault. It’s not because men are pigs or women are manipulative, but because society is in transition, and there’s no generally agreed upon way of making intentions clear. So don’t have a meltdown if you’re on the receiving end of an unwanted pass; turn it down gently and appreciate the compliment. And don’t consider your time wasted if what you hoped was a date turns into “just friends” – your new friend might, after all, have some attractive single friends to introduce you to.

A few months ago, my sister-in-law borrowed $1,000 from my wife without telling me. Though she promptly paid the money back, I was upset that she did this behind my back. Am I wrong to be upset with my sister-in-law? She says I should be upset with my wife and not her. What do you think?
M.C. in Natick

Your sister-in-law’s only mistake was believing that you and your wife communicate better than, apparently, you do. Since when is it “going behind someone’s back” to treat his or her spouse as an independent person capable of making adult decisions? Depending on what kind of mood I was in to begin with, I’d either be furious or flabbergasted if I offered a loan to someone and he or she then checked it out with my husband.

Your sister-in-law clearly assumed that you and your wife both have your own pots of money to manage independently, or that you had already talked about the loan together, or that you have a family rule that covered the situation. These are such terribly reasonable assumptions that I think you ought to make at least one of them come true. It sounds as if you and your wife never really talked much about how your family handles finances, so why not start those conversations now?

My Word
Tomorrow is Labor Day. Spend a moment to think about everyone whose work makes your life easier, and ask what you can do for them. Make eye contact and smile when you place an order. Don’t quarrel about “company policy” with someone who was in no position to make it. Communicate clearly, and tip generously.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology.

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