Is it bad manners to thank someone for dinner via fax?

Virginia, Winchester,

Uncle Ony: Your question betrays a deep anxiety about rules and absolutes in a formless and fast-changing modern world. What you are seeking is your own authority and the ability to trust your own judgement. Good manners are not about rules but the ability to make another person feel happy and comfortable. Would you be happy to receive a thank-you note via fax? Will the recipient involved feel happy? Only you can decide.

Auntie Ag: (Don't listen to Ony, darling. It's not your personal authority that's the problem, but the fact that he can't be bothered to answer the bloody questions.) Yes, it would be hideously rude and vulgar (though not as bad as using the fax to chuck someone). Send a note or a pretty card like everyone else does.

There is a bloke I really like and fancy in the office. I find it very easy to get on and have fun with everyone else, but when he is around I turn into a weird, alien person. I cannot think of a reply when he speaks to me, become very clumsy, and everything I say hangs in the middle of the conversation like a big fish.

Ruth, Leeds.

Uncle Ony: This has arisen through simple lack of communication. With your other colleagues, the relationship is straightforward. Here there is another dimension of which he may not be aware, and it is the pretence and dishonesty which is creating the tension. Find a moment alone with this man, explain to him light-heartedly that - as often happens in a work situation - you have been afflicted with a crush, which you are sure will soon pass. Ask him meanwhile, to bear with you if you behave rather like a schoolgirl meeting Damon from Blur. I'm sure he will be charmed and amused and you'll find the tension diffused.

Auntie Ag: Do nothing of the sort, darling. It will only encourage him to think he is Damon from Blur, and use the story to charm and amuse the entire office. These things are never as noticeable to everyone else as you think - and far more often than you'd think, the result of a mutual attraction. Don't try too hard, don't think about impressing him, don't worry about what he thinks. Just concentrate on being pleasant, ladylike, and ever so slightly mysterious, and you may find romance will blossom all on its own.

Last week I slept with a very old friend of mine, Tessa, of whom I am really fond. I assumed it was just fun and we had both just fallen into bed as a one off because we felt like it. But now a mutual friend has told me Tessa is really upset, hurt, and furious with me for not contacting her afterwards. She thought it meant a lot more and feels used. I can't understand it and don't know what to do.

David, Dudley

Uncle Ony: You have my sympathy, David. Women today seem to demand a selective equality: expecting to compete economically with the male but reverting to 19th century expectations when it comes to dating. You have nothing to reproach yourself with and I suggest you continue as before; and call Tessa whenever it seems natural to resume the normal pattern of your friendship.

Aunt Ag: Oh don't be so thick, darling. Men and women's emotional responses to a first shag are wildly different: while men are inclined to stride forth into the world like cockerels who've just accomplished a top-level mission, women are fighting down hideous vulnerability; fear that the sight of their bottom has put you off for ever and you'll tell all your friends, and a fluttering instinct to nest actually on the telephone. She'll be feeling hurt, humiliated and betrayed. You've loved her all this time for her friendship and mind, now she'll feel her body didn't cut the mustard. The only way out is to ring her immediately, claiming that you feel used because she didn't call you and was it because your performance wasn't up to scratch? That should restore her dignity and wounded pride, recreate a sense of equality, and leave the way open to patching things up.

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