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Carolyn Hax: Less stress to build party based on guests

Hi, Carolyn: When I was married four years ago, a shocking number of people did not understand the etiquette of being invited to a formal event. Some people showed up in jeans (yes) when the invite clearly stated “cocktail attire.” However, the worst was people showing up with dates who were clearly not invited. Thankfully it all worked out because we had some extra chairs from people who said they were coming and never showed.

Now I am planning a party to celebrate our fifth anniversary, and I need a way to communicate information – such as “only the person on the invite may show up” and “I need to know if you are coming or not so I can order enough food” – to my guests without being rude myself.

I have a couple of friends who are dating less-than-stellar people – one is a terrifying, angry drunk. The other is a terribly inappropriate “lady” who apparently has a personal quest to simultaneously be as loud as possible while wearing as little clothing as possible. I do not want these people showing up.

Do I hire someone to stand at the entrance with a list of names? Do I send out regular invitations but then spell out these additional bits of information on a Facebook page? I am at a loss. – Stressed Hostess

You put FLOOZIES with an X through it on the invitation.

There’s no one answer that fits all of your complaints. The no-RSVPs and no-shows, of course, are flat rude, and I feel for you. But wearing jeans? That’s more complicated.

It starts with ignorance, I believe – and vagaries like “cocktail attire” don’t help, especially when 99 percent of the cocktails I see in the wild are attached to someone wearing jeans. Yes, I know what the term means – but I’m still grateful to hosts who use the old-school white tie/black tie/semi-formal/casual instead of making the extra push to stage-manage their parties.

The angry drunk, meanwhile, isn’t a party problem, it’s a problem. You talk to your friend, give examples of terrifying behavior you witnessed firsthand, and express concern for your friend’s well-being. Then, weeks later when you regretfully insist the angry drinker is not welcome at your event, you won’t appear more concerned about your party than about your friend. Ahem.

And the woman you give the treatment? The one you write about with your lips pursed, like she’s a surface in a public restroom? She called, and she’d like her humanity back. Wow. If what you’re really asking me is how you can purge your soiree of riffraff without appearing as if that’s what you’re doing, then you’ve bellied up to the very wrong bar.

So let’s back up all the way to what your motives are for this party. Is it to spend time with loved ones, celebrating your good luck? Or is it to create an image of how you’d like others to perceive you?

Stress is what fills the gap between what we covet and what we actually get.

All of this is why my advice is to change your baseline intentions for this party. Right now, your baseline is your idea of the perfect party, and you’re trying to get all the jaggedy pieces to fit that image. Instead, I suggest you use those pieces themselves as your baseline – who your guests are and why, what you can expect of them, why you’re celebrating – and build a party from there. It’s not as photogenic, but it’s a lot more fun. Not to mention, kind.


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