Friday, March 23, 2012

Dance with the one that asked you first

Yesterday's Miss Manners asks:
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it acceptable for a girl to decline an invitation to a dance, only to later accept another invitation to the same dance? This is for a high school dance or prom.
Miss Manners replies,
GENTLE READER: If you are the parent of a young gentleman to whom this has been done, Miss Manners can confirm that the young lady is indeed rude, and that however crushed your son is, he is better off. She would be capable of committing another rudeness, such as breaking the date later.

If you are the parent of a young lady who proposes to do this, it is still rude, but Miss Manners has more to say.

You should tell your daughter that as the idea is to avoid hurting the young gentleman’s feelings, in theory, she should be able to do this if he would never find out. Then ask her how she would decline without being unkind or untruthful. And remind her that there are no secrets in high school.

There is another lesson you might give, even though she will not believe it. That is that some law of nature makes the least popular boy in high school into the most desirable man later in life, yet, no matter how successful and glamorous he has become, makes him remember and continue to smart from having been slighted.
Lulu: Whoa. I thought I understood high school politeness rules, but Miss Manners seems really strict here. My understanding was that you certainly couldn't agree to go to the dance with one boy, then change your mind and cancel and switch to someone else, but I didn't think you couldn't say no to one boy then say yes to another!

Ashley: Yeah, what the ef!

Lulu: It makes THEORETICAL sense, I guess; like, if you show up with someone else, it's making a pretty unequivocal statement that you just didn't like that guy, which lacks the kind of plausible deniability that politeness strives for. Like presumably you say no for a particular reason, like in Jean and Johnny when Johnny said he couldn't go to the Sadie Hawkins dance with Jean because his grandmother was sick, and then she was super hurt when he showed up anyway with some lame excuse that she got better, so... But the practical result of this rule is that you have to go with whoever asks you first if you're going to go at all. What if someone you hate asks you super early?

Ashley: Right. You have to decide if you go with the first guy or not at all? That seems harsh. I guess you could lie, and that would be fine. "I'm sorry, I'm going with someone else," then just hope someone else asks (or ask someone yourself).

Lulu: That's definitely the solution if you're pretty sure a particular person will ask you soon, like in Achingly Alice when Sam asked her but she was more or less going steady with Patrick and assumed they'd go together even though they hadn't yet discussed it. In that book, she was honest, but it was pretty awkward.

Ashley: If you don't get another date, you could show up anyway by yourself, "Something came up and they cancelled."

Lulu: I just think you should be allowed to say "No thanks." Miss Manners is usually all about no excuses, no explanations. No lying, but a clear, unexplained "No" is fine, when it's adults. But I guess that is usually in situations where "No" means you're not going at all.

Ashley: I still don't get why she has to say yes to the first guy; there's a weird guilt trip going on. "Oh, no, the poor boy's feelings." What about her feelings?

Lulu: It does put her in a very restrictive position, where her only option is to stay home as punishment for being asked by the wrong guy. I feel like girls who are liked by creepy guys are already in super awkward positions. If there has to be such a rule, I would prefer if it were: you're only allowed to ask one person. If they say no, you have to stay home. At least then the person with agency is being punished for the wrong choice. It's a game or a gamble, not an arbitrary thing that happens to you.

Ashley: I guess the alternate solution if you think, as a girl, that a wrong guy is going to ask you, is to go around asking guys you like. They can't say no and then show up at the dance! Ask the most popular guy! This letter is so off the mark I don't even know...

Lulu: Yeah, that's the only solution. Just turn it into an aggressive game of instant asking as soon as the dance is announced. Everyone RUNS from homeroom and tries to find the cutest girl/guy while they dodge for cover, desperately trying to avoid being asked before they can find each other

Ashley: First day of high school. "Wanna go to senior prom in 4 years?" BOOM score.


  1. I have a comment on a different part, because you two pretty much nailed the bulk of this answer and why it was a big suitcase of stupid. A stupidcase!

    So on to the very end!

    "There is another lesson you might give, even though she will not believe it. That is that some law of nature makes the least popular boy in high school into the most desirable man later in life, yet, no matter how successful and glamorous he has become, makes him remember and continue to smart from having been slighted."

    I file this under lies we tell to unpopular boys to make them feel better about the fact that they suck really hard at high school. This is just patently false on all fronts - plenty of people who were total doofs in their early years CONTINUE to lose all over the place for the rest of their lives. Plenty of people who were popular in high school (but so dumb, it will be fair later in life!) manage to turn those sort of important traits of being able to charm people into real life success.

    And, gasp, some people who manage to turn their unpopularity in early life around and become successes later in life don't spend every second agonizing over remembered slights from K-12.

    My advice - if you are the parent girl, you can let your kind know that it is ok to say no and still go to the dance with somebody else. She will teaching the boy a valuable life lesson that dibs, while fun in theory, never actually works!

    If you are the parent of the sad boy - I don't know, let his hair down, throw away his glasses and hope that it magically transforms him into the prettiest girl at the ball?

  2. Agreed. I was talking to Mel about this answer and she noticed the same thing, although I forgot to work it into the response. I would say that the ability to let go of K-12 slights might in fact be predictive of the ability to turn around your personality in later life.

    My interpretation of all the "ugly duckling" stories we tell kids is a message of hope that even if things suck right now they CAN turn around, but a lot of people seem to make the clearly fallacious logical leap that EVERYONE will turn EVERYTHING around and adulthood is just like high school only opposite day.

    I agree that teaching the girl that it's okay to say "No" is a good life skill - the ability to politely but unequivocally refuse offers you don't want seems more useful, to me, than a sense of politeness so finely-tuned that it requires allowing everyone else to steamroll over your plans.

    And teaching the boy that you win some, you lose some, also seems like a better life skill than coddling him with praise, badmouthing the girl, and falsely promising that he'll blossom into a swan with no effort on his part. Either he's a creeper or he's just S.O.L. with this particular girl, but either way, his best bet is to relax, roll with the punches, and recognize that nobody owes it to him to like him, no matter what stellar qualities he may have.

    A lot of the issues we take here may also stem from the fact that Miss Manners is looking at this like a low-stakes social engagement, like someone offering you a ride to a dinner you're both going to anyway, and we're looking at it more like a date that happens to be at a dance, where a "Yes" would imply a certain present level of mutual attraction and the potential for future dates unless this one goes badly. It may vary from high school to high school, but I'm pretty sure our interpretation is more close to reality.