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The Thrift Of Gab

I'm in the public eye, I've done well financially, and I'm not bad looking. A female coworker tells me I'm the kind of guy single women refer to as "good on paper." Off paper, there's a catch: Although I have a female "friend with benefits" who comes over several times a week, I don't want a regular relationship, nor am I interested in dating a series of women. I still love intelligent, interesting women, and I enjoy talking to them at parties. Apparently, since I talk to them simply because I find them compelling, not as a lead-up to asking them out, I've gotten a bad reputation with some women I know. According to them, I owe a woman an explanation when she expects me to ask her for her number or invite her on a date, but I don't. Do I really need to spell it out?

--Subtle Trouble

It is customary to wait until you're in a relationship before you have "The Breakup Conversation." Customary, but not mandatory. In fact, there's nothing stopping you from introducing yourself with "Hi, it would never work, and my name's Bob" -- thus breaking up with a woman before you even get into a conversation with her.

You'll probably be rewarded for your aggressive honesty with a little aggressive honesty in return: "Hi, hope you get somebody to lance that swollen ego, my name's Sophie, I'm married to Oliver, I don't find you the least bit attractive, I just wanted to know if you'd seen the corkscrew."

Repeated emotional thrashings like Sophie's are sure to lead to fascinating debates about the human psyche -- yours, that is -- by a variety of psychiatric professionals. Sadly, you'll find it next-to-impossible to supplement these chats with wine and brie, especially if the orderlies strap you to your bed. But, maybe it needn't come to that. Maybe you simply need to review the difference between chatting with a woman and chatting a woman up.

Let's take a peek at your party manners: Are you letting sexual innuendo fly like shrapnel? Are your hands homesteading in your belt loops, or are they making Lewis and Clark-like expeditions up and down a woman's arm? Are your eyeballs snug in your sockets, or did you lose them in some woman's cleavage -- the place they usually fall after you stare laser-like into a woman's eyes for about three seconds too long?

If you can honestly say you aren't flirting dirty, you shouldn't be held responsible for any woman's expectations. To many single women, a party isn't just a party, but a one-night-only super-sale at the Mall Of Men. The heat you're getting probably has more to do with what you are -- high-end display-only merchandise -- than what you're doing. After all, if you were some ratty homeless guy chatting women up, you can bet they wouldn't be dissing you to their girlfriends for failing to invite them out to some fine French restaurant's dumpster for a few slightly-used hors d'oeuvres.

Even if you aren't blameworthy, as a single, yet unavailable man, you might take pity on women who are prone to mistake friendliness for boyfriendliness by making it clear that you're all talk and no trousers. There's no need to get graphic; just slip hints into conversation, like "too bad I'm off the dating market" to help them get the message that you're otherwise engaged. (Tragically, you feel compelled to honor your pledge to save yourself for all that commitment-free great sex you're getting at home.)

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.