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HANDLING INTERNET DATES

DEAR MISS MANNERS -- Is there such thing as "interline dating etiquette," or would that be an oxymoron? I confess that I am new to the genre, but here is my dilemma (and it is not an isolated situation).

I have had several pleasant phone conversations with a man who is an articulate and pleasant professional; we have a lot in common, and have exchanged photos. He suggested we meet at 7:30 p.m. (my dinner hour) on a Friday night. He lives 45 minutes away and will drive to my city after work. Considering the time, I assumed this meant the evening meal, and asked what type of restaurants he prefers so I could arrange a meeting place; he said he was suggesting a drink, "possibly" dinner.

I am a bit put off by this. I see some logic in foregoing dinner if we don't feel a connection. I also feel as two adults who enjoy one another's conversation that we could pass an enjoyable hour over dinner regardless of any attraction (or lack thereof). Frankly, I am a bit uneasy with the notion that I am to be "on trial" over drinks, and will be honored with his company for dinner only if I pass muster; otherwise I will be summarily dismissed prior to any meal! This reeks a bit too much of the cattle auction for me -- check her teeth, and then, if she looks like a good breeder, pony up the funds for feed!

Maybe that's just how it's done in these days of Internet dating, or maybe I'm old-fashioned, or both. Am I being too picky in feeling that a gentleman and a lady out on a date should both be able to commit to graciously dine together (and that this makes a much more appropriate "date" than wine on an empty stomach, as dinner, after all, "might" be in the offing), regardless of whether there is a Grand Attraction? Am I missing something here?

Gentle Reader -- Yes, and Miss Manners would have thought she would be the last person in the world to explain it to you.

She can at least assure you that your problem is not being old-fashioned. If that were the case, you would not be meeting strangers with the purpose of frankly checking each other over as possible candidates for romance. If the cow were as free and eager to choose a farmer as the farmer is the cow, then "cattle auction" would be an apt term.

However, the modern form recognizes that it is harder to choose a romantic partner, and therefore the convention is to keep the initial time commitment to a minimum. Your prospect is already putting an hour and a half driving time into it.

Perhaps if you stop thinking of it as a date and think of it as an interview, you will realize that you cannot expect this encounter to observe the time-consuming niceties of courtship.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissMannersunitedmedia.com.

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