Modern Love

The etiquette of online dating

Dear Social Grace,

If you join an online dating service, do you have to send replies to everyone who answers your ad, even if you're not interested in meeting them? I know it seems like the polite thing to do, but there are some other factors, such as: responses from guys who are kind of creepy, and sometimes too many responses to answer. What would you do?

Via the Internet

Dear Popular Madam or Sir,

The Social Grace Hypothetical-Situation Monitors are of a mind that if I were to join an online dating service, "too many responses" wouldn't be a problem, so we'll confine ourselves to your real-life situation. Yes, answering invitations (especially invitations you have, in a way, solicited) seems like the polite thing to do -- because it is the polite thing to do. In our offline lives, we may receive romantic overtures from people who are not to our tastes, and we must gently rebuff them. The anonymity afforded by the Internet is a bad, not to mention cowardly, excuse for thoughtlessness. It'd take but a few clicks to copy, paste, and send a simple "I'm terribly sorry, but I don't think we'd be compatible; good luck to you, though" form e-mail. Such a response is a basic act of courtesy, acknowledging that even online beaux have feelings.

We can also apply a three-dimensional-world rule to "creepy" e-mails, if by that term you mean inappropriate or downright frightening. They are best ignored -- or reported to the authorities if necessary -- as is most creepy communication. But if you've inspired the beginnings of hopeful feelings in the heart of a suitor who has no chance of winning your heart, try for a magnanimous gentleness when you send him on his way.

Dear Social Grace,

While using a co-worker's computer (with his permission while he was out of the office) to find some files I needed, I stumbled upon (I swear I was not snooping) a folder full of pornographic images. Should I confront him? If so, how?

John

Dear John,

Unless your aim is to make yourself and your colleague feel terribly uncomfortable, there's no reason to confront him. (And if you weren't snooping, how would you know that the folder was "full" of pornography? Certainly some snooping went into figuring that out?) Your colleague is being extremely careless, and if he doesn't already know that, he'll likely learn the hard way soon enough. (A supervisor generally finds pornography on an employee's computer only once.) Unfortunately, there's no good way to say, "Pardon me, sir, but your pornography is showing." Feel free, though, to leave this newspaper, open to this page, in your office's break room or kitchen. You might save your co-worker his job.

You are always welcome, when a co-worker offends you mightily -- say, by exposing you to pornography against your will -- to speak to a manager or human resources person. However, be sure that you were, in fact, mightily offended: If the reason for the pornography viewer's firing becomes known around the office, you might find yourself on the wrong end of some disapproving eyes.

Dear Social Grace,

While driving in to work last week, I accidentally cut off a co-worker of mine. She is usually quite friendly at the office, but in this instance, she honked at me several times, sped up to pass me, and made what I guess you would call a "rude hand gesture." I was shocked! And I was a little bit hurt, too. Her behavior toward me at the office, though, was the same, and I have to assume that she did not recognize me or my car. I feel like I want to say something to her about this, because the more I think about it, the more I'm upset by her rude behavior. Is this something I should just forget about, or is there something I could say?

Shocked Driver

Dear Shocked Madam or Sir,

Unlike the person with pornography squirreled away on his computer, your co-worker was more than terribly careless; she was aggressively mean and nasty, which makes your situation a bit different. You needn't put up with that kind of treatment, and your co-worker should be dissuaded of the notion (widely held though it may be) that being in a car, like being on the Internet, gives a person anonymity and the permission to be rude. You might give her a chance to apologize, by doing the same yourself: "I'm sorry I cut you off yesterday morning at the corner of Third and Folsom; I didn't see your car." If she has any sense, she'll be mortified by her inappropriate response to such a common, accidental occurrence, and she might be more careful with her motoring manners in the future.

 
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