Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 1 January 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. I have a huge crush on a man who works in the same building as I do, but on a different floor. He lives quite near me but, although I have bumped into him on the Tube from time to time and in the lobby of our building and he seems to find me not unattractive, he has made no attempt to see me outside work. I have a friend and ally who works on his floor and chats a lot to him. She says he definitely does not have a girlfriend and definitely is not gay. She says he is just shy. How can I push things forward, Mary?

Name withheld, London E14

A. Put up an advert on the staff noticeboard offering something irresistible that your friend and ally has deduced, through chatting, that the man in question is in need of. It should be a bulky item and also something that you yourself are prepared to buy or forfeit in the cause of furthering this relationship. For example, ‘Good as new laserjet printer, unwanted. Free to anyone prepared to collect.’ Have your friend and ally draw his attention to this bargain offer. (In the meantime tell all other callers that the item has already gone.) When he rings to arrange collection, ask whether he would prefer to come on a night when you will be cooking supper so that he has time to examine the goods before he takes them away.

Q. I would be very grateful if you could help me with the following conundrum. I recently attended a wedding of two great friends of mine. As the day of the event approached, and no call from the groom — hitherto an almost dead cert for the role of best man at my own wedding — had materialised, I assumed that I had not been asked to be one of his ushers since such positions would be filled by family only. On the day itself, however, I discovered that this was far from the case, and that former school friends with whom the groom no longer socialises were instead among the party of ushers. I spent the day fielding questions from other wedding guests eager to discover why I had been overlooked. To the best of my knowledge I have not done anything which would give cause for such action to be taken, nor do I have any inexcusably foul habits which would render me unsuitable for such a role. The couple have now returned from their honeymoon and seem keen to continue where we had left off, inviting me and my girlfriend to dinner immediately upon their return, without offering any explanation for their surprising decision. How can I let it be known that I’ve been left feeling somewhat downcast both by their decision and the lack of explanation for it?

C.R., London

A. You can go a long way towards solving the mystery by the following means. Trawl around your other friends who are getting married soon and pick one who is not well known to the groom in question. When, at the dinner, the subject of the wedding day comes up, as it inevitably will, you can casually throw in, ‘By the way, Simon Smug is getting married soon and he says he can’t decide which of two people should be his best man. He wonders whether the runner-up, so to speak, would think it was too second division to be asked to be an usher instead. What did you think when you were planning your own wedding?’ Smile pleasantly while he gives his response.