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Save The Males

I was sitting at a café when the guy next to me struck up a conversation with me about the book I was reading. It turns out that we work in related fields and have a mutual interest in energy conservation and other environmental issues. To my surprise, less than an hour after we met, he called and asked me out for a drink that evening. I felt really on the spot, because I would like to be friends with the guy, but I have a boyfriend. I hadn’t mentioned being involved when we talked earlier, and it seemed too awkward to come out with it in response to his invitation. Not knowing what to say, I blurted out a lame excuse for why I couldn’t make it. He sounded hurt, and I felt terrible. How can I be honest about the fact that I’m seeing someone -- without being clumsy?

--Eco Worrier

Maybe you’re the Billy Crystal of the compost heap, and a few words from you on orange rind repurposing are enough to take the edge off enviro-boy’s fears that the national parks will be turned into national parking lots. Or maybe you do a gut-busting bit on sustainable agriculture, helping him forget his worries that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will become a giant gas station, and the Grand Canyon will be redeveloped into a mall. (Naturally, there’d be a food court serving Kentucky Fried Spotted Owl.)

Still, a guy generally doesn’t call you less than an hour after meeting you because he can’t make it through the day without more of your environmentally correct witticisms. In fact, if there’s a short list of what men want, it’s extremely short on lengthy, clothed monologues about solar panel installation issues. Sure, this particular guy might share your interest in preserving the planet and its species, but species preservation does begin at home, and chasing you naked around his home was most likely what he had in mind.

Don’t make the mistake of keeping mum about your romantic status until a guy invites you out to throw back the wheat grass-mopolitans. At that point, it’s about as subtle as unleashing a chorus line of strip miners to belt out, “SHE HAS A BOYFRIEND, SHE HAS A BOYFRIEND, CHA CHA CHA!” Like eco-conservation, ego conservation is a preemptive measure. It starts with assuming that any guy who says so much as “pass the flax seeds” is hoping to embark on some small-scale eco-tourism: a one-man journey under one woman’s 27 layers of zipper-free hemp. Unfortunately, assuming this out loud, in so many words, is rude and presumptuous, since there is some microbial possibility that he just wants to hear more of your fine words on the merits of wind farming.

Your best bet is engaging in a bit of verbal dumping -- crumpling up the occasional “us,” “we,” and “my boyfriend and I are training hamsters to power small household appliances” and casually flicking them into conversation. If a guy doesn’t take the hint from all the plural pronouns you’re littering around, it’s probably because he’s into the challenge of pursuing somebody who’s already spoken for. Ultimately, it’s his job to do the requisite investigative work before he retrofits the Learjet to run on used french fry oil and invites you out for a 17-course Tofurkey dinner.

Copyright ©2003, Amy Alkon, from her syndicated column, "The Advice Goddess," which appears in over 100 papers across the U.S. and Canada. All rights reserved.