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.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!
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.
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.