March 26, 2010 in Features

When it’s time for a guest to leave

Judith Martin
 

DEAR MISS MANNERS – My husband and I graciously allowed a friend to live with us, rent free, for about a year while she made an amazing recovery from severely disabling chronic pain. She was unfailingly cheerful throughout this.

But as she recovered her energy, she tried to repay us by improving our house and perhaps our marriage. She first replaced our nightlights, which work in a power failure, by ones which do not. Things then went downhill.

Her final behavior became consistent with a serious attempt to unseat me as my husband’s wife. It all ended when I wrote her an exquisitely polite Victorian eviction notice, which she heeded. Peace was restored. Could I have reacted earlier to prevent a crisis? How does one politely respond to a guest who rearranges the living room and pressures one to buy clothes and household furnishings?

And what is the proper response to a woman who lavishly praises one’s husband or marriage?

Mind you, my marriage is strong and my husband truly remarkable in many ways. However, overt praise and envy from other women have been rare and in the past associated with flagrant attempts to pry a husband loose, so it raises an orange or red flag with me.

GENTLE READER – That you are in red alert, or orange alert (Miss Manners gets those airport alarms confused) is understandable. Rearranging the rooms and criticizing their contents is a high crime on the part of a guest.

At the first sign of improving the premises, you should say sympathetically, “I see you are eager to have a place of your own so you can arrange it as you wish. That is so understandable, although we have loved having you here. Let us know when you have made other arrangements.”

But complimenting the husband? In a strong marriage, that should delight the wife. Is there more history here than you are telling Miss Manners? One does not normally think of a husband as capable of being pried loose, as if he were, well, stuck.

DEAR MISS MANNERS – At what age of a person is it where they are not included as “and family” on an invitation?

My nephew planned a party for his 60th birthday and sent out invitations to friends and family members, like me. On the envelope, “and family” was added to my name.

Several cousins of my nephew did not receive invitations but were included on the parents’ invitation. They are upset and will not attend because of this. I never gave it much thought and was not upset. Is there a rule for this?

GENTLE READER – “And family” stands for “I can’t remember your children’s names” and is thus never flattering. Age has nothing to do with it.

It is also dangerously vague: Many of the guests in this case seem to be members of the host’s family, and no doubt they may have plenty of other family members, so it could have turned into quite a large party.

Miss Manners can think of another rule that is relevant here: Don’t get all huffy at the little etiquette mistakes of people who mean well, or they wouldn’t be attempting to issue you invitations, however awkwardly.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@unitedmedia.com, or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016.


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