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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 5, 2003

Awkward moments in age of uncertainty

By Peter Rosegg
Special to The Advertiser

Gannett News Service
Is it me, or have social situations become more complicated in this age of liberty, equality, fraternity and political correctness?

Three mini-social situations lately left me puzzled. What to say? What to mean? The answers can't be found in an etiquette book. It's all about things I don't know how to say.

Scene One: At an elegant social event, I am chatting amiably with a gay couple, two men I know slightly and see fairly often. Another gay man, let's call him Geoff, whom I know well and genuinely like and admire, joins us.

Geoff knows the couple well, so as he shakes each hand he throws an arm around each man's shoulders and kisses him on the cheek, local style. Then he extends his hand to me, so I lean forward and kiss him on the cheek as well.

Did I mention I am not gay? "Not that there is anything wrong with that," as Jerry Seinfeld famously said.

Men kissing and hugging socially is hardly common, but not that unusual, either. Danny Kaleikini has a hug and kiss for me every time I see him, and I assume I am not the only one. Love you too, Danny!

But Geoff seemed embarrassed. "How continental," he mumbles as we step apart. Social chatter floods in, like water filling a void.

Scene Two: At one of those fancy wine-tasting fund-raisers, a woman of my acquaintance enters as I am chatting with some other people.

The woman — let's call her Alohalani — is a talented, intelligent, energetic organizer and activist who also happens to be an absolute knockout, if you like the type.

Tonight she looks even better than usual, if that is possible, in a dress for which she probably paid too much since large parts were left off, mostly on the back and front.

When she comes near, she pauses briefly to say hello and so I lean over to say, "Aloha" and we do the local kiss (sometimes called the "air kiss" if you are wearing lipstick) on the move.

With some shortness of breath, I mutter, "You look absolutely great tonight," as she is moving on.

Instantly, I want to run after her to say, "I meant, you look great tonight and also very intelligent!" but the moment has passed. And her husband is with her.

Does she now think I am a mindless pig, interested in appearances, not substance; beauty, not brains? Me, Mr. Sensitive Guy? What could I possible say to make sure she is not thinking something she may i or may not i be thinking?

Scene Three: In a nice restaurant on a Saturday night, as I wend my way to the lua, I see a woman I know slightly at a table for two, with her male partner's back toward me.

Now, this woman, whom we'll call Linda, is very recently separated (or even divorced, who can keep up?) from a prominent fellow in town, whom I also know slightly and probably knew first.

As I pass her table, I nod a "hello" and turn slightly toward her dinner partner, whom it turns out I do not know.

Just a brief, wordless encounter, but I sense some slight embarrassment. I imagine she may be thinking, "Do people know my ex and I are split? Do they automatically expect to see me with him? Are they shocked to see me out with someone else? What do they assume about this guy across the table? And do I care?"

Linda has absolutely no reason to explain herself to me or anyone else, but what if she wants to, a little bit?

So I am thinking abut passing her table again. Not knowing if she is the "dumper" or the "dumpee," if the split is amicable or a guerrilla war, still in contention or finally over, is there any way to let her know it's good she is out and about, whatever the circumstance?

Passing their table again, I see they have gone. Perhaps I have been saved from making a fool of myself, or perhaps I have missed a chance to make someone smile. Who will ever know?

Maybe someone has an answer to these shallow but vexing questions. Or maybe silence is golden. Even better, maybe Geoff or Alohalani or Linda will recognize themselves, despite the change of names. That way, I won't have to tell them anything directly. Phew.

Peter Rosegg is a former journalist and sometime public-relations person. He lives in Honolulu.