Charm School is a new book by Kathy Buchanan - a one-stop survival guide to help you deal with etiquette in the new millennium. You'll discover secrets to good living, loving and working - how to be a wonderful friend, to enjoy a fabulous love life and how to be happy and successful at work. Think of it as a (friendly and supportive) stiletto boot camp or a Ms Manners with a modern- and we promise you, never patronizing - twist. So, read on to take your first class...
LESSON 1: Email dating
It is the ultimate in 21st-century dating to give your email address to a cute guy you meet in a bar. That way you can suss him out even before giving out your mobile number, just in case he turns out to be a weirdo, a stalker, plain boring, or to have a drawer full of aqua undies (eek!). Although don't go too far. After flirting outrageously in cyber space it can be daunting when you're sitting in a restaurant with some guy and realize that you either don't really like him or, if you do, that you're embarrassed by how much personal information he already knows about you. If you lose your inhibitions on the Net and hit that send button way too quickly you'll probably regret it.
Don't go into detail about your sexual history on email. If you're using your work address, then sending such intimate emails could be a sackable offence, or at the very least a very humiliating incident if someone prints, forwards or is caught reading one of your saucy emails at work. How do you know he isn't forwarding your sexually explicit email to a group of his twenty closest mates? It has been done many times before and it'll be done again, just don't let it happen to you.
LESSON 2: Answering the dreaded question: 'How many men have you slept with?
It's no secret that most men, particularly long-term loves, would like to think that your sexual history begins and ends with him. But, once the subject has been broached, neither of you will be able to think of anything else until it is dealt with.
If it is very early on and you aren't comfortable talking about past sexual partners yet, then just say so. Don't bring the subject up yourself until you are on the cusp of sleeping together or even later on, once you are in an established relationship. But if you are ready to face his questioning, then you have three acceptable options.
Option 1. Tell the complete truth - if he loves you, he must accept everything about you, right?
Option 2. Tell him how many past sexual partners you've had but don't elaborate, even if he presses you. Say that those experiences were a part of your past and that you don't want to discuss them, as you only wish to focus on your future with him.
Option 3. Fudge - Don't lie outright but if you know he's only slept with two women and you have slept with thirty men then you may have a problem (as a rough guide, the average man probably wouldn't be keen to hear that you have slept with more than ten or so other guys.) But don't stretch the truth too much or you'll probably get caught out.
LESSON 3: How to deal with friends who put you down
Unfortunately we all need to deal with jealous people sometimes (and may even have an attack of the green-eyed monster ourselves every now and then!). When people are envious, there are several different ways that they attack, so look out for them and make sure you don't do any of these yourself...
Type 1. The non-attack attacker
If something absolutely amazing happens to you, she'll completely ignore it and instead focus on the one thing that is going badly in your life. She'll vindictively ask you in front of a guy she knows you secretly have a crush on, 'So, how's your love life?' when she knows that the most meaningful relationship you've had this century is with the local Chinese restaurant delivery guy. Yet she'll completely ignore that you have just won the Nobel Peace Prize and that your picture was on the front page of every newspaper worldwide.
Type 2. The 'Oh, she only got that because...'
She'll undermine you by saying patronizingly, 'Hmm. Yes, it's great she got that job, but... you know she did wear a very low-cut top to that interview...' Or, 'He's only going out with her because she's got big boobs' or any number of catty combinations.
Type 3. The 'You're so lucky!'
She's difficult to cope with because for some reason it makes her feel better to put your personal or professional success down to good fortune. She'll totally ignore the years of career struggle it took for you to get that one 'lucky break'. Or she'll conveniently forget that you only went out once a month for two years so you could save enough money for a deposit on a fabulous flat.
It is true that behind most 'overnight successes' there are ten years of hard work, so don't cut down your friends by putting their hard-won achievement down to 'luck'.
Type 4. The 'joker'
If your friend makes lots of jokes at your expense and thinks it's 'hilarious' to point out embarrassing events from your past - which are completely out of context and actually pretty humiliating - then don't just laugh along. Using hidden sarcasm or 'amusing yet scathing' remarks is cowardly and you'll probably find that, if you stand up to her, she'll back down fast.
Type 5. The blatant bitch
She'll twist the facts any which way she likes, to suit her insecurities. Everyone loves a good gossip every now and then, but not if it's vindictive or hurts someone. There's not much you can do about other people's issues, but you can control - well, to some extent - who you spend your time with. First, realise that people who put you down are just advertising their own insecurities and hang-ups. Before you move on, at least try to change the way she talks to you and give the friendship a chance to recover. Have a think about why you've let her get away with the way she's treated you in the past and the next time she tries to 'slip the knife in' say, 'That felt like a put-down. What did you mean by that exactly?' If she responds by saying you're being too sensitive, say, 'You need to stop putting me down and, by the way, saying I'm too sensitive felt like a put-down too.' If she's prepared to change her belittling behaviour then this could be the beginning of a true friendship. If not, you'll have learnt the skills you need to stop being a victim.
Read more on 'Dating Do's and Don'ts' in the exciting new book Charm School: The Modern Girl's Complete Handbook of Etiquette that helps you deal with life's sticky situations. Other chapters include: men and manners, men friends, bad couple habits, money matters, flatmates and friends etiquette, party etiquette and how to survive in the workplace.
Charm School is available through all good book stores. For more information check out www.penguin.com.au Kathy Buchanan is also the author of Quit for Chicks - a pocket-sized support guide for women with a foreword from supermodel Sarah O'Hare about how to quit the smoking habit for good.